Q: I have trouble with my triceps, specifically the long-head sweep. I’m sure it’s because overhead extensions hurt my elbows, even when I use moderate weight with the 4X method. Any suggestions? I am trying to use three-way Positions of Flexion for all muscles.
A: You’re not alone. Many trainees have elbow problems as a result of cumulative heavy overload. The extra stretch you get on overhead extensions—driving a weight from behind your head to above it—can be inflammatory, to say the least. I’m starting to believe that it’s the main reason trainees lose a lot of triceps mass as they get older—they can no longer do overhead-extension movements due to cumulative elbow and/or shoulder damage.
One alternative stretch-position move in the Positions-of-Flexion mass-building protocol is cable pushouts. That’s where you’re in a lunge position, facing away from the machine, and you drive the bar or rope from behind your head forward by extending your arms. With the upward angle of pull instead of straight back, your elbows get less stress, but the long head still gets plenty of work. Bonus: Because there is resistance at the arms-straight position, the outer-triceps heads get some growth stress as well. That will give your arms more width from the front.
If the cable pushouts cause pain, you may have to delete direct stretch-position triceps exercises altogether; however, you can still get long-head stimulation and development with pullovers—yes, pullovers.
MRI studies show that the triceps’ long head is significantly involved in pulling the arms from an overhead position downward—or forward, in the case of the pullover. Keep your elbows slightly bent, and don’t allow the weight to move down past the plane of your torso. Also, move slowly—you don’t want to jar your shoulder joints.
Incidentally, our colleague Dave Goodin, drug-free IFBB pro, likes to end his triceps workout with machine pullovers, which have a more complete range of motion, pulling your arms from overhead all the way down to the sides of your torso. The pullover machine is a great long-head blaster. Try it if you have access to one.
In fact, I like to end my triceps routine with dumbbell pullovers, even after I’ve done full-range three-way POF—and I also include them or machine pullovers on back day to get some residual triceps work, usually as a 3X or 4X blast to pump up sarcoplasmic mass.
For example, my last triceps workout was this:
Midrange: Elbows-flared pushdowns 4 x 10
Stretch: Cable pushouts 3 x 10
Contracted: Kickbacks 3 x 10
Bonus: Dumbbell pullovers 2 x 10
Keep in mind that I do all of those exercises in 4X-sequence style—that is, I use a weight with which I can get 15 reps, but I only do 10, rest 35 seconds, then do it again—and so on until I complete the designated number of sets. I go to failure on the last set only, so the above triceps routine takes about 15 to 20 minutes. With moderate weights and correct exercise choice, my elbows are completely pain free.