In the following article, I will present an array of tricep developing exercises that will help your tricep training variation and execution.
Once you understand the anatomy of the triceps brachii, you will be able to realize why you can not simply perform french presses and overhead extensions till you are blue in the face and expect to achieve complete, balanced tricep development. The medial and lateral heads originate on the upper-arm bone and attach on the ulna, which is one of the forearm bones, the long head originates on the shoulder blade and travels down the back of the upper-arm bone to attach on the ulna.
The medial and lateral heads are recruited only by movements at the elbow joint, and the long head can be recruited by movements occurring at both the elbow and shoulder joints. What this basically means is that to fully stretch the long head of the triceps, you must raise your upper arms over your head, and such as in exercises like lying french presses and overhead extensions. Pressdowns and dips train the lateral and medial heads of your triceps.
This movement involves facing a cable stack and grasping a handle attached to a high pulley. In the start position, your arms should be bent roughly 90 degrees so that your forearms are parallel to the floor. Press down on the handle and extend your elbow joints until your arms are straight or nearly so and flex the muscle hard. Bring the handle back to the start position under control and repeat.
There are many variations of the pressdown. Two-arm pressdowns can be performed with numerous handles, including the EZ-bar. They can also be performed using an underhand or reverse grip, although it is difficult to go heavy enough to seriously work your triceps so it is important to concentrate on form and execution. Both one-arm pressdowns, which also can be performed with a reverse grip, and two-arm pressdowns allow you to turn your wrists in as you press down, so that at the bottom of the movement your palms are facing the floor. The twisting action that is present in many tricep exercises is called pronation.
Here are a few variations of the pressdown:
With all pressdown exercises the movement is the same, but the execution differs slightly. With the straight-bar version, concentrate on keeping your elbows stationary at your sides and your wrists locked. Throughout the movement, keep your shoulders still and resist the temptation to raise or lower them. Flex your tricep very hard at full extension.
This V-shaped attachment keep your wrists turned out ward (supinated) slightly throughout the repetition.
This version a rope is used instead of a bar. The resistance on this exercise should be light enough to allow you to achieve a full contraction without swinging your arms. At the end of the movement, I find by supinating the wrists outward that greater stress is placed on the lateral portion of the tricep and flex hard at the end of the movement.
This movement is typically performed with a D-ring type attachment. This one-arm movement allows you to fully concentrate on the execution of the exercise and develop equal arm strength so that one arm does not overpower the other.
When performing kickbacks try to keep the upper half of your working arm slightly above your torso so that you can maximize recruitment of the medial and lateral heads of the triceps. The long head, which crosses the shoulder joint, has to work to keep your arm in this upraised position, so it can not make as much of a contribution to kicking the weight back as it would otherwise. The medial and lateral heads therefore assume a larger share of the load.
A kickback exercise involves bending forward at the waist and holding a weight or handle with your elbow bent at about a 90 degree angle so that your upper arm is roughly parallel to your torso and your forearm is roughly perpendicular to both regardless of the apparatus being used. From that start position, extend your arm back fully then return the weight or handle to the start position under control. At the peak contraction flex hard just as if it was a pressdown. Kickbacks can also be performed by turning your wrist in as you extend your arm at the elbow joint.
Here are some variations of the traditional kickback:
In this movement concentrate on keeping your upper arm stationary and parallel to the floor. To emphasize the medial and lateral heads of the triceps even more, angle your shoulder joint back just slightly so that your upper arm is a few inches above your torso, which will cause a greater stretch and allow a greater range of motion.
Band or Tube Version:
Tubes and bands tends to make the movement easier at the beginning of the rep than free weights, but as you approach the point of full contraction and lock out the more difficult to become. So it is a nice variation because of the greater and consistent resistance.
In this exercise, instead of hold a D-ring attachment try holding onto the cable or rubber stopper, which makes it easier to keep your wrist in a neutral position.
French press/skullcrusher type movements involve bending your elbows to hold a weight or handle at or near your forehead, then extending your elbow to press that weight to full extension away from you. Most french presses can be performed with the bench either flat or set at a slight incline or decline. They can also be done while lying on a Swiss ball. Barbell and cable version can be performed using an EZ-bar.
Some version can use a neutral grip, in which your pals face each other and all versions can sue a reverse grip where your palms are facing up rather than down but this reverse grip will likely drop the amount of weight you use. Using a rope handle or dumbbells allows you to begin the rep with either a reverse or neutral grip and then pronate your wrists in as you extend your arms at the elbows. Dumbbell and most machine skullcrushers can be performed on arte at a time also. Rubber tubing or bands can also be used to add resistance.
Here are some variations of the traditional skullcrushers:
Flat-Bench Barbell Version:
In this movement try to focus on keeping your elbows in and point above your head to keep tension on your triceps throughout the range of motion. This exercise can also be done with an EZ-bar if it is too hard on your wrists with a barbell. You can further stretch the long head by positioning the upper arm about 45 degrees about the plane of the bench and moving the elbow a touch further behind your head to place greater stress on the triceps.
Incline-Bench EZ-bar Version:
During this movement keep your arms roughly parallel on both the positive and negative portion of the rep. Do not let your elbows flare out to the sides, which will harm your joints and allow your shoulders to do more work.
Most gyms such as Bally's, Fitworks, or similar gyms have a triceps extension machine designed to simulate flat-bench french presses. Position yourself on the machine according to the instructions on the machine.
Decline-Bench Rope Handle Version:
Using the rope attachment to the pulley system gives you the option of pronating your wrists in as you extend your arms.
Low Cable Version:
Cable lying french presses allow you to maintain tension on the working muscle throughout the entire rep.
These movements involve placing the upper half of your arm or arms alongside your head, roughly parallel to each other, and then pressing your elbow from a bent position to a fully extended position above yourself. Most overhead extensions can be performed using a barbell or dumbbells, and either standing or seated on a bench or seated on a Swiss ball. Barbell and cable versions can use an EZ-bar. Some versions can utilize a neutral grip in which your palms face each other. Dumbbell and most machine overhead extensions can be performed one arm at a time.
Here are some variations of the traditional overhead extensions:
Lying French Press:
Lie on your back on a flat bench hold an EZ-bar with your elbows bent so that your forearms are angled toward the floor. Extend your elbows to kick the bar out to full extension.
Seated EZ-Bar Version:
In this movement the long head of your triceps works hardest when your elbows point directly up. Try to keep your elbows in and your upper arms stationary throughout the rep so that the triceps on concentrated on.
Standing One-Arm Dumbbell Version:
In contrast to the seated version of this exercise, the lack of a back support forces your stabilizer muscles to come into play here and maintain proper body posture without assistance. Be careful not to over exaggerate the arch in your spine so that you do not injure yourself.
Seated Low-Cable EZ Bar/Rope Version:
The cable allows you a continuous tension throughout the movement. While pulling from a low pulley allows for a complete stretch at the bottom of the movement.
From a personal perspective, I find dips, especially weighted dips, to be a great mass builder. Except for machine versions, dips involve lowering your body and then using primarily your triceps strength to lift yourself back up until your arms are fully extended. Be sure to keep your self straight and upward and do not lean because the more you lean the more your chest becomes involved. Dips can be performed with several wrist positions, although the two most common are the palms-down, knuckles-forward grip and the palms-facing-each-other, knuckles down grip.
Here are some variations of the traditional dips:
During this movement, concentrate on keeping your elbows back rather than flared and your torso erect, rather than inclined so that the chest does not become involved too much. Do not overstretch at the bottom. This exercise can be made more difficult through the addition of resistance, usually in the form of a weight attached to a lifting belt.
Three Bench Version:
Three benches are used in this movement. Place your hands on the benches arranged parallel or diagonal to each other and play your fee up on a third bench and perform the movement. One bench and also be used but place your hands on the bench and your feet on the floor and perform the movement. With two benches place your hands on one bench and your feet on the other and perform the movement.
Close Grip Presses
Close grip bench presses and pushups are compound, multi-joint exercises that recruit additional muscles, most notably your pectorals, in contrast to single-joint movements such as pressdowns. By keeping your hands closer together than you normally would on presses and pushups you can make your triceps the prime movers, instead of your chest. Be careful though not to place your hands any closer than shoulder width apart. Close grip presses can be done using a wide range of bars. Resistance can be added through the use of rubber tubing or bands.
All the close grip presses can be done using a reverse grip as well. Several of the movements can also be performed using a neutral grip where your palms are facing each other. The dumbbell version allows you to start in either a reverse or neutral grip and then pronate your wrist in as you press. Similar to close grip presses, the close grip pushup also lends itself to many variations. You can place your hands, feet, or both on a Swiss ball or balls. Place your hands on a balance board and press against a wall or use one arm at a time to perform the movement.
Here are some variations of the traditional close-grip presses:
Close Grip Barbell Version:
This exercise effectively hits all the major heads of your triceps, therefore being a great mass builder. Concentrate on keeping your elbows close to your sides throughout the movement so that your chest does not become over involved.
Close Grip Dumbbell Version:
Dumbbells allow for increased wrist comfort, more emphasis on control and balance, and the ability to focus on a lagging arm if your arms at not of equal strength.
Close Grip Pushup:
Similar in execution to the close-grip bench press, this exercise allows greater joint and structural stability. It is basically a pushup where your hands are placed closer together. Diamond pushups are also useful for developing your triceps. These are performed when you make a diamond shape with your hands and then do the pressing movement.
Hopefully now you have a better understanding of some tricep exercises and learned some new movements to add to your arsenal. Train hard and eat clean and soon your arms will look as if you horseshoes were placed on the back on your arms.
1. Schwarzenegger, Arnold. The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. Simon and Schuster. 1985, 1998.