Elbow pain when training triceps? This is the solution

Categories: Videos & podcasts


00:00 Intro

00:30 1) Go higher in reps

02:39 2) Go hard or go home

04:00 3) Use a contolled training tempo

04:57 4) Keep your forearms vertical

06:20 5) Trying different grips

08:18 6) Some exercises to be wary of and some to try

12:01 Conclusion


I have the elbows of a six year old girl… with osteoporosis. Tiny elbow joints mean not only that my arms are my weakest body part, they are also very easy to injure. If you suffer from elbow pain during pressing exercises or triceps exercises, I’m here to help you out. In this video I’ll give you six tips that I’ve learned from dealing with my own elbow injuries, coaching people for over a decade and reading all the academic literature on injury management

Numero uno. Go higher in reps. Connective tissue has lower plasticity than muscle tissue. What the fuck does that mean? It means that your joints, your ligaments, your tendons, they don’t adapt as well as your muscle tissue. And research finds that it takes a training intensity of around 70% of your 1RMs, or like your 12 rep max approximately to stimulate robust adaptations in tendon and other connective tissues. That means that if you stay below this threshold and you go with sets of 20 to 30 repetitions, it doesn’t stress the connective tissue as much. And anecdotally, going high in repetitions is extremely effective to get rid of any types of pain while lifting. High repetitions are criminally underrated when it comes to injury management and very often just going higher in repetitions is all you need to do. Of course, reduce the load and then do sets of 20 to 30 repetitions. I personally like to use sets of 30 repetitions, in part because it gets very tedious to go higher in repetitions and in part because it’s not entirely clear that we can stimulate the maximum muscle growth with sets over 30 repetitions. You probably can for some exercises because research finds that as low as 30% of your 1RM, as long as you go to failure can simulate the same amount of muscle growth as heavier sets. So you have to go close to failure, but then you can do very high rep sets and it’s very easy on the joints. You can make this strategy even more effective by using blood flow restriction training, also called KAATSU by the Japanese, if you know how to employ it. I’m not going to go into the details of that in this video. But the big benefit is that you can use even lower loads, because that is basically the point. When you are injured, you should think of how can I stimulate the muscle with the least amount of weight instead of thinking, how can I lift the most amount of weight possible. The only downside of using high repetitions is that it’s very bad for strength development. But do you really care so much about strength development for your triceps isolation exercises or the exercises that cause pain? If not, high repetitions are a very, very effective solution usually. You also have to realize that strength is extremely exercise specific. So you have to think, do you really care about strength for this specific exercise? a lot of serious lifters are kind of irrationally attached to strength in exercises where it doesn’t really matter for anything. So really make sure you have the right mindset and try high repetitions.

Zweiter tip: Go hard or go home. This may seem to contradict the previous step, but it doesn’t. Many people have a very, very difficult time finding the sweet spot of how hard they should train and how much pain they should ignore when they’re in the gym. Generally speaking, any type of pain for a serious lifter beyond that what you should experience for muscular exertion in general, is bad. If you’re a serious lifter, then any type of pain that you get in a gym should be avoided. That’s usually the default assumption that you should have. Only for longer term injuries and if you really know what you’re doing, then you can start ignoring some type of pain. Until that point, just avoid all pain. If you cannot do sets of 30 repetitions close to failure or even to failure, then it’s best not to bother at all. For most individuals, you are best off with either training hard on the exercise, trying to change the exercises, trying to change the training intensity, all the tips that I’m giving in this video, but if you cannot train hard with all the modifications and all that, using all the tips that you get in this video, then it’s best not to train at all. You just need rest. You can train other muscle groups. You can do a lot of exercises, probably, but not this specific exercise. So just don’t do it. Don’t even try and give it some rest. My experience is that people that are trying to train with a medium intensity or say, 5 to 10 reps away from failure, very often they still mess it up, they still aggravate the injury and it doesn’t really stimulate a lot of muscle growth or strength development. So you don’t get the best of both worlds. You get the worst of both worlds.

Terceira dica: Use a controlled training tempo. The more uncontrolled your movement, the more relative stress falls are your connective tissues. If you use a very controlled movement the muscles are coordinating more of the movement and they are taking more of the strain. It’s like when you’re going down and you’re doing an eccentric contraction your muscles should act as the brake. If your muscles don’t act as the brake, then connective tissues like your tendon has to take more of the strain. So generally speaking, the more controlled the movements, the less damage and injury risk there is for your connective tissues. Specifically for triceps exercises and pushing exercises and elbow pain it can also help to avoid complete elbow lockout. Some people are kind of sensitive to that. In general, it is not a bad thing for the elbow to lock out a joint. It is well adapted to that. But when you are injured it can be a little bit hard on the elbow joints for some people and it doesn’t add anything for most individuals to muscle growth. So avoiding full lockout during pressing exercises and triceps extensions is often beneficial.

Cuarto consejo: Keep your forearms vertical or use a wide grip during your pressing exercises. imagine over dumbbell here in my hand, now, at this point the torque is very high because this is essentially the moment arm. The distance here will be the moment arm. Now, if I have vertical forearms, the talk is very low, theoretically almost zero. So when you’re doing dumbbell bench presses, for example, a lot of people will intuitively be a little bit like this because this engages the triceps more and helps you lift more weight. It also reduces the moment arm for the delts and chest. However, if you keep the forearms vertical, then there is a lot less strain on the triceps and dumbbell bench presses aren’t a great triceps exercise anyway, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference for muscle growth and it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference often for your elbows. Similarly, for the bench press, go with a wider grip. You can even go as wide so that your hands are outside the elbows. So it’s like this. As I explained in my previous video on the effect of grip with during the bench press, the effect on the triceps is actually not that bad when you’re using a fixed object. It is bad when you’re using a dumbbell but when you’re using a fixed object the triceps can still activate very well due to horizontal forces. You the full explanation for that in that video. But for this video it means that the trade off in terms of muscle activity in the triceps to reduced strain on the elbow is very, very positive. Wide presses, for most individuals are far easier on the elbows and not all that much worse for the triceps. So that’s a big win.

Vijfde tip: Trying different grips. Very often you can actually get rid of elbow pain entirely just by using a different rotation of your wrist or by using a different grip. In general, using rotating implements like cables and dumbbells is easier on the elbows than fixed implements like a barbell, especially when the barbell or the machine forces your wrist and your elbow in a very fixed position. Generally, when you are putting your arm in a certain position, there will be a kind of intuitive alignment between the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder. Like this for me feels very natural. This for me does not feel very natural. This also doesn’t. So very often a good place to start is with the most natural alignment, which usually means neutral hammer type grips, dumbbells, cables… Then you can use what is the most intuitive movement for you. And also you can listen to your pain signals again and just rotate grip a little bit if you feel that it’s iffy in certain positions, usually you will naturally do the right thing when you have the freedom of movement. So that is very beneficial to reduce elbow pain. Speaking of your wrists, it can also be helpful for some individuals to do some wrist flexion exercises. So this type of movement, wrist flexion, something that a lot of people don’t train. And if you don’t train it at all and you’re like me and you have very weak elbows, then that can actually be very limiting. When you’re bench pressing, for example, you often see that people start slacking back their wrists and when the elbow slacks back, you don’t no longer have the vertical forearms and it puts more strain on the elbow joints, it increases the torque. So for a lot of individuals a little bit of wrist flexion exercise can help keep your elbows vertically aligned over the forearms and also keep the forearm more vertical. In general, a very strong grip and neutral alignments is beneficial for reducing pain while lifting. Of course this is individual. You should always listen to your own pain signals. Sometimes you get very weird results, but just go with it. For example, I found that completely supinated push downs are easier for my elbows than regular push downs, and it feels kind of a natural to put yourself in that position, but if there is no pain, it is probably better. Listening to your pain signals trumps most of the advice given in this video.

Tip number six Last piece of advice. Some specific exercises to be particularly wary of and some exercises to try. For the chest I like cable chest presses a lot. They are super underrated. You don’t see them done very often, but they provide one hell of a bump in your chest and they are very easy on the elbows. chest press machines are very often They have a somewhat more natural movement pattern, and they are also generally great pec building exercise. Barbell bench presses can be pretty rough. A lot of people get issues with them. They’re a lot better with a wide grip. So you can give that a try, but you may have to take them out If the elbow pain is bad. push ups can also be problematic, but with different types of grips and handles, push up handles, different wrist positions, you can make a big difference. Also, I really like suspended push ups in gymnastic rings or in the TRX. They’re much harder, which is good for one, because most normal push up variations are too easy for serious strength trainees. Secondly, they’re very easy on the wrists and the elbows because of the rotating handles. For the triceps, you should be particularly wary of skull crushers. Skull crushers are probably better named Elbow crushers because they are notorious for causing elbow pain. I much prefer skull overs which you can see here. Skull overs are a lot easier on the elbows for a lot of individuals. Again, this is all individual, but for a lot of individuals, these trends do apply so they can inform you which exercises to try first. So skull instead of skull crushers. Overhead triceps extensions are also a great triceps exercise, but they can also be hard on the elbows. You can make overhead triceps extensions a lot easier by going into full, full stretch for the long head of the triceps. So you really want to go all the way overhead, not like this. A lot off people it becomes almost like an overhead press, right? They are doing it this way, but instead you want to go all the way overhead and go this way and avoiding the lockout at the top, feeling what type of movement is best, again, using a controlled tempo for very high repetitions. Anecdotally, can use very, very low weights when you keep the constant muscle tension, you’re fully overhead because the hypoxia, the blood flow restriction is essentially automatic in this exercise heart has to pump the blood up. So a lot of people get insane pumps and can use very, very, very low weights when they do the exercise like that. The lower the weight you can use while still training very close to failure, the better for your elbows. Other good options include push downs for a lot of individuals. Normal push downs, though, are not as good for most individuals as the ones using a rope or a single handle. A single handle, somewhat supinated grip, see what grip feels best for you, can make a big difference compared to the standard straight bar. also like kickbacks specifically for individuals with severe elbow pain. I’m not a big fan of kickbacks in general because they don’t train the triceps in a stretch position and they just kind of cramp the triceps up. But when your elbow is injured, for a lot of individuals, kickbacks are really easy on the elbow. So if that’s the only exercise you can do, of course, then it’s a lot better than nothing. So give those a try. If all the other exercises hurt.

Alright. I hope that helps you get rid of elbow pain. Remember that the goal when injured is always to do as much as possible that is pain free. So don’t do what aggravates your injury, but do all the other things that you can. Modify your program as needed to get rid of pain entirely, for most individuals. Not “can you bear it?” It’s not a question of whether you can bear the pain. It’s a question of whether there really isn’t any pain. Modify the training intensity, the exercise selection, your exercise technique so that you use the lowest amount of weight possible. Don’t go chasing for heavy weights when you’re injured. Strength will have to take a bit of a back seat, but you can still stimulate maximum muscle growth in many occasions when you use these tips. If you want more fitness content, I’d be honored if you like and subscribe.

Mini Course on muscle building graphic Want more content like this?

Then get our free mini-course on muscle building, fat loss and strength.

By filling in your details you consent with our privacy policy and the way we handle your personal data.

About the author

Menno Henselmans

Formerly a business consultant, I've traded my company car to follow my passion in strength training. I'm now an online physique coach, scientist and international public speaker with the mission to help serious trainees master their physique.

» Join in and discuss this article on Instagram
Share via
Send this to a friend