Thu May 30

Locking your elbows or knees on your training ¿is it safe? ¿is it better or worse for gaining muscle mass?

Yerai Alonso

Yerai Alonso

Locking your elbows or knees on your training ¿is it safe? ¿is it better or worse for gaining muscle mass?

Since my beginnings in the world of calisthenics, social media, YouTube and more, I have always been a faithful advocate of performing exercises at full range, which, by definition, involve locking the elbows.

In general, I think that most people over the years have agreed with me, although many have really struggled to understand what it means to lock their elbows, as I explained in another article. But well, leaving that aside, I have always received support on this issue. BUT, it is also true that always, whenever I talk about elbow locking, there are some comments saying that it is harmful, RIP elbows, that it is dangerous for the joint, etc. and some others saying that this reduces muscle tension and that if you want to gain mass it is better not to lock.

Furthermore, if we talk about the locking of other joints, such as the knees, videos have proliferated on the Internet in which people who are doing leg press lock their knees and suffer terrible accidents, which has not favored the “reputation” of the locking.

Therefore, I see it logical that many people wonder if locking is really dangerous, can it cause problems or injuries, and how to deal with this issue with respect to their training. So today we are going to talk in detail about it, if it is harmful or not, how dangerous it can be, if it is better or worse for gaining muscle, for strength, and how to act regarding locking in your workouts so that they are the best possible. So let's get to it.

First of all, we are going to talk about the belief that locking the joint produces wear and tear on it, due to the high number of repetitions and frequency of this movement in a workout.

The first thing we have to make clear is that joints are designed by nature to allow this movement, it is part of their function. Therefore, saying that a joint wears out from locking is as if we said that the jaw wears out from biting or that the heart wears out from beating.

In fact, if there is a progressive overload, with well-planned training, what happens is the opposite: the joint becomes stronger and more resistant than if we did not use that lock, since, as we have said, your elbow joint or knee joint is an adaptive system designed to support that movement.

Obviously, all of this is in the context of a healthy person. If you have an injury or joint problem that prevents you from locking or causes pain, you should follow what your doctor or physiotherapist tells you.

But, in the case of a healthy person, if the movement we perform is controlled, within what would be normal in training, the risk of the joint wearing out or suffering any damage is very low, so in that sense we should not worry.

In fact, if you look at the statistics regarding injuries, in most movements, injuries occur just opposite the lock, when the joint is flexed. For example, in bench press, injuries do not occur at the lock of the elbows, but at the point of maximum flexion.

Furthermore, also looking at the statistics, we can see that activities such as taking a walk, playing soccer, or basketball are much more "dangerous" than training in the gym or training calisthenics, so the alarms should not go off in this way when we say that there are than doing push-ups or dips with elbow locks.

Regarding the belief that locking the elbows cuts muscle tension and is therefore not recommended for gaining muscle mass, it must be said that this argument is very simplistic. As we have already seen, one of the most important factors for gaining muscle mass is the intensity of the sets, getting close to muscle failure so that the muscle receives the appropriate stimulus.

If you think about it, in a set of an exercise you will be able to get close to muscle failure regardless of whether you lock the joint or not, regardless of whether the tension is constant or not. Maybe if you don't lock, by not having that slight moment in which the tension is reduced, you will come close to failure in a smaller number of repetitions, but by locking you can still get there, even if you get the odd extra rep.

In fact, I dare to hypothesize that by blocking perhaps you can squeeze a little more intensity out of the set, since, if you think about it, each lock close to failure is a small “rest-pause”, which is one of the intensity techniques that are commonly used for that goal of getting closer to true muscle failure.

Think of an example in which you are doing push-ups or bench press and you are close to failure, you are fighting one repetition and it comes out very slowly, very tight. If when you reach the point of arm extension you do not lock and try the next one, it is almost 100% certain that you will not get it out and your series will end in that rep, but if you lock for a second or two and go for the next repetition it is likely to come out, maybe even a few more.

As I mentioned when I told you about people who don't lock in push-up challenges, we see that when they are already tired and about to reach failure, that's when they start to lock, because that allows them to squeeze in many more repetitions than they would otherwise.

Therefore, in my opinion, it is quite plausible that by locking you can be more effective in approaching muscle failure and giving a very powerful stimulus to the muscle. Which leads me to the conclusion that for muscle mass gain it is probably more effective to use locking. We will be observant to see what the scientific literature says about it.

The important thing about this question, and what has been proven, is that for a set to be optimal for hypertrophy, you must have reached close to your muscular failure, normally equaling or exceeding 80% of your capacity, and this can be perfectly achieved both locking as well as not locking.

Regarding strength, little can be said, since for a strength movement to be valid, it must include locking. Therefore, you have to train it as part of the movement you are going to perform. If in competitions or in the world of strength in general it were allowed to lift without locking, then we could enter into a debate, but that is not the case.

The same occurs with the issue of attempts at personal or official records, endurance competitions, checking your maximun reps, etc. If you attemp any of this without locking the joint, you do not have a reliable measure to compare with other people or with yourself, since you may sometimes extend more or sometimes less, and the trick of who is able to shorten the range as much as possible without it being too noticeable comes into play.

Finally, approaching it from the point of view of calisthenics, we see that one of the main values ​​of this discipline is strict technique, precision and beauty of movements, and complete body control. Therefore, sticking to those values, it is evident that the full range of motion, including locking, is part of the essence of this sport. In this way we see that in calisthenics it is normal to work with locking, and the partial range in which this full extension is not used is in certain specific cases with a specific goal in mind.

In conclusion, whether your goal is to avoid injuries, build muscle, gain strength, or measure your ability in an exercise, joint locking is feasible, recommended, and sometimes essential. Additionally, if you consider yourself a calisthenic athlete, full range of motion should be an integral part of how you view training.

I hope it helps,

Yerai Alonso


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