As any intermediate bodybuilder knows triceps are pretty easy to grow. The three heads of the triceps make up two-thirds of upper-arm mass and are affected by virtually all-pressing movements, from bench presses to overhead dumbbell work. If you spend time concentrating both physically and mentally on your triceps, the results can be dramatic. Do these exercises strictly and you'll begin to see separation and size where before you saw one solid mass.
Overhead Rope Extensions
This is a nice variation that isn't seen a lot any more, which is a shame—although some machines replicate the overhead extension movement, the end flare-out needs a rope. It's great for producing an overall fullness and length to the triceps. Start with the rope behind your head, hands just above ear level. Stick with your elbows close in to your head throughout the extension to concentrate workload on the triceps. As you push your hands over your head, flare out your hands at the end to really pump the outer triceps head.
One-Arm Triceps Extensions
This exercise works all three triceps heads well, but because you're working with a free-weight dumbbell, it demands careful control, balance, and attention to detail to maximize its potential.
Sit on a bench during this exercise. This helps isolate the triceps by eliminating lower-body sway and minimizing torso twist. Because the triceps are not a large muscle group, using a challenging weight also presents the temptation to bring larger adjacent muscles groups into play. The starting position is with the dumbbell behind your head—not your shoulder—with the plates oriented approximately level to the ground. The upper and lower arm form an angle of about 90 degrees. Keeping your elbow close to your head, push the weight overhead until your arm is almost fully extended (don't completely lock out your elbow in any of the triceps exercises unless you're taking a brief break before a last forced rep—lockups take the work off the triceps and rest the muscle—but do make sure you've extended just short of a lockout). Note that the plate position when the exercise is completed is about 80 degrees different from when you began.
Training Tip: Always use a mirror with this exercise. If your elbow starts to sway out, chances are you're using too much weight and bringing the deltoids into play.
This also works the entire triceps, with emphasis on the upper area. To begin, take a dumbbell and lean over a supporting bench so that your upper body and upper legs form a nearly 90-degree angle. Your forearm with the dumbbell is perpendicular to the ground to begin with. Keeping the elbow close to your side, push the weight back, hold it for a second, and return the weight.
Training tip: Your upper arm should remain virtually stationary throughout this movement. Let the triceps do the work by bending at the elbow, not the shoulder joint.
Rope pressdowns are the full-range variation of the bar pressdowns, but as your hands pass lower than your waist, begin to flare the ropes out, hold the position for a second, and slowly return. Take care not to let the weights rest on the stack during the exercise. This is a great finishing exercise because you use a lower weight than in usual pressdowns and you use muscle fibers during the flare-out phase that are difficult to fully recruit otherwise.
Although the exercise is virtually self-explanatory, one aspect remains open to continuing debate—just how far up do you let your hands rise to begin the movement? Most people opt for a position that begins with the forearms 6-12 inches above parallel to the ground. That allows you to keep a relatively heavy working weight throughout the motion. But if you choose to start a little higher, okay— as long as the weight can be used properly throughout the pressdown. That means keeping your elbows in to your sides and being able to flare out the ropes at the end of the movement.
Training tip: Hold the flare-out for a second before starting the return.