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Anconeus exercises: Stretch drills and muscle-building movements

Don't overlook this small but essential arm muscle.
Written By  Liam Brown
Last Updated on 1st March 2021
An illustration of the anconeus muscle

While some people believe it to be part of the triceps and others the forearm, one thing we know for sure is that the anconeus extends the elbow joint and, as such, requires some very specific exercises.

But before we get into the crucial anconeus exercises, let’s go through a very quick anatomy recap.

Anconeus muscles overview

Like a variety of other important forearm muscles (which you can learn more about via the links throughout this article), the anconeus is part of the superficial extensor compartment of the forearm.

But from a practical perspective, the main function that we care about is elbow extension because that’s the most effective way to train this small triangular muscle, which stabilizes the elbow joint during extension.

The anconeus muscle is small yet vital because it stabilizes the elbow during extension.

The anconeus connects to the humerus as well as to the ulna, giving it a particularly long insertion, and hence why it’s widely considered a part of the triceps musculature. [1]

Despite this, the anconeus also abducts the ulna during pronation exercises. But for the purposes of training, the best results are achieved by doing a good variety of tricep movements where the anconeus has the opportunity to perform its key elbow stabilization function.

Learn how to train the other superficial extensor compartment muscles

Anconeus exercises

The great thing about the little anconeus muscle is that, despite its complex anatomy and long insertion, training and strengthening it is far from complicated. [2] In fact, pretty much any tricep exercise will also work your anconeus since it plays a key role in elbow stabilization.

That said, honing in on the muscle itself is often a better strategy so that it receives a greater share of the tension. That’s why my personal favorite anconeus exercise is the anconeus sidekick.

Anconeus sidekick

  1. Place a gym mat on the floor and then kneel on it.
  2. Grab a lightweight dumbbell.
  3. Position your torso parallel to the bench.
  4. Lay the front of your shoulder so that it's supported on the bench. Your elbow should be free to move, and the weight should be hanging straight down.
  5. Then, holding the end of the dumbbell, extend your elbow by contracting your triceps.
  6. Lower the weight under control and repeat for 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps.

Tricep extension

Ripped man performing a cable triceps extension

There are many different varieties of tricep extension. But in terms of muscle stimulation and elbow health, I haven't found a better exercise than the cable version.

  1. Position a cable column just above head height and connect a rope attachment.
  2. Face away from the cable column and grasp the rope firmly. Then, step out with the cables to create some tension.
  3. Bend at the waist a bit so that your elbows are parallel to the floor rather than pointing straight up.
  4. While keeping your upper arms stationary, extend your elbows and contract your triceps.
  5. Lower the weight under control and stick to high reps.

Skull crusher

Man performing skull crushers with an EZ bar

Once again, you can do skull crushers with a variety of different lifting apparatus. However, in the interest of wrist health, I recommend using either dumbbells or an EZ bar. For this example, I’ll use dumbbells because that’s what most people who aren't crazy into weight lifting have access to.

It’s also a good exercise to pair with neutral curls for a brachioradialis workout.

  1. Grab some dumbbells and then lie on a bench or on the floor.
  2. Press the weights up so that they’re positioned over your forehead.
  3. Then, under control, lower the dumbbells behind your head until your upper and lower arms form a 90-degree angle.
  4. Feel free to extend your shoulder slightly as your lower the weights because this intensifies the stretch in the anconeus and triceps while also reducing elbow discomfort.

Anconeus stretch drills

Woman stretching her trcieps

As a continuation of the triceps muscle, it’s not difficult to get great results and tension relief from this simple anconeus stretch. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Place one arm behind your head with the hand of that arm roughly resting on your upper trapezius muscle.
  2. Place your other hand on the elbow of the arm that’s behind your head.
  3. Pull your elbow downwards until you feel a nice triceps and anconeus stretch. Hold it for 10-30 seconds (build up to the full 30 seconds) and then repeat with the other arm.

Is anconeus exercise necessary?

There are countless muscles in the human body, many more than hours in the week. Therefore, is it necessary, and is it even realistic, to perform isolation exercises for all of them?

Of course not!

Unless your physical therapist believes that you’re having trouble with a particular muscle, then I'd say stick to more common exercises. General strength training of the arms will take care of the small muscles.

After all, if people can develop the larger triceps and forearm muscles to impressive proportions, then it follows that the smaller muscles will also grow and strengthen.

The only reason why these smaller muscles aren't as visible is that they have less growth potential. Hence why they remain quite small even after years of training.

Related posts to anconeus exercises:

The bottom line on anconeus exercises

An illustration showing the location of the anconeus muscle

Since I don’t have any problems with my current routine, I’ve decided not to do direct anconeus muscle exercises because my triceps work covers my bases.

But as I say, if you or your physical therapist feels that the anconeus is a real weak spot for you then, by all means, go ahead and do some additional anconeus exercises such as the sidekick that I just showed you.

I really like that anconeus exercise because it puts this small triangular muscle in a position where it really has to work.

In other words, because your shoulder is stabilized on the bench, you can't use momentum to cheat the weight up—your triceps have to do all the work. And because it’s an elbow stabilizer, the anconeus gets a great deal of work in this exercise.

That’s why I highly recommend it to people with weakness in their elbow who aren’t overly concerned with making their upper arms big and muscular (because you will have to use light weights).

References

  1. Sendic, G. (2020, October 29). Anconeus muscle. Kenhub. https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/anconeus-muscle
  2. Anconeus. (n.d.). Physiopedia. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Anconeus
Liam Brown
Liam Brown has been coaching clients as a personal trainer for more than 12 years. Raised by his athlete mother and physiotherapist father, he understands the critical importance of learning the proper technique for both avoiding injury and building muscle.
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