When the Elbows Bend, the Power Ends…and the Pain Begins

Written by Erienne Low

In a CrossFit gym, we often hear coaches preaching “keep your elbows straight!” and “don’t pull early”. Their goal is to help you optimize the power from your legs. An elbow bend during kettlebell swings or an early pull on a power clean puts a kink in the kinetic chain and decreases the energy we get from our hips. But there is another reason to keep those elbows straight: IT PREVENTS ELBOW PAIN!

Elbow tendinopathy (aka golfer’s or tennis elbow), is one of the most common pain sources for CrossFitters. Why? Because of all the pulling and gripping we do. The muscles that allow us to hang onto the rig, the barbell, kettlebells, and the like actually originate in our forearm. Not only do they prevent us from sending our barbells flying across the gym into our workout neighbor, but they also help bend our elbows.

When we overly bend our elbows while heavily gripping onto a weight, we put excessive demand on these forearm muscles. When we do this 50 times per workout x 5 workouts a week, we are left with a very angry muscle group, also known as tendonitis.

So how do we prevent this? The first line of defense is to listen to your coach. Keep those elbows straight! The second line of defense is to build a more resilient muscle group. Check out some of my favorite pre/rehab exercises for elbow pain below. 

Barbell forearm strength: Forearm Barbell Strength – YouTube

Forearm Pronation/Supination: Forearm Pro Sup – YouTube

If you’re experiencing elbow pain, treat it! Rest alone will not solve the problem. It takes exercises, manual techniques, and guided activity modification to improve the pain and keep it away. Unfortunately, these issues tend to go unaddressed until they become chronic. The more chronic the condition, the more difficult it is to treat! The best thing to do is to see a physical therapist or trusted medical professional sooner rather than later!

Erienne is a doctor of physical therapy, a CrossFit coach, and an athlete. Because of this unique background, she takes a different approach to rehab. Instead of taking you out of the gym and out of your routine, she is able to modify it to keep you active and progressing through your injury back to full health. 

Email: elow@crossfitsisu.com