Training

What You Need To Know About Elbow Pops During A Bench Press

Updated January 28th 2022

In a normal bench press, you should feel no pain.

The entire movement should be one fluid motion.

However, what happens if your elbow snaps and pops during a bench press?

This can probably happen in either one of two ways—

  • during the descent when your elbow bends
  • at the top of your bench press lockout when your elbow becomes straight.

Elbow popping during a bench press sounds strange but what sucks more is if you feel pain, discomfort, and limited range of motion afterward.

Come find out whether or not your elbow popping is a sign to stop benching or to find a workaround.

Elbow Pops During A Bench Press

Various forms of tendonitis and snapping triceps syndrome can cause your elbows to pop during a bench press. As long as popping is not frequent during the bench press and is pain-free, this should not be a major concern.

In many cases, elbow pain can be linked with elbow pops during the bench press.

For these lifers, tendonitis can be a contributing factor but the only way to make an accurate diagnosis is to consult with a medical professional.

For what you can do immediately, find pain-free movements to do that would not cause pain or any popping.

To quickly summarize, here is the list of possible issues that causes your elbows to pop during a bench press:

  1. Snapping triceps syndrome
  2. Golfer's elbow
  3. Tennis elbow
  4. Tricep tendonitis
  5. Loose ligaments inside a joint

Snapping Triceps Syndrome

The snapping triceps syndrome may be a cause for elbow popping during a bench press.

It can occur when the tricep tendon insertion subluxated (partially dislocated) over the medial epicondyle (a small bump on the humerus) during flexion and extension of the elbow (bending and extending the elbow).

When the elbow flexes, the triceps broadens since it is compressed on the distal humerus.

This makes it possible for partial dislocation to occur.

This snapping sensation can be painful and should be evaluated to see if other nerves, like the ulnar nerve, are being dislocated as well.

This is important because the constant aggravation of your elbow can lead to weakening and/or permanent damage of the triceps muscle, tendon, and the ulnar nerve.

How to treat Snapping Triceps Syndrome

Did you know up to 16% of humans may experience snapping triceps syndrome?

This includes both male and female, athletes and non-athletes, in addition to old and young people.

Funny enough, when you try to Google search “snapping triceps syndrome treatment,” you will not find any cure.

In fact, one of the first articles you may find is that “researchers” recommend having surgery to correct the problem.

In my opinion, any invasive treatment should be a last-ditch effort in order to regain my normal function.

So, to theoretically recommend surgery to 16% of the population is absurd.

No one is going to take your advice seriously if these doctors and researchers are trying to market themselves with a quick fix to this issue.

  • Myofascial Release

Breaking up scar tissue and adhesions between muscle units and in between your skin and muscle is a great way to regain mobility and function.

You can get this type of treatment active release therapy (ART), massage therapists, or physical therapists.

You may be tempted to use a foam roller for myofascial release.

Foam rollers do work but not with breaking up scar tissue and adhesions.

  • Massage To Become Less Tense

This is where using a foam roller(I have one similar to this with accupoints) can make sense.

Massaging your triceps, biceps, forearms, shoulders, and pecs may help your body loosen up.

This can elevate blood flow to the area and provide it with more nutrients it would otherwise not have.

  • Pain-free (no snapping) Movements

Legendary powerlifter, bodybuilder, and businessman Stan Efferding, AKA The White Rhino, frequently mentions that the best exercise is the one you will do.

In addition to that, exercise should be pain-free and help you achieve your goals.

This is a very basic concept to internalize but can be applied to every single lifter.

If you are experiencing elbow pops frequently during the bench press, why are you still bench pressing the same way?

You will only get the same result.

Instead, try this.

  • Why not try a different grip?
  • Widen your grip, make your grip more narrow.
  • How about when you do pushups?
  • Diamond pushups?
  • Wide grip, narrow grip pushups?
  • What about skullcrushers? 

Do they make your elbows pop too?

You might need to find skullcrusher alternatives.

I am confident there is some upper body compound movement that you will not experience any elbow popping.

There will be a comfortable movement and you just need to find it.

Once you do find it, that will be your main exercise for the time being.

This is just a temporary assignment to heal your elbow popping condition.

So after a few weeks, you can then re-evaluate yourself again.

One train of thought behind this powerful concept is that you are teaching your body what are good sensations and which sensations you do not want to feel.

For instance, if your elbows are always popping during the bench press, your body will continue to adapt and perhaps even welcome the clicking.

You need to stop doing the exercise that causes you pain or discomfort and temporarily do something else that trains the same muscle groups.

Golfer Elbow

Much less known tendonitis, the medial epicondylitis, also tendonitis where the elbow tendons are overloaded by repeated stress of wrist flexing, gripping, and rotating of the arm.

Pain usually starts from the inside of the elbow and can travel down your forearm.

Treatments For Golfer Elbow

Mild cases of golfer's elbow can be healed with rest, ice, and pain-free movements.

Your flexor tendons need time to heal since they are avascular.

Tennis Elbow

If you experience elbow pain, you may have developed lateral epicondylitis, which is when your elbow tendons are overloaded because of repetitive motions of your arms and wrist.

This condition is caused by the overuse of muscles.

Repeated contractions of your forearms, which are used to straighten and lift up your hands and wrist, can stress the tendons which connect to your forearm.

The pain usually starts from the outside of your elbow and can travel down your wrist and forearm.

Treatments For Tennis Elbow

Mild cases of tennis elbow can be remedied with rest, ice, and pain-free movements.

Similar to the golfer's elbow, your extensor tendons need time to heal since they are avascular.

This is a much more common issue compared to golfer's elbow, about a 80%/20% ratio.

Triceps Tendonitis

Repeated strain and overuse causes micro-tears in the tendon.

When more damage is created than the body can fix, the triceps tendon can be inflamed.

Another symptom is feeling the weakness of the tendon.

The triceps tendon is a tough and flexible tissue that attaches the tricep muscles to the elbow bone.

It is used to help straighten the arm.

If you have good size arms, you may not need to worry about any muscle imbalances between your triceps and biceps.

Frequent extending or hyperextending of the arm can overstress the triceps tendon.

Swelling and discoloring can indicate tendon inflammation.

Be sure that you do not experience tricep pain for deadlifts.

Treatment for Triceps Tendonitis

Mild cases of tendonitis can be healed with rest and ice.

More severe cases of tendonitis would need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis since it is difficult to determine an accurate plan of care over the internet.

Prevention of Triceps Tendonitis

Getting adequate rest is always recommended in order to prevent any disease or condition.

Making sure to include proper stretching and warm-ups in your workout routine to prevent any elbow popping caused by triceps tendonitis.

This includes strengthening.

One sign that you are lack strong triceps is if your triceps are tired from rows.

Loose Ligaments or Joint

Another explanation for your chronic elbow pop is that your elbows might be lacking stability, due to many different reasons such as damaged ligaments, tendons, or joint issues.

Forearm Anatomy

Your elbow is made up of three bones - the humerus (the upper arm bone) and your two forearm bones (radius and ulna).

On the inner and outer parts of your elbow, strong collateral ligaments hold your elbow joint together and prevent dislocation.

Two of these critical ligaments are the lateral ligament, which is on the outside, and the ulnar collateral ligament, which is on the inside.

In addition to these ligaments, your triceps, biceps, and forearms also contribute greatly to the stability of your elbow joint.

Instability of your elbow can be classified into three major conditions:

  • Posterolateral rotatory instability

The elbow can slide in and out of the joint.

This is due to an injury to the lateral collateral ligament, which is located on the outside of the elbow.

Trauma, surgery, outstanding elbow deformity, and falls are some causes for this ligament to be damaged.

  • Valgus instability

The elbow becomes unstable due to an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament, located on the inside of the elbow.

Repeated stress, like throwing a baseball, trauma, and falls can cause damage to this ligament.

  • Varus posteromedial rotatory instability

The elbow can slide in and out of the elbow joint due to both an injury to the lateral collateral ligament and having a fracture of the coronoid portion of the ulna bone on the inside of the elbow.

Traumas and falls cause this instability to occur.

Treatment for Loose Elbow Joints

One possible route of healing is to strengthen the surrounding muscles to support your elbow.

This can be done first through physical therapy and later through strength training.

By training your muscle to also aid in helping your elbows function, you will see vast improvements in your quality of life.

Elbows pop when doing triceps

While this can be normal if it is a pain-free pop, elbow pain with elbow popping while doing triceps means that you have a triceps injury.

Here are the solutions—

  1. Rest and recover with 9+ hours of sleep
  2. Perform elbow bends and extensions without weight to stimulate blood flow
  3. Slowly add weight and vary the angles while staying pain-free
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 until you can return back to doing your tricep workouts

The key here is to not over-activate your triceps and delay the healing process.

You need to do just enough so that you get some work in while still allowing your body resources to recover from this event.

Why do my elbows hurt when I work my triceps?

Most likely, you have triceps tendonitis from overusing your triceps.

Here are some solutions on exercises to think about doing while you rehab your triceps injury—

  1. Neutral grip tricep extensions, all implements; bands, chains, machines, weight
  2. Pronated grip tricep extensions, all implements; bands, chains, machines, weight
  3. Supinated grip tricep extensions, all implements; bands, chains, machines, weight
  4. 45 degree grip triceps extensions, all implements; bands, chains, machines, weight
  5. Dumbbell tricep extensions
  6. Dumbbell skullcrushers
  7. Fat bar skull crushers, with varying angles
  8. Partial tricep extensions
  9. Crossbody 1 handed tricep extensions, with varying angles

As you can see, the list can go on and on as we already have over 20 variations of tricep exercises for you to see what can be pain-free for your overuse injury.

 

You can even try a circuit-style warmup just to work on your weaknesses while your triceps heal; perform each exercise for 25 reps for 4 cycles with no rest:

Should I stop working out if my elbow hurts?

You should avoid performing activities that cause and aggravate your injury.

If you want to continue working your upper body with the bench press, here are some bench press alternatives to consider—

  • Cable flies
  • Dumbbell flies
  • Dumbbell chest press (see if this bothers your elbow)
  • Dips
  • Incline bench press (probably not but it never hurts try)
  • Decline bench press (same reason as incline bench press)
  • Push-ups

And if all these fail, try to see if partial ranges of motion can be done pain-free.

Injuries suck, but they are obstacles set in place on your personal journey so that you can overcome them and become a better version of yourself.

Take control of your life and figure out how to be better than you were yesterday.

Your Takeaways

As long as there is no pain in your elbows while bench pressing, that is a green light for me to continue to bench press.

You have to dodge another bullet in forearm bench press pain.

Even if the bench press creates a constant, small annoying cracking sound, that is enough reason to stop and try something else.

This is very different and quite the change from a deadlift back crack.

You are not married to the bench press.

Even if you successfully acquired a 225lbs bench.

It will come when your body is ready for it.

But if you cannot get rid of your painful snapping in the elbows, you will just need to find an alternative exericse, anything that requires you to push and use your tricep strength.

And just in case your elbow issue may stem from an inefficient bench press technique, I will attach a video down below for you on how to improve your bench press form.

Even if you are shaking during the bench press, you should eventually grow out of that phase and implement a much better technique.

That way, even though you may not be bench pressing, you can now focus on tweaking your form and making sure you are 100% efficient before pressing any weight from your chest.

How do I stop elbow flare bench press?

  1. Lower the intensity and practice better form
  2. Make sure your shoulder has proper scapula-humeral rhythm

If you find yourself flaring your elbows often during the bench press, it is either learned behavior, weight is too heavy, or a combination of both.

Either way, the solution will take several weeks to be ingrained into your training so that you do not hurt yourself.

But if you do perform elbow flaring even without heavy weights, this could be either a technique issue, musculoskeletal irregularity, or a combination.

You engage your shoulders when you try to flare your elbows out and also stress your rotator cuff with shoulder internal rotation.

Certain muscles in your rotator cuff will be overstimulated if you continue to bench heavy without performing counter-movement accessories.

How can I strengthen my elbow tendons?

  • Low weights, with high reps (100+) of elbow bending and extending

Tendons get stronger and thicker when you stress them under low intensity with a very high amount of volume.

Unlike muscle which is vascular and elastic, tendons are avascular (no blood supply) and inelastic.

So, they do not follow the same rules as building muscle but some principles still apply.

You do not perform progressive overloading on tendons like you would if you were building muscle in the gym because once you hit your threshold limit, your tendon will snap instead of a gradual decrease in performance.

There is usually no warning which is pretty grim.

This is why low weights are traditionally used to slowly build up tendon strength.

Are elbow sleeves worth it?

Elbow sleeves are worth it because—

  1. Provide warmth to your joints
  2. Provide compression
  3. Provide proprioception awareness during movement
  4. Help reduce pain
  5. Performance booster (possible placebo effect)

Elbows sleeves are fairly inexpensive and they provide athletes with a ton of physical and psychological benefits.

So, if you are trying to compete in the big stages and world competitions, you would be at a slight disadvantage if you do not understand how this training tool may actually help you.

Do elbow sleeves help deadlift?

Elbow sleeves do not help your deadlift.

In powerlifting or Strongman competitions, attempts and events vary in time so it can be difficult to plan when you will take off your elbow sleeves after your bench press, pressing event, carrying event, etc. if the next exercise does not require elbow sleeves, like the deadlift.

Though elbow sleeves are popular and often shown being worn during deadlifts, there is a good chance that your favorite athlete formed a pressing activity or bench press before performing the deadlift.

It could even be as simple as forgetting to take off the elbow sleeves because they are comfortable and allowed in most competitions.


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