Alternate picking workout...starts to hurt my forearm and bicep after a minute or so

Hey all, so my regular daily practice routines consist of combining some exercises I’ve learned here on CTC and some exercises I’ve learned in some of the old Frank Gambale books and DVDs.

There is a particular workout routine in the Gambale series called ‘Chopbuilder’ where it seems to be a bit of an exercise in alternate picking, timing, and endurance.

Problem is, the ‘Chopbuilder’ routine starts to hurt/burn my forearm and bicep after about a minute or so of consistent nonstop picking and I start to feel everything in my arm tighten up quite a bit.
I know that part of this has to do with needing to build up my endurance, but I believe there were some techniques here on the CTC site that also addressed this type of thing.

Do I just simply need to keep doing these exercises over and over until it stops hurting…or are there also some techniques I can use to make that all a bit easier, so it feels a bit less painful and tense in my picking hand/arm?

I’d definitely avoid playing anything if it causes pain. Rising tension is one thing, but I don’t think it should ever cross into uncomfortable or worse.

Could you post a video of you doing this exercise? Have you tried lowering the length of time or speed that you do the exercise to see if you can sustain it without excess tension, and definitely without pain?

1 Like

Just like @Pepepicks66 said I’d stop doing that ‘workout’ immediately, especially running into the issues you’ve described.

To me that sounds like you’re brute forcing your picking and isn’t a great long term way to make strides. You can’t play well or for very long when your entire side is tensed up like you’re trying to start a lawnmower :smiley:


Yea, that makes total perfect sense…I see what you’re saying.
So what would you recommend instead of me just stopping the workout?

What I mean is…do you think I should shorten the amount of time I spend on the workout? Or is there possibly a technique that I could try that’ll help make it so the workout feels less tense on my arm?

The thing is, I like this workout a lot and I am definitely noticing significant improvements in my playing due to some elements of the workout.
So, if it’s possible, then I’d like to consider a solution of some sort, rather than stopping doing it completely.

However, I have almost always gotten amazing advice from this group and I trust the judgement of many of you guys from this forum more than my own…so if stopping the workout is really the best solution then I will consider that as well.

Thanks for the feedback!

I remember doing that chopbuilder thing when I was 15 and played guitar for a year. It was one of the reasons I put down the guitar for 15 years. I couldn’t even get through the warmup, picking 16th notes at 120 bpm without stopping was impossible and destroyed my hand completely.

Yea, honestly I don’t get the feeling that it’s something that beginners should be starting with (you’d already been playing a year, so not quite sure how much of a beginner you were at that point).
I’ve been playing for quite a long time though (nearly 30 years now), so I feel like I am definitely able to get through most of the warmups and some other exercises at the pace that it’s required…but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a good thing, haha!
Regardless of my ability to get through the Chopbuilder course or not, it still hurts a little when I do and I just want to figure out if it’s because I’m doing something technically wrong or if I am pushing myself too hard and I just need to shorten my workout time.

I am definitely noticing some major improvements in certain areas of my playing since I’ve started the program, so I would still like to keep working on it…but in the end, if it’s going to cause my harm then good then, of course, I would stop.

I had similar issues. It’s been a decade and a half since I played through Chopbuilders. The problem was, even though I didn’t realize it, I was doing DSX back then. Those pentatonic warmups are all completely 2nps. It never occurred to me to start on an upstroke, which would have solved my problem. Still, pretty demoralizing seeing Frank and his students in the background going through it effortlessly while I’m struggling with (let’s be honest) not a very fast speed…well below the shred zone. It was the endurance factor that I thought was the killer (so I thought) because back then I could play some things in the 16th notes @175bpm range, on my best days. It’s cool that now I know it was just a square peg and a round hole. Just mentioning this because @gabrielthorn I know you’ve got a DSX mechanic.

Over the past ~1 year or so I’ve been working on a rotational mechanic on and off, and now the chopbuilders licks feel much better since I can play them with USX. Just for fun, I should see what happens when I memorize them all again and try keeping up with Frank. I’m almost certain it would be a better result than I had all those years ago!

I know others have asked but a video would be helpful. I’d say pain indicates either something is wrong OR it’s possible you’ve got a minor injury that even sound technique will aggravate.

I also noticed improvements when I did Chopbuilders, even though I was brute forcing it. At this point (I’ve been playing about 27 years) I’m of the opinion that if an experienced player finds something difficult, they’re doing something wrong :slight_smile: This stuff should all feel easy, until we start getting to the crazy speeds north of 16ths @ 190 - 200 bpm or so. Our idols probably don’t have better hands then us, they are just smarter than we are and know to avoid things that feel difficult and exploit things that feel easy :slight_smile:


I should elaborate a bit. The more material I’ve been exposed to around here and the more I’ve learned about ‘learning’ the less time I have for anything that makes you feel shitty while you’re doing it! That’s not to say things shouldn’t be difficult or anything, but I think we should try and put to bed the mindset of ‘I’m going to break through this wall with my face until it kills me!’ mentality.

If the chopbuilding exercises are causing you grief, then that might be a decent starting point for a quick bit of filming and technique analysis. Where/at what tempo does it start becoming less feasible to play relaxed and smooth? Take some video and ask for some analysis help.


You guys are both making really great points…it helps to hear it from your perspectives for sure.

I was planning to make a video of my playing some of the exercises today because I figured that would help solidify a lot of the feedback I’ve been seeking. So I’ll be uploading it later this afternoon once I’ve had a chance to sit down and go through it.

Thanks again guys, I really appreciate all the input!

As others have stated, I’m just going to echo this — don’t do anything painful! Stop immediately.

More generally, I’d avoid doing anything that’s described as a “workout”. This isn’t the gym. You’re not trying to build up your pecs. You’re trying to learn how to do a trick you don’t currently know how to do. How is that even a workout?

Think of this way. Let’s say you want to learn to do a skateboard trick, like landing a certain jump. You can’t do it yet, right? So most of the time, when you try to do it, you can’t land the trick. How could you sit there and repeat the trick for a minute straight if you don’t even know how to do it?

If you’re repeating a picking motion for an entire minute, then only two things are possible: you already know how to do that picking motion, in which case, why repeat it? OR, you’re repeating it incorrectly, in which case, you definitely don’t want to be repeating that either!

Think like a skateboarder — you’ll save yourself lots of injury compared to guitar players who do “workouts”. And also compared to skateboarders! No broken bones.


This is what I love about CtC.
Sure it takes a lot of practice to get good but my previous belief about having to put in 10000 hours to get good were overridden by the CtC philosophy: it’s understanding the mechanics that is the important thing.

Deep down I think I knew this years ago but I wasn’t willing to put in the brain effort to work out what I was doing wrong, with my picking motions for example. Its actually a lazy way to approach it to just think that you can achieve perfection by simply repeating something 100s of times.

If you are trying to build up muscle memory or warming up then that’s different though. Exercises are the best way to do that but they shouldn’t cause large amounts of pain.

1 Like

Thank you for the kind words. Don’t mean to single you out, but this is something I just want to make sure I’m explaining myself clearly:

I guess it depends what you mean by this. From everything we’ve seen, it really doesn’t look like anyone goes directly from “can’t do the skill” to “can do the skill, must now do large reps to make permanent”. The bulk of the process is spent in the in-between zone where you do the technique right sometimes, and wrong other times. Over time, by comparing the right attempts with all the wrong ones, you can learn to recognize the difference, and the hit rate goes up. But in order for this to work, there have to be both right attempts and wrong attempts happening together.

So again, I’m just not sure there actually exists a “muscle memory” phase where you do the thing perfectly a large amount of times to make it permament. If you could do that, the skill would aready be permanent, and the repetition wouldn’t be necessary. Instead I think the “hit or miss” zone of gradually decreasing mistakes is really where the muscle memory is built. And that just doesn’t look like the traditional image we are given of someone getting all the notes right, time after time, for large numbers of repetitions.

The closest example I can think of which might look like that is someone who actually does possess the skill already. Let’s say, someone like Michael Angelo Batio who has been playing for years and whose technique always looks and sounds the same. If he’s learning a new song, he probably has to repeat it a lot to make it automatic. He already knows the picking motions, he’s just memorizing a slightly new sequence of them. We can call this motor learning, because it is, but I don’t think it’s the same kind of work we do in learning how to do the actual picking motions in the first place.


On his website, the revised Chopbuilder he included guitar pro, so you can slow down the speed and hear the slower examples in time. I bought this and started it at slow speed and gradually added exercises. For me, it was the array of techniques and uncommon (in my regular practicing): large finger stretches, string skipping, sweeping and more. This put a lot of muscles in action. My forearm stiffened up as. well. I was gradually adding more exercises and rotating them, trying to build up. I stopped and went on to other practice elements and will go back and and only a few chopbuilder runs at a time.

Hi @Troy,
I agree, I think I’m referring more to the early phase of learning scales and basic licks and phrases, where your muscles get trained to play those scales or shapes and then later where you might do a warmup routine to “re trigger?” those muscles.

And I’m talking mainly about the fretting hand here I guess so maybe that’s where the difference in opinion is here. Sorry for the confusion.
I definitely I did not put any real thought into picking hand mechanics until CtC came along. I did do escape motions but I didn’t ever stop and analyse them to improve them.

Interesting that you would use skateboarding as an analogy. There are some definite similarities, and some pretty stark differences. If you’re interested in the progression of landing a trick at a professional level, kind of like some of the studies you’ve cited for high performing musicians, you might check out Thrasher’s My War or SLS’s Face Melter videos. What those guys go through is bonkers. That little moment of Martin Miller changing up the arpeggio and figuring it out in real time, and how you guys talked about how you don’t really get to see that? That’s very much visible in skateboarding, if you see a pro skating, you’ll almost always see them work through something new in real time. It’s hard to imagine it being normalized to see your guitar heroes consistently making mistakes and being ok with it because they’re trying something new (although that’s basically Phish in a nutshell). Somewhat anecdotal, but skating and guitar are two things I love, so I felt compelled to chime in.

I use skating / BMX / other athletics analogies a lot because they’re common examples everybody understands where the common way to learn to do these things is to just repeatedly try until you somewhat accidentally, get it right at least once. Once you get it that first time, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll get it again, and again, and so on.

I’ve posted this video before, which is a really fun depiction of that process in action:

I think this is one of the reasons you see a lot of people who don’t otherwise have great picking technique, but can do the EVH tremolo motion. They treat it like a trick and just try to do it real fast and put it on the string. Which is exactly how you should approach that type of skill. For whatever reason, just the look of what Eddie is doing there, and the fact that he only ever does it fast, probably is a strong suggestion to even a total beginner that they should just try and do the same thing.

By contrast, when it comes to things like scale playing, there’s a lot more existing teaching baggage out there about going real slow, and getting all the notes right, which of course isn’t the same thing at all as actually doing the technique correctly. The “EVH Tremolo” approach would work much better for scale playing than what most people actually do, in terms of thinking of playing a scale like a “trick” and just going for it at some normal fast scale playing speed to get the general feel of it.

That’s what I was getting at with the skating (and other sports) analogies!

1 Like