Considering the triceps muscle comprises a full two-thirds of an arm's mass, it is highly deserving of special attention. It is the key contributor to the appearance of sculpted, well-muscled arms that set you apart from your competition on show day. Now is the time to give the tremendous triceps its due!
As the "tri" prefix indicates, the triceps brachii is made up of three heads - the lateral (outside), medial (middle) and long (inside) heads, the medial being the shortest. The medial head helps to form the coveted horseshoe shape of the triceps when a figure competitor leans out to show detail and definition in this area.
The bulk of the triceps muscle is located at the shoulder, where all three heads meet. For this reason, you have to go deep into the stretch during each triceps exercise to really hit and develop this area. There are many exercises for the triceps, and although it's impossible to isolate just one head while performing them, certain ones can shift the emphasis from one head to the other.
Four exercises for triceps should be adequate - one triceps mass-builder to get all three heads responding and fired up, followed by three exercises that focus on the various heads and help you add detail.
Choose a weight for each exercise that allows you to perform the prescribed number of sets but gets you struggling on your last rep. Rest just long enough between sets to catch your breath and prepare yourself for another full set.
Four Triceps Exercises
EXERCISE 1 Lying Triceps Press
4 sets of 8-10 reps
Lying triceps extensions, also known as skull crushers, are a great place to start in your triceps-training routine. This exercise stimulates the entire triceps brachii and gets a good pump going. You can add variety to your workout by doing this exercise with dumbbells or a barbell, and by using an overhand or reverse grip. When using dumbbells (as shown here), you can use a semi-supinated grip.
Lying back on a bench, extend your arms overhead at 90 degrees to the body so that the dumbbells are directly above your eyes. Your feet can be flat on the floor or, if you have back problems, on the bench. Holding the upper arms absolutely still, slowly lower the forearms, bending from the elbows and lengthening the triceps in a controlled manner as the dumbbells descend.
Keep your elbows pointed toward the ceiling. You should feel a good stretch in your triceps as the dumbbells come close to your ears on either side of your head. Once you reach this point, push them back to the starting position. Using a full range of motion (ROM) ensures all three heads achieve full contraction.
Focusing on the working muscles and keeping the upper arms perfectly still are imperative. Do not allow your elbows to flare out. Rather, keep them shoulder width apart and the upper arms perpendicular to the body throughout the motion.
One or 2 warm-up sets are recommended before you use your most challenging weight. When gearing up for competition, the working sets may consist of 4 sets of 8-10 reps.
EXERCISE 2 Triceps Pushdown
3 sets of 10-12 reps
Variety is the key in any good training regimen. Incorporating cable exercises into a workout provides the advantage of constant tension throughout the ROM and maximum contraction force at the top of each movement. Rope pull-downs are an excellent addition to any triceps-training program, as they allow extension of the forearms beyond the frontal plane of the body.
Set a pulley to the highest point of a cable machine and attach a rope. Grab the rope handles, with your palms facing in and fists touching. Keep your chest high and the shoulders back. Your upper arms should also be held back and remain still alongside the body.
Press downwards, contracting the triceps and allowing the hands to flare out to your sides. At this point your palms should be facing down, as the rope handles spread apart to allow for peak contraction. Slowly bring your hands back to starting position, close to your chest. Intensity is crucial here. You want to take full advantage of the tension the rope pulley provides. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
EXERCISE 3 Tricep Dumbbell Kickback
3 sets of 10-12 reps, each side
This exercise puts the triceps muscle in its weakest position (full flexion), while placing emphasis on the medial and lateral heads. You should do your kickbacks with a weight that is challenging but allows you to complete the full ROM while keeping your upper arm parallel to the floor. (As you tire and the elbow falls below this level, you minimize the effect of gravity, thereby reducing the tension on the working muscle.)
To start, grab a dumbbell with a hammer grip, palm facing in, and lean forward so your body is almost perpendicular to the floor. Stabilize your torso by grabbing a bench with your resting hand or by placing the knee on the resting side on a bench. Bend the elbow of the working arm to form a 90-degree angle at the joint.
You may also do this exercise kneeling on a bench, in which case you want to align your upper arm with your torso. While holding the upper arm tight to your side, raise the dumbbell by straightening the arm behind you. At the top of the movement, your entire arm should be parallel to the floor (or your torso), and you should focus on feeling a good squeeze in the triceps at maximum contraction.
Return the weight in a controlled fashion to the starting position. Be sure to avoid swinging from the shoulder, as you will essentially be throwing the dumbbell through the movement of the exercise.
Practicing smooth, controlled movement ensures you are optimally recruiting the triceps, with minimal aid from supporting musculature. Also, avoid too much wrist movement, which puts undue stress on the joint. Do 10-12 reps and then change arms. Do 3 sets on each side.
EXERCISE 4 Reverse Grip Triceps Pushdown
3-4 sets of 15 reps
As a final exercise, when you have significantly fatigued your triceps, the reverse-grip one-arm cable extension (Shown with two arms) is a good choice because it is one of the safest triceps exercises. Reversing your grip also makes the exercise slightly more difficult than the overhand push version, forcing you to focus more on form than maximum weight. Really work on making a strong mind-muscle connection in this last exercise.
Working from a cable-pulley machine, attach a stirrup handle to the highest notch. Grab the handle with an underhand (reverse) grip. Keep your upper arm in line with, and tight against, the body. Bend at the elbow, allowing the triceps to lengthen and the forearm to curl upwards, with your palm facing your chest.
To begin the movement, contract the triceps as you straighten the arm by pulling the handle. Stepping closer to the pulley will provide you with more resistance at the top of the movement. Perform 3 or 4 sets of 15 reps on each side with controlled, focused movements.
The Triumph Of The Triceps
The triceps tends to be one of the most difficult muscles in the upper body to develop. Because of its sheer size in relation to the biceps, the visual impact a set of well-developed triceps has on the perception of gorgeous guns is immeasurable.
Functionally, tremendous triceps can contribute to the development of your entire upper body because of its involvement in all pushing exercises, including the chest press and shoulder press. Remember, then, that you work the triceps along with chest and shoulders. When you develop your training split, you must allow your triceps a chance to rest and recover.
Don't let your triceps muscles be a trouble spot. Maximize their potential to create an upper body that will outshine that of your competitors. If you want to reign supreme on the stage, be sure to train for triumphant triceps!