Ask The Trainer #168 – Building Bigger Triceps

Ask The Trainer #168 - Building Bigger Triceps

QUESTION:

Can you recommend a good workout for triceps? My biceps have good shape, but my triceps just stay flat no matter what I do to them. I do tons of sets on them, but they just don’t seem to want to respond. Thanks in advance for your help.

Garret


ANSWER:

Hi Garret. Great symmetry is a trademark of well-developed arms.  When you see someone hit a front double biceps pose, it emphasizes the biceps. But it loses a lot of intrigue without full and rounded triceps attached to the underside of the arm.

Of course, genetics will play a considerable role in the shape and size of the triceps. But that isn’t to say the maximum potential of the muscle isn’t greatly influenced by your training strategy.

Later on, I will lay out what I would consider an effective and complete arm workout for you. But first, there are a couple of important points I want to make.

The Issue Of Overlapping

First of all, many trainees have a propensity to overtrain their triceps.  This is a common mistake because most lifters fail to consider the issue of overlapping muscle groups. This refers to muscles that are used secondarily in an exercise but still sustain a considerable amount of stress.

For example, when most people are doing a bench press, they think exclusively about their chest. They don’t consider the amount of stress their triceps are simultaneously enduring.

The same thing can be said about pulling exercises as they relate to the biceps. When you’re doing lat pull-downs or barbell rows, you’re thinking about your back muscles, but not so much your biceps. However, they are indirectly being taxed during those exercises.

In fact, there are individuals out there who have developed impressive arms without implementing any isolated biceps or triceps exercises at all.

One example is Martin Berkhan.  For those of my readers who are unfamiliar, he is a personal trainer and writer who popularized the intermittent fasting strategy.  Martin developed a phenomenal set of arms by engaging in a series of workouts that were composed exclusively of compound exercises.

Literally no isolated arm exercises in his workouts at all!  He firmly believed that implementing those exercises would result in overtraining and actually shortchange his progress in the gym.  Since an individual’s recovery ability is a genetically mediated trait, this sort of approach may be optimal for some trainees, but certainly not all.


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Compound vs. Isolation Arm Exercises

I’ve experimented with ‘compound exercise only’ workouts before. Although I did experience some success, I realized my greatest success with arm development by implementing a few isolated arm exercises into my training regimen.

Even though I didn’t feel a compound exercise only routine wasn’t going to allow my arms to reach their maximum potential, I still believe the biceps and triceps are some of the easiest muscles to overtrain. Therefore, I believe a minimalist approach is optimal. By that, I mean an arm workout that’s lower in volume, higher in intensity, yet still effectively targets the heads of every muscle in the arms.

Target The Right Heads

The last point I want to make is that I’ve noticed a lot of trainees are confused about which triceps exercises target which heads of the triceps. They’ll do 3-4 exercises targeting the lateral and medial heads. But then they won’t do any targeting the long heads of the triceps, which encompasses most of the triceps’ overall mass.

Unlike the medial and lateral triceps heads that attach to the humerus bones of the upper arm, the long head actually attaches to the scapula. This means isolated the long head is dependent upon a  certain degree of shoulder flexion. The further back your elbows travel in relation to your head position, the more effectively you target the long head of the triceps.

Most people do triceps exercises at or below chest level, which involves primarily the lateral and medial triceps heads, but not so much the long heads.  Exercises like triceps push-downs, triceps machine extensions, close grip bench press, dips, and triceps kickbacks are all great exercises for the medial and lateral triceps heads.

However, exercises such as incline skull crushers and various forms of overhead triceps extensions place much more of an emphasis on the long heads.  The key is to include enough exercises to target all 3 heads of the triceps without doing too many exercises and exceeding your recovery threshold.  Remember, if a muscle is unable to fully recover, It’s also unable to grow.

Example Arm Routine

My arm workouts generally consist of 3 exercises for biceps and 3 for triceps.  Since I put everything into those exercises, I only perform 1 set to failure on each exercise.  Now, when I say I put everything into my sets, it means I only stop when I absolutely can’t perform 1 more rep… or even a partial rep!

Prior to doing this though, I always perform 1 or 2 lighter, less intense sets to get my muscles and joints warm. It also primes my nervous system for the one brutal set about to come!

Here’s an example of one of my favorite arm workouts. It targets the biceps and triceps very effectively. It might not look like much. But when you put everything into each set and move between exercises with little rest, believe me, it will destroy your arms!

TIP: I find it best to perform 2 warm-up sets on my first bicep and triceps exercise. Then I just perform 1 warmup set for each succeeding exercise thereafter.

#1: Preacher Curls – 1 set X 8-12 reps.

#2: Weighted Dips – 1 set X 8-12 reps.

#3: Barbell Drag Curls – 1 set X 8-12 reps.

#4: Incline Skull Crushers – 1 set X 8-12 reps.

#5: Reverse Grip Preacher Curls – 1 set X 8-12 reps.

#6: Triceps cable press-downs – 1 set X 8-12 reps.

There are countless combinations of arm exercises you could use in this same format. This is just 1 example of what I’d call a complete and effective arm workout.

Hopefully, this information answers your question. I wish you the utmost success with your health and training endeavors!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,

Chad Shaw

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