Many people underestimate the importance of well developed triceps in the physique of a bodybuilder. When in fact the tricep makes up just more than 3/4’s of the upper arm. There’s nothing more effective for making the upper arm seem massive and powerful than well developed tricep brachii.
As the name implies, there are three major muscle bundles in the tricep; the tricep brachii lateral head, long head and medial head, and while all three bundles of muscle fiber do pretty much the same thing (extend the lower arm), the all do it in a slightly different way. This means that while you look awesome doing set after set of cable pushdowns, if you’re doing nothing to stimulate the two other brachii heads directly, you’re selling your upper arms short.
There are numerous exercises which either directly or indirectly stimulate the tricep. Among those exercises there are two distinct categories, isolating movements and compound or core movements. It’s always best to populate your training plan with a good mix of both types of movements, and your tricep routine is no different. Below we will examine three of the most effective tricep movements there are; Seated Overhead Tricep Extensions, Close Grip Bench Press, and Dips.
1) Seated Overhead Tricep Extension (a.k.a. Overhead Raises)
You may have read or heard others talking about the benefits of stretching the muscle during the movement, and no tricep exercise stretches all three heads as well as Overhead Tricep Extensions.
This exercise can be done while standing or seated, though it is would recommended to performing it while seated for greater stability throughout the movement. Overhead Tricep Extensions can be done with a dumbbell(s), a barbell or with a cable raise machine. Possibly the most effective method is with a single heavy dumbbell.
While seated on a chair bench that will support your upper back, grip the plates on one side of a single dumbbell in both hands so that the handle of the dumbbell is vertical. Carefully raise the dumbbell above your head so that your arms are straight and the weight is directly above the top of your head. Be sure to hold the upper section of your arm straight and vertical.
Once you are set to begin, slowly lower the weight behind your head by bending your arm at the elbow. Be sure to keep your elbows tucked in close to your ears on both the positive and negative parts of the movement. The bottom of this movement is the point at which your elbow is bent as far as it can while maintaining your upper arms in a straight and vertical position. Doing so will ensure a deep stretch of the muscle and in turn pull more blood into the muscle group, allowing for more energy and faster repair of the tissues following your workout.
The benefits of performing this movement with a dumbbell rather than a barbell are in simplifying set up. It is easier to select a single dumbbell and begin the exercise, than to load a bar and maneuver it into position above your head. It could also be said that the position of your hands while using a dumbbell, rather than a barbell, will provide a better stretch through out the movement. In any event, the basics of this movement are simple and the rewards are vast. Performing this exercise properly and with the supervision of a competent spotter, you will effectively stimulate your tricep brachii, long and medial heads; and you’ll be surprised how quickly you experience strength gains.
2) Close Grip Bench Press (a.k.a. Close Bench)
There may not be another exercise so effective for focusing so much weight in such a perfect movement. Close Bench offers heavy stimulation to all three brachii heads as well as incidental stimulation to your pectorals…what more could you ask for?
Before discussing this exercise, it’s important to note that there is serious risk of injury to yourself and to others if it is performed incorrectly or without a competent spotter. The narrow grip, combined with the nature of the apparatus and the potential weight involved, make this a potentially dangerous movement. Take caution before adding it to your routine and do not attempt it if you are not comfortable with your spotter.
Close Bench can be performed on an Olympic bench with a full length bar or on a stand-alone bench with a bent or preacher curl bar. The preacher curl bar may provide a better angle for the wrist joint, though more weight can be used with an Olympic bench and bar. It boils down to personal preference as both methods will provide very similar results.
As the name implies, Close Bench is a variation of Standard Bench Press or Flat Bench Press but employing a much closer grip on the bar. Your hands should be placed within six inches of each other, near the center of the bar and no wider than the vertical plane of the bench width. As with Standard Bench Press, raise and lower the weight from your chest at a point that is even with the bottom of your pectorals, to a point above your face that is even with your eyes. Do not bounce the weight off of your chest and do not lock your elbows at the top of the movement.
With the indirect assistance of your much stronger pectorals, it is important to pyramid this exercise in your sets. Increase the amount of weight you are lifting for this exercise with each set, beginning with a weight that is easily manageable, and ending with a weight which brings you close to failure on your final set.
Close Grip Bench Press is one of the few exercises available that will stimulate not only the long and medial brachii of the tricep, but will also effectively stimulate the lateral head as well, which is very important for developing thickness or width in your upper arm.
Perhaps one of the simplest exercises there are; dips are highly effective for providing direct stimulation to all three tricep brachii heads, as well as good indirect stimulation to the pectorals, allowing good development of the outer pectoral fibers (closest to the armpit) and anterior deltoids.
Your gym may have a dip apparatus, in which case, dips are simple enough to perform. Simply stand between the bars, elevated on the foot pads, grasping the bars at your hips and lift your weight. Then bend your arms at the elbow and shoulder to lower yourself between the bars until your arm is bent at 90 degrees. Then raise yourself back to the top position using your triceps to push your bodyweight.
Should your gym not have one of these apparatus, you can use two benches to suspend your weight by placing your feet on one bench and supporting your weight on your hands at the edge of the other bench, so that you are in a seated position with all of your weight supported by your arms and feet. Once set, lower your body by bending your triceps and extending your bent arms behind you. Then rise by pushing down on the bench with your hands.
Both of these exercises are effective for a time with your own bodyweight, but after a period of training you may find that your bodyweight is no longer sufficient to stimulate your triceps appropriately. In this event, you can add weight to yourself through the use of a specialized a belt, to which you can attach standard Olympic plates, or by placing plates on your lap for bench dips. This can be exceedingly difficult to do without a spotter or training partner.
Whichever movements you ultimately choose to aid in developing your triceps, always remember to stretch the muscle as far as possible without injury and to squeeze the entire muscle group at the top of the movement each time. Your triceps have the potential to get your arms noticed, go heavy, go hard and eat well; and in no time you’ll be the envy of the gym.