Workout Tips

Lift Doctor: Forearm Pain During Heavy Lifts

The Doc's workout prescription for improving training performance and results.

Lift Doctor: Forearm Pain During Heavy Lifts

“I'm getting sharp pains in my forearms when I do heavy dumbbell bent over rows. What should I do? Is there a way to strengthen the forearm?” - Nasser Dahilig

Strengthening the forearms can be done easily in the gym with heavy rack pulls, plate pinches, high repetition dumbbell work, and by incorporating ropes and towels into your training, but I would like to look at your issue from a different perspective.

Many times, elbow pain and forearm pain aren’t always the result of a weakness. And the majority of time when there is pain, it doesn’t originate at the location of the pain, but up a connected fascial line (Thomas Myers, Anatomy Trains) or somewhere else in the body that has dysfunction or has lost position. 

For example, elbow pain during training can often be traced up the kinectic chain to the shoulders. When the shoulders lose position – or neutral posture – it can affect the biomechanics and movement of the humerus, and subsequently, the movements of the ulna and radius. This means the elbow will experience greater than normal wear and tear and stresses that can lead to pain or injury over the long-term. 

Master The Movement

You also want to make sure your technique is correct too. Rowing heavy dumbbells doesn’t only involve the movement of the arm; it also involves movement of the shoulder blades. To row correctly, your shoulder blades have to be mobile and the muscles that move the shoulder blades and hold them in position also have to be strong. Movements like push-up pluses and band-resisted retractions will get the shoulder blades moving, while face pulls and scapular wall slides will get the upper back fired up.

Finally, ensure that when you finish your pulls, your chest should be ‘proud’ and your elbow and upper arm should be in line with the angle of your back. Driving your elbow too far back can force your shoulder forward causing irritation on the anterior part of the shoulder and further facilitate poor upper body posture.


Meet the Lift Doctor

Jim Smith is a highly respected strength and conditioning coach and Fitness Advisory Board member for and numerous national publications.  Owner of Diesel Strength & Conditioning, Jim has been called one of the most "innovative strength coaches" in the fitness industry. Jim’s FREE gift – The Mass Report – has been used by thousands of lifters and athletes to build muscle faster and break through training plateaus.