(Please note this is not a duplicate from https://fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/29643/treating-pain-on-inside-of-elbow-possibly-tendonitis. The background is the same hence the same start, but this question is about prevention through exercise substitution, the other is about reactive treatment).

Several months ago I foolishly did a deadlift with a mixed grip, which I'm not accustomed to, to grind out an extra rep. Even more foolishly, I used my non-dominant left hand for the supine grip. Predictably this did a number on my left arm. For some time after that I had some pain around my left elbow, both front and back. It wasn't severe, but enough to be noticeable on some exercises like lying triceps extensions ("skull crushers") and rows and pull-ups. Now, after a couple of months, some of it is still noticeable. I tend to feel some pain at the location indicated below, which I believe will be either the distal biceps tendon (on the lateral wide when standing with supinated hands) or the brachioradialis.

location of pain

The pain isn't sharp, it's rather a dull pain, and only light to moderate. It is usually noticeable the day(s) after doing deadlifts, and during compounds involving the biceps such as rows and pull-ups. I'm currently looking into switching out some exercises for alternatives that don't aggravate it to prevent things getting worse. Here's the exercises that have a noticeable effect on it and what I've done or might do for them:

  • Deadlift: my favourite lift and the one with the best progress. I'm not planning on ditching this, but I'm never using a mixed grip again.
  • Barbell row: I do Pendlay rows, or something that has to pass for them. These make the problem worse. I do them to balance out bench presses and neither hate them or love them. I don't mind switching these with something.
  • Pull-ups: make the problem worse. Also, I sort of hate pull-ups. I wouldn't mind finding an alternative.
  • Barbell curls: I do these with the EZ-curl bar and curiously, they don't seem to have much effect on the pain. I think it's because of the more pronated grip with the EZ-curl bar, putting more load on the part of the tendon that doesn't hurt (medial side).
  • Lying triceps extensions: or skull-crushers, if you will. I switched these out with standing cable triceps pushdowns which seems to have taken care of pain on the back of the elbow.
  • Incline flyes: started using a pronated grip (back of hand turned up) instead of a hammer grip (palms facing each other) with slightly more elbow flexion. This again puts more load on the medial distal biceps tendon instead of lateral which seems to help.
  • Leverage ISO rows: don't mind switching this with something. Being a short guy also means that on some machines (the plate-loaded ones) I really have to stretch forward to grab the handles, which definitely seems like a bad idea.

So I'm looking for alternatives for barbell (Pendlay) rows, pull-ups and machine rows. Anything involving less biceps or elbow flexion would be great. Preferably exercises that can be done for strength and not just hypertrophy, but I realize this may be difficult because they tend to be compounds and would involve elbox flexion.

No need to suggest rest since I've done that without great effect (mentioned in related question: https://fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/29643/treating-pain-on-inside-of-elbow-possibly-tendonitis). I'm looking for preventative measures in adjusting my workout plan.

  • 2
    Possible duplicate of Treating pain on inside of elbow (possibly tendonitis)
    – Alec
    Apr 25 '16 at 8:00
  • 1
    @Alec Not a duplicate. The questions start the same but this one is about alternatives to exercises for the sake of prevention, while the other one is about treatment. I wanted to ask one question per post, per the directives of StackExchange.
    – G_H
    Apr 25 '16 at 8:42
  • I had problem(s) with forearms. Sometimes was better, sometimes problems stroked back... I did massages with lacrosse ball - sounds strange, but worked in my case. Sometimes I was unable to shake hand... Now - no problem. After exercises, a specially if you push your body to the limit... Muscles are getting shorter, as well as other structures. That massage allows releasing all of that. Try it out. It can only help. :) Apr 29 '16 at 18:29

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