When I was younger, I recall reading a bodybuilding magazine, from which I particularly recall Big Ronnie’s impressive triceps. At that time, I wasn’t sure about this muscle, and how it was possible to obtain that horseshoe shape. Triceps (or Triceps brachii) is a muscle made of three heads:
- The long head
- The lateral head
- The medial head
The triceps group, which can quickly gain volume, is the biceps antagonist, located on the posterior side of the arm:
The contraction of this group is achieved though a tensed arm (a full extension); this is the opposite of the biceps, that require flexing, by bringing your forearm closer to the shoulder.
In order to build massive triceps, here are some of the basic exercises in order to get the typical horseshoe shape:
Dips, (or “parallel bars repulsion”) is the main exercise for your triceps. This is a polyarticular exercise that will not only develop your triceps, but also your chest- along with your triceps brachii, you will also develop your anterior deltoids and the upper part of your pecs.
- If you are a beginner, you can start by using two benches if lifting your own weight is too difficult.
- If you are an advanced trainee, you can add a chain, or a weighted vest in order to increase the difficulty.
Using parallel bars, with an average distance between 23 and 24 inches, try to go down while inhaling, and go up while exhaling.
Make sure to go down until your arms become parallel to the bars, and go up, without locking your elbows.
Also make sure to keep your elbows parallel to each other, in order to maximize the tension on the triceps; the more open they are, the bigger the effort on your lats (or latissimus dorsi) and your pectoralis major; but also the bigger the stress on the shoulder articulations!
Slowly go down, without any interruption, but do not go too low (in order to prevent injuries). Chest pains can occur, near the sternum, especially if your breathing technique or form are not adequate. This can also occur if you are young and your growth is ongoing.
When it comes to weighted dips, your muscles will be used differently depending on the position of the weight. If you put them around your neck, you will mostly use your pectorals; contrarily, if you put them around your waist, you will mostly use your triceps. The more inclined your body is, the more tension you are exerting on your chest; and inversely, the more vertical your position is, the more tension your are exerting on your triceps.
No matter what, when using added weight the anterior deltoid (the front part of the shoulder), will be heavily solicited.
If you do not have any parallel bars, you can either use chairs or trestles:
If you are using a bench, you can also use a stool, adjustable in height; by doing so, you increase the resistance! If someone is with you, you can also ask him or her to add some weight on your legs if you want to gain both strength and power. Bear in mind that the higher and more tensed your legs, the harder the movement. Inversely, the more bent your legs are, the easiest the movement.
It’s your choice what you do with your elbows at the end of the movement. If you lock them, you will increase the contraction of your triceps. If you don’t, you will keep a constant tension on them. It’s up to you to try both methods and pick one that suits you. Lately I’m focusing on a greater contraction, since I’ve found that this increases my power.
Close Grip Push Ups
This is another variation if you want to further develop your triceps, as well as your shoulders. Push ups are also a polyarticular movement- they solicit not only your triceps, but also your pecs, shoulders, abs; and even your lower back.
As with dips, keeping your elbows parallel to each other will increase the tension in the anterior portion of your shoulders; while widening your elbows will increase the tension on your pectorals.
Close grip push ups are one of the rare bodyweight exercises that fully target your triceps.
Slowly go down, keeping your back straight and contracting your abs. While going back up, focus on your form, and make sure your triceps do the work.
You can add some weight on your back to increase the difficulty, or raise your legs in order to increase the tension. This is a variation I really enjoy 🙂
The movement is much harder to complete, but slightly takes the effort out of the triceps.
Triceps Training Routine
Here is a routine you can follow:
- Dips: 4×10 repetitions (or 4×5 with weights).
Feel free to complete two sets locking your elbows, then two sets without locking them.
You can also update the way you do your repetitions. For instance, going down slowly then going up as fast as you can.
- Close grip push ups: 4×20 repetitions (or 3×15 with weights).
If you want to increase the difficulty, you can go down while keeping your back straight, then quickly go up.
I personally increase the difficulty by rotating my pelvis while going up, thus increasing the tension on the triceps.