The Zen of Tendonitis (And Other Injuries)


The most common ailment of the calisthenics athlete is tendonitis – an inflammation of the tendons, in this case where they insert around the elbow – caused by overuse. Pretty much everyone who trains in bodyweight with some degree of enthusiasm gets it at some point, and those who don’t rein in that enthusiasm end up with it for a while.

What many don’t realise is that muscles grow relatively easily and quickly – apply tension, eat, rest, repeat, and you’re pretty much guaranteed they’ll grow. The tendons and ligaments that attach these muscles to themselves and to your skeleton, however, don’t follow quite the same path. It can take upwards of six months for them to even begin strengthening and getting used to an increased training load, and often you’re looking at years for them to reach a condition to safely start subjecting them to the stresses and strains of advanced static moves (like levers and planche).


The reason for the title is because in preventing and treating the condition, a little zen is required – mindfulness, slowing down, self-love, healing… all that hippy shit -and to help you along your path to enlightenment, here’s Bar-barella’s run down of attributes which will make you prone to the condition:

You’re light

Slim, lean, skinny (or short!)… however you describe yourself, there’s not a lot of meat on your bones, which makes lifting and holding your bodyweight much easier than it does for us regular-sized folk. Woohoo! However, without the weight to hold you back you can do a lot of reps, and of course the more you do the more chance you have of developing an over-use injury. Obviously there isn’t much you can do about your genetics, but there is something you can do about an inability to exercise moderation.

You’re training too much


You’re loving this type of training, seeing mega-gainz, feeling buzzed, confident and are chasing progress like this dog does a ball. However… you also don’t take enough rest and are new to strength training so you’ve not yet got much of a clue when it comes to programming and scheduling your workouts to ensure adequate rest and recovery. 

You’re going too heavy


You’ve seen videos of the Hard Hitters(tm) doing weighted pull ups and now you’re all like “fuck yeah I can do that shit!”. But you don’t realise those guys have worked up to doing them over the course of years. Whilst you may be able to sling on a weight jacket or dip belt and bang out some pull ups, unless you keep your progress slow and steady, some pesky injury’s gonna come and bite you on the ass. Then you’ll never be able to tag Ranjit in a video on Facebook, just so he gets to see your hot body doing pull ups in your bedroom doorway. And wouldn’t that be a shame.

You’re going too hard

Similar to the above, but in this case you’re all about doing flashy tricks. You don’t care about much else apart from being able to bang out muscle ups in front of girls in the park, or show your mates what a badass you are by nailing a back lever before they do. Well guess what? Rush into it too fast and you’ll mess yourself up. In many ways worse than by adding too much weight too hard, since the positioning of the back lever with so much strain on the delts and shoulders, and the tension of the front lever, in which the strain is often taken (at least in beginners) by the biceps due to the arms not being straight (as opposed to the lats, which should be doing the work) can wreak all kinds of painful havoc on the body. 

If you are not working through the proper progressions over a decent amount of time (that can be measured in months) then you’re leaving yourself open to injury, as well as making your progress a frustrating experience for yourself.

You’re a stubborn git

If you’ve found yourself reading the above and thinking that I’m over-stating the case, you’re probably one of these. You know the people – the ones who think they know it best and blindly plough on with whatever it is they know to be right, regardless of the effect of it on themselves and other people.

Got a weird pain in your elbow? Rest. A few days off definitely won’t kill you, and actually you’ll be amazed how fresh you feel after a few weeks off (you’re going to have to trust me on this one). You won’t lose your precious gains and wither away to a skinny little geek, but you will give your body a chance to quell the inflammation and let it repair itself.

So there you go. Don’t be one of those people who comes to one of my classes and workshops with your elbow strapped up, sheepishly explaining that you think it’s a bit of tendonitis… Because I may just start sending you home!


The Serious Bit

If you are suffering, here’re some things you can do:

  • Rest
  • Massage and icing (do one, then the other, repeat)
  • Rest
  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet: no grains, no refined foods, no coffee, no booze, no dairy. Lots of green vegetables, fish and stuff like ginger and turmeric to promote healing.
  • Rest
  • Work on your wrist flexibility. Try this article by GMB for some suggestions.
  • Rest
  • Strengthen your forearm extensors – the ones that make your hands spread, as opposed to contract. Check out this video for some ideas.
  • Rest
  • Do your own research. There are all kinds of methods, some good, some not so good, but to find the one that works for you, spend some time with Our Dear Lord Google and research the shit out of it. If you don’t know where to start, I’d say climbing forums and the bodyweight section of sites like Reddit would be wise.
  • Rest

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3 Responses

  1. Ben says:

    This also works for achilles tendons *cough*

  2. Tomy says:

    Really long and empy text about actually healing an elbow, everything I already knew. I didn’t rush it and progressed slowly years by just bodyweight excercise and also get that elbows fucked up and also my right shoulder. The text doesn’t actually base on how to physcally heal the elbow and just to rest and rest, really stupid.

    • Fi Silk says:

      Why, thank you for your informative and incisive comment. I guess you missed the part about it not being a serious article, and the advice it gives at the bottom to go and research your own injuries. Good luck with your training :)