The word function gets thrown around a lot in fitness circles. Marketing ploys and buzzwords circle this sacred term and cloud our vision of hat function actually means, our ability to understand how the body is meant to function in system is our best asset when it comes to troubleshooting when the body starts to act in ways discontinuous to function.

True function is high performing, and ultimately, pain-free.

When it comes to elbow pain, a common malady of many barbell athletes, we need to understand how the elbow is meant to function in system in order to begin to triage and treat this with a high level of accuracy and specificity.

The elbow acts primarily as a hinge joint, which is the joint between the ulna and the humerus. This humeral-ulna joint is designed to work through flexion/extension only, however, the joints above (shoulder) and below (wrist) have an incredible ability to work through all three planes.

If we look at a conventional athlete and how their shoulder gets used in sport, you'll start to carve out a stark contrast between them and barbell athletes, powerlifters specifically. In sports like boxing, or baseball, the athlete will allow for full integration of the shoulder as it freely manifests itself at the wrist. Which is to say on a punch, for example, if the shoulder starts externally rotated the palm is relatively neutral, but as the jab is completed the scapula elevates and protracts, the shoulder internally rotates and the palm begins to resemble a position of pronation.

Compare that synergy of movements to something like a barbell bench press, where there is no integration of movement at the scapula, and no movement at the wrist. That movement that was required in the full shoulder function of the jab is still required during the bench press, but because the shoulder and the wrist are relatively immobilized there is no moment for that movement to transfer fluidly into the wrist. So the demand to the elbow to stabilize or resist force becomes great, and the only way to manage these forces is by utilizing the musculature that crosses the elbow. These muscles get reflexively tight to better support that hinge of the elbow which now has torsional stress applied to it that it's not meant to manage.


The best way, from purely a palliative approach to address bench press related forearm or elbow issue is to be super-compensate into a position of full integrated function. Which is to say, force the elbow into the position that it should be in when the shoulder and wrist should be in when functioning in unison, and get it out of the chronic position it finds itself in when being torqued in movements like the bench press, or in some cases, the barbell squat.

Follow this video here and see if reintegrating full shoulder function is the fix you’ve been needing for your elbow pain.

Stay Strong,

Jordan Shallow