Everyone loves a good arm pump, colloquialisms like “curls for the girls” and “suns out guns out” exist for a reason.
And whether you are a calisthenics nerd doing one-arm chin-ups and handstand push-ups, or a bodybuilding bro who prefers preacher curls and bench press, there is a chance you’ve had some achy elbow joints.
I know I have.
Over the last couple of years, there have been months when it seemed like every upper body exercise I did was followed by two minutes of elbow tendon massage, just to get through. At its worst, I even took two months off of chin-ups just to try to get to feeling good again.
But the thing about tendons is, they are pretty indifferent to rest. A day or a month off doesn’t seem to make much difference. As soon as you go back to training, they go back to complaining.
As you can imagine - or as you may know - this gets to be pretty frustrating after a while. Eventually, full of frustration and empty of ideas and patience, I started consulting my network of physical therapy, and chiropractic friends. And as intelligent as they all are, none of their exercises and ideas seemed to make the long-term impact I was hoping for. So back to the drawing board, I went.
Finally; last year, I found a routine that - as of typing this - has relieved my elbows of any aches or pains.
So, If you have golfers elbow, or tennis elbow pain that just won’t go away, I hope that you will give this series a try and that it will work as well for you as it has for my clients and me.
Step 1: Mashing
I'm not usually much for soft tissue work, massage has never been noticeably helpful for me, and I have long since jumped off the supple leopard bandwagon. However, the biceps and forearms may be so often deprived of any type of stretching or soft tissue work that this small amount of effort yields a significant return on investment.
Mash the barbell into the forearm (BOTH SIDES, top, and bottom) and the biceps for between 15 and 30 seconds.
If it is unbearable, try using a lighter barbell.
Step 2: Stretching
As stated earlier, typically tendons respond best to being loaded for eccentrics and isometrics. However, in my opinion, the normal exercise selection for this approach just isn’t specific enough or is difficult to load to a meaningful level.
This stretch seems to be able to provide a sufficient isometric load to check that box, or it works for some entirely different reason. Either way, for myself and my clients, it has proved to be an integral piece of the formula.
Find a degree of shoulder extension, and hand positioning that gives you a moderately high intensity of stretch. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.
This can also be done using a barbell in a squat rack, see that version HERE,
Step 3: Loading
As said earlier, tendons like / need to be loaded. This curl variation does a good job of loading the elbow tendons and strengthening the forearm and biceps.
I typically perform 10-15 reps with a slow eccentric (make it challenging)
work for 60 seconds and make the descent as slow as possible for each rep
*The incline is optional, this can also be done standing, or one arm at a time.
Repeat this series 1-3 times per week. Gradually as your elbows begin to feel better, you can reduce the frequency to once a week and then on an as-needed basis.
I currently only do the barbell mash when I feel like it, and the stretching twice a week as part of my warm-up.
This sequence of exercises has helped me and my clients immensely and I hope that you find it valuable as well.
If you try it and have questions or if it works well for you, please don't hesitate to reach out.
Also, if you have requests for future posts, that would be helpful too.