by Paul T. Burke, M. Ed., PhD (Candidate)
In this blog post, fitness expert and author Paul Burke talks about elbow injuries and how to deal with them.
I am 48 years old, and I have been training with weights for decades. I have always had trouble building my triceps. Almost every exercise that I do to directly work the triceps hurts my elbows. Do you have any advice?
Yes. First, don’t do the exercises that hurt. Even if you are down to one exercise to directly hit the triceps—do that one only. I have a very good understanding of how each of us has a unique musculoskeletal system. So much so, that out of thousands of clients whom I have trained over the years, no one responds to the exact same set (or one) exercise(s) the same way. I will give you an example. I often trained with a very good bodybuilder many years ago who had “bad elbows.” When he did his chest and triceps, he did the same routines each time—very heavy too. He would do enormously heavy Flat Bench Presses (315 for 8 reps and literally bounce 405 off his chest for two, with a barbell). Then he would do very heavy Incline Presses with a barbell (still keeping the weight too high and struggling to get two or three reps). His finishing exercise was flat fly’s with the 100’s and most of that motion was pressing. Come time for his triceps, he would load the cambered bar up for French Presses (or, as some people call them, Lying Triceps Press with a “curl” bar.) Every rep he did was a torture. He looked around at other “huge” guys and saw them doing the same exercises without any problem. He merely concluded that they too were going through all this torture to get their chest and triceps “huge,” or that something was “wrong” with him and he had to go through the pain in order to look like “them.” Not so! There shouldn’t be pain in bodybuilding. You may feel burning in the tissue, or get out of breath from some heavy squats but being in pain is a real bad place to be.
This guy would get cortisone shots; have to ice the heck out of each elbow just to move form day to day and he lived in constant pain. I watched this close up. I asked him why he didn’t use dumbbells, cables, or machines for chest and triceps, use less weight and do more reps. His response; “You can’t grow like that!” So, I started to train on my own again. My point here is that you can “grow” by lifting logs if you are isolating the muscles properly. Let’s take your problem with your elbows. There many ligaments and tendons that move right near the elbow—too many to explain here; however, it has been my experience that there is usually one of three (or all three) problems. Often times, it can be tendon that is snapping over the elbow, but this usually doesn’t cause long-term and severe pain; however, torn ligaments, that can do it. In the elbow, first, you have the Ulnar Collateral Ligament. This tenses and relaxes with muscular response to the inner part of the forearm (palm facing up). Secondly, you have the radial collateral ligament, and this tenses and relaxes in response to use of the backside of your forearm (this is also where most people get “tendinitis,” or what is often called “tennis elbow.”) It is possible that you could have this problem, so surely go to a Physiatrist (an allopathic (MD) doctor who knows the bio-mechanical body better than any other type of doctor—they are very good with problems such as this and I would recommend you go see one in your area). Also, in the elbow there is what is called the Articular Capsule. This is where synovial fluid is released from in order to keep parts working—like oil in your automobile’s engine. This capsule (or “sack”) can become inflamed and stop producing the synovial fluid which is vital for movement of the elbow joint.
Let’s say that no one can pinpoint anything and you have to figure it out on your own; this is what I would tell anyone with your problem: Warm your elbows up with the lightest of weights. I mean really light triceps pushdowns with 20-30 pounds and do two sets of 20 reps (No, you are not going to “blow your entire workout,” as my friend might say.) Next, continue doing pushdowns and try different bars (or a rope) and see which one changes the wrist enough to stop your elbow from being injured. The position that you hold the bar; and, how your wrist is aligned with the ulna and humerus means a lot to how your elbow will mechanically work. This may seem like a painstaking process but it is the only way that you will ever find out which exercises are bio-mechanically right for you. This may take weeks or months since you probably have created multiple problems; however, by doing two heavy sets (whatever that is for you in order to get 10 perfect reps on pushdowns) with a straight bar; and rest it for four days. Come back, warm them up again, and pick the bar that is shaped like a V. This will change not only the wrist placement to elbow; it will also change the emphasis muscles and tendons. Do this as you did the straight bar and rest your elbows for four more days. Then try a rope and repeat this until you solve the puzzle. Everyone’s body was not bio-mechanically “designed” (meaning genetically) to lift weights the way that others seem to with ease. I have three friends who have what is called, ankylosing spondylitis arthritis. They are relatively confident they each got it from going too heavy while using anabolic steroids. Often, it is not the “steroids” that cause the problem; it is people who do not use their given ability to be patient and workout within their bio-mechanical structure and its limits.
If you have questions, you can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I answer all of my emails.
All The Best,
Paul T. Burke, M. Ed., PhD (Candidate)
CEO: Paul Burke Enterprises, LLC
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