The Top 5 Exercises To Blast Your Triceps

There’s a saying that goes something like this, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Unfortunately, many people perform the same exercises day in and day out without rhyme or reason, expecting they will, somehow, magically grow stronger. Instead of concentrating upon muscle function and physiology, that is, upon exercises that are favourable in terms of increasing size and strength, they opt for exercises that feel right and allow for a massive pump.

Herein lies the problem.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been approached, and asked what a “good” triceps workout would be, or if I could suggest any effective triceps movements for building up mass. Frequently I know that the lifter is expecting me to give them some exciting magazine program which involves drop sets and super sets that will leave them so pumped they can’t drink their post-workout protein shake. Instead, I explain the basics, and how important these are to creating big and strong muscles.

One of the prerequisites for creating a stronger and bigger muscle is the load that is placed upon it. Generally speaking, the greater the load an exercise allows for, the greater the effect that will be produced. If you’re interested in building strong functional triceps (and not pretty toned triceps) you have to understand which exercises give you the best bang for your buck. I have listed, below, the top 5 exercises that will explode your triceps into new growth and strength. The selected movements are based upon the favourable biomechanics of the lift, the type of muscle contraction emphasized, and the variation of grip and range of motion used in each movement.

Close Grip Bench Press

Dip

Skull Crusher

Tricep Extension

Elbows Out

Elbows Out (2)

So what do all these exercises have in common?

Common factor #1

All the selected exercises place the triceps muscle in a bio-mechanically favourable position. It means that these exercises are very effective at packing mass on the upper arms because they take advantage of the stretch reflex. In simple terms, the stretch reflex occurs when a nerve impulse is sent to a muscle telling it to contract suddenly, as a protective mechanism.

Certain weight-training exercises place an excessive load on the muscles surrounding a joint, which triggers this reaction. These triceps movements are effective because they situate the muscle in an advantageous position. The more elastic energy collected in a movement, the greater the potential for more motor units to fire.

As a general rule of thumb, a muscle is at its weakest when it is fully elongated (in a fully stretched position), and is at its strongest when fully contracted.

With exercises such as the dip and the close-grip bench press, the triceps muscles are in a contracted position at the beginning of the movement and placed in a stretched position at the bottom. 

This means that the load on the triceps muscle is at its greatest at the bottom position because the muscle is in its weakest configuration. And, since elastic energy is being collected as the bar descends towards the chest, there is going to be a greater muscle contraction during the concentric portion of the lift, as the body is forced to recruit more muscle fibres to finish the movement. Conversely, the movements in which you do not begin in the advantageous position, like triceps pushdowns and kickbacks, do not collect and store elastic energy, and, therefore, do not recruit a lot of motor units. These exercises are great for checking yourself out in the mirror.

Common factor #2

All these movements can be altered to create a continued stimulus. Vary angles, grips and range of motion to make the exercise a bit different and still allow for a challenge. Now that doesn’t mean you will be targeting a different portion of the triceps head; it just means that the exercise is different and that’s what allows for change to occur. Many athletes are in a constant search for the newest and most effective exercises to use in their training. Some of the best variations available come from changing the grip of the bar, foot spacing, or the handle or implement you use to perform the movement. Below I have listed some positions you can use.

Forearm positions:

  • Palms up
  • Palms in
  • Palms down

Width of grip:

  • Wide grip (8-10 inches)
  • Medium grip (5-8 inches)
  • Close Grip (2-4 inches)

Position of elbow:

  • Beside the body (dips)
  • In front of the body (skull crushers) 
  • Over the head (extensions)

Common factor #3

The triceps are, predominantly, a fast twitch muscle (1). This means that they respond to heavy loads, low reps and longer rest periods. In my own experience, while training people, I have noticed that (especially in females) the triceps are one of the first muscles to respond to training. Going back to the fibre make-up of the muscle, it makes sense to use exercises that place the greatest load. Placing the muscle in a favourable biomechanical position will bring about quick results.

Common factor #4

Triceps are best built using a number of movements. If you take notice of gymnasts and powerlifters, they’ve built their triceps by using variations of three main movements – horizontal extensions, horizontal pressing motions, and dips (not the weenie dips that require you to use a bench and prop your legs up).

Go Forth and Lift Heavy Weights

Looking back at the 5 exercises I’ve chosen you can see why they are so effective in not only building up strength but mass as well.

In conclusion, if your arms are not growing you can a) take my advice or b) continue doing the same old thing. Chances are, you’ll be better off following my advice. So, now that you’re armed with this new information, go forth and lift!

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Top 5 Exercises To Blast Your Triceps discussion thread.

Super Conditioning

Most people are in a very poor state of conditioning and don’t even know it. One of my friends was a manager at a Bally’s fitness centre and mentioned the owner never worked out in his own facility. The owner would workout behind the centre using a sledgehammer on a tire, pull ups on the rafters, and swinging kettlebells. He was 55 years old and probably had more strength and conditioning than anybody in the air-conditioned state of the art facility he ran.

With the Muscle Mass world slowly fading away, there is a realization that a 900lbs bench press or a 60″ chest with 26″ biceps does not improve daily life any better than a fined tuned normal body. The human body was not designed to perform the way some people would like without the use of anabolic drugs. A state of conditioning is not just about being strong – there is a need for power, endurance, coordination, speed, and agility. A prime example of this is someone who can bench press in the 500lbs zone but cannot do 400 pushups. They reach physical exhaustion around the 80 repetition range and they suffer from delayed onset muscle soreness for days.

I really don’t care for a 500lbs bench press for the same reason I don’t care for nautilus machines – in my daily life there is no activity that simulates a bench press or nautilus machine. Imagine being very strong but lacking the ability to endure the distance it takes to win a sport or succeed in an activity. You would lose every time due to a lack of conditioning. When you are in a state of Super Conditioning you are strong, fast, and can endure the length of any situation. Below I have outlined a 6 week conditioning program that will get you started in the right direction. The ability to have strength for a long period of time is what Super Condition is all about.

6 Week Super Conditioning Program

Weeks 1-3: Maximal Strength (90-95% of 1RM) after a proper warm-up

Weeks 3-6: Explosive Strength (85% of 1RM) after a proper warm-up

Pre & Post Workout Recovery

The following is performed before and after each workout to improve flexibility and reduce injury.

Warm up: Normal jog, 1/2 lap jog with high knee lift, shuffle facing right and left, and walking lunges.

Hamstring Stretch: Stand with your feet about 6 inches apart. Bend over at the waist and let your upper body hang down. Reach your hands toward the ground. You can bend your knees slightly. For a deeper stretch, grasp your calves and gently pull your upper body toward your legs. You should feel the stretch in your hamstring area or the back of your thighs.

Thigh Stretch: Stand with your feet about 6 inches then bend your right foot back and up toward your buttocks and grasp it with your right hand. Balancing on your left leg, pull your right foot up with your right hand. To help you balance, pick a stationary spot in front of you to stare at and lift your free arm out to the side. You should feel the stretch in your thigh. Release and switch sides.

Calf Stretch: Stand with your right leg straight and behind you. Your left leg should be bent in front of you. Place most of your weight onto your left leg. Push the heel of your right foot down toward the ground and slightly shift your weight back keeping your torso upright. You should feel a stretch in your right calf. For a deeper stretch you can face a wall and push against it for leverage. Release and switch sides.

Groin Stretch: Sit with your feet in front of you. Place the bottoms of your feet together and let your knees fall to the sides. Grasp your ankles and pull your feet toward you as close as possible. While holding your ankles, place your elbows on the inside of your knees and push down. You should feel the stretch in your groin area.

Shoulder Stretch: Place your right hand on the base of your neck so your elbow is pointed straight up. Place your left hand on your right elbow and pull down. You should feel the stretch in your right shoulder area. Release and switch sides.

Upper Arm Stretch: Cross your right arm across your chest toward your left side, keeping your elbow straight. With the inside of your left elbow or your left hand, push your right arm back toward your body. You should feel the stretch in your right upper arm and shoulder. Release and switch sides.

Upper Back Stretch: Clasp your hands together in front of your body. Straighten your elbows, keeping your hands clasped and your palms facing outward. Let your shoulders shift forward, and push your hands out away from your body. You should feel a stretch in your upper back area.

Chest Stretch: Clasp your hands together behind your back, with your palms together. Keeping your elbows straight, lift your hands out and up behind you as far as possible. You should be able to feel the stretch in your shoulders and chest. For a deeper stretch bend over at the waist with your arms above you and elbows straight. Let gravity pull your arms as far as possible. Slowly stand up and release your hands.

Abdomen Stretch: Clasp your hands together above your head. Straighten your arms up as much as possible and pull your hands away from your body. You may bend back slightly to deepen the stretch. You should feel the stretch in your abdomen area.

Side Stretch: Clasp your hands together above your head with your arms slightly bent and bend to the right at the waist. You should feel the stretch on the opposite side of your torso. Return to the standing position with your hands above your head and switch sides.

Lower Back Stretch: Start in a seated position with the legs out in front of you. Bend your right knee to a 90-degree angle and place your right foot on the outer side of your left leg so that your right leg is crossed over your left. Your left leg should remain straight. Twist your torso to the right, placing your left elbow on the outside of your right knee. Push your elbow against your knee as leverage to deepen the stretch if possible. You should feel the stretch in your lower back. Release and switch sides.

Written by Ian Edgar

The Triceps Cable Pressdown

How many times have you heard the phrase, “If you’re after big arms train the triceps hard?” More times than you can probably remember.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Train the triceps using the proper form/technique and you’ll see great results?” Not often.

That’s because form and technique usually take a back seat to intensity and load when it comes to strength training. Training the muscles should revolve around using an appropriate load that allows for form and technique to be maintained while stimulating muscle growth.

One of the most common exercises in the quest for large triceps is the Cable Pressdown. This exercise is a favourite of many people because of the continuous tension cables provide when training the triceps. The exercise is very simple to execute and it also leaves the lifter with a pleasant pumped feeling in the arms. Unfortunately, many people use improper technique while performing this movement.

Below are two pictures of the Triceps Cable Pressdown.

Which one demonstrates the correct form?

Picture 1

Picture 2

If you chose picture 1 you are correct. In picture 2 the upper back is hunched over. This places undue stress on the ligaments and is a result of using excessive weight. If the goal is to place the greatest possible emphasis on the triceps heads, the elbows must be kept in close to the body and the back straight.

To properly perform a Triceps Cable Pressdown, you want to maintain those elbows at the sides. Think of the elbow as a hinge swinging open on the descent and then closing for the upward portion of the movement. The body should be straight (the head in line with the torso). Bending forward a bit at the hips is fine if you want to create more leverage. This allows the triceps to take on more of the load as opposed to standing completely upright which makes the abdominals statically contract to a greater degree.

Training the triceps muscle isn’t so difficult if you know how to properly perform the movements. The load you lift now may not be much but, in the long run, investing in the time and effort to learn the proper form will pay off.

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Triceps Cable Pressdown – discussion thread.