I lift Heavy (amateur strongman). I have been struggling with tendonitis in my left elbow. I believe I have the cause narrowed down to my squatting. I am currently doing my 5x5 at around 500 lbs. I have thought that maybe this is due to shoulder mobility (Though I can overhead squat fine.)

Is this the reason that people use spider squat bar?

How can I reduce the pain and cause of my tendonitis?

  • What kind of squat style? I assume low bar because you're experiencing pain.
    – maxywb
    Sep 13, 2013 at 20:09

2 Answers 2


Having dealt with elbow tendinitis successfully, there's a couple things to look out for:

  • How tight are my hands when I'm squatting?
  • Is my upper body work triceps dominant or biceps dominant?
  • How often am I lifting at 90+% of my max?

Sometimes you can alleviate a lot of stress on your elbows just by bringing your hands out a little further on the bar. Some "how to" squat guides suggest that you generate upper back tightness by getting the hands as tight toward your body as possible while squatting. All this does is allow the weight of the bar to transfer to your elbows. You can (and should) keep a tight upper back when you squat, but that is separate from your hand position. First time I dealt with tendinitis this was all I had to do.

A common plight for power lifters is that they spend a lot time pressing in some fashion or another, but don't have nearly enough pulling or curling. If you are doing a lot of overhead work for your strongman event preparation, be sure to do some high rep curls once a week to help keep the joint healthy. Barbell, dumbbell, etc. it doesn't matter what type of curl, just do 5 sets of 20 (100 reps total). The goal is to get blood flowing through the joint to flush away inflammation. The compression treatment works on the same principle, but the curls actually correct the muscle imbalance. Same can be true if you have a lot of biceps work compared to triceps work, in that case do the 5x20 work with close grip bench press or some other triceps dominant movement. Second time I dealt with tendinitis this corrected the problem.

Lastly, if you spend a lot of time close to your max then you are putting your joints under a lot of strain. If you are doing supramaximal work (doing partials with greater than your max) such as bench lock outs or squat walk outs, that stresses your joints a lot. If the majority of your work is in the 70-80% range, that allows the joints to get stronger. Look at supramaximal work as an initial stressor that will take your body a couple weeks to fully recover from. It's better to get stronger with more volume overall than it is to constantly push maxes. This is true whether you do strongman or powerlifting. When you look at the way the most successful people in those sports train they average around 70-75% for the month--sometimes heavier and sometimes lighter. However, it helps their bodies stay strong and stay healthy. Constantly living in the 90+% range is just testing your strength--not building it. I went through a short phase where I played with supramaximal work. When the beginning signs of tendinitis started creeping in, I backed off and it went away.

Please do understand that there are times to go into the 90+% range. As I'm currently in a peaking cycle for competition I'll be hitting numbers in that range within a couple weeks. I just do the majority of my training sub-maximally and build strength on volume. This has really been key to keeping my training consistent and building a much better base of strength than I had last competition.

  • As per the advice my current plan is to do more bicep work in the higher rep range. I tried spreading my hand out when I was squatting. This caused the bar to slip down my back slightly. If the extra bicep work does not help manage the pain I will try to change up my squat form.
    – pufferfish
    Sep 16, 2013 at 15:08
  • With that statement, it sounds like the bar might be too far down your back, and too much of the weight is being supported by your arms. It should only require light pressure to keep the bar in place. Sep 16, 2013 at 18:45

I've heard much anecdotal evidence from a lot of powerlifting friends of mine that they pain in their wrists/elbows/shoulders from squatting heavy with the low-bar style. So I think your assumption is correct.

It's my understanding that people use the safety bar (spider bar, as you call it) for exactly this reason. There are other reasons, of course, but I've seen it most used for issues with pain in the shoulders/wrists developed while squatting heavy.

At some level of strongman/powerlifting, squatting without any pain isn't very attainable. But you should always be working to mediate the pain you're feeling with the appropriate accessory movements.

I agree with Mark Rippetoe that you can't let tendonitis slow you down. However there are a few things you can do to alleviate some pain:

  • wear compression sleeves to keep the joint warm/tight
  • compression treatments with bands or a cut up bike tire

The compression treatment seems like a scam, but it works like magic. Do it as soon as you feel pain and it's instantly better. This doesn't last a long period of time, but it's much better than popping pain killers to get through a workout.

And finally, I've seen it suggested (was going to link to lifthard.com, but his site doesn't have the page I want anymore...) that bodybuilding type exercises can go along way to preventing injury. What I mean is that you pick couple of single joint exercises (ie curls, tricep pushdowns, lateral raises, etc) and do them in high reps a couple times a week. I've done some of this for my shoulders and it seems to be helping keep the pain away. You'll have to experiment with this and find the exercises that work for you, but I guarantee you will find one or two that are actually beneficial.

  • I try to use belts/straps/wraps sparingly for maximal efforts and competitions. I do find that these help but I do not want to rely belts/straps/wraps for day to day training.
    – pufferfish
    Sep 16, 2013 at 15:11

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