Frying the Tris From all Angles for Maximum Results
To build big guns, proper triceps training is essential.
Many bodybuilding newcomers, and sadly a fair few advanced trainees, work with greater intensity only those muscles which can be sighted, or flexed, at first glance: the pecs, biceps, and shoulders, for example, are often prioritized ahead of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ back, hamstrings, rear delts and, yes, triceps. By overlooking the tris, we stifle of our musclebuilding progress on so many levels.
Comprising two-thirds of our upper arm development, the triceps, a three-headed muscle grouping, is instrumental in all pressing movements and adds thickness to our physique from all angles (in particular, the side and rear). On the innermost part of our rear upper arm is the larger and bulkier triceps long head while the outer area houses the sickle-shaped lateral triceps head (which forms approximately half of triceps mass). Directly beneath the long head is the smaller medial head, which remains largely unseen due to its orientation; it does however contribute to overall triceps size and shape. Working in concert, the triceps allow full extension at the elbow joint. This horseshoe-shaped assemblage of muscles (collectively, the triceps brachii) also assists, via the long head, in lowering (adducting) the arm to the side of the body.
Because of its larger size relative to the other arm muscles, the triceps can be trained with more volume by contrast to the smaller two-headed biceps, and the forearms. Important for bodybuilders and other strength athletes looking to become stronger, the triceps assists enormously on all pressing movements, from the bench to the dumbbell shoulder press. While its medial and lateral heads facilitate elbow extension, the triceps long head assists in the execution of movements such as the chin-up, pullover, and pull down. To build massive triceps via the targeting of its larger and stronger lateral and long heads, we must emphasize movements that promote elbow extension: all manner of pressdowns or extensions will get the job done. These should form the bulk of our triceps training.
Like any other body part, the triceps are spoilt for choice when it comes to exercise selection. Of the many different unique exercises and variations of key movements with which to forcefully hammer our triceps, we must select only the very best. To truly force fresh triceps growth we may wish to adopt one of many specialist triceps training protocols. But rather than sifting through myriad triceps movements with hopes of hitting upon the perfect combination and solution we have saved you the time and effort. Below are our five key triceps builders. Select three and hit them hard for three sets of 8-12 during your chest and shoulders sessions, or, for the more advanced lifter, use all five (either on their own in one workout or with chest and shoulders) to fry the tris from all angles.
If you want big triceps, dips are absolutely essential. A true mass builder, dips are fantastic for hitting all three heads at once (the lateral, medial and long heads); in fact, they’re one of the only exercises that effectively blast all three heads simultaneously. Also, unlike cable exercises and other isolation movements for triceps, dips allow you to overload your triceps with a significant amount of weight. More weight lifted equals more muscle gained.
Expert tip: When exclusively training the arms in a single workout you may choose to pick two mass builders (of which the dip should be one) and one isolation exercise (such aOne-Arm Reverse-Grip Cable Triceps Extension). Hit the mass builders first, when energy is highest, before finishing with the single-joint movement. Also, to get massive you must lift heavy, so once 12 reps can be achieved with relative ease it is time to attach enough weight so as to encourage muscle failure on the 8th-12th rep.
Close-Grip Bench Presses
The Close-Grip Bench Press is another great multi-joint mass builder that destroys all three heads of the triceps at once. Close-grip bench presses are also phenomenal for adding definition to the inner chest and creating that really nice line of separation between the two pecs. The CGBP allows the triceps to handle tremendous poundages, which results in rapid-fire muscle and strength gains.
Expert tip: lower the weight slowly on this movement and do not pause (or bounce the resistance up) at the bottom; rather, achieve a deep stretch before immediately powering the weight back up. Also ensure that your wrists are positioned directly above your elbows, not 6-8 inches apart, a mistake many lifters make. By adopting the wrists above elbows positioning we stimulate the triceps just as well and are biomechanically better able to sustain greater loads while protecting the wrist and shoulder joints.
Skull Crushers, or Barbell Lying Triceps Extensions, work primarily the long and medial heads of the triceps. Building up the long head adds size to the inner-bottom portion of the arm, which adds height to your guns.
Expert tip: because of its mass building nature, many people feel that they must go ultra heavy on this movement. However, by lightening the load and going to full extension while keeping the tension on all working muscles we are better able to contract the triceps 100%. By going too heavy the shoulders are brought into play and the focus is removed from the tris.
One-Arm Overhead Triceps Extensions
One-Arm Overhead Triceps Extensions are excellent for smashing the long head of the triceps, which is critical for adding triceps mass and fleshing out that horseshoe shape; the lateral (or outer) head is also recruited to build the other half of the horseshoe. Overhead lateral triceps extensions are popular because they allow a nice stretch on the way down and a powerful contraction on the upward phase.
Expert tip: be sure to achieve a deep stretch on the way down as this allows the triceps long head to contract with more force on the ascent. Also, it is recommended that at least one overhead movement be employed for each triceps workout (preferably at the beginning of the workout) as in targeting the larger and bulkier long head we can build more triceps mass.
One-Arm Reverse-Grip Cable Triceps Extensions
This movement emphasizes the medial head, which adds length to the triceps and helps builds size around the elbow joint. An insane squeeze at the point of contraction can also be achieved.
Expert tip: using a longer than average rope attachment, fully extend at the shoulder joint on the downward phase of this movement so as to enhance the contraction of all three triceps heads. Rather than pressing the resistance straight down, continue to flex the triceps as the arm moves back, behind the body. Also, on the final set of this movement, once 8-12 reps have been completed with good form and failure is reached on the final rep, pump out 5-6 partial reps to maximize the burn and to promote additional growth.
Conclusion: Getting the most from your triceps workout
-Change the order: though the mass builders should for the most part be featured at the beginning of your triceps workout, it is important to encourage progressive overload by changing the order in which these lifts are included. For one workout you may place dips at the beginning; for the next, close grip benches may take center-stage. You may also occasionally begin with an isolating, single-joint movement, like pressdowns to shake things up and keep your tris guessing.
-Address all bases: each triceps workout should ideally feature compound, bodyweight, and machine movements (like skullcrushers, dips, and rope pressdowns respectively). The different stimulus offered by each will challenge the triceps in unique ways to target a maximum number of muscle fibers.
-Use perfect form: we all know that perfect training form must be prioritized ahead of all other training variables, but for triceps we must be especially cognizant of this fact. Because the larger and stronger chest and shoulders, not to mention all areas of the back, a liable to be called upon to support the execution of the above listed triceps movements, we need only relax our form slightly for a massive amount of tension to be transferred from the working triceps to other areas. Also, there is always a temptation to use momentum to promote full extension on pressdowns and extensions. So, when hitting the tris always ensure the body is stabilized and work only the target muscles. Lighten the load if necessary.