The two large muscles of the upper arm, the biceps and triceps, function as a pair. One contracts, the other extends. One facilitates the extension of the arm and the other helps lift heavy loads.
After the birth of our son, I did what a lot of moms do, carry him around in the removable part of his car seat. I carried him everywhere like this: to the doctor, across parking lots to a store, up the front steps at home, across the street to visit a neighbor.
It seemed logical at the time to simply let my arm hang fully extended while swinging his weight a little with each step. I practiced feeling the weight hanging there, moving the weight back and forth in a small arc waiting in line or at a crosswalk. I experimented with the backpack, the front-carrying pack, but especially in the fall and winter these were challenging over and/or under multiple layers of clothing. Keeping him neatly confined in his seat worked.
After a few months I developed a persistent elbow pain that never hurt while carrying my son in his seat, but rather constantly got my attention throughout the rest of the day. I finally sought medical attention and learned why carrying and swinging weight with the arm fully extended meant the triceps were doing a job they were not designed for, and I would feel better relying on my biceps.
- As you move throughout your day, notice how you use your arms to carry weight, whether you are carrying a briefcase, a grocery bag, a child in a car seat, a cup of coffee.
- Can you feel the biceps, the triceps? Which one is doing the work for you?
- How tightly are you grasping the object of your observation? Is your forearm tense?
- What happens to your physical tension when you pay attention for a few seconds, or just one minute?
- What does it feel like to change the way you carry this weight?