Are your triceps lagging behind? We’ll show you how to bring them up!
The triceps make up a remarkable part of the muscle mass on your upper arms. Many make the mistake of focusing their arm regime primarily on their biceps, while they may neglect or just invest less effort into training their triceps. (Don’t ask me, why.) True: In many cases, this muscle group is underdeveloped for genetic reasons. But let’s face it: When it comes to big arms, the first thing on most people’s minds is the biceps. And they cannot figure out how it can be that they make 15-20 sets for the biceps on each workout, still they seem to lose the battle for big guns. And they actually will if they continue doing these crazy bicep marathons instead of stopping for a moment to think about how much emphasis they actually put on training their triceps. Would you like to stack a centimeter or two on your arms? I’m sure you would: So it’s high time to pay a little more attention to your triceps!
Underdeveloped triceps as a common phenomenon
The biggest problem with lagging muscle groups is that looking on someone’s physique on the whole, weaknesses are much more conspicuous. For example, a well-developed upper body with weak and thin legs will look very asymmetric, and this will be the first thing you notice. You will most likely take the other muscles for granted, while less developed muscles will strike the eye immediately. So, many focus primarily on their biceps in their upper arm regime, probably because big arms are often associated with large biceps. A few cable exercises plus some additional load coming from the presses, and that’s fairly enough for the triceps, they think. But they are deadly wrong. Because you may achieve better results (bigger guns) with proper triceps training.
As a teenager, I used to think too, that large biceps are equal to big arms. Sometimes I would do my biceps even 3 times a week until total fatigue, but the only thing I could achieve was overtraining my biceps. I would usually do 3 or 4 sets of triceps extensions and had no clue why my arms were not developing the way I believed they should (plus, I was eating crap, needless to say). Although I cannot say that bicep training had no visible results at all, still my arms were small and underdeveloped on the whole. As far as I remember, once my biceps were on a forced rest after a period of overtraining. That was the time when I started to focus more on my triceps. And that was the time when my arms underwent a drastic transformation for the good. I was stunned how could that be, since I was doing absolutely no biceps training that time. And then it all dawned on me, as my triceps gradually caught up with my biceps.
For a pair of spectacular, well-developed arms, about two-thirds of the muscle mass is made up by the triceps. No question: If you want big guns, you should devote at least as much energy to your triceps as to your biceps. So, let’s see a few tips and tricks to bring up this muscle group!
Use high reps
Especially beginners tend to train with low rep counts (about 4 to 8) even for smaller muscle groups. They call it “bulking training”. Bullshit! There is no such thing as a bulking training, at least not in this form. There is bulking diet with a proper training program. These are required to provide sufficient stimuli for your muscles, triggering growth. It is a huge mistake to train smaller muscle groups with low reps. Sometimes it is alright to trick your nervous system or to make your body familiar with heavier weights. But in the long run, it will get you nowhere. It is somewhat different in the case of compound exercises like squats, presses or rows. But unless you are aspiring to become a powerlifter, you should forget doing 3-rep sets on a regular basis.
Triceps pushdowns with reverse grip – a great cable exercise for bombing the long head
For the triceps, it is not a bad idea to use higher reps, even up to 20. So, feel free to bomb them with moderate weights and higher reps. If you don’t go below 10 reps in the last set, you are still doing it right. Focus on muscle sense, not on the weight. If you reach failure in the last set after 10 reps, you may reduce the weight and pump 3 or 4 more, or as many as you can.
Train your triceps more frequently
Although we usually recommend one workout per week for each muscle group, there may be some exceptional cases. Such muscles are the calves, the abs or the shoulders by default; and in exceptional cases, the biceps or the triceps, too. It is actually quite possible that an extra workout is required for the triceps, apart from the additional load coming from the presses. In this case you do not need to train until failure each time, but you may do two complete workouts a week, with 3 exercises of 3-4 sets each. This is not an insane volume, still it is fairly enough to provide the extra stimuli your triceps need if they do not respond to training very well.
It is recommended to vary exercises. This means the two triceps workouts should be made up of completely different exercises: For example, you may only do cable exercises on one day and use free weights on the other. This might not seem to make a big difference, still it does. And this means, you can bomb your triceps from different angles. You better insert a rest of 2 or 3 days between both workouts to avoid overtraining.
Or, on the contrary: Train less
Another common mistake is overtraining a muscle with too frequent workouts or to high volumes. You might not even notice it: It’s simply that your triceps are not developing the way they should. If you have trained your triceps like crazy so far, it’s probably high time for a little bit of purposeful under-training. Another smart trick is training your triceps following a rest day. Following a rest, both your muscles and your nervous system will be more relaxed and loaded with nutrients, waiting for you to bomb them to pieces. Less training may also be the solution if you do many presses. In this case you should pay extra attention to leaving enough rest for your muscles to recover. You know, no recovery, no growth. Overview how much (direct or indirect) load your triceps get a week and how many times. You may be surprised by the results. If you feel your triceps are overloaded, and you train them together with your pecs or shoulders, it’s high time to train them separately. Shoulder or chest presses, especially if performed with heavy weights, may be enough to exhaust your triceps, which will significantly reduce the efficiency of any other tricep exercise you are trying to do afterwards.
Do your triceps in supersets with your biceps
Training underdeveloped muscles with their antagonists (a muscle that opposes the action of another) is an old trick which works pretty well. In this case you should start with the biceps and continue with the triceps. Contraction of the biceps is accompanied by the dynamic stretching of the triceps. And this will give a stimulus to your nervous system which enables your triceps to contract much stronger afterwards. You can kill two birds with one stone: Not only your workout will be more intense and time-efficient, but you can also provide more concentrated training for your triceps. Moreover, your biceps will profit from this the same way.
Focus more on the long head of your triceps
If you take a look at your arm while flexing your biceps, you can see how decisive the size of the so-called long head of the triceps is, when it comes to the muscle mass on the lower end of your upper arm. This is the head of your triceps that runs closer to your body (you can feel it when your muscles are sore). And although you cannot isolate any head of your triceps completely with any exercise, since all three heads are working to some extent, the best moves to work the long head are extensions.
Such exercises are dumbbell triceps extensions (either one-arm or two-arm, see above); skull crushers or triceps pushdowns with reverse grip. The close-grip bench press, especially on a slightly inclined bench (about 30 degrees), is another great exercise for bombing the long head. The skull crusher can cause a problem for many, for the load it puts on the elbow joints. In this case you can use dumbbells. Depending on the number of exercises, include at least 1 (but better 2) exercises for the long head into each of your triceps workouts.
Use intensity-boosting techniques
As in the case of any other muscle group, intensity-boosting techniques can bring great results for the triceps, too. Supersets with the antagonist muscle (see above), drop sets or forced reps are all effective techniques for the triceps, too. When doing close-grip bench presses, you may ask for help from a training partner, so you can pump a few extra reps and kill your triceps totally. And drop sets work especially well for smaller muscle groups. It is most recommended to use this technique with cable exercises, because you can take some of the weight off immediately when you reach failure, then do a few more reps until the next failure and so on and so forth...
If you are doing everything right and manage to break out of your less effective past routine, you can easily stack a centimeter or two on your arms in a relatively short time. And remember: It takes more than biceps to make impressive guns!
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