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I’ve been a gym rat since I was 15.
So it was no surprise to me when in my mid 30’s I started to experience some very common injuries that affect weight lifters.
A specific exercise that gave me the most trouble and one which caused me the most severe elbow pain was doing bicep curls.
The pain nearly kept me out of the gym forever.
Thankfully today, now in my 40’s, I am happy to report that I am still curling, benching and pushing my body to it’s limits without elbow discomfort and pain.
And I want to tell you that the elbow pain you are experiencing when you are working out and throwing the weights around can be beaten as long as you follow and understand everything I have to tell you in this article.
If you think you need to completely walk away from the gym and sit at home moping around, that is not what I am going to tell you.
In fact, you need to keep up your weight lifting routine!
I bet you are surprised to hear this but continue reading and I’ll explain why and how I was able to slay my elbow problems.
If you are like most people who weight lift, your elbow pain is most likely at it’s worst on bicep day or even just doing dumbbell bicep curls on it’s own.
Am I right?
Are you just getting elbow pain from working out or is just from arm day?
How Elbow Pain From Bicep Curls Can Eliminated By Keeping These 4 Things In Mind
Here are the quick links to top 4 rules:
As I look back on what lead up to me developing my elbow injury, it basically boiled down to four things:
First look at your wrist position when doing any bicep exercise.
What you need to ensure is that your wrists stay straight and in line with your forearm throughout the full range of motion and repetition.
Many weight lifters when performing bicep exercises keep their wrists cocked and bent in towards their body.
Then there are other people who let their wrists extend. This is when much of the weight gets transferred to the ligaments in your wrists and fingers.
Regardless of whether you are cocking or extending your wrists, not keeping good form puts way too much pressure and strain on your forearm flexors, extensors and tendons.
And of course all of these tissues lead to and connect at your elbow.
When they become irritated and inflamed, you experience pain at your elbow.
Secondly what caused painful elbow symptoms during my bicep workout was curling too much weight.
This is common to individuals who are really trying to build mass and thickness to their arms.
Four sets of six to eight reps is what I would aim for when I was really trying to build up my arms.
And with each set, I would bump the weight resistance 5 pounds or 2.5 kilos.
Perhaps you are doing the same set and rep count.
The problem was that by the time the fourth set came around I could barely grip and hold the 55lb dumbbell, let alone curl it with good form and technique.
Even just gripping and holding the dumbbell before rep 1, I had severe pain on the outer part of my elbow. Sometimes it would switch to my inner elbow.
But back then, I was stubborn and lived by the philosophy “no pain – no gain.”
So I would go on and do the fourth set but my form was absolutely terrible and I would swing the dumbbell.
The problem is that when you swing a dumbbell, your elbow’s range of motion is all over the place.
This causes strain on your elbow flexor and extensor tendons.
Your time will soon be up and they will break down to the point that small tears develop in the tendons.
Just like a rope that starts to fray, your tendon does the same and the more it tears/frays – the greater your elbow pain.
The third rule is to avoid doing bicep curls with the EZ or zigzag curl bar.
Narrow grip or wide grip? In doesn’t really matter but …
As mentioned, the problem with this bicep exercise is your wrist positioning.
Narrow grip forces your wrists inwards and wide grip pushes your wrist position away from your body.
It’s almost impossible to have a neutral grip when doing this exercise.
Both hand positions wreak havoc on your forearm flexors and extensors resulting in elbow pain and putting a damper on your workout.
I recommend you stick to the straight bar when doing your bicep workout to ensure your wrists are neutral and in line with your forearms.
Here is another article on biceps curls and how to avoid tendonitis of the elbow.
The fourth thing to keep in mind when working out and weight lifting is that the use of dumbbells can be dangerous and are the most likely cause of your elbow injury.
As I mentioned earlier, when you are using dumbbells, especially heavy ones, there is a greater chance that the dumbbell can “get away on you.”
It is quite hard to keep correct form when using heavy dumbbells.
It doesn’t matter if you are doing seated curls, military presses, tricep extensions, lateral raises, etc.
All it takes is one small deviation in movement or for you to totally fail and your arm basically gives out and the tendons in your elbow are toast.
Especially when you are trying to get those last 2 reps in and your muscles are already fatigued.
A centimeter to the left or right can change the angle of your forearm to your elbow, or the twist of the wrist and your tendon will be overextended and pulled way beyond it’s normal range of flexibility.
This is when injuries such as tennis elbow and golfers elbow occur; more on them later.
The breaking point for me where I couldn’t take it anymore was that I couldn’t even squeeze my water bottle to get a drink during my weight lifting session.
So I sucked it up and dragged my macho self to the Doctor.
With one press of his finger, “Does your elbow hurt here?”, I was given a tennis elbow diagnosis.
Of course at first I thought my Doctor was a quack!
Tennis elbow I said, but I don’t play tennis.
Then I learned that tennis elbow doesn’t only happen to tennis freaks.
This injury is more prevalent and develops in more people than you think.
What I contribute my tennis elbow injury too is working out with heavy dumbbells using poor form and not maintaining a neutral grip when doing curls for your biceps.
If you refer to the definition of tennis elbow, it is a repetitive strain injury where you experience pain and inflammation on the outer part of your elbow and sometimes your forearm.
Without boring you with medical terminology, if you bend your affected arm and feel your upper forearm just above your elbow joint, there is a small bump.
Directly above this bump or node is a point called the lateral epicondyle.
This is where your extensor tendon attaches at your arm bone.
It is there where you have torn your tendon and why you are experiencing elbow pain when doing biceps and weight training.
Another thing you should know about your elbow injury is that it has taken sometime to develop.
Remember that dull aching pain you had sometime ago?
Those were my first warning signs.
Of course if you are anything like me, you ignored it and brushed it off.
But look where you are now.
In the same position I was, facing a tennis elbow injury that is wreaking havoc on your gym workouts.
And now you are in the exact same position I was.
But to be sure you have the same elbow condition that I had – tennis elbow – can you relate to any of the following signs and symptoms?
- Affected arm is hard to straighten and extend fully.
- Your upper forearm sometimes has a burning feeling or sensation like it’s on fire.
- The pain can sometimes go from your elbow down your forearm and into your wrist.
- Your elbow pain increases anytime you do a twisting motion of your forearm.
- Your grip has noticeable been getting weaker.
- Extending your wrist upwards and pulling your fingers back for a deeper stretch while your arm is extended causes extreme elbow pain.
These six signs are true indicators that you have tennis elbow but here is some good news.
You may think I am crazy and this goes against what you would think is normal but you don’t have to give up bicep curls and training in order to get control of your elbow pain.
You should actually continue going to the gym while you treat your injury.
But the secret is that you need to begin a tennis elbow treatment program as quickly as possible so you don’t end up on the operating table having your tendon re-attached.
What did the trick for me were these 5 simple steps that I did at home watching TV in the evening.
is the author of Tennis Elbow Secrets Revealed which has been teaching individuals how to overcome their tennis elbow injury at home since 2005 with over 1,767,986 copies sold.
He is a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer and Exercise Rehab Specialist based in Vancouver, BC, Canada