Back Training with Sore Elbows

Sore joints are a fact of life after my nearly 50 years of training.

Well okay, I haven’t been training for 50 years.

pull up exercises

I coasted those first five years until I started competitive swimming at the age of 5.

challenge workouts

Aaaand, I’m not quite 50 yet.

In any case, hard training means the possibility of injury. It seems you’re damned if you’re inactive and you’re damned if you’re active. The trick is to listen to your body and work around things.

That dang human flag and excessive pull ups sometimes flares up my elbows, so the instant I feel them I back off on the things that irritate I know cause irritation. Note: I don’t stop training! So many people think that because their knee or elbow or finger is sore, it’s a good reason to sit on the couch and watch re-runs of Friends. Boo to that!

Smart training can actually aid recovery when you go about it correctly. Movement, even to an angry joint, can bring blood flow and healing. The key is to work within a pain free range of motion and unload movements, that is, do things without added weight,  while building up the range of motion.

Of course, I’m not a doctor so the advice I give is based on my own experience. You’ll do what’s right for you. I have a lot of background knowledge, especially with my own body and how it works and feels. You need to develop the same. Honestly, if you saw the box of training journals I had you may be surprised. I’m pretty meticulous with them, I note any ache or pain, intensity of any pain (rate it on a scale of 1-10), I note weight, time of day I train, energy level, and then body parts and what I’m doing in the workout. I have a cool system that works for me. I’m not telling you to adopt my system, I’m just saying that quantifying things helps me pinpoint when an ache starts etc so that when I do seek medical attention I can give solid information so we can get to the bottom of things and start the recovery process right away.

Challenge workout journals
Just a few of my training journals...

I digress…

I had a back day planned and my elbows were a little tender. That ruled out any kind of pull up movement ;(

It’s difficult to train back without bending the arms, biceps are heavily involved in any back training.

Here’s a cool workout circuit that I did that minimized elbow pain, baked my back and got my heart pumping all at once.

Timer: 45/15 (45 seconds work/15 sec rest or transition)

  • burpees (I averaged 10-12 reps)
  • cable row with neutral grip (I did 100 lbs x 10-12 reps)
  • KB swing (I did 35 lbs x 20-25 reps)
  • BB deadlift (I did 90 lbs x 10-12 reps)
  • DB pull over (I did 35 lbs x 8-10 reps – this was my active recovery)

Repeat 4-5 times

I finished with narrow parallel grip pull downs and cable pull overs (holy lats on fire!) for three super-sets.


pull up exercises
Cable pullover position A
pullup exercises
Cable Pull over position B

Then I rolled out my back and elbows with a foam roller.

A few notes on the exercises here:

I like the DB pull over and the deadlift because I can target the back muscles without aggravating the elbows.

pull up exercises
DB pull over position A



pull up exercises
DB pull over position B

I’ve discovered the KB swing, but you’ll notice that I use a plate. In my gym, the KB’s are tucked away in the personal training area along with other fun things like the TRX. I suppose they may be considered  ‘dangerous’ and us common folk can’t use them unless accompanied by a ‘personal trainer’ in the gym. Once every cable on the commoner side was broken and I ventured into the personal training area to use one. I was promptly asked to leave. It must have been clear that I didn’t know what I was doing and would hurt myself…

pull up exercises
KB swing position A
pull up exercises
KB swing position B

If you’re suffering from sore elbows, you’re in luck. Well, not lucky really, but I have some help for you.

If you’ve been reading the blog, you know that I’ve been featuring my friend, Rick Kaselj who has some answers regarding elbow pain. You’ve seen Rick on my blog before.  He has a program that will help you like it helped me. You can check it out here. He’s put together an awesome deal just for my readers.