Your triceps compose your upper arm’s muscle majority. They stand as the sleeve-splitting soldiers arming us with the power to please in the weight room. They burst out that final push on the bench-press, that last upward lunge of the clean and jerk. In any successful weight training regimen, tearing up the triceps is a required routine, whether you’re training for strength, or for aesthetics. Be careful not to fall for that formidable weight room rumor that says arms are all biceps. How many times have I seen people pounding out set after set of curls, only to rear relatively small, oddly peaked, disproportionate arms.
For bulking up those tri’s, let’s start with one exercise that guarantees a deep dive into those fast-twitch muscle fibers: the lying triceps extension. There are many variations of this movement, my favorite standing as the French press, or skull-crusher. For this dumbbell motion, begin by sitting on a bench with either a straight or curl bar in your lap. Then, in a slow, measured motion, lay back, bringing the bar to your chest. Now, with an overhand grip, your hands spaced about six inches apart, press the bar straight up, keeping sure your upper arms stay perpendicular to the floor at all times. Now, lower the bar toward your face, your elbows as the fulcrum, flexing your arms until they form a ninety-degree angle. Breathing out, as though pushing the bar up with your breath, extend your arms until they’re nearly locked straight. This workout will concentrate on the inner portion of the triceps, the largest head on the horseshoe.
With the lying triceps extension, as with most free-weight movements, dumbbells can also be utilized. Lay on a bench with a weight in one hand, your arm fully extended. Then lower, either across the chest or toward the corresponding shoulder, until your arm forms perfect L-shape. Repeat and alternate.
Next is the cable extension. As with the lying triceps extension, there is a wide variety of ways to execute this exercise, but for me the easiest and most effective has always been to stand and face the machine.
Approach an upright cable apparatus with any of the attachments (rope, V-handle, straight bar) about chest high, and with an overhand grip lower until your forearms are parallel to the ground, upper arms perpendicular. Then, keeping your elbows static and in towards your body, extend your arms until almost locked out.
Other methods for this exercise include standing or kneeling and facing away from the cable; kneeling and facing the cable; one-handed or seated on a bench, just to name a few. So get creative and shake it up, because as with life, variety is the key that will give you the results you want.
Next is the narrow grip bench-press, a tiny tweak of the old classic. First, lay on a standard bench-press with an overhand grip just inside shoulder width. Lift the bar off of the rack and lower, keeping your elbows in, and touch your chest just above the nipples.
The narrow grip bench-press is a more comprehensive triceps exercise, because it also brings in the pectoralis major (chest) and the anterior deltoid (front of shoulder) as assistants, and the biceps as stabilizers.
Now for the bench dip, my favorite for finishing off my triceps routine. For this one, first find two benches, and position them maybe three feet apart, parallel to each other. Sit and grip the edge of either bench, your hands just wider than your hips. Now, placing your feet on the edge of the opposite bench, lower yourself as far as your shoulders will let you, then return. This is a wonderful refining exercise for the triceps, and also brings in as assistants the upper pectoralis and the anterior deltoid. If it becomes too easy, feel free have an assistant place a plate on your lap for added resistance.
Now here’s an exercise that’s always been sure to make my tri’s sore: the seated dumbbell extension. Begin by sitting on a bench with back support, a dumbbell in your lap. Then, gripping the weight with your hands together and beneath the innermost plate, lift above your head, elbows almost locked, upper arms perpendicular to the ground. Then, in a controlled motion, allow the weight to pull your forearms back, keeping your elbows in and still, until your arms form a ninety-degree angle. Return and, for the sake of your weight room colleagues, don’t drop the weight. Here we have an excellent mass molding movement, so feel free to go as heavy as you please – but remember to bring a spotter.
Now let’s move on to the kickback, one of the few exercises focusing on the outer head of the triceps. Begin by holding a weight in one hand, keeling on a bench with the opposite leg and arm. Then, keeping your upper arm motionless and aligning with the floor, fully extend your arm, then lower. The posterior deltoid comes into play here, filling out and further defining the back of the arm.
Here you have a great way to begin your triceps routine, but there are always more exercises and variations to discover, so be sure to continue your research in print, online, and in the gym. Remember that all exercises will affect each person differently, so find what works for you and watch your shirt sleeves split in no time!