Soldiering on with exercises that cause tendon and joint pain could ultimately stop you from doing any pressing exercises at all. Say bye-bye bench press! Pain is your body’s way of saying that something is wrong and smart exercisers should know the different between exercise-induced muscle pain (good) and tendon and joint pain (bad).
Luckily, elbow pain during skull crushers and push-downs doesn’t mean you have to stop training your triceps altogether. There are several elbow-friendly triceps exercises that are every bit as effective as that deadly duo!
1. Close grip bench press
The close grip bench press is a favourite triceps exercise in powerlifting – powerlifters being known for their massive and strong triceps. Hitting the medial and lateral heads of the triceps, this exercise will give the back of your arms thickness and depth.
Unless you want to hurt your wrists, do not do this exercise the old-school way with your pinkie fingers touching. Instead, use a shoulder-width grip and keep your elbows tucked in to your sides. Go heavy for low reps or lighter for high reps as preferred.
2. Triceps kick backs
This exercise might not be popular but it is a safe and effective alternative to skull crushers. The resistance is greatest at the end of the movement which is what makes it elbow friendly. Use light weights and high reps to get the most from this exercise.
Lean over and place one hand on an exercise bench for support. Bend your elbows and tuck it into your ribs. Holding a dumbbell, extend your elbow until your forearm is parallel to the floor and then lower the weight until your elbow is bent to 90-degrees. Do the same number of reps on each arm.
3. Parallel bar dips
Many people think of parallel bar dips as a chest exercise however, with a minor modification, it’s also a very good and elbow-friendly triceps exercise hitting all three triceps heads at the same time. If you lean forward, dips really work your lower and outer chest but with a more uptight torso, it’s your triceps that do the majority of the heavy lifting.
Set yourself up using a shoulder-width grip. With your chin tucked in and your legs straight, bend your arms and lower your feet straight down toward the floor to keep your torso upright. Descend until your elbows are bent to at least 90-degrees. Push back up and repeat. If you can do 12 or more reps, add some weight in the form of a weighted vest or a dumbbell and dipping belt.
4. Resistance band push-down
Traditional cable triceps push-downs are not very elbow friendly but that same exercise performed using resistance bands can be quite therapeutic and is also a great triceps builder. Using a band means that the peak force occurs at the end of the movement which is where the joint is in its safest and most comfortable position.
Loop a strong resistance band over a high anchor such as a pull-up bar. Grab one end of the band in each hand and then tuck your elbows into your sides. Keeping your upper arms still, extend your elbows until they are straight but not locked. Bend your arms and repeat. Kneeling down will stretch the band further and make the exercise more demanding.
5. Decline dumbbell pullover
Most people think of the triceps as being an elbow muscle but they also have a secondary role as a shoulder extender. The long head of the triceps is especially active in shoulder extension and pullovers, as they involve no significant elbow activity, should provide a good triceps workout with no elbow pain.
Set your bench to a 10% decline. This ensures there is tension on the triceps for the whole range of movement. Holding a single dumbbell in both hands, lie down on the bench so your head is lower than your hips. Hold the weight directly over your chest. Without bending your elbows very much, lower the weight over your head until your biceps are next to your ears. Pull the weight back up and over your chest and then repeat. Make sure the movement comes from your shoulders and not from hyperextending your lower back.
Sore triceps are no joke and can make all shoulder and chest exercises uncomfortable. However, by replacing skull crushers and push-downs with the five alternatives listed above, you should find your elbow pain disappears and that you can continue to work your triceps pain-free.
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