Elbow and Wrist Pain During the Bench Press
Bench Press Injuries and Easy Ways to Fix & Prevent Them
After shoulder pain when bench pressing, wrist and elbow pain are the other two most common injuries a lifter can experience during the bench press. In this guide, you will find some effective yet easy tips to prevent this pain from occuring in the first place and what to do if you are already struggling with it.
Additionally, you will find some recovery and supplementation recommendations at the bottom of this guide which should help reduce pain and inflammation on a body-wide level.
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Wrist Pain During the Bench Press
If you are experiencing wrist pain when bench pressing or hurt your wrist (assuming it is just a sprain - if there is loss of range of motion or brusing see a doctor), there are three easy and effective things you can do:
#1. Use the Right Grip
Most people hurt their wrists by letting the bar sit across the pads of their hands at the base of the fingers. This position may feel comfortable at first, but it causes the bar to sit slightly "behind" the wrists and puts a huge amount of strain on the wrist joint. It will always lead to injury and pain as you get stronger.
Instead, you need to turn your hands in slightly in such a way that the bar sits directly over top of your wrist. This is described in more detail in the bench press technique section.
#2. Choose a Thicker Bar
As a follow-up to point #1, you should use the thickest bar in your gym when bench pressing in order to decrease the chance of your wrist buckling and the bar rolling backwards in your hands. This is very common with thin bars as it is harder to get the center of mass of the bar in the right place.
You want to try to find a bar with a diameter of about 1 inch (2.54 cm). Some of the thinner barbells (even full-weight olympic ones) are only 3/4" an inch (just under 2 cm). These thin bars should be avoided.
#3. Get a Good Pair of Wrist Wraps
Wrist wraps are the only piece of equipment I recommend to everyone for use when bench pressing. I would not handle a max-rep weight without them or use over 350 pounds without this piece of equipment. People who have a sprained wrist can use the wraps as well to help support the wrist on all weights when benching so that they do not accidentally re-injure the wrist.
The risk of injuring your wrist is too high when maxing out to not use wrist wraps. Get a pair and keep them in your gym bag at all times.
Elbow Pain During the Bench Press
Elbow pain is also a common problem during the bench press. Fortunately, it is the easiest of all the types of pain to reduce. Here are three methods
#1. Warm Up With Rope Triceps Pushdown
One of the easiest ways to stop elbow pain during the bench prses is by performing 4 sets of 15-25 reps before bench pressing. Use a very light weight and just pump out the 80-100 reps over 4-5 sets. Warming up the elbows in this way is often enough to completely take away elbow pain during the bench press.
Before you think warming up is all mental, you shoud know that even a few degree temperature change in ligament temperature can significantly increase its flexibility, allowing it to support more weight and undergo more creep (the term for the stretching of a ligament) without resulting in injury.
#2. Avoid Skullcrushers or Overhead Triceps Extensions
Skullcrushers or any sort of barbell or dumbbell triceps extension is extremely taxing on the elbow. Avoid these exercises until your strained elbow heals over and is no longer painful. When it starts feeling better, only use skullcrushers or overhead triceps work after you have already performed several exercises of triceps.
These are a lot less likely to cause elbow pain after the muscle has been thoroughly warmed up. Additionally, you should already be somewhat fatigued at this point, meaning that you will not need to use nearly as much weight during these exercises.
#3. Use Flex-All Menthol Rub at Night
This may seem like an unusual tip, but this menthol rub increases the blood flow to the skin and surrounding tissue at the area where it is applied. The structures of the elbow are all near the surface, particularly the area at the bottom of the triceps and on either side of the elbow. This increased blood flow can help improve healing rates.
General Tactics for Reducing Inflammation
In addition to making the changes recommended above, you will want to use some strategies for reducing inflammation for best results. This will reduce pain and speed up the recovery process.
Rather than using NSAIDs or tylenol, try to instead just use ice packs to control temporary inflammation. While you should not be swelling significantly after working out, particularly if you apply the advice above, throwing an ice pack on the painful wrist or shoulder after a workout can speed up recovery.
Additionally, make sure you take a few grams of fish oil each day. These extra omega-3 fatty acids can speed up recovery time, reduce inflammation, and are great for battling chronic pain. Circumin is another good natural anti-inflammatory that helps reduce chronic pain.
Finally, reduce the amount of irritation you experience outside of the gym. There are two common culprits - the computer and sleeping. To reduce stress on the wrist and elbow if you type a lot, make sure that the desk you are using is no higher than just above your lap. A high desk puts more stress on the elbow when typing. Ideally, you want your arms to be straight at your side with your upper arm and forearm making a 90 degree angle at the elbow.
When sleeping, make sure you are not doing anything weird with your wrists or arms. One of the most common reasons for persistent wrist and arm pain is an awkward sleeping position rather than lifting in the gym. Many people aggravate their elbows and wrists at night and just happen to notice it in the gym, rather than the gym being responsible for the injury.
It is really hard to change your sleeping position if you are sleeping with a bent wrist or elbow. Many people have to resort to putting on a "sling" which keeps their arm straight at their side while they sleep. After a few months of wearing this, the habit of sleeping with a bench wrist and arm is usually broken and the sling is no longer needed.
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