Have you had enough elbow pain from lifting weights?
Have you noticed incredible tenderness on the outside of your elbow joint? Or maybe you experienced extreme elbow pain when you walked into a room of your house and lightly bumped into the door or doorframe?
Does your elbow hurt when you attempt to grip something, for example, a barbell for deadlifts or, even worse, a doorknob? Or how about – shaking hands is embarrassing because of your now weakened grip!
What can you do to stop the pain and get back to lifting weights and working out?!
I completely understand because I had such an acute case of lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) that I thought I would never lift weights again, let alone open a jar of pickles! And that was a big problem for me because the incredible benefits of deadlifts helped me lose 75 pounds in 6 months and changed my body (and life)!
I recovered from tennis elbow pain thanks to the strategies I am about to share with you. If I can deadlift again at the age of 64, you should be able to do the same.
This post will lift the lid on:
- what is Tennis elbow
- why your elbows hurt during and after lifting weights, and
- how you can help your tendons rest, heal and get back to what you love to do, whether weightlifting, squash, or tennis!
Note: be sure to get a proper diagnosis from your physician or physical therapist for your elbow pain.
What Is Tennis Elbow aka Lateral Epicondylitis?
The most prevalent form of elbow pain is lateral epicondylitis, aka tennis elbow, which means inflammation of the tendons that attach your forearm muscles to your elbow.
Your body is a magnificent machine, and learning some brief facts about your body will help you understand how to get back into training sooner than later.
Lateral epicondylitis is a form of tendonitis, the swelling or microtears of your tendons that attach your muscles to bone. When you move your body, you are moving your skeleton, and it is the willful contraction of your muscles that initiate movement.
In contrast to cardiac muscle, for example, skeletal muscle, like those of your forearms, requires conscious stimulation to contract and move the bone to which they are attached.
And muscles attach to bones through tendons, which are “flexible but inelastic cord of strong fibrous collagen tissue attaching a muscle to a bone.” ¹
A picture is worth a thousand words to visualize your condition, and this image from The Body Almanac © American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2003. will give you an idea of the anatomy of your elbow joint:
Tennis Elbow Anatomy
As you can see, the extensor carpi radialis brevis forearm extensor muscles attach to the outer bony protrusion (lateral epicondyle) of your upper arm bone (the humerus).
These tendons are inflamed when you experience elbow pain from lifting weights, and you need to pay attention to help them recover immediately.
If you never had tennis elbow before, thank your lucky stars because it is excruciating!
Can Weightlifting Cause Tennis Elbow?
The answer is a resounding, yes!
If you thought you could never get a painful case of tennis elbow from lifting weights, you might have found out now how wrong you were.
While tennis is the most common sport leading to tennis elbow, any repetitive movement involving your grip and forearm muscles, i.e., your wrist extensors and flexors, can lead to tennis or golfer’s elbow (aka pitcher’s elbow).
As such, badminton, squat, painting, construction, baseball (particularly pitching), and weightlifting are prime candidates for a case of tendonitis of your elbow.
Why Do Your Elbows Hurt From Lifting Weights?
In one brief word – overtraining or not sufficiently warming up.
You repeated the same movement either without enough rest in between workouts or without sufficient warm-up. You did not let your tendons get accustomed to the weight you wanted your body to lift in both cases.
So, for example, let’s imagine that you caught the deadlifting fever. One day you became aware of the incredible benefits of deadlifts, the amazing number of muscles worked by the ‘simple’ looking deadlift, and how deadlifts change your body from plump you to a much fitter version of yourself.
As a result, you might have thought, “well, if the deadlift is that great, I’ll just deadlift every day!” While deadlifting every day is possible, your body will quickly tell you if you are doing too much too soon.
Or it could be that you did not warm up sufficiently as suggested in this excellent deadlift workout routine because remember, if you do not have time to warm up, you don’t have time to workout.
And the day that you feel unbearable pain when you go to grip your deadlift bar or open a door, now you know you went too far in your zeal to get fit.
Whether it is both elbows or even only one, tennis elbow can completely wreck your chances of working out at your favorite sport, be it powerlifting, tennis, baseball, or just doing your job, especially if you do not let your body heal.
What Can Help Fix Your Elbow Pain from Weight Lifting?
I had to stop deadlifting and doing pushups for three months. Some people have to stop for up to a year, and others need to have surgery eventually. Here are the 5 easy steps you can take to fix your elbow pain:
1. Rest – Stop Injuring Your Tendons
You have to stop working out as soon as your doctor or physical therapist tells you to do so. Yes, you will miss some weeks or months, but the good news is that your tendons can heal if you LET them!
2. Start Cold Therapy
- TOTAL COMPRESSION COVERAGE. While other cold therapy products are a...
- DOCTOR RECOMMENDED. This cold therapy sleeve is recommended by...
- MADE IN THE USA. All cold compression therapy Freeze Sleeves are made...
Ice cold therapy (also known as cryotherapy) helps reduce blood flow and the associated swelling and pain around your tendon, which is just what you need. At first, I began by applying ice to my elbow, but it wasn’t easy to keep the ice pack on without holding it in place.
Eventually, I came across the Freeze Sleeve Cold Therapy Compression Sleeve, which always left my elbow feeling better and made the icing a piece of cake. I could put the Freeze Sleeve over my elbow straight from the freezer and did not need any towel or paper towels between the cold.
Also, this product is comfortable enough, even when frozen, provides 360 degrees of full coverage, and it is easy to leave on for the recommended 15 to 20 minutes, 3 times a day. ²
I credit this excellent cold compression therapy product for helping to resolve my tennis elbow, but it was not the only factor!
3. TheraBand FlexBar Resistance Bar
The real hero that crushed my tendonitis was this TheraBand FlexBar forearm and grip strengthening product. I came across an article from the National Institute of Health after suffering for close to a month from the debilitating pain. This NAJSPT article showed that the TheraBand FlexBar “decreased elbow pain by 81% and increased strength in tendons by 72% for Tennis Elbow sufferers.” ³
That’s all I had to hear, and I ordered one that day and started to do the one “Tyler Twist” exercise show in the following video 3 times a day for 15 repetitions:
TheraBand FlexBar “Tyler Twist” Exercise Demonstration
I started to feel better within a month after beginning the Tyler Twist, strengthening exercise using the TheraBand FlexBar. If you are suffering from Tennis Elbow, I think the Freeze Sleeve and the TheraBand FlexBar, which helped me the most, are the bare minimum that you need to use, besides absolute rest.
4. Wrist Exercises
A common cause of injury is the scourge of modern society, muscle imbalance. Due to excessive inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle, many people are deconditioned, leading to overtraining.
In the old days, people had to constantly work with their grip and forearm muscles, moving rocks, lumber, tools, bricks, plowing, and harvesting.
Today, it is unusual to pick anything up heavier than a pen, smartphone, or a magazine.
But then, you want your body to acclimate to deadlifting? Imagine the trauma that the untrained muscles in your upper body experience.
Sometimes, it does not take much to reactivate your muscles. You understand that if you have ever gone to a physical therapist who magically cured your pain by having you do some simple flexion or extension exercises.
Studies show that “upper limb weakness exists in tennis elbow, which may be due to disuse and reconditioning.” 4
You can strengthen your grip and forearm muscles in several ways. Here are a few of my favorites, which I started during my recovery from tennis elbow:
Flexion and Extension
- High Quality Design: Weights stay tight and do not detach, rubber...
- Materials: Solid cast iron, chrome plated handle & rubber coated...
- Versatile: Designed for use with curls, lifts, squats, press, and more
All you need is a light set of dumbbells to get started. Two to five pounds should be enough to activate your muscles, especially your weak and underactive extensor carpi radialis forearm muscle.
Do 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps of wrist curls for flexion and reverse wrist curls to build your extensor strength.
Keep it simple as in this brief video:
How to build your wrists with dumbbells
5. Copper Compression Elbow Sleeve
A compression sleeve will help improve your blood circulation, enhance muscle recovery, and keep your elbow joint warm. Although some believe there is little evidence that compression clothing works, Billy Sperlich, a sports science professor at the University of Würzburg, Germany, says that compression garments “significantly aid in muscle recovery.” 5
I found this Copper Compression Recovery Sleeve to be comfortably snug. It helped to keep my elbow feeling warmed up, eased my tendonitis pain, and looks pretty good too!
Watch this excellent video for more tips on how to fix your elbow pain from Jeremy Ethier:
How to Fix Elbow Pain
Can You Workout With Elbow Tendonitis?
You will most likely not be able to weightlift, at least for those exercises that need a strong grip like the deadlift. Your doctor or physical therapist might even advise you to forego pushups and other calisthenic exercises to give your elbow joint complete rest.
But, do not despair, and don’t give up on maintaining excellent health habits and training while your tennis elbow is healing!
- back squats
- paused squats
- glute ham raises
- box squats
- box jumps
- front squats
- Bulgarian split squats
- hip thrusts
- leg curls
- calisthenic exercises like leg raises and back extensions
- flexibility training
Elbow Pain From Lifting Weights – Final Thoughts
Tennis elbow pain from weightlifting is the result of too much too soon. Training too frequently without adequate rest or warm-up can lead to a case of lateral epicondylitis.
You never want to experience the debilitating pain of elbow tendonitis; it is that severe.
The best way to prevent weightlifting elbow pain is to always warm-up and progress gradually. As your body is subject to gravity, so it is also governed by Hans Selye’s general adaptation syndrome.
This principle states that your body will go through three phases of reaction to exercise. The first is alarm reaction when you first introduce a new movement or additional weight for your body to handle.
The second is resistance development when your body develops the necessary muscle and strength to meet the new demands. And the third is exhaustion if you do not allow your body to rest and recover sufficiently.
Exhaustion is a result of overtraining and a common cause of injuries such as tennis elbow.
This post discusses the relationship between tennis elbow and weightlifting, and most importantly, how to recover!
Now you know why you have elbow pain from lifting weights and how to recover. The next step after and during your recovery is to focus on improving your weightlifting technique.
You can never spend too much time developing your deadlifting technique, for example. To that end, your first step will be to review How to Deadlift for Beginners – A Step by Step Guide.
The following posts are of great value because you can learn from all my deadlifting mistakes:
- 15 Ways How to Protect Your Shins When Deadlifting
- 50 Essential Deadlift Tips and Tricks Every Beginner Should Know
- The Top 10 Deadlift With Proper Form Rules to Prevent Back Pain
- 1 Rep Max Calculator Deadlifts in 5 Easy Steps
- How to Deadlift Like a Boss In 5 Simple Steps – Learn How to Setup for the Deadlift
While you don’t need much in terms of space to deadlift, you do need some essential gear; here are some recommendations:
- 5 Best Shoes for Squats and Deadlifts: 2021 Buying Guide
- The Best Deadlift Shin Guards on the Market Today in 2021
- 5 Best Weightlifting Belts You Can Buy Today
More Training Tips:
- One Great Beginner Deadlift Workout Routine for Powerlifting and Fitness
- How to Prevent Lower Back Pain After Deadlifting
- Deadlift Everyday Without Burning Out or Hurting Yourself
- Top 10 Types of Deadlifts + Which Variation is Best for You?
- Squats vs. Deadlifts; Which Is Better For You?
- 15 Safe Deadlift Alternatives that Will Protect a Bad Back
- Sumo Deadlift vs. Conventional: Which Is Better for You?
- 5 Best Deadlift Bars on The Market Today in 2021
- 7 Greatest Deadlift Muscles Worked That Can Change Your Life
- How Deadlifts Change Your Body in 27 Powerful Ways