“My elbows hurt when I do that exercise.”

It is rarely the exercise; it’s typically the shitty way you are performing it. I will add one caveat: If you have inflammation/tendonitis or a past injury, it is an obvious exception. Aside from that, you can pretty much count on the fact that you are doing something wrong if your elbows hurt while training them. Let’s take a closer look.

I see terrible training mistakes on an almost daily basis, and not just the ones veteran meatheads like to post on social media to poke fun at someone in the gym who doesn’t know any better. I’m also talking about subtle mistakes that can lead to huge issues down the road by veteran trainers that SHOULD know better. And saying that something “feels good” is not an excuse to continue doing an exercise the wrong way. When I was 20 I did a lot of things in the gym that weren’t a good idea, simply because I got a better pump and it “didn’t hurt.” One of those things was rolling up on the balls of my feet and toes in the bottom position of heavy, angled leg presses — terrible idea for your knees. If I tried that at my age now I would blow both quad tendons.

RELATED: Dips Done Right

Elbow pain is typically due to poor angles while training triceps and sometimes making up dumb-shit exercises that you think hit the chest muscles but actually hit your triceps. I will get to dumb-shit stuff in a moment; right now I am going to focus on the bad angles.

Any idea what the number one most screwed up exercise is? That’s right, almost every damn one of them. I think the only triceps exercises I ever see performed correctly, or at least close, are dips (and not surprisingly, I bet most people surveyed who do dips are doing them to hit chest, anyway) and close-grip bench presses. However, even close-grip bench presses have only within the last 10 years or so become performed correctly by the masses. Prior to that, most people did them with their hands damn near touching. This is WAY too close, and yet another poor angle for the elbow.

So basically, every triceps extension style exercise is performed incorrectly. To give you numbers, I would say that 90% of regular trainers and about 30% of advanced trainers perform them incorrectly.

It is imperative that the upper arm is at least perpendicular to the ground if doing any type of barbell, EZ bar, or dumbbell extension. And I much prefer an angle that is open even further (the angle basically at the armpit compared to the floor) to take even more pressure off of the elbow and make the joint less vulnerable. Not only is the correct angle safer, but for those that don’t care about safety, the movement is more efficient at the proper angle as well. Opening this angle allows more of a range of motion for all three triceps heads, including a better stretch. And we all know the stretched position is where more fibers are firing, and essentially is where more of the work is done.

To make my point, doing any type of triceps extension with the upper arm angle “closed” or less than perpendicular to the ground would have the same effect on the joint as trying to do hack squats by putting your feet further under you and rolling up on the balls of your feet/toes in the bottom position of the squat. Almost everyone would agree that this is a terrible position for the knee, but for some reason, not as many people see the same position for the triceps as a similarly poor angle for extension at the elbow.

“What about the dumb-shit stuff, Skip?”

I didn’t forget and I won’t let you down. When you hold two dumbbells or two plates and pancake them together in the starting position of a dumbbell fly, and then while keeping them smashed together you bring them down to your chest and then back up to full extension, that is NOT a pec exercise worth a damn. This is simply an isometric movement that would be just as worthless as not holding any weights at all and just pushing your palms together as hard as you can and doing the same motion. Where do these people get this shit?

I don’t preach anymore; I try to inform. I won’t sit here and tell you that you are stupid or that you absolutely must do what I tell you to do. If you enjoy less than mediocre triceps development (or are born with your mom’s awesome triceps) then keep doing what you are doing now. If you enjoy elbow pain and don’t mind if it continues or gets worse, more power to you. I support you. Just please quit with the excuses that you can’t do some exercises when you are likely just doing them incorrectly. Just Sayin’.