It is not uncommon for lifters to develop some pain in their elbows associated with squatting. This is most common in lifters that are squatting low bar style and they don’t have awesome flexibility. They are often squatting at least once a week if not more frequently. This pain can develop to become quite inconvenient and it may even force lifters to take time off from squatting, which is good for the elbow but shitty for your squat. Outlined below are some tips to help you deal with this issue should it arise for you. The tips are listed in the order I suggest you implement them: with simple fixes that you can do immediately listed at the top, to more drastic measures that might affect your squat listed at the bottom.
Use an open grip – an open grip (thumb on the same side of the bar as the fingers) helps the wrist stay straight (less extended). Significant wrist torque will pull on and aggravate the elbow (the connection between wrist position and elbow pain is something most people don’t realize).
Use wrist wraps – Wrist wraps are legal is essentially every federation – even the more hardcore “raw” ones. Wrist wraps will keep the wrist from jacking back excessively (extending) which in turn helps save the elbow (and the wrist too). Personally I appreciated wrist wraps on my squat even more than my belt because of the pain they saved me.
Widen your grip – The negative of a wide grip is that it can be harder to get your upper body tight, but if you are in extreme pain this is obviously an okay trade off. Widening your grip should allow you to achieve more a neutral wrist angle (the back of the wrist is more in alignment with the forearm). If you have to you can start quite wide (think of the racks in the “in” position) and then gradually work your grip in from there, maybe 1 finger in a week to help you acclimate to that position.
Point the elbows down – When the bar is on your back you want to think about performing a lat pulldown with it to help keep your core tight. I generally like most of the advice in Starting Strength but this is one area where I disagree with Rip. Keep the elbows down and you should be more comfortable and hopefully you can stay more upright. The elbows up position is almost sure to put more pressure on the wrist and elbow unless you are extremely flexible.
Train the biceps – Blood flow, and strong muscles, are two keys to helping an injury heal. You don’t have to aim to become a curl junkie. Incorporate a few sets of higher rep curls, preferably hammer curls, once or twice a week at the end of the workout. 3 sets of 10-20 reps with a short break, even with just 20-30 lbs, often works wonders with this problem.
Perform High Bar Squats – this is more of a significant change but it may be enough to keep you squatting if the pain is bad. High Bar squats are much easier on the shoulder and elbow. Follow the other guidelines as well (open grip, elbows down, wrist neural, wrap your wrist).
Improve upper body flexibility – Work in improving upper body flexibility. Shoulder dislocations is the first suggestion; wall or floor glides are good too; overhead squats for the advanced people in the group. You can just perform walkouts with a bit of weight (135) on your back with your hands in squat position to speed up the process. See my favorite upper body warm-up article for more info (insert link).
Use another bar – If it is really bad you may need to switch bars – the safety bar or a cambered bar may feel better if you have access to them. If not, proceed to the last step.
Perform another squat – You might have to really switch up your squat style if the pain is crippling, at least for a few weeks. Moving to front squats or goblet squats may be your best choices for the time being.
Squatter’s Elbow sucks but it is manageable/preventable with proper training and some attention to flexibility and mobility. Give these tips a try and spend less time in pain and more time under the bar.