If you’ve never had elbow pain (ie. tennis or golfer’s elbow), consider yourself very fortunate. It can be miserable and basically debilitating.
Imagine not being able to pick up a cup of coffee, much less swing a golf club, without searing pain that makes you want to cry like a little girl. That’s how bad it can be.
In my experience working in the clinic and with tons of golfers, the best remedy for elbow pain is to PREVENT IT! I say that kind of tongue in cheek, but very seriously as well.
If you’ve had it, you know that it can linger for a long time, and without proper treatment, the pain can literally change the way you live your life.
So let’s do something about it. In today’s post, I’m going to give you a few simple things that you can do in your workouts that will make a huge difference in the strength and durability of your elbows, and specifically your forearm/hand muscles.
WHAT CAUSES MY ELBOW PAIN?
In a case of traditional tennis elbow, the muscles on the topside of your forearm (your wrist and finger extensors) create a lot of tension and tenderness at the point where they attach to the bone. This results in significant tenderness at the outer elbow.
A similar situation is the cause of “Golfer’s Elbow,” but it’s on the inside of the elbow and involves the forearm muscles on the palm side of the arm (your finger and wrist flexors). The pain here is located near the bone on the inside of the elbow.
In simple terms, the muscles in the forearms and hands are simply not very strong or resilient. Therefore when stressed with activities like lifting things or repetitive motions (such as a golf swing), the inefficient strength of these structures wears down and stress is then concentrated at the juncture where the muscles/tendons attach to the bone.
This causes pain. Overtime, this causes a lot of pain. And over even more time, this causes chronic, debilitating pain.
HOW DO I PREVENT IT?
As a bit of a disclaimer, I will preface this section by saying the techniques I am going to suggest today are more along the lines of preventative care, and should not necessarily be done if you are currently having pain.
If that is the case, seek out a professional TODAY to get your pain taken care of, otherwise this issue will likely only get worse and your golf game will suffer.
If you do not have pain at the elbows (and hopefully you never have) there are some very simple things you can do with your existing workouts, a well as a few add on exercises, that will make a HUGE difference.
1. CHANGE YOUR GRIP
By this I am not talking about your grip on the club. While that may be an issue as well, I am talking about the grip you use in your workout program.
There are 3 main grip positions:
My suggestion is that you use all three. Mix it up in your exercises.
When I design a program for a client, I pay special attention to the grip that is used in each exercise. If I have a client doing a dumbbell press with a pronated grip followed by a rowing exercise, I make sure that they are not using a pronated grip in that row.
It’s good to provide variation so your hands and forearms experience stresses from all different angles. That is how you build stability and endurance.
2. USE YOUR THUMB, ALWAYS
It’s very common for you to want to grab a bar with a false grip, which is when you do not wrap your thumb around the bar and keep it right next to your hand and index finger.
I see this a lot in presses, rows, and pull-ups. By not wrapping your thumb, you are eliminating the opportunity to strengthen your entire grip. Unlike our primal ancestors, we have been blessed with opposable thumbs. Let’s give thanks to the process of evolution through Natural Selection and use them.
Simply by doing this, you will recruit much more of the hand and forearm muscles in the strengthening process.
3. LIFT, HOLD AND CARRY HEAVY THINGS
Make it part of your routine to lift, hold and carry heavy things. This can simply mean using heavier weights for some of your exercises, or changing up your excises so they involve you having to hold heavier weights.
Great examples of this would be deadlifts, farmer’s walks, pull-ups, dumbbell squats, etc.
And it doesn’t just have to mean using weights. One of my personal favorite things to do with our clients, especially the kids, is make them simply hang from the pull-up bar and see how long they can go. You’d be surprised at how strong your grip and forearms can get when you do this a couple of times a week.
4. USE FAT GRIPS
One of the greatest decisions we made at our gym, Elevated Performance, was to get “fat grip” dumbbells.
If you don’t know what they are, here is a picture of a fat grip dumbbell next to the same weight with a regular size grip and then a contoured grip. As you can see, it’s not just a clever name; the grip is actually a lot “fatter.”
Using a fat grip is an experience that is hard to describe. You wouldn’t think it would have that much of an impact, but it makes every exercise much harder. Everything feels heavier and in many exercises, your grip is what starts to fail before anything else. But once you’ve used them, you never want to go back. It’s a love/hate relationship.
In fact, we love them so much that we even got squat rack that has fat grip pull-up stations. Now, that is an experience!
I realize you may not have these toys at your gym or your house, but there are ways you can adapt what you do have to fat grips. There are a couple of companies that make products like these that you can put on the regular handle of a dumbbell, barbell, or pull-up bar to give you the same lovely experience.
JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO
OK, if there is one thing that I have learned as a trainer, it’s that specific directions work best for my clients. So you are probably thinking, thanks for the information, now just give me something to get started.
You have your general guidelines of . . .
• Change your grip up between exercises
• Start using your whole hand (ie. Grip with your thumb)
• Start lifting, holding, carrying heavy things
• Use fat grips if available, or buy some fat grip adapters
But, to get a little more specific for you, let’s assign a little homework. At the end of your next workout you are going to hang. Three times.
That’s it. Hop up on the pull-up bar, with your arms fully extended, and hang on for dear life. Decide which grip you are going to use (pronated, neutral, or supinated) and do all three with the same grip.
See how long you can go each time.
Then I want you to do the same thing 2 more times that week using the other two grip positions.
If you can go longer than a minute, you’re on the right track. If you can’t get a minute, the only way to get better is to keep doing it.
After 4 weeks of this, you’ll have the grip strength of a small elephant’s trunk and you’ll be well on your way to much more durable, pain free, and “chunk-resistant” elbows.
And of course, I’m curious to hear how your little hanging experiment goes. How long did you get the 1st time? How hard was it? Did you get better? And of course, I want to know who was able to hold the longest.
Let me know down in the comments, or let’s have a little fun and try to get some trending going with: #18STRONG and #HangmanChallenge.
Thanks for reading!