Triceps are the ultimate hybrid muscle. Not only are they responsible for arms that look both strong ad sexy, they also contribute mightily to some big lifts like the bench press and shoulder press. The triceps are equal “show and go” muscles.
Anatomy of the Triceps
The main role of the triceps brachii is to extend the arm at the elbow. Just as the prefix of the name implies, the triceps are made up of three distinct parts: the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head. All three contribute to overall strength and a powerful aesthetic.
The lateral head is the one that juts outward from the body and, when highly developed, creates the most impressive silhouette. The long head is located on the bottom side of the humerus, close to the body. Together, the long head and the lateral head form the coveted “triceps horseshoe,” the inverted U-shape that can be seen on bodybuilders and athletes who have well-developed arms and low levels of body fat. The medial head is mostly covered by the long head and lateral head, but contributes overall mass to the upper arm.
It’s possible to isolate the three different heads with certain variations of triceps exercises, but the best triceps workout for mass will hit all three heads equally. Whether you do your triceps workout with dumbbells at home or your triceps workout at the gym with every imaginable piece of equipment, it’s relatively easy to stimulate the entire muscle.
The triceps are a relatively small muscle and recover quickly. The best triceps workouts combine compound movements and isolation exercises with an emphasis on training frequency more than volume. Since strong triceps are crucial for pressing movements — locking out the elbows at the end of a bench press or shoulder press — weak triceps can hinder overall muscular growth.
For that reason, it’s a good idea to add a small dose of relatively heavy low-rep compound exercises to a steady diet of isolation movements using moderate weight and high reps, which are most effective for muscular growth.
5 Top Triceps Training Tips
1. Pick the right triceps exercise
There are dozens of different triceps exercises, but not all of them are right for everybody. While there are a few basic rules to follow when you are designing a triceps workout routine for mass and strength, one idea supersedes all others.
“What do you feel the most? If you do an exercise and it burns and your muscle gets really pumped, then that’s the one you stick with. This goes for every exercise. If you do an exercise and you feel nothing but your joints, and you don’t feel the muscle working, then throw it away.”
2. Start with a heavy compound exercise
After eliminating any exercise that causes pain or doesn’t fully activate the muscle, the best triceps workout begins with a heavy compound exercise that uses both the elbow joints and the shoulders.
Close-grip bench presses or floor presses are good choices.
3. Follow with two to three isolation triceps moves
From there, chose two to three isolation exercises (meaning only your elbows will be moving). The trick is to choose a selection of exercises that vary the angle of the humerus to the torso.
Ashman recommends including one exercise in which the elbows are against your body, such as a pushdown. Another exercise should have the upper arms perpendicular to the torso, the way they are in a close-grip bench press or machine press, which emphasizes the lateral head and medial head of the triceps.
4. Make sure to activate the long head of the triceps
Finally, add an exercise in which the humerus is at an angle that is greater than 90 degrees from the body, such as an overhead triceps extension. This position is best for activating the long head of the triceps.
5. Go to the gym?
It is not necessary to go to a gym for a great triceps workout, but it does help. You can get bigger arms by doing a triceps workout at home with just your bodyweight, or a triceps workout with dumbbells only. However, a cable machine is an excellent tool for a triceps workout and will allow you plenty of variety in your exercise selection.