My Rare Injury and Distribution of Forces and Learning from Experience

Written by: Kevin Cann

Last week when I was benching, I felt a snap on the eccentric portion right on the inside of my elbow.  10 years earlier I had torn my bicep on that same side, and I knew I had just done the same thing, except to my triceps this time.

This is a very rare injury in powerlifting, especially for a drug free lifter.  The good news is it could have been much worse.  I have a partial tear of the distal tendon of the medial head of the triceps.  8 weeks and I should be ready to go.

What is interesting about this injury is this elbow has always given me a decent amount of pain.  When I tore my bicep, I waited 9 months before I went to the doctor to get surgery.  Even though it was deformed, I convinced myself it was a cramp.  The tendon ended up being coiled up in my arm and compressing a nerve which finally led me to the doctor.

When the doctor opened me up, he found that the tendon had lost some of its elasticity and could not be put back into the same place.  He then tied it in with another muscle to keep it out of the way and in hopes it might help to pull the muscle belly back down and fix the deformation.  It did not.  However, I regained full strength before surgery and the surgery removed the nerve compression.

2 years after this surgery I began powerlifting.  I was always a little worried with my elbow in the beginning, but it didn’t seem to have an impact at all when I started to perform the lifts.  I did however, begin to suffer from some pretty uncomfortable elbow pain on that side when squatting. 

This would persist for the first couple of years of me lifting.  I was coached by Sheiko.  I did a high frequency program that used the straight bar for all squats.  I would wear elbow sleeves and do every exercise I could find to try to alleviate the pain, but I pushed through all my squats.

I had a lifter that was also a training partner, that was very strong, that had elbow pain as well.  I just chalked it up to being normal pains that you experience, and I do still feel that some of it is.  The elbow pain eventually went away and would occasionally come back, but it was not too bad.

This last year I have dealt with it a bit more.  Especially leading into my competition at the end of May.  6 weeks prior to my meet I had to take all triceps extension work out because of the pain it was causing in my elbow.  I stopped benching in the shirt weekly and instead pushed it to every other week and this all seemed to help.

I was using a straight bar for almost all of my squats besides the occasional SSB squat I might do on max effort day.  Many instances saw me use the straight bar with heavy band tension too.  When I looked back in my notebook to see when the elbow pain started it coincided with my increased use of a straight bar for squats.  I had chalked it up at the time to the bench shirt, but I was in the shirt frequently already and it didn’t seem to have an impact as my volume was extremely low.  I literally would only take 2 to 3 singles in the shirt after my raw work.

I was definitely in my head about my squats which made me grab that straight bar more often than I should have.  This is another issue that I need to address in my training, my mindset.  I tend to try to force things in the gym when I begin to feel a loss of control outside of it.  We are all human.

I have used the SSB a bit, but the gym was in the process of ordering a new cambered bar, and because the Duffalo bar sits in the rack funny, I ended up using the straight bar for my rep work and the other bars for max effort work.

I just finished a wave of increasing band tension on the straight bar, when I finally snapped my triceps tendon on a bench press.  You might be asking how a squat could lead to a torn triceps.  My elbow had traumatic injury followed by surgery that moved some stuff around.  When valgus forces are applied to the elbow, it is hard to know where the stress is going to go and what the joint can actually handle.

My left side, the inured side, was the lagging arm on my bench press too.  This puts extra stress on the joint as well.  I know the internet wants to argue about asymmetries and injury risk, but when you are pushing a line in volume and intensity, this shit matters for the distribution of those forces.  Similar forces were present on my right side for the last 7 years, but I have never had an issue on that side.  The previous injury played a role in that.

This is a good lesson and I feel these lessons are worth sharing.  Technique matters. Tissue tolerance exists and yes, it can be improved, but there is still a ceiling.  The distribution of forces throughout the larger body will lead to a reduction in injury risk.

Using different bars and variations can help to change the force posture curve to stress different areas of our body while another area recovers.  Learn to move fast.  Less time under tension will also decrease the stress the body is under.  

You build that tendon strength and that tissue tolerance through accessories and not through the competition lifts.  You can’t do it through the competition lifts.  I feel grateful I have pushed my accessories.  The doctor was surprised at how thick my triceps tendon was and showed me all these healthy fibers that go around where I had the tear and connect to the bone.  The tear was at the distal most point, and the biggest thing that needs to heal is the fracture that it caused at my elbow when it snapped off. 

Moving forward, I am not going to use a straight bar very often.  The more experience that I get lifting and coaching, the more I end up getting in line with what Louie Simmons says.  I think a lot of coaches miss the mark by not actually being in the trenches and pushing their own personal limits.  This is the greatest teacher of all.

Louie was one of those people that pushed his limits for a very long time and learned from each experience.  He read all the books I read in grad school plus many more too.  He combined his real-world education with what he was reading in those books.  When he didn’t understand, he called the researchers and had conversations.

Now we listen to some skinny turd with an Instagram account, that has competed less than 3 times, doesn’t still train, but they coach someone really strong so they must know what they are talking about.  You can read all you want, but until you experience it, those words are lost on you.

Read More