Cranky Elbows and Recovery Methods in the Triceps

The long head of the triceps participates in many movements in programs that I write for clients and in programs for our athletes at Endeavor. It is an elbow extensor during pushing exercises, along with performing shoulder extension and adduction in pulling exercises. Whether you are an advanced lifter or trying out a new exercise, performing a pressing movement for the upper body, either bench pressing or push-ups, or doing a pull-up or rowing exercise, you’re going to be using the triceps, among several other muscles.


Suns out, guns out… gross anatomy style.

While the purpose of this article is not focusing on the technique of a bench press or push-up, the aim is to focus on regeneration of the tissue surrounding the triceps. An increase in volume of pressing, pulling, or general sporting activities can induce issues in regards to having a “cranky elbow”. In reality the triceps tissue and the tissue surrounding it is reaching “threshold”, in that it may not be able to adapt enough fast enough to the stresses that are being imposed upon the body. (1)


In this movement, emphasis is placed on moving around and discovering any possible trigger points in the triceps. Notice a visible movement not only on the tendon of the triceps, but also lateral and medial movement, along with an active flexion and extension movement once a specific “hot spot” is found in the arm. This will help to physically move and break up the fibrotic tissue and help restore blood flow in your triceps. Credit goes to Kelly Starrett from MobilityWOD for the inception of this “pin and stretch” type of self-myofascial release.

If you don’t have a barbell available, try this variation with a lacrosse or tennis ball.

Specifically, these exercises are aimed primarily aimed at the lifting population, and it can also be aimed at the powerlifting or weightlifting community, as these tools are commonly found in your everyday gym. If you’re finding yourself having any soft-tissue or muscular restrictions, I’d recommend working on increasing the quality of the soft tissue whenever you find yourself with 5 minutes to spare.


I like to think of recovery and regeneration methods as having at least a (1:1) ratio in terms of (regen:work) performed,  due to the simple fact that many people would rather focus on getting stronger as opposed to sitting on a lacrosse ball or foam roller. So if you perform 3 pushing exercises at a high volume or intensity, you should perform regeneration type activities on the triceps tissue approximately 3 other times.

If you have an upper body day, try to spend time before and after the lifting session performing these self-myofascial release techniques. However, due to the “double duty” nature of the long head of the triceps (being involved in both pushing and pulling), this elucidates even more reason to include this self-myofascial release technique in your warm-up, along with the rest of your movement prep.

These can be performed prior to the beginning of a lifting session, in between accessory movements, and also after a lifting session is complete. Go for approximately 20-30 seconds initially, with 5-10 passes at the triceps, depending on the amount of discomfort of course.

Give it a try, and leave your feedback below.



1 – Exercise and Soft Tissue Injury, Baillière’s Clinical Rheumatology, Volume 8, Issue 1, February 1994, Pages 137–148, Exercise and Rheumatic Disease


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