Let’s face it, no matter who you are, whether you’re an at-home kettlebell enthusiast, trainer, coach, or professional athlete, it’s sometimes hard to do what you know is best for you. Meaning, you know that rest is best from that which has caused golfers elbow, pitcher’s elbow, climber’s elbow, RSI, etc. but you still won’t because you worked too hard to get where you are and don’t want to give up. Or perhaps you simply can’t because it’s part of your job.
In those cases, it’s important to understand how you can do your best to minimize the aggravation of the affected areas. I will cover several ways to work around tendon issues while minimizing the impact. To do so, you have to understand what muscles/tendons are affected and when. Then you need to minimize those movements/actions.
Note that tennis elbow is similar to golfers elbow. Tennis elbow is a condition in which the outer part of the elbow becomes painful and tender, whereas golfers elbow is a condition that affects the inside of the elbow, both are caused by similar actions and both require very similar workarounds.
- Cause of tennis/golfers elbow
- Tennis/golfers elbow workaround
- Video with all the recommended workarounds
- Location of tennis elbow
- Location of golfers elbow
- Prevention of tennis/golfers elbow
- Tennis/golfers elbow recovery time
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Cause of tennis/golfers elbow
One of the main causes for tendon issues with kettlebells is repetitive flexion of the digits of the hand under heavy load without sufficient recovery, and the same applies to flexing and pronating of the wrist. In short, overuse and failed healing of the tendon. The tendons of the muscles that are responsible for these actions come together and originate near the elbow joint, hence the name Golfers or Tennis Elbow. The tendons are injured and/or inflamed. Injury and/or inflammation requires rest, proper nutrition, light movement, and other remedies which we won’t go into right now as this is all about working around elbow tendonitis.
Actions commonly associated with golfers elbow:
- Flexion of the wrist
- Pronation of the wrist
- Flexing the digits of the hand
Actions commonly associated with tennis elbow:
- Wrist extension
The following is some more info on the joint movements and underneath are just a few common causes:
1) Flexing the digits of the hand equals gripping
Swinging a kettlebell too heavy and/or holding on too tight
2) Flexing the wrist equals moving the hand down and toward the underarm
Incorrect kettlebell grip
3) Extending the wrist equals moving the hand up and away from the underarm
Incorrect kettlebell grip and incorrect technique
4) Pronating the wrist equals medially rotating the forearm
Stabilization during the single-arm swing or excessive rotation during kettlebell snatches or other overhead movements
5) Supinating the wrist equals laterally rotating the forearm
Incorrect racking and excessive and/or repetitive movements during overhead exercises
Wrist pronation is where the Radius and Ulna (two bones of the forearm) are being twisted at the wrist. Imagine holding your hand out to shake someone’s hand and then turning the thumb down like giving the thumbs down, that is wrist pronation. Of course, after wrist pronation, you get the opposite which is supination, and vice versa.
Another highly important cause of tendon problems to mention is the casting of the kettlebell. Casting the weight is something that beginners frequently do from racking after cleaning and from overhead after snatching. These kettlebell technique issues are covered in our online courses and books. The casting of the weight produces a powerful jerk on the grip, in other words, a sudden quick pull on the tendons usually combined with a heavy load.
Golfers/tennis elbow workaround
Important note: The following exercises and courses of action are great to implement when you feel a slight onset of the conditions, i.e. before it turns into a serious condition. In that case, you are working on prevention rather than a workaround.
Okay, with that knowledge we know to avoid/minimize any of the following. Anything that requires a grip, especially a tight grip, i.e. holding on to heavy objects, like for example, a kettlebell, barbell, pull-up bar, rowing, and the list of things goes on. We don’t want to pronate the wrist or rotate the forearm (both the same thing), and we want to avoid wrist flexion to any side.
Avoiding any of the above actions is extremely hard to do when you have to hold on to a heavy object. So, I mention one more time that workarounds are not the best option to go for, but a workaround is better than continuing on as you have been, hence the reason I put this information out there.
First and foremost, grip. With a kettlebell, you always have to grip it unless you have it placed high on a shelf and you can slide the hand right in bringing it into a racking position.
In general, you want to avoid the following exercises when you experience any grip issues:
- Kettlebell Swings
- Kettlebell Snatches
- Kettlebell Farmer walks
- Kettlebell Deadlifts
And avoid any other movements where you have to hold on to the weight and especially explosive movements where you have to pull the weight.
Second, if you have to clean, clean with double arm and hand over. If you have to switch your kettlebell do it with the double arm hand over switch (see video).
Third, a shoulder press and floor chest press is great to avoid having to grip the weight but you have to avoid rotation of the forearm. Either way, focus on not rotating the forearm. This might require adjustments/changes to the normal position from racking to overhead.
Fourth, I recommend goblet squats above racked squats.
And last but not least, I recommend alternating jerks for cardio (see video).
A summary of kettlebell exercises:
- Double arm overhand clean
- Shoulder press
- Chest press
- Goblet squats
- Alternating jerks
I personally do not recommend cortisone or other pain relief, unless you are actually ceasing that which caused the condition. In other words, if you put a bandaid on the condition by taking something that reduces or removes the pain—the pain which is a signal telling your body there is something wrong, something you should not be doing—then you will continue that which caused the condition and more than likely turn the condition in something much worse and long term. Furthermore, inflammation is a natural response of the body aiding in the healing process*.
Unlock the video below to see how to perform the double arm and hand over clean or switch, shoulder press with a modified racking position, chest press, goblet squat, and many other details.
After you have healed, take a step back and this time, cover the fundamentals of kettlebell training so you can avoid getting injured again. If you do not fix the cause then you will find yourself in the same situation again.
Video with all the recommended workarounds
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To work with professional kettlebell coaches on injury prevention and minimizing risk you should check out our private online group called the Caveman Inner Circle. This group is designed to help people learn about kettlebells through the publishing of a new kettlebell workout each week, personalized feedback and coaching, and above all, it’s a place for accountability and motivation.
As a member of the group, you’ll also be able to receive many other exercises and workarounds for your issue once clearly identified.
Outside of the elbow, Tennis elbow.
Inside of the elbow, Golfers elbow.
Isometric contraction and stabilization
We have spoken about avoiding the movements that cause issues but there is something just as important—perhaps even more so—to take into consideration. You can unlock this information below by a simple share or like. If you are a signed-in user of the website you will already be able to see the content below. If you unlocked the video above, this will also be unlocked.
As mentioned, there is something just as important as avoiding the movements that caused and aggravate the condition, that is an isometric contraction of the same muscles used for movement. Just because you are avoiding movements that caused and aggravate the condition that doesn’t mean that those same muscles are not used for stabilization through an isometric contraction.
A great example is the single-arm kettlebell swing. Let’s say that you are avoiding pronation/supination of the wrist, i.e. forearm rotation. You are swinging the kettlebell while holding the handle horizontal at all times to avoid pronation/supination, that doesn’t mean the same muscles used for those actions are not used, in fact, they are used for stabilization, i.e. keeping the handle horizontal throughout the swing. In other words, even though you are not actioning movement, the same muscles that would make the movement are being used and put under stress.
The same applies to the overhead press. There is stabilization happening in the forearm during the press, this is something you can’t avoid, hence the muscles are still being used but the use is minimized.
Signs and symptoms of tennis elbow
Pain on the outer part of the elbow from gripping and movements of the wrist, especially wrist extension and lifting movements.
Although it’s commonly referred to as “tennis elbow”, the condition is not limited to tennis players.
Prevention of tennis/golfers elbow
The prevention of any repetitive strain/tendon injury is to perfect the kettlebell technique and learn how to program correctly, but most of all, to identify any issues before they become serious and then implement your prevention training once identified.
The recovery time from golfers or tennis elbow injury varies from person to person but is usually anywhere between 2 to 3 months, full recovery usually within 3 to 6 months, and about 80% of people will fully recover within 12 months.
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