If barbell squats weren’t hard enough, the last thing you want to encounter is upper body problems for primarily a lower body movement. Lateral elbow pain and medial elbow pain are common issues that occur when trying to make gains in the gym.
In the past, my elbows have bothered me before when doing squats, but after time off, foam rolling and voodoo flossing it’s gone away. Now that I’m much stronger, elbow pain has reared its ugly head once again, but this time it’s worse.
Medial elbow pain or inner elbow pain is sometimes difficult pain to describe (at least the type I have). It happens mostly on my left arm and it’s not a type of pain that you can grind through. Fortunately, my front squats have gotten much better because of it. So at least there is a silver lining to this injury.
I’ve come across some explanations about medial elbow pain as a form of tendinosis, which is slightly different than tendinitis.
I’ve searched far and wide on youtube for solutions to this problem. Paul Carter of Lift Run Bang has a popular youtube video that talks about fixing your low bar back squat, although it’s helped, it hasn’t quite solved my problem completely.
I bought a program called Fix My Elbow pain by Rick Kaselj, although the program has helped me make some progress it still wasn’t enough to fix everything. So I’ve decided to make my own video series on this specific topic.mes squatting heavy with elbow pain.
If this blog post helped you, be sure to share it! Also check out the next blog post on Elbow pain and squats.
the video above is a video version of this blog post
How to Front Rack Better for Front Squat Beginners
This journey with the barbell has been one of the best experiences of my life. With fitness and performance is was about marathon running and cycling, but now it’s all about the barbell.
The barbell will beat you up and will tell you’re a piece of ****. It’s a truth teller. You either conquer it or it conquers you. This inanimate object I’m falling in love with is the barbell.
Front squats. Mutha F’ing front squats. I hate. I hate them less now because I’ve had an incredible break through that has allowed me to front squat better. This is specific to the front rack, olympic style front squat.
*The break through tip*
As you begin to lower the bar you thrust your elbows up high and hard as you descend.
The common cue is “elbows up!” But when you’re inflexible and have poor mobility (AKA the broken leopard), the phrase ‘elbows up’ has very little meaning and is hard to comprehend. It’s really hard to do when you’ve had very little experience in the position.
However, if your front rack sucks as much as mine does there is one way you can use the ‘elbows up’ cue. Keep your elbows in the same as you begin the decent. It may sound simple and may sound obvious, but if you have the same problem i have; if you try to keep your elbows in the same position as you lower your body will stay up right a split second longer.
I don’t typically like squatting heavy in front of a mirror, but on occasion my circumstances in my gym don’t allow me to flip the rack around. Elbow pain has made it so I can’t back squat, and for whatever reason front squats is an alternative.
While facing the mirror I tried focusing on keeping my elbows in the same relative point in the mirror. It feels kinda feels like you’re flexing your lats forward, shoving the bar into your throat with medium force and using the initiation of the decent allow your elbows move up slightly. Because of the short abrupt decent, the bar decreases its pressure against your shoulders allow you to inch your elbows up a millimeters. If anything, it keeps them upright for a split second longer.
Because of this I can confidently front squat 270lbs now. I hope it helps you on your strength journey.
Your weakness could be all in your head. The weakest link in your squat, bench, deadlift, snatch, clean and jerk is all in your head.
What’s weak in your bench press? Maybe, probably triceps
What’s weak in your your squats? Maybe, probably your glutes, or your core.
What’s weak in your deadlift? Your low back or hamstrings.
What about your snatch or clean and jerk? Okay, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the olympic lifts, but much of what I talk about in this blurb will be about getting a global understanding of what you’re body is suppose to do optimally. Much of what I’ve learned about human movement comes from Kelly Starrett and the mobility wod as well as a combination of various high level strength athletes. Combine youtube / podcast university with 10+ years coaching regular people as well being a “broken leopard” you’ve got unique perspective from an ungifted athlete coach.
One of the major “gems” of information that set me to write about this comes from what I heard on the Mark Bell’s Powercast with Max Aita. About their discussion about Dmitry Klokov and how the russians train. Here’s a link to the podcast, and it starts at the 44:50 mark.
Dan Green was mentioned about his coaching. About how he doesn’t say much, but when he does, it makes so much sense. Simple stuff that hits you like a ton of bricks (paraphrasing what Max Aita said).
I went to Boss Barbell in Mountain View and had the opportunity to listen to his seminar (here are my notes). But recalling back to his manner of speaking and coaching style its interesting how all the dots started to connect in my mind. In a way, much of what he said in his seminar was about his overall view on program design for getting stronger and when he brought up the idea of your “technical max,” the idea connected with what Max Aita said in Mark bell’s Powercast.
So lets talk about technical max. When does your technique begin to break down? When do your squats, bench, deadlifts, power cleans, clean/jerk and snatches begin to falter? Like when your squats start to look like good mornings or when your back begins to round too much in the deadlift.
When your technique beings to break down, there is a weakness that expresses itself in your movement.
What is wrong with the way you’re moving? When you make a movement error you are expressing a weakness. Keep in mind, that doesn’t mean you don’t make the lift or you’re incapable getting stronger without giving it direct attention, it just means you’re leaving some power/strength/leverage on the table by not clearing up the movement fault.
The movement fault is a bottleneck. I learned this term from Gray Cook, it was such a big “ah-ha” moment for me when Kstar’s mobility wod and Cook talked about the idea on this video.
A movement is a pattern. Performing a pattern like a bench press or squat has a specific loading pattern that will provide optimal positioning and leverage (this varies by individual). This is technique. Sorry if this sounds vague, but bare with me.
One of the things I’m trying to work on in myself is an asymmetrical weight shift. I know this is one of major reasons in why I have knee pain in my left knee from time to time. Although I’m right handed, left leg and glute/hip complex is significantly stronger than my right. One way I know this is the case is that when I’m in the bottom of my squat for a pause with 80% or more of my 1RM, I can feel my left leg initiate the drive out of the hole.
What causes this? I’m missing range of motion in my RIGHT SIDE: hip and ankle. This is one of my bottlenecks that’s preventing me from getting stronger in my squat safely.
So what’s weak? Most likely and definitely my right glute. But the real question is what do I work on? Squatting without shifting is what really comes to mind.
What you lack in technique you can make up in strength (to a certain degree).
End of post. thanks for reading.
Dan Green on Squatting – my interpenetration
This part 2 of my blog post on what I learned at Boss Barbell, my previous post was about Dan green’s take on program design for powerlifters.
“Wedge yourself against the bar…”
This was reinforced during his talk as he mention in Mark Bell’s podcast of how he sets up for a heavy low bar squat. He said it’s similar to the way Sam Bird sets up. I found this video of Eric Lilliebridige and Sam squatting together. You can see the way he sets up as it is similar to the way I’ve seen Dan Green set up for his squats.
Sam Byrd setting up for the squat video starts at 2:31 mark. Watch this one rep and how he sets up for a 700lbs squat.
In hindsight it’s pretty obvious, but the one thing I was lacking when it came to making progress in my squats was my set up. I was simply not spending enough time setting up and preparing myself properly to squat heavy weights.
“if you move you can move your arms [after setting up] you’re not tight as possible.”
This is was a a kind of a “ah-ha” moment where the light bulb went off. Dan Green said that if he were to move his arms after setting up his arms would cramp big time.
I connected this to what he said on his interview with Mark Bell where he said [paraphrase]
“it won’t be comfortable, but it will be secure.”
In my own training, these were the biggest takeaways for me.
I got a few minutes to have Dan Green coach me in front of 250 people. I did 2 sets of 5 reps as he observed my movement. The biggest mistake that I was making in front squatting was losing my upper back tightness.
The main cue I’ve heard and have been taught when it comes to front squatting was the phrase “keep your elbows up.” As simple as that sounded, that didn’t work for me to get me to perform the movement well.
As he was coaching me, he mentioned that I was letting my hips go to far back as I tried to get out of the hole. He suggested that I stay tight in the upper back and lead with my chest when I go back up.
The way I interpenetrated in my own training was to re-tighten thoracic extension after getting to the bottom .
Another thing he mentioned that helped me a lot was a mention about the shoulder blades on shoulder retraction. In that, there really shouldn’t be any, if you have shoulder retraction you won’t have the “shelf” to hold the barbell.
To some this may be obvious, to me it wasn’t.
I think in the mind of many people, thoracic extension goes hand in hand with scapula retraction, but not in the case of the front rack for the front squat.
A really great way to train for the front squat was to do partial reps. This provides the correct feedback for how you should perform the movement.
In my mind and in my view, it will keep the bar path in the correct line.
Of course these are basically the same thing, but sometimes people need a certain “cue” that will get them to stay in the right position.
My next post will be about Bench Press.
View my original notes I took on my ipad.