How to Get Bigger Triceps: The Intermediate’s Guide
Triceps often take the backseat to biceps when you are on a quest for bigger arms. Why? When you flex do you naturally roll up your sleeve and hit a triceps shot?
No, you invariably curl up your arm to show off your biceps while your triceps hang unnoticed underneath figuratively backstage while your biceps soak up all the limelight.
The argument for bigger triceps
The case for bigger, stronger triceps is a bit easier to argue than for biceps. With so many assistance duties regarding any and all pressing movements and other important functional responsibilities for dips, lockouts and overall arm developments and balance the triceps serve an important role not only aesthetically but also practically.
Where would your bench press numbers be without triceps strength? What about overhead presses, dumbbell presses and dip strength? All derived from your triceps. Additionally, your triceps (are supposed to) make up around a third of your upper arm mass so it would behoove you to pay closer attention to their development.
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The real story behind bigger triceps
Much like the mentality toward growing bigger biceps you may need to take the same approach to triceps development if you find them lagging. Endless sets and reps of isolation work for most gym-goers isn’t the answer. Sure, more work will produce more soreness and pump up that area nicely but is that approach realistically giving you your expected results? You may need to shift your perspective to a more whole-body mentality.
Have you ever seen a trainee with small triceps but a huge chest? Or weak triceps but a big bench press? How about someone with a massive, strong chest and equally massive and strong triceps? I think I can predict your answers.
You may need to focus more on the big, multi-joint, compound lifts for direct and indirect work. Much like adding more pull-ups and rows for better biceps development adopting the same approach to triceps will have you concentrating on presses, dips and other compound lifts for better, more effective stimulation. Multiple angles of bench presses, shoulder presses, close-grip bench presses and dips should round-out your program.
Once you’ve properly taken advantage of the aforementioned lifts then you can commence with some isolation work to finish off your triceps. But, by first focusing on maximum overload and stressing the triceps with more than normal amounts of weight (more than can be accomplished with isolation exercises alone) you then have the green light to polish them off.
How to Get Bigger Triceps – Your Arsenal
The following is a short list of categories of different types of triceps exercises. Although this isn’t an exhaustive list it does break down the types and their subsequent movement variations.
Close-grip bench presses: The close-grip bench press is arguably the granddaddy of triceps builders but only when done correctly. Taking a more shoulder-width grip on the bar will ensure a maximum amount of muscle is stimulated while putting your triceps in a strong position and reducing wrist and shoulder stress.
The key to making this exercise target the intended area is to keep your elbows by your sides throughout the movement. Avoid flaring your arms as this brings too much pectoralis involvement into the exercise. For a different take on the close-grip bench press try performing them on a decline bench to increase focus on the triceps even more.
Dips: Dips are another great multi-joint move to recruit the most amounts of muscle fibers possible. With the ability to strap additional weight to your feet or waist the dip is a powerful tool in your arm arsenal. However, first you must perfect the body weight dip so as to ingrain form, technique and function to fully benefit.
For maximum triceps stimulation (as opposed to chest) maintain a more upright posture as you perform the exercise. Avoid pitching your upper body forward as this increases pec involvement. Additionally, keep your elbows relatively by your sides without flaring them out to the sides.
Suspension trainer presses: Although a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to traditional training, suspension training (think: TRX) is quickly becoming not only popular but also staples in many programs for good reason. With the ability to angle your body at specific angles you can achieve great amounts of continuous stress.
Triceps presses on the suspension trainer allows for a different feel of stress as opposed to traditional exercises such as press-downs and extensions. The fact that you are using your own body weight will have you working overtime while stressing other areas such as your core and other supportive muscle in your shoulders and back.
Free weight extensions: Extensions here refer to both lying (nose breakers or skull crushers) and overhead varieties with both a barbell and dumbbells. Once you have completed all other multi-joint triceps work you can then move onto isolation exercises such as extensions to finish off the last few remaining muscle fibers.
For a small shift in comfort and angle of stress you can experiment with performing lying extensions on either a decline or incline bench. Everyone will find small nuances like that producing very different results.
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Press-downs: The cable press-down is likely the most widely known and used triceps exercise around. With many versions to choose from it’s not only versatile but also easy to perform, adjust and apply different intensity techniques to. Whether performing drop strip sets, partials, forced reps or ultra-high-rep sets, cable press-downs are a bonafide staple in any triceps routine.
Of course you will want to add these into your program once you’ve completed all of your compound work but press-downs polish off any routine nicely. Just don’t rely on these solely to build impressive triceps.
Triceps Angles of Attack
As an intermediate trainer looking for more than just the same-ole triceps exercises and grouping them as you always have there are certain ways to structure a routine in such a way to take advantage of each angle as much as possible. This will allow for maximum fiber recruitment for bigger triceps without all the confusion or simply throwing together a few exercises and calling it a day.
Traditional mass builders: These are the big triceps mass builders that stimulate the most muscle and take advantage of your strength curve. They neither induce an extreme stretch nor an intense contraction. Your best bets are dips, close-grip bench presses, lying barbell and dumbbell extensions and diamond push-ups.
Stretch angles: These exercises place a great deal of stretch on the triceps. Although you won’t be able to lift a ton of weight relative to other exercises the stretch is what you’ll be after. Shoot for exercises such as overhead cable, barbell and dumbbell extensions, suspension trainer presses (where your hands go behind your head) and rack presses.
Contraction angles: These exercises put the triceps in the best position for the most intense contraction possible. Think of the bottom position of a press-down where you feel that intense squeeze of the triceps. Cable press-downs, triceps kickbacks and bench dips fit the bill here.
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The Triceps Workouts
Below are three uniquely different triceps routines built for any training situation. One for the traditional gym-goer, one for the home trainer and the last is for bodyweight only enthusiasts. Use one, two or all three for each triceps session and get ready for new growth in your arms.
Perform three to four sets of eight to 12 reps of each exercise. Rest one minute between sets.
Gym triceps workout
- Decline close-grip bench press
- Overhead triceps cable rope extension
- V-bar cable press-down
Home gym triceps workout
- Flat bench lying dumbbell extension
- Behind-the-head overhead dumbbell extension
- Dumbbell kickbacks
Bodyweight triceps workout
- Diamond push-up
- Suspension trainer triceps press (actively stretch each biceps for 30 seconds between each set)
- Bench dip