An often-ignored aspect of building stronger and bigger arms is the triceps. No one shies away from engorging their biceps with blood-rushing, skin-tightening and pump-popping Curls. They are everyone’s favorite feel good exercise. However, the biceps make up only part of the arm, so performing mostly Curls will only get you part of the way to your goal. Your triceps need just as much attention.
Ron Burgundy Syndrome
As mentioned in Arm Exercises for Athletes: Biceps Edition, too many people use high-volume, low-weight isolation Curls—just like Ron Burgundy. This takes away from critical development of the triceps muscles.
Similar to the biceps, triceps isolation exercises offer little benefit to athletes, because a single muscle is hardly ever isolated during competition. Instead, exercises that primarily engage the triceps, but also activate other muscles, should be the focus of your triceps workout. Isolation exercises can be used toward the end of a workout to finish off your strength training.
Truth About Triceps
According to strength and conditioning expert Bret Contreras, the triceps respond better to isolation exercises than the biceps. However, the best way to build strong triceps is through compound movements, like Dips and the Dumbbell Floor Press.
One of the best exercises to increase upper-body strength, Dips are heralded as the upper-body analog to the Squat, along with Pull-Ups. They produce tremendous strength and size gains in the triceps and other muscles, making your time spent exercising as beneficial and efficient as possible.
In the pressing motion, the triceps are engaged when the elbows are close to the sides of the body. Performing Floor Presses with dumbbells allows your elbows to be as close to your body as possible, thus maximizing the benefits.
Perform two triceps-focused exercises toward the end of your upper-body workout. Make sure to perform the compound exercise before the isolation one.
- Grasp handles of Dip machine and support body with straight arms
- Lower body with control until chest is at hand level
- Push body up until arms are straight; repeat for specified reps
- Use weight belt to increase challenge
Triceps Rope Pushdowns
- In athletic stance facing cable machine, hold rope attachment in front of sternum
- Keeping elbows tight to ribs, drive rope down until arms are fully extended
- Return arms to start position with control; repeat for specified reps
Dumbbell Floor Press
- Lie on back with knees bent, holding dumbbell in each hand with palms facing together and arms extended over chest
- Lower dumbbells to chest until arms hit ground
- Hold for one second, keep elbows tight to sides
- Extend arms to drive dumbbells straight up
- Repeat for specified reps
- Lie on bench, holding EZ Bar with close grip directly over chest
- Bend elbows to lower bar to forehead; keep arms parallel and do not touch forehead with bar
- Extend elbows to raise bar to start position; repeat for specified reps
A few weeks of performing the above lifts should yield the perfect blend of building foundational mass and carving the details with isolation exercises—thus promoting a perfect mix of arm strength and size for athletes.
Source: Contreras, B. (2010, March 10). Inside the muscles: Best back and biceps exercises. Retrieved from t-nation.com.
Anthony Mychal is a writer, athlete consultant, teacher and coach. He has a B.S. in health and physical activity and an M.S. in health and physical education; and he studied under James Smith and Buddy Morris at the University of Pittsburgh. In his free time, he publishes a blog with his musings on athletic preparation at anthonymychal.com.