Is there a lifter out there that doesn’t want larger arms and a bigger bench press? The triceps are one of the least discussed muscle groups. After all, they contribute a lot more to your overall arm size than your biceps, and they are an important muscle group in all pressing exercises.
With this is in mind it should seem obvious that building your triceps should be your goal if you want to get bigger and stronger. The problem is that most lifters don’t know how to train their triceps correctly. You will often see bodybuilders using valuable energy on things like pushdowns and kickbacks. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with these exercises, but the majority of your time would be much better spent on compound exercises which allow for heavy weights to be used.
In fact, you simply can’t adequately stimulate all of the muscle fibers in the triceps without incorporating some exercises which allow for heavy loads to be used. In general it is best to hit 1 or 2 heavy compound exercises and then move on to an isolation exercise to squeeze the last little bit out of your muscles.
With this in mind let’s take a look at three fantastic exercises for your triceps:
Close grip Barbell Bench Press
If this isn’t the king of the triceps movements, then it is pretty close. The ability to use heavy weights due to synergy from your pecs and front deltoids allows you to really overload the triceps and force them to grow. While you want to work on consistently getting stronger, you should never sacrifice correct form for weight. With this exercise it important to keep the elbows close to your body throughout the movement in order to keep as much stress as possible on the triceps. Even with a narrow grip the stress can be taken off of the triceps and put onto the elbow joint if you don’t keep the elbows tucked in tight. This obviously not only diminishes your muscle growth, but can lead to elbow and wrist injuries as well.
Parallel Bar Dips
This is the classic triceps builder. Parallel bar dips are probably responsible for building more triceps size than any other movement. This is due to the combination of heavy weights and targeted stress that they provide to the triceps. When you first start lifting you may have problems performing more than a couple of these, but as you progress it is important to continue adding weight by using a dumbbell between your feet or a specialized dip belt. The addition of external loading will allow you to continue to progress in this movement once you are capable of easily handling your body weight.
As with most triceps exercises, the key to proper performance is to keep your elbows close to the body. This means using a narrow grip on the dip bars. It also means that you should use an upright posture without too much forward lean. Leaning forward shifts more of the stress to the shoulders and chest, which is not what we want for our goal of bigger triceps. Ideally you should descend into the bottom of the exercise until your upper arms were parallel with the ground. However, this may cause shoulder pain in a good number of lifters, and in this case you should either shorten the range of movement or skip the exercise altogether.
This is probably the bodybuilding movement with the most frigthening moniker. After all, who wants their head crushed? But the exercise is aptly named because it is done lying down on your back on a bench with a barbell at arm’s length. You will then bend at the elbows and lower the bar until it touches your forehead. Obviously if you do this in an uncontrolled manner it will hurt your skull!
The key to this exercise is to make sure the stress stays on the triceps. To do this you want the elbows tucked in and pointed towards the ceiling. It is essential that you only flex and straighten the elbows and that you do not move them forward or backward, or you will shift the stress off the triceps.
While this exercise is traditionally done by touching the bar to the forehead, you can vary the point at which you touch in order target specific areas of the triceps. In general, shifting lower on the body, such as the chin, will hit the medial head harder, while shifting higher on the body will hit the long head harder.
As you can see perfect technique is crucial to your success with triceps exercises, just as it is with all exercises. You can perform exercises with bad technique and still get some of the benefit, but you will never see great results and you may just hurt yourself in the process. Because of this it is suggested that you learn how to do these exercises correctly from an expert in the field.