Tendonitis, particularly conditions like tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) and golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis), can be a real challenge for fitness enthusiasts. However, with the right approach, you can still continue weight training without worsening the condition. In this article, we'll explore some effective strategies to prepare your tissues for exercise and prevent further aggravation of tendonitis while weight lifting.
Warm Up Thoroughly:
Before you jump into weight lifting for the day, it's important to warm up your muscles and tendons. Engage in a 5-10 minute cardiovascular activity to get your blood flowing and increase joint lubrication. Follow this with dynamic stretches that target the muscles around the affected elbow area. This warm-up routine helps prepare your tendons for the upcoming stress of weight training.
Warm up Exercises to incoorperate:
1. Wrist Rotations: Start by extending your arm forward, palm facing down. Slowly rotate your wrist in a circular motion, moving from the wrist joint. Perform 10-15 rotations in one direction, then switch to the other direction. This exercise helps to increase blood flow to the wrist and elbow joints, preparing them for weight lifting.
2. Forearm Flexor Stretch: Extend your arm forward with your palm facing up. Use your other hand to gently press your fingers back toward your forearm until you feel a stretch in your forearm muscles. Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds, then release. Perform this stretch for both arms. This movement aids in loosening up the forearm muscles, which are often affected in cases of tennis and golfer's elbow.
3. Wrist Extension and Flexion: Place your forearm on a flat surface, such as a table or bench, with your hand hanging off the edge and your palm facing down. Slowly raise your hand up, flexing your wrist, and then slowly lower it down, extending your wrist. Perform 10-15 repetitions for each wrist. This exercise helps to mobilize the wrist joint and improve its range of motion.
Focus on Technique:
Proper form is essential to avoid unnecessary strain on your tendons. Poor lifting technique can exacerbate tendonitis. Concentrate on maintaining correct posture and body alignment throughout your exercises. Lower the weights if needed to ensure you can perform the movements with controlled and deliberate motions. Don't hesitate to reach out with questions on form. I meet with clients both online and in person to make sure your form is dialed in.
Start with Warm Up Sets or Low Intensity:
Begin your weight training session with weights that are well within your comfort zone. This might mean using lighter weights than you're accustomed to. While it's natural to want to push your limits, doing so with tendonitis can be counterproductive and potentially harmful.
In addition to starting with low intensity, integrating warm-up sets can significantly enhance your preparation. Warm-up sets involve using lighter weights to gradually ease your body into the heavier loads of your working sets. Here's how to do it effectively:
Select Your Working Weight: Determine the weight you plan to use for your main working sets.
Begin with 50%: Choose a weight that's around 50% of your working weight. This serves as your starting point for warm-up sets.
Perform Gradual Sets: Execute a set of 5-10 repetitions with the 50% weight to increase blood flow and joint mobility. Then, gradually increase the weight for each subsequent warm-up set. Increase weight for each set until you reach your working weight.
Modify Grips and Equipment:
Experiment with different grips and equipment to find what suits your condition best. For instance, using an ergonomic handle or adding padding can reduce stress on your elbows. Additionally, using wrist wraps, elbow straps, or wearing a weighted vest can provide added support during weight lifting, lessening the strain on your tendons.
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Another effective strategy for reducing tendon pain in the arms is to introduce machines into your routine. Machines can offer an effective alternative to traditional free weight exercises, as they allow you to target the same muscle groups without the strain of holding heavy weights directly in your hands, minimizing the risk of aggravating your tendonitis.
Utilize Rest Periods for Stretching and Foam Rolling:
During your weight training session, make the most of your rest periods by incorporating gentle stretches and foam rolling around the affected elbow area. This can help maintain the flexibility of the muscles and tendons, reducing the risk of stiffness and promoting blood circulation to aid in the healing process. Learn more about rest periods here.
Ice and Compression:
If you experience post-workout soreness or inflammation, consider using ice and compression to manage the discomfort. Applying ice for 15-20 minutes after your workout can help reduce inflammation and ease pain.
Prioritize Rest and Recovery:
Allow your body ample time to recover between weight training sessions. Tendons heal and adapt during periods of rest. Overtraining can hinder the healing process and increase the risk of injury. Consider incorporating foam rolling and gentle stretching on rest days to maintain flexibility and blood flow to the affected area.
❌ USE CAUTION ⚠️:
Here are some specific exercises to avoid with tennis and golfer's elbow, as they can place excessive stress on the affected tendons and potentially worsen the condition:
Barbell Bicep Curls: The traditional barbell bicep curl can strain the forearm tendons, particularly if improper form or excessive weight is used. Consider switching to dumbbell bicep curls or using an EZ-curl bar to minimize strain on the wrists and elbows.
Skull Crushers (Lying Tricep Extensions): This exercise involves lowering a barbell or dumbbell to the forehead while lying on a bench. It places significant stress on the elbows and tendons. Opt for alternative tricep exercises like cable pushdowns or tricep kickbacks.
Straight Bar Dips: While dips are effective for targeting the chest and triceps, using a straight bar can strain the elbow tendons. Instead, use parallel bars or dip machines to reduce stress on the affected area.
Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups: Gripping the bar during pull-ups and chin-ups can exacerbate elbow discomfort. Modify by using assistive bands or focusing on lat pulldowns until your elbow condition improves.
Deadlifts (With Overhand Grip): Traditional deadlifts with an overhand grip can place stress on the forearm tendons. If deadlifts are essential to your routine, consider using an alternate grip or using lifting straps to reduce strain on the elbows.
Upright Rows: Upright rows, which involve raising a barbell or dumbbells close to the body, can cause discomfort in the shoulder and elbow areas. Opt for lateral raises or front raises as alternatives to target the shoulders without stressing the elbows.
Bent-Over Rows (Underhand Grip): Bent-over rows with an underhand grip can strain the wrists and elbows. Instead, use an overhand grip or try seated cable rows to minimize stress on the affected areas.
Behind-the-Neck Shoulder Press: This movement can put unnecessary strain on the shoulder and elbow joints. Opt for a front or military shoulder press, which places less stress on the affected areas.
Remember, everyone's body is different, and what causes discomfort for one person might be tolerable for another.
Listen to Your Body:
Your body is the best indicator of what you can handle. If you feel pain or discomfort during a particular exercise, stop immediately. Pushing through the pain can worsen your condition and lead to more extensive damage. Consult a healthcare professional if the pain persists.
Tendonitis doesn't have to be a roadblock to your weight training goals. By implementing these strategies, you can safely continue your fitness journey while minimizing the risk of worsening tennis or golfer's elbow.
Remember, it's crucial to listen to your body, prioritize proper technique, and allow your tendons the time they need to heal and adapt. If your condition persists or worsens, don't hesitate to seek guidance from a medical professional. Stay committed, be patient, and enjoy your weight training in a safe and effective manner.