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
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.
- 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.