The Triceps get no love. Let's face it: when it comes to building large, sleeve-tearing guns, we've got it backwards. Everyone rushes out to hammer the biceps. This approach is neither optimal nor beneficial to sculpting huge arms.
Take a brief second to pause what you're doing next time you enter the gym. Take a look around. What are people investing their time in?
Curls. All curls variations. Barbell curls, dumbbell curls, preecher curls, cable curls, hump-the-weight-up-and-nearly-break-your-back-curls - the whole freakin' world is obsessed with curls. Hell, I've been guilty of it too - until I learned the truth to building a pair of showstopper arms. Read on lifter.
Triceps 101 - Anatomy
First off, anybody with half a brain cell will immediately notice the gulf of space the triceps contribute towards the overall mass of the arms. Indeed, the biceps muscles are secondary in terms of size to the triceps, with the all too familiar saying rolled out that the triceps are "2/3rd's of the arm".
In terms of anatomical function, the triceps muscles is a powerful extensor of the elbow joint. All heavy presses are dependant on large, powerful triceps, and this includes both yours and my favourite movements we love to brag about to our friends: Bench presses, military presses - all utilise the triceps as the primary muscle presser. So, it's essential we not only train them for size, but also strength, too. This will correlate well to our other main compound lifts and provide us with a rock-solid foundation to build upon for both goals.
If you want big arms, focus on building your triceps. Give them priority, and watch the sleeves tear at the seams. Time to upgrade from Baby Gap.
Now that we have a basic understanding of the structural anatomy of the triceps and their function to extend the elbow, don't go running off to crank out those elbow-wrecking extensions and skullcrushers. Find me a guy who's got huge arms and is content to slam away at endless sets of heavy triceps extensions and I'll show you a fragile, in-denial man.
"A basic rule of thumb should be this: If it uses more weight, it's probably a more effective exercise. For the triceps, that means dips and close-grip bench presses."
-Mike Robertson, World-leading Strength & Conditioning Coach
You already know what a proponent I am in regards to lifting for strength. Triceps are no exception to this rule: especially given their precedence in building a nasty bench press and big-ass overhead press. Who would've thought it? Getting those slabs of meat at the back of your arms strong as hell will simultaneously help to build you a pair of boulder shoulders and powerful pecs by allowing you to progressively load them more.
The point is, extension of the elbow can take place from much safer biomechanical movements. We can stress all three heads of the triceps more than adequately with two powerful movements I'm going to describe to you today.
Ok, locate the nearest cable at your gym; adjust at the lowest pulley and using just your small pinky finger, perform 5 sets of 15 repetions on cable kickbacks...
Unfortunately this utterly absurd logic is usually quite convincing to most lifters ploughing through their Men's Health magazine. At BodyActive Nation, we're focused on hardcore, cutting-edge ways of building muscle, and we know you've got a voracious appetite for it. It's time to eat away at unparalleled recipes for triceps growth, starting with:
Exercise 1: Parallel Bar Dips
Renowned by many as the "Upper-Body Squat", dips are the first exercise we're going to incorporate to build a pair of horseshoe's.
There's not a single exercise that stresses every hard as hard as the triceps as dips do. The stabilization involved in the lift, along with the range of motion (ROM), along with its compound nature, make it a phenomenal movement to make long-term progress on.
And, just look at those damn pesky gymnasts that everyone aspires to look like every time the Olympics rolls round. See those slabs of muscle hanging at the back of their arms? Those guys build these solely off high volume dips.
Not so fast, though - I've told this to a lot of lifters and they misinterpreted it and slogged along at dips, only to be disappointed with their results. When I ask them how they performed the dips, the answer is invariably, "At the dipping station with a wide grip, leaning forward". Problem identified.
Whilst this way of dipping certainly has its benefits for stimulating the pectoral muscles and deltoid region, what we want to do is switch up the emphasis to those three heads at the back of your sleeve. How do we do this, exactly?
First, narrow your grip. Arms should be shoulder-width apart, and you should be utilising a neutral grip (obviously). Keep the body alinged as straight as possible with limited forward lean, and then proceed to slowly drop the arms down until the crease of your biceps touched your forearm muscles. When you feel the deep stretch, push up hard using the elbows. Repeat this whilst consciously remaining as upright as possible throughout the movement.
Many lifters are too eager to get wide, and all too frequently tag the dips on to the end of an already exausting chest session as a way of annihilating the remaining fibers. This is good for endurance and pumping blood into the muscle, but it sucks for muscular growth. We don't want that.
Instead, make dips take precedence in your program.
Programming: What to do with dips? Low reps are dangerous, high reps aren't optimal for building concrete arms. The solution: go in between the two.
You can integrate heavy, weighted dips quite flexibly into your program. If your strength is currently on the lower end of the spectrum, then bodyweight will be sufficient. Just keep it heavy enough so that you can't do more than 12 parallel dips for each set, irrespective of where it is placed in your workout.
To condense down my suggestions: I recommend keeping the repetitions between 8-12 for 3 sets overall, and try to include them as either your third pressing movement on press days, or your primary arm developer on a day dedicated to deltoids (if you're following this sort of conventional style bodybuilding program).
Movement 2: Close-Grip Floor Presses
Whilst I probably surprised nobody with my inclusion of parallel bar dips, I hope the second movement to make this list will at least provide something insightful and fresh.
Most serious lifters are aware of floor presses but haven't bothered to include them. People may "look" at you awkwardly in the gym when doing these, but that's never been a valid excuse for shunning a potentially revolutionary exercise that can transform your strength and muscular development. Get your ass under the rack.
I love floor presses for several reasons:
It really is as simple as this: get your ass on the floor (use a yoga mat if you don't want to dirty your beautiful gym attire), use a standard pronated grip, lower the weight under control and then push explosively once your elbows make firm contact with the floor.
Floor presses, as aforementioned, will not only pound your triceps, they will significantly reduce the stress on the chest and shoulder muscles, meaning they can be integrated on different days (such as back / pull day) in your programme and you can still recover effectively in time.
Programming: I always advise to integrate floor presses after bench press, such is their importance. This is not a movement you just tag along at the end of the workout to finish off the triceps. It's a bad-ass, heavy lift and needs to be attacked with energy closer to the beginning of the workout. Keep the rep range between 3-6, and integrate a progression scheme such as Wendler's 5/3/1 or the 3 x 5 system for them, and watch those triceps grow like never before. Aim to build strength primarily, and muscle will come as a byproduct on this exercise over quality contractions and general "feel". Sets should naturall be between 3-5 at a maximum.
Movement 3: Floor Skullcrushers
We've already acknowledged that the triceps are potent elbow extensors in this article, but in equal measure I've shunned conventional extension style movements as direct causes of tendinitis and general pain around the elbow region which can wreak havoc on your training program. So am I backtracking?
Not so fast. Floor skullcrushers are a different breed of extension movements. Some may argue that they de-emphasise the effectiveness of the conventional skullcrushers where tension remains strongly in the bottom segment of the movement. I counter this by saying that's usually exactly what's causing these lifters throbbing pain.
Want to know something even better? By stopping the bar in its tracks on the floor, we can increase the load by which we press upwards and lower on the eccentric phase! And, as we know, more potential for progressive loading = more muscular growth.
It's a shame that we can't persist with extensions forever because undoubtedly they do hit the triceps hard. But any lifter worth his salt will tell you without pussyfooting around the issue that it's just not a plausible long-term strategy for your health, and you'll undoubtedly suffer if you persist at conventional extension movements with heavy weights. Floor skulls alleviate these symptoms and provide a superior alternative.
Programming: Floor skulls are obviously a movement much more attuned towards general hypertrophy, and definitely not lower repetitions. Put them at the end of a press workout or on a separate day in which you're perhaps hitting deltoids / arms, and keep the rep range in the upper region (8 as a minimum, 15 as a maximum). Keep the sets no higher than 3 per week.
3 movements that comprehensively smash each individual head of the triceps muscles. Get crafting those pencils into horseshoe's and I'll see you in the Summer with guns that don't have a license to roam.
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