By Nick Nilsson
Author of Mad Scientist Muscle
To get big triceps you need to work them HARD and SMART.
If you've ever read articles on arm training, you've probably learned that the tricep muscle makes up about 2/3 of total arm mass. The bicep, while being a great "show" muscle, is actually relatively small!
That's all well and good, and just blindly doing tricep exercises without a plan may net you some results, but to really maximize your triceps (as I mentioned above) you need to work them SMART.
So if you really want to stretch your T-shirt sleeves to the max, take a crack at this workout. It contains three of the most powerful tricep exercises I've ever used.
Not only that, these exercises are arranged strategically to literally FORCE the activation of many more muscle fibers in the triceps, leading to greater muscle growth and strength FAST.
In the next section, I will tell you about the three exercises (with a link at the bottom to use for pictures of the exercises in action as well as more detailed instructions). Then, I'll tell you how the exercises work together to help you blast your triceps into next week.
EXERCISE #1 - Bodyweight Tricep Extensions - 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps
EXERCISE #2 - In-Set Superset of Lying Tricep Extensions and Close Grip Bench Press - 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps
EXERCISE #3 - Bench Dips - 2 sets of 10 to 12+ reps
Take 90 seconds rest in between each set.
EXERCISE #1 - Bodyweight Tricep Extensions
2 sets of 8 to 12 reps
For this exercise, you will need a horizontal bar/edge about 2 feet off the ground. You can use a Smith machine bar, Universal bench handles, a railing, the edge of a chair or table, or even an Olympic bar set in the power rack with the safety rails a few feet off the ground will work. Essentially, any horizontal bar that is 1 to 2 feet off the ground will do. It should have some clearance underneath it so you have somewhere to put your head.
Stand in front of the bar, about a foot back from it. Place your hands about 6 inches apart with a thumbless (false) grip. Step back a few feet, letting your body straighten out as you do so. Keep your abs tight so that your body stays supported
Now lower your entire body forward, bending only at your elbows, so that your head ducks under the bar as though you are trying to do an overhead tricep stretch.
Keep your elbows tucked in close the whole way. Keep your entire body tight and stiff. The only movement should occur at the elbows. Extend back up using your triceps.
This exercise will build up the long head of the triceps (which runs along the undersides of the arm) as well as give your triceps a great stretch.
Exercises that move the body instead of the weight activate significantly more muscle fibers than exercises that just move the weight. This exercise is a prime example of just how effective a bodyweight exercise can be. In fact, it's one of the most effective triceps exercises I've ever found!
EXERCISE #2 - In-Set Superset of Lying Tricep Extensions and Close Grip Bench Press
3 sets of 6 to 8 reps
** One rep of each exercise (1 extension and 1 press) counts as one total rep for our purposes here. **
This is a unique type of Superset where you basically mesh two different exercises into a single set - preferably one isolation exercise and one compound exercise.
For this Superset, we'll be using EZ Bar Lying Tricep Extensions and Close Grip Bench Press (with the same EZ Bar). Use a weight you would normally be able to do about 12 reps with for Lying Extensions on their own.
In a nutshell, you will do one rep of extensions then one rep of close grip presses, alternating reps until you can no longer do any reps of the extensions. At that point, you finish with as many reps as you can do of the close grip presses. It's a very intense technique!
This type of Superset maximizes training intensity and allows you to work several different aspects of the muscle at the same time, dramatically increasing workout efficiency.
This exercise is best done lying on the floor (especially if you are training alone) rather than on a bench. If you have a spotter to hand you the weight at the start and grab the weight for you when you're done, you can do these on a flat bench.
Start with a rep of the Lying Tricep Extension. Lower the bar to your forehead then extend back up.
Now do a single rep of the Close Grip Press, lowering the bar to your lower rib cage area then pressing back up.
Now do another extension, then another press. Repeat until you can no longer do any extensions with good form. Now finish with as many presses as you can do with good form. That's one set!
EXERCISE #3 - Dips
2 sets of 10 to 12+ reps
When doing the dip for triceps, the key thing to remember is to keep your body vertical and straight and keep your elbows tucked in to your sides during the movement.
As you come to the top of the exercise, focus on squeezing the triceps as hard as you can. It can even help to try and lean back a little as you lockout the exercise.
If you're unable to do bodyweight dips, you can also substitute Pushdowns instead. This will also target the peak contraction position of the triceps.
Why This Workout Is So Effective:
As I said above, the key to building the triceps is to work them hard AND smart. If you're familiar with "Positions of Flexion" training by Steve Holman, you'll recognize these concepts.
We start the workout with an exercise that puts the triceps in a stretched position. The stretch position has two main benefits - the first is what is called the myotatic reflex (a.k.a. stretch reflex).
When the muscle is placed under tension in the stretched position, a quick change in direction causes more muscle fibers to activate than normally would. This change in direction should NOT be a bounce but almost a twitch. So when you get to the bottom of the Bodyweight Tricep Extension, get the stretch in your triceps then change direction quickly (but DON'T bounce!!)
The second benefit of the stretch position is is greater muscle activation and "anabolic signalling."
For information on how stretch-position training benefits muscle growth, check out this article:
Now we move to the second exercise(s).
The In-Set Superset combines two movements into one exercise. The Extensions provide another stretch-position exercise for the triceps (this stretch position is not as complete as the overhead position from the first exercise, though) and the press gives you a compound exercise that allows the shoulders and chest to help push the triceps harder.
Completing each set with a burn-out on the presses will REALLY light up your triceps.
Now we move to the final exercise: the Dip (or pushdown).
With this exercise, we are looking for a MAXIMUM contraction. The position that your arms are in (behind your body) is the position where ALL the muscle fibers of the triceps are in optimal position for peak contraction. Just keeping your arms straight and trying to touch your hands behind your back will demonstrate that.
After the stretch-position movement and the double-trouble of the In-Set Superset, you hit the triceps with the hardest contraction they are anatomically able to achieve.
Let me tell you right now...if you've never felt your triceps swell up like balloons before, this combination of exercises will do it. And, you'll achieve huge gains in tricep muscle development very quickly.
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