So You Want Bigger Arms?
Of course, you do…we all do. And most guys think that means training the living daylights out of their biceps. And that’s true – you need to hit the biceps if you want to get that unspoken respect from other guys and the coy smiles from the ladies… BUT – your bis only make up part of your arm – and the muscle group that contributes the most size to your guns is your tricep.
The triceps brachii make up two-thirds of the upper arm’s size between the shoulder and the elbow, and is used for pushing moves like dips and triceps extensions, and helps with moves like pushups, shoulder or overhead presses, and bench press.
In case you missed it…I just shared with you that your triceps make up ~66% of your arm between the shoulder and elbow! Therefore, if your goal is to have arms that look big, you’ll get the most bang for the buck by focusing on your triceps. Also keep in mind that you can build a decent-sized triceps just by performing compound moves, but if you really want big upper arms, you will need to increase the volume and workload of your arm workouts that focus on the triceps.
Location and Function of Triceps Muscles
The triceps is a three-headed muscle located on the back of the upper arm, running from the shoulder to the elbow. The long head originates at the scapula; the lateral head originates at the humerus superior to the radial groove, and the medial head originates at the humerus inferior to the radial groove. All three heads are inserted into the proximal posterior of the ulna.
This view makes it somewhat hard to distinguish between the three parts so here’s another look. The triceps muscle is responsible mainly for extending or straightening your elbow. It also aids in extending and adducting the shoulder when it is externally rotated. As such, moves that work the chest often work the triceps as a synergist muscle.
How to Work the Triceps
If you want massive triceps, you have to train them. Of course, if you’re doing bench press you’ll build your triceps to some extent, but not the way you will if you really hammer them with some triceps-specific exercises. Choose moves that work all three heads of muscle for the best gun show around.
Some of the best exercises you can do to build your triceps are weighted dips, close-grip bench presses, dumbbell overhead triceps extensions, and lying triceps extensions with EZ Curl Bar. You can do skull crushers instead of lying triceps extension, but you won’t work the entire triceps as well. Finally, do cable pushdowns to hit the lateral head of the triceps.
Volume, Workload, and Tension for Size
Instead of “finishing” off a workout with triceps exercises, choose a day to work your triceps when they’re fresh. This will allow you to work as hard as possible and will give you the best gains. Either work them on a separate day from your chest or split up your chest/triceps workout so that there are several hours in between so your triceps can recover from helping with your chest workout.
The principle behind volume training is that you perform higher reps with a lower weight in order to keep the muscle under tension for longer. This means you can perform more reps with more sets compared to using a higher weight. Your goal is to do several sets of each exercise with an average of eight to 15 reps per set depending on the movement.
To do high-volume weight training, determine your one-rep max and then use approximately 60% of that, or choose a weight that only allows you to perform between 10 and 12 reps before failure. If you can do more than 12 reps, increase the weight. If you can’t do 10 reps, decrease the weight. The sweet spot is between 10 and 12 reps. Leave about one-minute break between each set.
Use Proper Form
Always warm up properly before a training session. You should always start with the heaviest workout moves first. This means narrow-grip bench press or weighted dips. Second, do those that hit the medial head to give the long head a break. Make these slow eccentric movements as you do skull crushers or lying triceps extensions as well as overhead dumbbell extensions. The final moves should be cable pushdowns that work the lateral head.
Keep your elbows pressed against your torso while performing pushdowns and do your best to keep your upper arm locked into position during all other moves. This will keep the emphasis on your triceps and prevent you from using other muscle groups to help. Also, don’t let the weight bang back down; lower it in a controlled three- or four-second movement for the best effect. When you lower the weight properly, your triceps do the work instead of letting your back muscles take over.
Ok, take a minute to mentally digest the information on the anatomy, location, and function of the triceps brachii, as well as different weighted exercises you should do to make them huge. Below, you’ll read about how to combine these movements into the best possible workout for triceps gains, as well as some tips to prevent injury. Taking action on what you read should put you that much closer to the well-defined horseshoe and make your guns mighty intimidating.
When your goal is to build yourself some huge triceps, you’ll have to put in some extra work and effort. Simply doing the “Big Three” isn’t going to cut it this time; you’ll have to hit these muscles with some extra moves that specifically target the triceps. Since you learned about the anatomy of your upper arms and how the triceps works, now you’ll read about what exercises you can do to really make some size gains.
Best Triceps Exercises
We covered how the triceps extends the elbow and helps to extend and adduct your shoulder under certain circumstances. In other words, any exercises that make your arm work in this manner, like the bench press, lying triceps extensions, skullcrushers, weighted dips, and dumbbell overhead triceps extensions will work your triceps. If you do these moves properly and ensure you get the proper nutrition for building muscle, you’ll soon see significant size gains. The tricep is one muscle that really sees a benefit from doing moves using cables, so make sure you incorporate cable pushdowns into your routine.
Triceps Building Routine
In the good-old days, most guys trained their triceps on chest days. You’d do your bench press and whatever else, and follow up your routine with some triceps finishing moves. A potential problem with this is your triceps are pretty much beat by this point and you can’t really do them justice the way you could if you saved your triceps workout for a day or time when they’re fresh.
When you use an optimal weight and exercise to really overload your triceps, you’ll see better results. For those that don’t want to devote a separate day, try mixing up the order of your routine and do the isolation exercises first.
Like everything else, intensity matters so chose a weight that will genuinely challenge you. You don’t want to just complete the set for the sake of getting it done. If you feel you could do more reps then add some weight, and if you can’t do the required number of reps in a set, you’ve got too much weight. I know it’s simple, but a lot of people screw it up. Make sure you perform each movement with a full/proper range of motion to ensure all three heads of the triceps are involved.
Here are two routines you can do to really build some amazing mass in your triceps.
Always do your cable work at the end when the long and medial heads of the triceps are fatigued. This ensures that they won’t take over and will allow the lateral head to do some work. Like I mentioned before, try these sessions on a day when you don’t do chest or mix up the order of the routine. Another alternative for those who have the time is to separate your chest and triceps workouts by several hours on the same day to allow your triceps time to rest and recover before you hit them with these moves.
Do these sessions once per week for four weeks, then you can do two per week. Advanced lifters with some decent size may be able to start out with two sessions per week, but go by what feels best for your level and ensures sufficient recovery. Beginners should do Routine #1 on weeks one and two, Routine #2 on weeks three and four, one each of Routines #1 and 2 on weeks five and six, two weeks of active recovery in weeks seven and eight, then start over again on week nine.
- Close-grip bench press – do four sets: 12, 10, 8, 6.
- Decline skullcrushers or lying triceps extensions – do four sets of 10.
- Triceps pushdowns – do four sets of 12.
- Weighted dips – do four sets: 10, 8, 6, 6.
- Overhead EZ curl bar extensions – do four sets of eight.
- Inverted Triceps Pushdowns (using seated cable row grip) – do four sets of 12.
Basically, this is a week where you want to give your muscles time to rest, recover, and grow. Take this time to assess strength balances using single arm overhead dumbbell extensions – do four sets of eight and gauge if your arms are equally strong or if you need to work more on one side. Anything more than a one or two rep difference between them indicates an imbalance. Medicine ball throws are a great active recovery exercise for the arms.
It is really important that you allow yourself those two weeks to recover. If you want to build size, you need to give those muscles time to repair. If you follow the plan as laid out, you could have some massive arms in just 16 weeks. Don’t rush it, or you’ll just end up with injuries and no size gains to show for your hard work.
Keep your form strict. This means when you’re doing cable pushdowns, use a straight bar. Push down with your elbows slightly pointed away from your body. Keep your shoulders over the bar; this will work the lateral heads of your triceps the most.
If you want some huge triceps that fill out your shirt sleeves, you have to be willing to put in the sweat and the pain for at least a few months. But if you do this, you’ll have the guns to show off all your hard work. Ok, let’s get after it and let the gun show begin!