One day I noticed that after completing my third or fourth set of deadlifts, my right elbow felt a bit funny.
This funny feeling was in the joint; the tendon had somehow been overloaded or strained in some way.
If this has been happening to you, ask yourself if you’ve been doing the repetitions fast. Because that’s what I had been doing.
By doing the deadlift rapidly, the elbow is subjected to forces that it doesn’t absorb when this exercise is done at a more standard pace.
A more standard pace allows for less erratic motion. The first solution, then, is to return to a normal speed of reps.
However, suppose your elbow feels funny or hurts a little after completing normal-paced deadlift sets. What then should you do?
When you grab the bar and begin pulling it off the floor or mount, put a very slight bend in your elbows. This will reduce the tension on the bones, and thus, the joint.
The very slight bend will recruit more biceps and forearm muscles, yes, but — it will subtract some tension off of the tendons in the elbow.
What this technique means is that, while providing some relief to strained tendon tissue in the elbow, it will also mean you cannot lift your maximum load this way. It’s a tradeoff.
Continue lifting your maximum load and you’ll continue damaging the elbow.
To allow the elbow to heal, use a lighter load, perhaps what would be a 15-20 RM — but done for 5-7 reps. Accept it: A tendon strain means you must give up your heaviest lifts till it heals.
Whether using an underhand or overhand grip, my technique employs very slightly bent elbows throughout the entire deadlifting set, and the set is performed at a normal pace, complete range of motion.
You then set the bar gently — yes, gently — back on the floor or mount. Letting it bang back down puts a shock through the elbow joint. If you release the bar so that it falls to the floor (freeing your joints), the loud sound can damage your hearing if done often enough.
After employing this technique for three weeks, I began noticing a big improvement in my elbow in that after completing all of my deadlift sets, there was no longer any discomfort.
However, just to play safe (don’t get ahead of yourself), continue this technique for two or three more weeks, then ease yourself back to your maximal lifts as much as you can with the very slightly bent elbows, and gradually return to your normal lifting from that point (straight arms).
Of course, if pain in the elbow continues from deadlifting despite these approaches, abandon the activity and consult with a sports medicine physician for guidance.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.