February 10, 2013

The Best Exercise For Minimizing Pain In The Elbow While Maximizing Recruitment In The Triceps

Repetitive stress injuries are something that the majority of lifters will inevitably undergo while in pursuit of their goals, and ultimately these injuries end up limiting their ability to do things that they were once able to do without pain. One of the more common repetitive stress injuries I hear of in experienced lifters, and I deal with myself is, sharp pain in the elbow.

There can be a variety of causes for elbow pain from physiological (ex. inflammation), to biomechanical (ex. muscular imbalances), to the more obvious as it relates to an experienced lifter, repetitive stress from the accumulative effect of both direct (ex. lying triceps extension), and indirect (ex. bench press), tension taking its toll on the body.

Regardless of your level of knowledge/experience, most would agree that if one’s injured, the best remedy is rest, and especially avoiding the activities that caused the injury. But for those who take strength training seriously, to the point that it is no longer a hobby, but a way of life, taking time off is usually the last option that will ever be considered.

It’s in these times of desperation, where one simply has to train to maintain sanity, that an experienced lifter will enter what may be the most creative period of their strength training life. Instead of taking time off, regardless of how necessary it is, the experienced lifter will come up with ways to work around the injury.

In my experience, lifters that suffer from elbow pain seem to have very similar symptoms. They will say that some movements cause no pain at all (typically compound movements), and others cause an unbearable amount of pain to the point where certain exercises cannot be tolerated (isolation movements), and by performing them, they not only have to deal with the pain immediately (acutely), but for several days following as well (chronically).

While there are seemingly an unlimited number of ways in which one could perform an isolated movement for the triceps, the culprit as it relates to causing, and exaggerating, sharp, pain in the elbow is the lying triceps extension, and its variations (overhead, incline, decline). Because the bar is a ‘fixed’ piece of equipment in that, once you grab on, your arms can’t flow naturally as you lower and raise the bar, and as a result, a lot of unnecessary stress can be dumped onto the elbow. Combine this stress, with the indirect stress in the form of any kind of pressing movement, performed for years on end, and you have a recipe for disaster.

As far as the lying triceps extension (and its variations) is concerned, it’s the eccentric repetition, or lowering of the bar, that really intensifies the pain one feels in the elbow (if they are already suffering from elbow pain to begin with. Some people will go a lifetime without experiencing this pain in which much of this does not apply). But as stated earlier, an injury isn’t going to prevent an experienced lifter from doing something, or training a bodypart, that they shouldn’t. They’ll simply come up with a way to apply tension to that muscle to strengthen it, as effectively as possible, while minimizing the pain (as it will likely never go away if one doesn’t allow it to heal).

Because the triceps play a huge role in all pressing movements, and can very often be, or become, a limiting factor during a press, strengthening them, or at the very least maintaining their strength level, is of paramount importance to all those that strength train, regardless of the goal. If one cannot perform isolation exercises that directly target them, then losing strength directly (not being able to use as much weight during an isolation movement), and indirectly (not being able to use as much weight during a compound movement), becomes an unfortunate possibility (something NO lifter ever wants).

There is however one way, in which a lying triceps extension can be modified, to drastically reduce the amount of pain one feels during the movement, and thus enable them to apply a significant amount of tension to make, or maintain, strength gains. Enter, the ‘Rolling Triceps Extension’!

The rolling triceps extension, also known as the ‘triangle triceps extension’, is given its name due to the nature of the movement. Traditionally, the lying triceps extension is performed with the arms ‘locked’ into position (either directly above the chest, or slightly angled backwards to maintain constant tension on the triceps when the arms are locked out), and remain in place throughout the movement, but as stated earlier, this can place a great deal of stress on the elbow joint, especially during the eccentric, or lowering of the bar.

The rolling triceps extension essentially eliminates the eccentric component of the lying triceps extension, therefore sparing the elbow joint from additional wear and tear. Instead of locking your arms into place and bending at the elbow as you would with a lying triceps extension, you lower the weight to the upper chest/shoulder area, as if you were doing a variation of a bench press. The purpose of lowering the weight is to get the elbow to full flexion, much like you would when performing a standard lying triceps extension, so that the triceps go through a full range of motion at the elbow joint. Upon lowering the weight, you simply ‘roll’ the weight back towards the top of your nose/head, to the same spot the weight would be if you were performing a standard lying triceps extension, and then extend your arms in the same manner you would if you were performing a standard lying triceps extension.

The only difference between rolling triceps extensions, and lying triceps extensions, is the way in which the weight is lowered. The concentric portion of the rep should be identical, regardless of how the weight was lowered.

Much like lying triceps extensions can be performed with multiple pieces of equipment on various angles, rolling triceps extensions can be performed with a barbell, or dumbells, on a flat or decline angle (incline can only be performed with dumbells, as you cannot effectively roll a barbell up and back over your face, and even if you could, the range of motion would be too limited to be worthwhile). If you deal with sharp pain in the elbow as is, and are looking for alternative ways to train your triceps, then dumbells would be a better bet for you, for the same reason as stated above about a bar being a ‘fixed’ piece of equipment that sort of locks the arms within a certain plane, limiting them from travelling naturally.

For those who are fortunate enough to be able to train without a nagging, sharp pain in the elbow, the rolling triceps extensions can also be used as a way to increase the time under tension as part of an improved leverage set/mechanical drop set. Because the eccentric component is essentially taken out of the movement (therefore making it relatively easier), and the ‘rolling’ motion can be used to help generate a little bit of momentum, one could simply choose to perform some reps of rolling triceps extensions after reaching failure during strict triceps extensions. To go one further, when you can no longer perform another rolling triceps extension, you could turn it into a full blown press by just lowering the weight to the chest before pressing it back up, regardless of whether you are using a barbell or dumbells, or a flat or decline angle (incline only with dumbells for reasons stated earlier).

While there is no substitute for rest when it comes to an injury, there are substitutes, or modifications, that can be made to ones training program to allow them to continue to push themselves in a way that satisfies their desire to train, while minimizing their risk of making things worse. The rolling triceps extension is just one example of a lift that can be implemented to help those who suffer from a sharp pain in the elbow continue to train and make progress.

If you have any questions about rolling triceps extensions, and how to perform them, or even where to implement them into a training program, feel free to contact me at ben@paramounttraining.ca. I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

No comments:

Post a Comment