Monday, 27 August 2012

Locking your elbows during benchpress

I lock my car, I lock my house, I even lock my elbows!

Man I get a lot of shit on my videos when people see me doing the bench press!
Mostly it is due to the fact that I lock my elbows during the exercise.
I always have, that's how I complete a rep.
Start with arms locked, bring bar down to chest, push back up till arms are straight. repeat.

Seemingly not.

So there seems to be 2 schools of thought on this.
1 you should never lock your elbows
2 yes you should

I am inclined to go with school number 2 but lets see what the pros and cons are of each.

NOT LOCKING - Benefits
Continuous tention on the chest.
more isolation work on the chest,
Thus more pec development,
less work on front delts(shoulder) and tricep muscle
makes exercise higher intensity.
Potentially able to use heavier weights,

NOT LOCKING - Drawbacks
Less range of motion
its not a coumpound exercise and additional exercises will be needed for you to workout your arms
Due to higher intensity could prove dangerous if not done with a spotter and you dont have the power to push up to full lock out to replace the bar.
its not a completed benchpress rep it is only a partial rep.

LOCKING - Benefits
It is what makes a bench press a benchpress. any competition the arms have to lock.
Full range of motion
Exercise becomes more Compound Exercise
involves triceps and shoulders more.

LOCKING -Drawbacks
Potential elbow joint irritation...?????
removes stress from chest and places it on triceps and delts and then finally just on elbow and shoulder joints.

Wait a minute, the drawbacks and benefits of locking and not locking look almost like mirror images of eachother.....

SO what about this safer issue.  what are the elbow injuries that we can get from locking?
Doing a bit of researching and the biggest cause of elbow injury is from over use and repetative strain... eg tennis elbow.  But this can also come from regular Benchpressing
Eventually small tears can begin accumulating in the surrounding tendons, which may cause inflammation and pain.
One thing that is advised if you do have elbow pain is to avoide the single joint isolation exercises... ie the exercises you would have to do if you were doing only partial reps on the bench and had to do some isolation exercises to extra work out your triceps or biceps....

Further research indicates that to avoid elbow pain or injury you want to avoid elbow HYPEREXTENTION which is when your elbows lock past being straight, up and down.
"An elbow hyperextension injury occurs when the elbow is forcefully extended beyond it normally physiological range of movement."
Additinally you want to avoid jerking movements where you are putting undew strain on the tendons and ligaments around the elbow.

So far I cant find anything saying that with a good form that locking your elbows causes damage.  I cant say I have ever had an elbow pain from locking my elbows while benching, and my elbows are one of the few joints in my body that doesnt crack.

The one thing i see where there is the potential of additional wear and tear is if standing in a stationary position for along period of time there can be a 'dent' generated within the joint, then sudden movement uppon the dent could indeed cause extra wear.  so tip there is if you are locking out, dont hold it locked out, infact dont hold it in any position for anything longer than a couple of seconds it seems especially if it is a heavy weight.

Locking and not locking both have their benefits,  Locking proves the exercise strength and is a compound exercise, while not locking becomes more isolation and provides greater pec hypertrophy
BUT in terms of safety.... Its repititoin, hyper extention and jerking that are the danger factors, not the locking of the elbows when doing a heavy weighted benchpress.

Compression vs Sheer

A lot of injuries in the gym are more related to Shear stress (force) rather than compression stress on a joint.
When squatting and you bend over too much at the hips you put shear stress on your back, when you put your leg out straight on a leg extension machine you are putting shear stress on the knee. And likewise with the leg curl machine.
Our joints are pretty bloody hard!  they have been designed over millions of years to deal with stress, gravity, punching things, ripping things apart etc  It really seems like our muscles are the weak chain compared to our joints. If your chest muscles can lift something then by all means your elbow can hold it. Infact from what I have read it seems more likely that you are going to fracture your bones before you destroy your elbow joint in any hard hitting exercise.

And here is my last point.
You pick up 100kg from the bench, you lower it to 1cm above your chest there is 100kg acting down on you, and thus still on your elbows,  just because your muscles are activated does not mean that some how your forearm and upperarm are now magically seperated and no stress is put on the elbow joint.  in fact i suspect more pressure is on the joint when your arms are at a greater distance from the centre of their origin, ie right above the shoulder.
Your joint is still under stress even if your muscles are activated.

CAVEMAN Gym Diaries
Caveman sees cavelady near the gymcavium, caveman show her who is bigman, goes in picks up tree branch does treebranchbenchpress, cavelady impressed.
Second caveman enters gymcavium picks up tree branch does partial treebranch press. Cavelady and caveman one looks at him confused.
Second caveman throws down treebranch and has massive pumped chest then goes off to quickly workout arms. caveman one swoops in for a romp with cavelady.
Caveman two comes out after blasting guns feels awesome, looks awesome, cavelady impressed.
but sadly cavelady already pregnant by sleeping caveman one.

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