Biceps usually get the attention when wanting to build big guns. Don’t believe me? What would you do if I asked you to make a muscle? Ding, ding! That’s right – you would roll up that sleeve and flex those biceps.
What about triceps? Making up a massive part of the upper arm, the triceps, when developed correctly, can be just as impressive. Heck, you even have an extra head to work with (biceps having two and triceps having three).
So, how do you build some impressive triceps? Pressdowns, nosebreakers, close-grip bench presses? Have you tried those with little success? Finally, are you tired of the same ole routine of isolating your triceps with only a temporary pump to show for it?
Let’s look at male gymnasts for a second (bear with me here). These athletes do little to no direct isolation work for their arms. You won’t see them performing nosebreakers, one-arm dumbbell extensions or reverse cable pressdowns. They practice on the rings, the pummel horse and other pieces of equipment that you won’t find in the typical gym. Additionally, they train with insane frequency; every day and sometimes several times per day.
Now, I’m not suggesting you ditch your gym membership and join the local gymnastics club. What I am suggesting is to think a different way. Not in terms of more sets, reps or angles – I am talking about looking at your triceps program and adjust existing exercises and trying something a little new, something quite possibly a little outside of the box from your normal routine.
Let’s take a page from the gymnast example and flip our thinking for a different perspective and better results. Let’s look at functionality, practicality and a simpler way to building bigger tris.
Method #1 - Close-grip incline bench press
Here’s a new twist on an old favorite. But why on an incline bench? What makes this such a big deal? By performing the close-grip bench press on an incline, you instantly increase your range of motion therefore making the triceps work that much harder each rep. Have you ever noticed that you tend to be stronger on a decline bench press? The angle shortens the range of motion and the chest is put into a strong position. With the incline version, the triceps have to work harder to push the weight. This is a good thing.
Take a position on the incline bench with a shoulder-width grip. Any closer of a grip and you risk wrist strain and injury. Keeping your elbows close to your upper body and lower the weight down so your arms trail down your sides. After either touching or just an inch above your chest, press the weight back up overhead keeping your elbows close. At the top contract your triceps hard before slowly lowering the bar.
Method #2 - TRX triceps extensions
You can’t help but come across a TRX suspension trainer these days. Not only are they versatile they are also so dang convenient. Plus, the TRX can give your muscles a unique workout due to the constant tension and stability requirements. Having doubts about how effective they can be? Don’t judge until you try it.
Grasp the handles of a TRX trainer and back your feet up so you are in a type of inclined push-up position. Extend your arms in front of you so you are in somewhat of a straight line from hands to feet. Lower your body by bending at your elbows and the handles travel beside and behind your head. Reverse the motion and squeeze your triceps. Be sure to keep your body alignment intact by flexing your midsection throughout the motion.
Method #3 - Lying overhead extensions
Here is another new take on an old favorite. Normally you would perform a lying extension (nosebreaker) with the bar either over your chest or over your head. This version will challenge your range of motion and form and will stretch the living you know what out of your triceps. A unique angle with a unique contraction.
Position yourself lying on a flat bench grasping a cambered or straight bar with an overhand grip. Rotate your shoulders so your arms are in line with your body (if you were standing they would be overhead). Lower the barbell down and below the bench until you have a 90 degree angle at your elbows. Press the bar back up without moving your upper arms and squeeze for about two or three seconds. The trick is to not use too much weight and focus on the range of motion and feeling the weight in a controlled manner.
Method #4 - Ring/TRX dips
Much like our gymnast example from earlier, ring dips are the ultimate triceps builder requiring intense stability and a dominating control of your bodyweight. If rings aren’t available, a TRX trainer will do just fine. How does this differ from regular parallel dips? The instability factor will have your triceps working overtime. Plus the ability to manipulate your body in such a way will send a clear message of growth and strength to your triceps.
Grasp the rings with a neutral grip with your body as upright as possible. Lower your body until a 90 degree or less of an angle is achieved in your elbows. Reverse the motion and flex your triceps hard at the top. You can also use a TRX suspension trainer for a modified version of the ring dip. Instead of being completely suspended in the air put your heels on the ground with a slight angle to help assist you on the dip before moving on to the more difficult version. Be sure to use a slow and controlled motion.
Method #5 - Rep density
Instead of doing the traditional set cadence of do a set, rest, do a set, rest, etc. you can easily heat things up quickly by adding a little density work into your program. Instead of thinking of your triceps routine as a structured number of sets, rest periods and rep ranges think of the entire routine as one big set.
Pick any triceps exercise, but I recommend some of the more functional ones listed here in this article. Next pick a total rep count. Perform as many reps as you can stopping just short of failure. Rest for as long as you need and then continue with the set. You can go with around 50 total reps if using heavier weight and lower reps per bout and 100 total reps for lighter weight and higher reps per bout. Perform this giant rest/pause set until you reach your goal.
This can also be a superset with a chosen biceps exercise performed the same way for one intense and rep dense set.
Method #6 - Time density
Much like above, now you will perform your chosen triceps exercise for time instead of total number of reps. This approach has you picking a time and completing as many reps with a chosen weight as possible taking as much rest as you need.
Start with a time such as 5 minutes working your way up each session by one minute until your total is 10 minutes. For larger muscle groups you can work up to 15 minutes. Also, be sure to vary your rep ranges paying close attention to fatigue. For example, it would be difficult to repeatedly perform high reps on the squat due to the fact you would need a lengthier recovery period. In this case use a lower rep range and heavier weight. Challenge yourself every session.
Method #7 - Feet-elevated close grip push-up on med ball
Yes, let the long title intimidate you. Again, this is a twist on an old favorite. Having your feet elevated and your hands on a medicine ball raises the intensity level through the roof! Much like the TRX triceps extension stability makes the triceps work that much harder.
Take a push-up position with your feet on a bench and your hands grasping a medium-sized medicine ball. Keeping your abs tight, your body straight and your head in a neutral position, lower yourself with your elbows at your sides throughout the entire movement. Press back up all the way to the top position squeezing your triceps for a count. Be sure to perform this exercise at a slow and controlled pace focusing on contracting the triceps.
Method #8 - Triceps ladder
Often used as a general term, triceps ladders can come in all shapes and sizes. Here I am talking of an extremely convenient ladder that can be done almost anywhere there is an adjustable bar or surface. For gym purposes this particular ladder calls for a Smith machine.
Adjust the bar on the Smith machine to a height about level with your shins. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip and position your body where your feet are behind you and your body is in a straight line. Bend your arms as if you were about to do a nosebreaker lowering your head toward the bar. Press your body back up to the top position. Be sure to keep a straight line with your body.
Once you have reached failure, raise the bar up one rung and repeat for reps. Raise it up again and repeat. Do this until the bar has been raised to about chest level.
Method #9 - Frequency
One of the biggest changes you can make to grow your triceps (or any other body part) is to increase frequency. Training triceps once per week won’t cut it when mass is your goal. Training triceps twice or even three times per week will give you more chances to stimulate growth.
Think about it. In a year’s time training tris once per week will give you 52 opportunities for growth, twice per week will give you 104 chances and three times 156 times. Now the volume isn’t as high each session when increasing your frequency and you may want to vary your rep ranges as well.
Something like this below will give you the right dose of volume, intensity and results:
- Monday: Close-grip bench press or weighted dips – 4 sets of 4-6 reps
- Wednesday: Lying overhead extensions – 4 sets of 8-12 reps
- Friday: Feet-elevated close-grip push-up – 4 sets of 15-20 reps