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I can crank out about 20 reps on a wide grip push up, and I recently did ten on tricep push up. While the tricep ones were done pain free, I woke up the next morning with stiff elbows. It seems so this is the case whenever I try the narrow grip oversion.

Is it possible to make my joints adapt if I control the load?

I notice that muscular failure is much higher than the point after which I get elbow pain from doing tricep push ups each day. So should I train with keeping tricep push ups in a limited amount ?

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  • Stiff? Or painful? If it is just stiff, it's most likely just DOMS from new training. The action of the triceps is to extend the lower arm, so they cross the elbow joint.
    – JohnP
    Jan 30 at 23:56

2 Answers 2

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First things first: Since push-ups are, by definition, including an extension of the elbow, there is no way not to stress the elbow. You can manage/reduce the stress, though, and that is what we are talking about here.

Generally, you should see a medical professional for that, may it be an orthopedic doctor or physiotherapist. That is because there may be differences in the strategy depending on whether this is about the tendon, the cartilage, the joint capsule, or even problems in your shoulder/neck which cause pain due to nerve compression.

Now, to answer the general question on strategies of managing tissue load for pushups:

  • the easiest way to have higher/sufficient rep numbers for tissue conditioning is a different angle of your body: doing pushups on elevated objects of a fitting height (step boards, boxes, railings, ...) takes weight load from your arms towards your legs. The extreme of that is wall push-ups while standing in different distances from the wall, a variant is doing them on your knees (= shorter lever).

  • A different strategy is, indeed, hand width. Since every width stresses the elbow but the narrower, the more the scale between shoulders and elbows tips towards elbows, a broader hand position may be better. That's only considering muscles, though. For the cartilage and the rest of your elbow joint, the best position is so that the arms are exactly aligned with the rest of the body. That way, there are no shear forces in the joint due to combined bending and rotational movements. Generally, your hands should always be aligned with your arms in bent position fpr that very reason.

  • For joints (as well as tendons, bones, and muscles) that are not well-conditioned, isometric stress is easier to bear and less demanding for the tissues, meaning you can manage muc more load without risking an injury/pain. Therefore, it may be a good idea to try to hold a mid or low position for some time instead of doing dynamic push-ups if you are starting with an exercise and cannot do a lot of volume without pain.

Of course, depending on your body's abilities and reaction to the training stimulus, you can easily combine those strategies. In order to find what works for your specific physiological needs.

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Pain in training: What do?

The short answer: reduce the training dose. The linked article from Barbell Medicine has lots of excellent information about pain, but the short version is that when you have pain in training, it’s because the dose has been too high for some amount of time.

To remedy this, you need to find your entry point back into the movement where you don’t have pain. This can be as simple as reducing the load, or might require you to be more creative by modifying the movement. But only you can figure this out. Once you’ve found your entry point, slowly increase the training stress from there over a number of weeks until you are able to train as hard as you like.

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