The triceps muscle is king when it comes to arm size and power. In the early years of bodybuilding the triceps got priority over the biceps in the gym, but today just the opposite is true. The biceps have upstaged the triceps. Every competitive bodybuilder seems to be striving for a "freaky peaked" biceps, including the women. So many of today's physique athletes neglect their triceps, it could almost be called the forgotten upper-arm muscle.
Anatomically speaking, the triceps actually comprise about two-thirds of the fully developed upper arm. The bodybuilding stars of yesteryear like John Grimek, Steve Reeves, Clancy Ross, Jack Delinger and Reg Park used to do one-third more work for the triceps than the biceps. Today it's the reverse. Most present-day competitors are more concerned with what their arm looks like flexed than when relaxed. Sergio Oliva's massive 21-inch arms appeared bigger than those of his arch rival, Arnold, when the two stood on stage because of the Sergio's incredible triceps development. Arnold had a better biceps peak, but Sergio's arms were more massive and powerful and appeared wider, thicker and more fully developed when in the relaxed state.
Without doubt, the greatest triceps development I ever witnessed belonged to John McWilliams, who back in the early 1950s was the first bodybuilder in the world to develop 21-inch arms. John was working in San Diego at George and Beverly Crowles Gym, where he was training Jack Kemp, the San Diego Chargers All-Pro quarterback who is now a United States senator. McWilliams was in his 40s then, but his colossal arms measured 19 1/2 inches at a body weight of 188 pounds!
The triceps is the triple-headed muscle that gives beauty and shape to the upper arm. Each of its three heads attaches to different parts of the arm and shoulder girdle. Not only does the muscle push, but it also pulls in and assists the lats. You can isolate the pushing action but never the pulling. With the arm locked out straight, the muscle takes on a horseshoe shape. Its potential for mass is incredible. It arcs from the shoulder to the elbow with a dynamic, powerful sweep. It is at its best with the arm at the side, in the relaxed mode, which is most of the time. A hanging arm looks weak without good triceps, even when the biceps are highly developed.
The triceps is a powerful muscle that can do more work than the biceps. All types of pressing exercises work the triceps: bench presses (flat, incline, decline), dips, pushups, etc., but for maximum development you must employ more concentrated isolation movements. If you're a beginner, however, you will benefit from less complex triceps exercises like presses and pushups the first few months of training, and you can begin to add more specialized triceps work after that. After six months of steady training you should then be ready for a full-scale triceps assault.
Triceps training requires your complete concentration. Forget everything else while exercising and become completely absorbed in each movement. Remember at all times that training requires your whole, undivided attention or it will be of little value.
All beginners belong on a basic, three-times-a-week workout program for at least three to six months. This program has proved highly successful for gaining 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in the first 90 days of training:
|Barbell bench presses||3 x 8-10|
|Barbell squats||3 x 8-10|
|Dumbbell side raises||3 x 8|
|Lat machine pulldowns||3 x 10|
|Barbell curls||3 x 8-10|
|Dumbbell extensions||3 x 10|
|Pushups (feet elevated)||2 x max*|
|Bent-knee situps||1 x max*|
|*as many as you can do|
|Intermediate Tricep Program|
|One-arm extensions||3 x 10, 8, 6|
|Lying triceps extensions||3 x 6-8|
|Reverse pushups||2 x 10-12|
One arm extensions. When you do these in the strictest form, it lengthens and thickens the inner head of the triceps. Hold a dumbbell at arm's length overhead with your upper arm barely touching your head. Lower the weight as far as possible behind your head while keeping your elbow stationary; return to the top, where you should fully extend the arm for a complete contraction. Perform three sets as follows: 10 reps with each arm on the first set; add weight and do eight reps on the second set; add weight again and do six reps on the final set. This serves as a good warmup for the rest of your heavier triceps work.
Lying triceps extensions. This exercise builds tremendous mass and power. While lying on your back on a flat bench, hold a barbell at arm's length over your chest, hands about 10 inches apart, and lower the bar down behind your head while keeping your upper arms as stationary as possible. Move only the forearms. Return the bar to the starting position. Perform three sets of six to eight reps, resting no more than 60 to 90 seconds between sets.
Reverse triceps pushups. This "finishing-off' movement flushes the entire triceps with blood for a superb "growth pump." You get shape and cuts as well. Elevate your feet on a box or stool after you have placed your hands on the edge of a bench behind you. Keep the legs straight out in front while letting your bodyweight rest on the triceps. For added resistance, place a barbell plate on your lap. Lower your body in front of the bench so that the buttock comes close to the floor. Press back up until the arms are straight. Perform two sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Advanced Tricep Program
Advanced triceps training incorporates the use of two exercises previously described in the intermediate program:
|One-arm triceps extensions||4 x 10, 8, 6, 6|
|Lying triceps extensions||4 x 10, 8, 6, 6|
|Bent-forward cable extensions||2 x 10-12|
|Triceps pushdowns||2 x 8-10|
|Feet-elevated pushups||2 x max|
One-arm extensions. There is no finer warmup movement for the triceps than this. Utilizing a full extension and contraction helps prevent injury to the elbow joint and allows you to handle some really heavy poundages on the rest of your triceps exercises. Use the following rep scheme:
30 lbs. x 10 reps
35 lbs. x 8 reps
40 lbs. x 6 reps
45 lbs. x 6 reps
Lying triceps extensions. For a sensational variation of this great mass builder perform it while lying on a steep decline bench—with your head at the lower end, of course. Again, use a full extension and contraction on each rep. Use the following rep scheme:
110lbs.x 10 reps
120 lbs. x 8 reps
125 lbs. x 6-8 reps
130 lbs. x 6 reps
Bent-forward cable extensions. While standing and leaning forward with your elbows close to your head, start with the arms bent and extend them to the locked-out position. Be sure to go all the way back as far as possible so that the triceps are fully stretched before each extension. Do two sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Triceps pushdowns. This is a shaping exercise that carves the outer head of the triceps, so use medium weight and do higher reps. With your elbows close to your sides, press the Iat bar (or V-bar) downward until your arms are straight. Return to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner with the bar at your chest. Be sure to keep your elbows in the same fixed position throughout the movement. Do two sets of eight to 10 reps.
Elevated pushups. This is a tremendous upper-body pumper that makes the triceps scream for mercy. Place your feet on top of a flat bench and your hands eight to 10 inches apart on the floor. Blast out two sets of as many reps as you can do with only 30 seconds' rest between sets. Believe me, your pecs, delts and triceps will be pumped to the maximum. It's a great way to finish off your workout.
Additional Training Pointers
- Beginners who have less than six months of steady training should stick with the basic beginner's program. After six months you can use the intermediate program.
- Intermediate trainees should be doing approximately one-third more work for triceps than biceps. For example, do EZ-bar curls, three sets of eight to 10 reps, and incline dumbbell curls, three sets of eight reps in conjunction with the listed intermediate triceps routine.
- Advanced trainers can do three or four biceps exercises but should keep the total number of sets to 10 to 12 while specializing on triceps.
- Do not rest longer than 60 seconds between sets and exercises and in some cases not more than 30 seconds if you are advanced. Beginners require somewhat more rest until they have built up their energy and stamina reserves, which will permit them to train faster without sacrificing good exercise form or the amount of poundage used.
- Do these triceps programs two to three times a week with at least one day's rest between workouts.
Dense, massive triceps will boost the power and development of your chest and shoulders because you can handle much heavier exercise pound-ages when you work those other areas. Don't neglect your triceps. They give your arms greater contour, mass and strength. The training programs offered in this article can bring about a positive change in your arm development that will positively amaze you.