What's got three heads and spends its whole life overshadowed by its two-headed neighbor on the other side of town? Your triceps. I'm not joking when I say that if you want to be massively strong, you need to pay attention to the muscles across from your beloved biceps.
If you're trying to build arm size and strength, a solid triceps workout needs to target all three heads that bulk up the back of your arms. And although you can't truly isolate any part of the triceps, you can vary the exercises, weight and reps to assure you cover all your bases.
Many trainers chalk up arm exercises to pure vanity, but there's function to go with all that flexing—that is, if you're working your triceps as hard as you should be. From pressing heavy weight to stabilizing loads overhead to maintaining healthy elbows, the triceps play a key role in optimal upper-body function.
To get that coveted, three-dimensional horseshoe shape on the back of your arms, try these three exercises—along with a stronger Bench Press and Overhead Press—during your next triceps workout.
1. Close Grip Bench Press
The simplest way to ensure muscle growth is to add weight to the bar, and no triceps exercise responds as well to heavy weight as the Close Grip Bench Press. By using a narrower grip than the traditional Bench Press, you target the triceps more effectively.
But don't go too narrow too quickly. Start with your hands a thumb-length away from where the bar turns from rough to smooth in the middle, and gradually move your hands in as you get stronger. Many people go too narrow (e.g., with their hands nearly touching), which doesn't hit the triceps any harder but puts undue strain on the wrists and elbows.
For maximum triceps strength, stick with sets of 3 to 8 reps, stopping two reps shy of failure. Save the all-out failure sets for the lighter exercises. Add a slight pause at the bottom of each rep to create explosive power that will help you blast through the dreaded Bench Press sticking point a few inches off your chest.
2. Rolling Dumbbell Triceps Extensions
Handpicked from the depths of Westside Barbell, the world's most infamous powerlifting gym, the Rolling Dumbbell Triceps Extension hits a solid blend of size and strength by adding a pre-stretch to the triceps, increasing force as you blast the weight up. Check out strength and conditioning coach Todd Durkin's Rolling Tricep Superset in the video player above.
- Lie face-up on a bench holding dumbbells at your chest with your palms facing each other.
- Roll your elbows back so they point toward the ceiling and let the dumbbells roll backward until your knuckles face the ground.
- Forcefully press the dumbbells toward the ceiling without letting your elbows fade toward your feet.
- Lower the dumbbells back to your chest and repeat.
To keep tension on the triceps and not the elbows, keep your elbows tucked in. Don't let them flare out to the sides. Imagine trying to keep someone from tickling your armpits.
Use sets of 8 to 12 reps and stop about one rep shy of failure. You'll get a solid pump while still using decently heavy weight.
3. Incline Dumbbell Tate Presses
Now that we have a heavy pressing movement and an elbows-in extension movement, we need an elbows-out exercise to complete our triceps workout. The Incline Dumbbell Tate Press fits the bill perfectly. Using an incline instead of a flat bench forces you to use slightly less weight, making for an overall safer exercise.
- With a dumbbell in each hand, turn your thumbs down with your knuckles pressed together on your chest. Your elbows should be pointed away from each other, with your forearms parallel to the ground.
- Keeping the inside of the dumbbells pressed together, drive the dumbbells up toward the ceiling and flex your triceps at the top.
- Lower slowly and repeat.
Use lighter weights for 12 to 20 reps per set, but don't be afraid to push close to failure. The last rep of each set should be tough, but not so tough that you can't complete it on your own.
For bigger, better triceps, try this upper-body workout that focuses on strength, size and hitting the arms from multiple angles.
- A1. Close Grip Bench Press - 5 x 5 with a weight you can lift 7 times
- A2. Cable Face Pulls - 3 x 10
- B1. Rolling Dumbbell Triceps Extensions - 4 x 8 with a weight you can lift 9 times
- B2. 1-Arm Dumbbell Rows - 4 x 10 per side
- C1. Incline Dumbbell Tate Press - 3 x 15 with a weight you can lift 15 times
- C2. Dumbbell Hammer Curls - 3 x 12 per side
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