Why do I have pain in my elbow during bench press?

Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

The article below answers common questions about elbow pain during or after bench pressHowever, if you want an immediate solution, you can get instant access to TitaniumPhysique. Our program will guide you to a pain-free lifting experience. Ready to get started?

Elbow pain during bench press | Nurudeen performing flat barbell bench press at gym while wearing wrist wrap, elbow pain from bench press
Nurudeen performing flat barbell bench press at gym while wearing wrist wrap

Bench Press and Elbow Pain (FAQs)


1.  Why do I have pain in my elbow during bench press and how do I fix it?

Experiencing pain in the elbow during bench press can occur for several reasons, including restricted triceps or forearm muscles, an inadequate warm-up of these muscle groups before exercising, excessive resistance (such as with a heavy bench press), using poor lifting form or technique, or suddenly increasing the intensity or volume of your bench press training.

While any of these factors, individually or combined, can lead to elbow pain while benching, the primary cause for most athletes is restricted (shortened, tight, and tense) triceps and forearm muscles.

To cure or prevent this condition, prioritize proper form, gradually increase weights, and, most importantly, maintain pliable triceps and forearm muscles through self-myofascial release (SMR) exercises. These exercises can instantly relieve the restrictions in the muscles and minimize the risk of injury, overuse, and inflammation.

2.  Why do my elbows hurt after a chest workout?

Most chest workouts involve "push" exercises, such as push-ups, barbell or dumbbell bench presses, and machine chest presses. These exercises can trigger or exacerbate elbow pain because they heavily involve the triceps and elbow tendons. The repetitive use of the elbow during these exercises can strain and inflame the triceps and elbow tendons, leading to acute elbow pain after the workout. This is what causes your elbows to hurt after chest workouts.

Acute elbow pain is inflammatory pain experienced during or immediately after a workout. In this case, symptoms of acute elbow pain may include:

  1. Burning pain around the tip and joint of the elbow after benching.
  2. A sensation of heat, swelling, or redness in the elbow area after bench pressing.
  3. Soreness in the elbow after working out.
  4. Elbow pain when bending and straightening the arm after doing bench press.
  5. Sharp or severe elbow pain during or after "push exercises."
A side-by-side comparison photo of forearm extensors and triceps muscle. Illustration of the shoulder joint, scapula, arm bone, and triceps brachii muscle and tendon. Illustration of the forearm extensor muscle group and tendon

A side-by-side comparison photo of the forearm extensors and triceps muscle. Left photo: Illustration of the forearm extensor muscle group and tendon. Right photo: Illustration of the shoulder joint, scapula, arm bone, and triceps brachii muscle and tendon. When these muscle groups become shortened, they cause outer and posterior elbow pain during bench press. The "X" indicated on each photo is where trigger points in the forearm extensors and triceps muscle tend to occur. Trigger points or muscle knots, are small, hyperirritable spots within a muscle. They cause pain and tenderness and can develop due to muscle overuse, stress, or injury. Image source: Google.

3.  Why am I experiencing pain on the inside, outside, or back part of my elbow during bench press?

Suppose you feel pain on the outside or back of your elbow while doing bench press. In that case, the cause is usually a combination of the following factors: 1) restricted triceps and forearm muscles and 2) inflammation of the triceps and elbow tendon. During bench press, the forearm flexors, forearm extensors, and triceps muscles contract, which can pull and put tension on the inner, outer, and posterior elbow tendons, leading to pain in those areas.

The forearm flexor muscles can overstretch and strain the tendon on the inside part of the elbow, causing inner elbow pain (golfer's elbow). The forearm extensor muscles can overstretch and irritate the tendon on the outer part of the elbow, causing outer elbow pain (tennis elbow). Lastly, the triceps muscle can overstretch and exert tension on the tendon at the back of the elbow, causing posterior elbow pain (triceps tendinitis).

Inner, outer, and posterior elbow pain can be either chronic (developing over time) or acute (occurring suddenly from overloading the elbow). Acute pain is an inflammatory pain experienced during or immediately after exercise. So, in this case, experiencing inner, outer, or posterior elbow pain while benching is a sign of acute pain.

nurudeen performing flat barbell bench press and incline barbell bench press

Nurudeen performing a barbell bench press during a chest workout at the gym (2021). Click here to watch the video. The bench press is highly effective for building upper body strength and targeting the chest muscles. It primarily engages the pectoral, shoulder, and triceps muscles. The bench press is a "push" exercise. As such, it can trigger or worsen conditions such as tennis elbow (outer elbow pain), golfer's elbow (inner elbow pain), and triceps tendonitis (posterior elbow pain).

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4.  Why do I suddenly have elbow pain during bench press without an apparent cause?

The conditions that lead to elbow pain during bench press are gradual and cumulative. Over time, the repetitive use of the triceps and forearm muscles can lead to muscle restriction, causing them to become shortened and inelastic. This process of muscle restriction can take months or even years to develop.

When the triceps and forearm muscles are chronically restricted, everyday activities like carrying groceries, gripping objects tightly, or a bench press workout at the gym can unexpectedly trigger elbow pain without an apparent cause. Unfortunately, most people are often unaware of the restricted state of their forearm or triceps muscles until they experience this sudden onset of elbow pain during these activities.

5.  What causes elbow pain during bench press?

During a bench press, the triceps and forearm muscles actively contract. As you continue to exercise, the forearm flexor, forearm extensor, and triceps muscles can become tighter and shorter. The shortened triceps and forearm muscles increase elbow and triceps tendon tension, reducing their elasticity.

This leads to overloading and inflammation of the tendons, resulting in elbow pain during bench press. The tendons commonly associated with elbow pain during bench press include the inner elbow tendon (medial elbow tendon), outer elbow tendon (extensor elbow tendon), and posterior elbow tendon (triceps brachii tendon).

For a more detailed article on the root causes of elbow pain, including information on types of elbow tendonitis (tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, triceps tendonitis), elbow bursitis, chronic vs. acute elbow pain, and the fastest way to cure these conditions, read our complete guide on elbow pain.

Important: Apart from musculoskeletal injuries (muscle and tendon-related pain), other medical conditions can contribute to elbow pain during bench press. These include nerve entrapment and compression, bone fractures and dislocations, and arthritis, which causes joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness. If your condition is medically related, it's important to consult your healthcare provider to ensure no structural issues with your elbow.

A side-by-side comparison photo of forearm extensors and flexor muscles. Left photo: Illustration of the forearm extensor muscle group and tendon. Right photo: Illustration of the forearm flexor muscles and tendon

A side-by-side comparison photo of the forearm extensors and flexor muscles. Left photo: Illustration of the forearm extensor muscle group and tendon. Right photo: Illustration of the forearm flexor muscles and tendon. When these muscles groups become shortened, they cause outer and inner elbow pain during bench press. The "X" indicated on each photo is where trigger points in the forearm muscles tend to occur. Trigger points cause pain and tenderness and can develop due to muscle overuse, stress, or injury. Image source: Google

6.  Can the bench press cause elbow pain?

When performed with proper technique and form, the bench press exercise does not cause elbow pain. However, benching can trigger or worsen elbow tendonitis and elbow pain. "Push" exercises, such as the bench press, engage the triceps and forearm muscles, which can become tight and shortened over time, reducing their pliability. This tightness and lack of elasticity can overload the muscles and place excessive tension on the triceps and elbow tendons during bench press. When the triceps and forearm muscles are overloaded, it can stress and inflame the elbow/triceps tendons, leading to acute elbow pain (sharp, sudden, or shooting pain) or exacerbating chronic elbow pain (dull pain).

7.  Is bench press bad for elbows?

When performed with proper technique and form, the bench press exercise is not harmful to the elbows. However, it's important to note that benching without adequate warm-up, using excessive resistance, or suddenly increasing training volume can overload the elbow and triceps tendons, leading to elbow tendonitis and pain.

8.  Are close-grip bench presses bad for elbows?

When performed with proper technique and form, close-grip bench press is not bad for the elbows. Unlike the traditional bench press, which targets the pectoral muscles, close-grip bench press specifically targets the triceps brachii muscle. Therefore, it is more likely to trigger or exacerbate triceps tendonitis (posterior elbow pain). However, it's important to note that inadequate warm-up, excessive resistance, or sudden increases in training volume can overload the elbow and triceps tendons, potentially causing elbow problems.

nurudeen demonstrating how to perform close grip bench press to avoid elbow pain

Nurudeen performing a close-grip bench press during a triceps workout at the gym (2019). The close-grip bench press is a highly effective exercise for building upper body strength and specifically targeting the triceps muscles. The close-grip bench press is a "push" exercise. As such, it can trigger or worsen conditions such as tennis elbow (outer elbow pain), golfer's elbow (inner elbow pain), and triceps tendonitis (posterior elbow pain).

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9.  Can bench press damage elbows?

When performed with proper technique, bench press does not cause damage to the elbows. However, individuals who already have elbow tendonitis may experience an exacerbation of chronic pain or the development of acute elbow pain, which can potentially lead to elbow tendinosis.

Tendinosis is a condition characterized by the degeneration of tendon collagen due to repetitive stress and chronic injury. It can result in a loss of strength in the tendon and may even lead to tendon tear or rupture. Therefore, performing bench press with pre-existing elbow tendonitis (i.e., inflammatory tendon pain) can increase the risk of developing elbow tendinosis and potentially cause damage to the elbows.

10.  Can you hurt your elbow doing bench press?

When performed with proper technique and form, the bench press is a safe exercise and unlikely to cause injury to the elbow. However, any or a combination of the following factors can lead to elbow pain during bench press:

  • Inadequate warm-up and stretching routine for the triceps and forearm muscles before benching.
  • Using excessive weights (e.g., heavy bench press).
  • Poor bench press form or technique (e.g., improper grip, narrow grip, bouncing the bar off your chest).
  • Sudden increase in training volume (i.e., performing an excessive amount of bench press sets).
  • Benching while experiencing ongoing elbow or triceps tendonitis.
  • Inadequate rest and recovery days between triceps and elbow-intensive workouts (e.g., chest and triceps workouts).
Nurudeen from TitaniumPhysique performing barbell incline bench press at gym

Nurudeen performing barbell incline bench press at the gym (2021). Click here to watch the video. The incline bench press is a variation of the traditional bench press exercise, specifically targeting the upper pectoral and deltoid muscles. "Push" exercises like the incline bench press can aggravate conditions such as tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, and triceps tendonitis (posterior elbow pain) in athletes.

11.  Can I still bench with elbow pain?

It depends on the severity of the pain. If it's "low to mild," you can use conventional relief remedies such as sports or kinesiology tape, elbow sleeves, elbow braces, or elbow straps to reduce pain during the exercise. However, if the pain is chronic, severe, or causes sharp, shooting, or stabbing pain when benching, treating the underlying cause is best before resuming your physical training.

12.  What happens if bench press-induced elbow pain is left untreated?

If bench press-induced elbow pain is left untreated, it can lead to several potential issues and complications. Ignoring the pain and continuing to perform bench presses or other exercises that exacerbate the condition may result in the following:

  • Worsening of the Pain: The initial discomfort can progress into more severe and persistent pain, making everyday activities challenging and affecting your ability to lift effectively.
  • Chronic Inflammation: The inflammation in the elbow tendons may become chronic, leading to a condition known as tendinosis, which involves degeneration of the tendon collagen and can cause long-term pain and weakness.
  • Reduced Range of Motion: Neglecting the pain may lead to stiffness and reduced range of motion in the affected elbow, hindering your ability to perform exercises and daily tasks.
  • Tendon Rupture: In severe cases, continued stress on the already injured tendons could lead to a partial or complete tear, requiring more extensive medical treatment and a longer recovery period.
  • Compromised Training Progress: Persisting pain may force you to avoid certain exercises or reduce the intensity of your workouts.
Illustration of elbow tendinopathy | elbow tendon tear

Illustration of elbow tendinopathy in the medial (inner) and lateral (outer) elbow tendon. During weight training, injured elbow tendons experience micro-tear damage, known as elbow tendonitis. As training continues, the condition of the elbow tendon worsens and becomes degenerative, known as elbow tendinosis. Ultimately, this progression can lead to the rupture of the elbow tendon. Acute elbow pain indicates elbow tendonitis, while chronic pain suggests elbow tendinosis. Source: Google Images

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13.  Which bench press variation is better to avoid elbow pain?

The best variations of bench press to avoid elbow pain are the resistance band or cable machine bench press. Here is a list of six bench press variations ranked from best to worst to prevent elbow pain:

  1. Resistance band bench press
  2. Cable machine bench press
  3. Chest press machine
  4. Dumbbell bench press
  5. Smith machine bench press
  6. Barbell bench press

All variations of the bench press can trigger or worsen elbow pain, but the resistance band or cable machine variations are better for avoiding such pain. Here's why:

  1. Resistance Band Bench Press: Provides constant tension in the muscle throughout the entire range of motion, reducing the risk of injury compared to using heavy dumbbells or a cable machine. It allows for modifications in arm and elbow position, reducing pressure on the elbow.
  2. Cable Machine Bench Press: Enables arm isolation and less weight on one arm if needed, which helps prevent and avoid elbow pain. The exercise can be adjusted by increasing weights in smaller increments and varying the speed of reps.

In comparison, the dumbbell bench press is preferable to the barbell bench press due to its arm isolation and natural range of motion, requiring lighter weights. On the other hand, the barbell bench press enables heavier weights, increasing resistance and potentially overloading the triceps and forearm muscles, leading to elbow pain.

Lastly, the Smith machine bench press and chest press machine provide guided and controlled motion, reducing strain on the elbow joint. The fixed movement pattern promotes proper form and minimizes unnecessary stress on the elbows, making them suitable options for individuals experiencing elbow pain.

Photo of a man performing chest press with a resistance band

Photo of a man performing chest press with a resistance band. The Resistance Band Chest Press targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps muscles. It involves using elastic resistance bands to simulate a pushing motion, providing variable tension throughout the movement. It's versatile, effective for strength building, muscle development, and rehabilitation. The elastic bands provide controlled motion, making it joint-friendly and suitable for different fitness levels. It promotes upper body strength and is beneficial for those recovering from elbow and shoulder injuries.

14.  What is a good bench press alternative to avoid elbow pain?

Here are seven good bench press alternatives to avoid elbow pain:

  1. Cable Chest Fly (variations: standing, flat, incline, decline bench)
  2. Cable Crossover
  3. Machine Chest Fly
  4. Pec Deck Machine
  5. Dumbbell Fly (variations: flat, incline, decline)
  6. Push-Ups (variations: wall-support, kneeling)
  7. Dumbbell Pullovers

All of these exercises limit strain on the forearm extensor tendon that connects to the elbow, as well as the triceps tendon. This can help you avoid tennis elbow or triceps tendonitis (posterior elbow pain) while benching.

15.  Do elbow sleeves help with elbow pain when benching?

Yes, elbow compression sleeves, such as elbow straps and support braces, can help alleviate outer elbow pain while benching. However, it's important to consider the pros and cons of using elbow sleeves to manage bench press-related elbow pain.

Pros: Elbow compression sleeves provide compression, which improves blood flow, enhances joint position awareness (proprioception), and offers support to the muscles and tendons surrounding the elbow joint. The compression promotes better circulation, stabilizes the joint, reduces swelling, alleviates pain, and can help prevent further damage during heavy bench press workouts.

Cons: There are potential drawbacks to relying solely on elbow compression sleeves, especially for individuals with multiple chronic elbow injuries such as tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, triceps tendonitis, or elbow bursitis. Depending solely on sleeves for pain relief may mask the underlying problem, allowing athletes to continue benching without addressing the primary factors of their pain or the underlying muscle restrictions that contribute to the condition.

It's important for athletes to seek treatments that address the underlying causes of their elbow pain rather than relying solely on compression sleeves. This approach ensures long-term joint health and helps prevent further injury.

Nurudeen bench pressing with elbow sleeves. Using elbow sleeve for elbow pain

Nurudeen performing barbell bench press during chest and back workout (2018). Click here to watch the bench press video. Wearing elbow sleeves during bench to reduce chronic elbow. "Push" exercises such as bench press aggravate tennis elbow, golfer's elbow and triceps tendonitis.

16.  How long does it take to heal elbow pain caused by bench press? (Sharp, severe, shooting, burning, or dull pain)

It's possible to relieve elbow pain from benching, by releasing the forearm flexor muscles, forearm extensor muscles, and triceps muscle and tendon. This can be achieved by using a myofascial release massage ball, which helps alleviate tension on the elbow tendons and promotes healing.

By utilizing a combination of post-workout treatments such as RICE therapy (to relieve burning pain), magnesium supplementation (to reduce inflammation), and self-myofascial release (to alleviate sharp, shooting, and dull pain), it is possible to treat and heal elbow pain from benching within 7-10 days. This will involve performing self-myofascial release (SMR) on the triceps and forearm muscles at least 2-3 times a day.

However, it is important to keep in mind that while resting the elbow (i.e., taking a break from physical training) may provide temporary relief, it will not fix the root cause of the pain - restricted triceps and forearm muscles that overload the elbow tendons and lead to elbow pain during the bench press.

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17.  What options do I have to stop my elbows from hurting during bench press?

To stop elbow pain during bench press, you have two approaches: short-term relief remedies and addressing the root cause of the pain.

Short-term pain relief remedies include joint supplements and vitamins, anti-inflammatory painkillers (NSAIDs), physical therapy, stretching, ice and rest therapy, elbow braces, elbow straps, kinesiology tape, and topical anti-inflammatory solutions (oils and creams).

To permanently cure elbow pain and prevent it from affecting your workouts, it's essential to address the root causes, which include chronic inflammation, magnesium deficiency, and muscle restriction. The TitaniumPhysique Program can help you achieve this goal.

Man performing machine chest press at gym

A man performing Machine Chest Press. Machine Chest Press is a "push" exercise that targets the pectoral and front deltoid muscles. It is an effective exercise to strengthen and build the pectoral muscles. "Push" exercises like the Machine Chest Press can trigger elbow tendonitis or worse elbow problems.

18.  How can I avoid and prevent elbow pain from benching?

Firstly, it's important to note that part of avoiding chronic elbow pain is preventing acute elbow pain. If you start to feel elbow pain when benching, use less weight. If the pain persists, stop the exercise and train another body part that doesn't involve your arm and elbow. Pushing through the pain will intensify the degree of post-workout acute inflammation, worsen the pain symptoms, and prolong the recovery of the elbow.

To avoid and prevent elbow pain, follow these steps:

  1. Stretch your triceps and forearms before benching. You can find examples of forearm stretches here.
  2. Start your workout by warming the elbow and triceps tendon (e.g., perform 20 bench reps with a light barbell).
  3. If performing heavy bench press, incrementally add weights to avoid sudden overload of the triceps tendon and elbow tendons.
  4. Learn and use the correct bench press technique. Check out this article on "How to master the bench press".
  5. Incrementally increase training volume (i.e., be mindful about doing excessive bench press sets).
  6. Supplement with magnesium to heal and decalcify the elbow tendons. Magnesium also relaxes muscles in the arm to reduce pain.
  7. Incorporate self-myofascial release for elbow pain into your recovery routine. Perform SMR on the forearm extensors, forearm flexors, and triceps muscle/tendon at least twice a week to keep the forearms and triceps pliable.

Remember: restricted triceps and forearm muscles that cause elbow pain develop over many years. It is necessary to use the correct treatment techniques to get lasting results. If you want an easy-to-follow video guide, you can click here to access the TitaniumPhysique Program.

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Written by: Nurudeen Tijani

Nurudeen (aka TJ) is passionate about helping people build the body they desire through weight training. He is a physique and fitness trainer, nutritionist, yoga instructor, vegan natural bodybuilder, National Physique Committee (NPC) competitor, and founder at TitaniumPhysique. Nurudeen is a member of the International Association Study of Pain (IASP) and the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA).

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