Why Triceps Matter
Everyone focuses on biceps. Second only to abs they are one of the most sought-after features we can develop naturally. But having great arms is more than just a great set of biceps. Without well developed and defined triceps brachii (triceps for short) those amazing biceps look…off. You ever seen someone with massive biceps and no triceps? It’s weird, man. There is more to triceps than just aesthetics, though. 3/5ths of our upper arms are made up of triceps. That means there is a lot of missed opportunity for enormous power generation if you neglect them. Plus, triceps are a supporting muscle in other movements, such as bench press, so if you want other areas to grow you need to grow your triceps as well.
Let’s go over some anatomy and then give you some ideas to work with in terms of how to adequately develop them to their potential.
Anatomy 101: Your Triceps
Before I talk about exercises that are great to grow your triceps I should go over what makes up your triceps so you can understand why the exercises listed for each group are there in the first place.
The word ‘tricep’ itself speaks to how they are made up. They are a three-in-one special muscle group, each with its own unique identity:
- Long Head: Like the tall guy in the group, he stretches from your shoulder to your elbow tucked in the inside lane.
- Medial Head: The ‘middle child’ sitting comfortably deep inside your arm underneath the long head. Doesn’t grab much attention but is essential for the team’s success.
- Lateral Head: The guy on the outside flirting with the world. Flex your arm, and that’s the head you see.
Each part of this trio has a specific role, helping you perform all those things your arms can do. And, because they all perform a different role and live in different areas of your arm you need to do different exercises in order to properly strengthen and grow them.
Let’s go a bit deeper into what they actually do:
- Long Head: This guy is responsible for extending your arm at the elbow or shoulder, allowing us to either reach behind us or stretch our arms out.
- Medial Head: The Medial head is the hidden power when it comes to actions needing serious strength. But, it can also give you some fine motor control for precise actions while generating immense power.
- Lateral Head: The Lateral head is the dude who shines when you need to push something away, reach for a door, or throw a ball.
Each tricep head plays a unique role and together they make our arms an extraordinary part of our body.
So, there are a few different parts of a tricep. That’s cool. They each do a different action. That’s also cool. Now, let’s dive into exercises that focus on each tricep muscle group, ditching the one-size-fits-all mentality and giving you the tools you need to grow them yourself.
Long Head Workouts
The long head makes up a big chunk of your tricep muscles. It runs along the back of your arm from your shoulder down to your elbow. The long head helps with shoulder extension, keeping your humerus in the shoulder socket, and assists with elbow extension.
- Overhead Tricep Extension: Set a bench to incline at about 30 degrees. Lay back, grasp the dumbbell with both hands and raise it overhead. Bend at the elbow, keeping the rest of your arms steady, lowering the dumbbell slightly behind your head. Extend your elbows to bring the weight back to the starting position.
- Close-Grip Bench Press: Same bench, different grip. Perform exactly like you would for bench press but move your hands in to a slightly narrower than shoulder width position. Keep your elbows tucked and lower into your chest. Return to the starting position. You will need to reduce weight from your traditional bench press.
- Skullcrushers: Dramatic name, no skulls harmed (hopefully). Lay on your back on a bench, holding a barbell or tricep bar straight out above like you would for a bench press. Hands should be shoulder width apart. Bend at the elbow and lower the weight towards your face keeping your elbows tucked. Return to the starting position.
Medial Head Workouts
The medial head is hard to isolate and generally works in tandem with the other two groups. It isn’t always active during the entire duration of an exercise, instead being more active in various ranges of the exercise. You have a better chance at activating it using a reverse grip and keeping your elbows tucked.
- Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdowns: Using a cable machine with bar, grasp the bar with supine (upward facing) palms. Extend at the elbow to press the bar down keeping the rest of your arm stable. Slowly return the bar to parallel with the ground.
- Cable Rope Overhead Extensions: Grasp a cable rope with both hands. Spin around so that the rope is behind you while your arms are overhead but your elbows are bent behind your head. Slowly extend your elbows until your arms are straight. Return to the starting position.
- Cable Rope Pressdowns: Same as the reverse grip pushdowns above, but with a rope instead of a bar. Grasp the rope and extend at the elbows until your arms are straight keeping the rest of your body steady. Return to the starting position by bending at the elbows until they are parallel with the ground.
Lateral Head Workouts
Last but never least are lateral head exercises. These muscles are activated most using overhand or neutral grips while keeping the elbows close to your sides.
- Tricep Dips: Weighted or unweighted, grasp neutral grip tricep bars or using a dip machine extend your elbows until straight. For extra activation push just past straight, hold for a second, and slowly lower back to the start position.
- Tricep Kickbacks: Using either a rope or a dumbbell, grasp the equipment with a neutral or overhand grip, bend at the waist with your elbow bent. Slowly extend the arm until it is straight backwards and return to the start position.
- Diamond Push-ups: Similar to traditional pushups, this variety is all about hand position. Instead of hands shoulder width apart, bring them together and have your fingers form a diamond shape. At the bottom of the movement your hands should be under your lower chest or abdomen. Press back to the starting position.
There are tons of other exercises that can get you growing those triceps and I will go in depth in future articles focusing on each of the various heads, training techniques, and overall aesthetics but these are some solid baselines to get going with.
Getting Handsy: Different Grips
Think about how you hold your stuff, like your phone, your water bottle, or a basketball. You probably hold them all in different ways unless you have some sort of special anatomy. You may have noticed above how different hand grips impact which muscles are activated. A good example is doing bench press and using an underhand grip instead of the safer overhand grip. Improper bench press grip won’t do much for your triceps, and could actually put you in the hospital, just as an example of why you need to use the correct grip for each exercise.
Changing your grip can switch up your tricep workouts quite a bit. In fact, if you aren’t growing your arms after hundreds of sets you might just be overworking the same muscle and neglecting the rest.
- Switch it up: Don’t get too comfy with one grip. Some muscles prefer overhand grip. Others prefer supine (underhand) or neutral grip. Don’t marry one grip and stay there forever.
- Get a grip on the action: Different grips mean different types of actions. Notice what each tweak does and how moving to different grips make you feel different parts of your arm.
Technically, there’s no wrong grip here but you won’t maximize your gains if you stick with only one.
What do I mean when I say neutral, overhand, or supine?
- Overhand Grip (Palms Down): Great for rope pushdowns and bench dips.
- Supine Grip (Palms Up): Try it for reverse grip pushdowns or cable crossbody concentration extensions.
- Hammer Grip (Palms In): Dumbbell kickbacks and parallel dips use this grip.
Some exercises actually want you to change your grip mid movement. Kickbacks, for example, can have you rotate your wrist mid movement to keep recruiting different groups throughout the exercise.
Mix and Match: Keep It Fun and Fresh
You know how eating the same thing every day gets old super quick? Same with workouts! Switching up your tricep workouts is like remixing your favorite playlist. Keep it fresh or you will stagnate.
Mixing up your tricep straining sessions brings in heaps of perks:
- Avoids Workout Rut: Fresher, newer workouts will keep your excitement growing and keep you from boredom which leads to burnout and sadness.
- Challenges Your Muscles: Changing routines surprises your muscles, whether that is here for triceps or in any workout. Bored muscles don’t adapt, so they don’t grow.
Using different exercises on your triceps gives each muscle head – the Long, the Medial, and the Lateral – a chance to shine. Try to hit each one a few times per week. A good rule of thumb is to 15 or so sets per week targeting your triceps, so spread it out and hit them from different angles.
Try these combos for growth:
- Giant Set: Overhead Tricep Extension + Hammer-Style Tricep Dips + Cable Rope Pressdowns. Each targets a different part of your triceps, making sure no head goes without its solo!
- Surprise it’s Growth: Close-Grip Bench Press + Resistance Band Pushdowns + Seated One-Arm Dumbbell Extension. This unexpected blend could be the brawndo your triceps crave!
- Crowd Pleaser: Skullcrushers + Push-ups + Diamond Push-ups. This combo will keep your triceps in shock!
Play around, explore, and design your own unique tricep training track.
Tips for Sustainable Tricep Growth
Turning your garden snacks into pythons means you need to grow your triceps like you’re a part of the Amazon. Rainforest life has a lot of stimulus helping it grow, right? You need to do the same for your triceps.
Consistency & Variety: Your Fitness Peanut Butter & Jelly
Consistency and Variety are super important here.
- Consistency: Regular tricep stimulating exercises means continuous effort, and muscle growth that sticks around.
- Variety: Change up exercises and grips. Your triceps will never, ever get bored, which means they will continue to grow.
Good Eats and Sweet Dreams: Fueling Your Tricep Supercharge
Like with any muscle you need to feed those triceps. Tricep growth’s secret sauce? Eating right and properly recovering:
- Protein: Your car won’t run without gas, and your muscles won’t grow without protein. Chicken, fish, beef, legumes. There are tons of options. Eat enough protein. If you need to know how much to consume, read THIS.
- Rest Up: Sleep isn’t just for dreamers. It’s repair time for your muscles. Get enough shut-eye; your triceps will thank you.
Dance Safe: Avoiding Injury and Jazzing Up Your Workouts
Keeping workouts safe and enjoyable is also a must:
- Warm-up: Don’t skip warming up. Take 10-15 minutes to warm up and dynamically stretch before hitting the weights too hard.
- Cool-down: Finish like a superstar, take time to stretch and cool down when you are done working out.
- Have Fun: Workouts are supposed to be fun. Throw in your favorite exercises, mix up the routine, and make it enjoyable.
Wrapping it Up
I’ve gone over a lot of things here. Let’s recap:
- Hand Grips: It turns out, the way we hold those weights is super important for the tricep! Changing your grip styles shifts the game, sparking new tricep adventures.
- Workout Routines: Variety of exercises and consistency of workouts during our routines are a necessity.
- Nutrition and Recovery: Lean proteins and restful night’s dreams are as crucial to tricep growth as our workouts.
Now, go grow your arms. Play around with grips, mix and match workouts, and put in the work!
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