Name: Alex Nurse
Education: B.A., CPT, SSC
Occupation: Strength coach and personal trainer
You've made it! You're a certified seasoned bodybuilder! So ... why do your gains feel like they have come to a grinding halt?
Nowhere is this inchworm-paced progress more frustrating than on arm day, because we all want to add inches to our arms. Well if you've thrown everything—including the kitchen sink—in your efforts to grow titanic arms, maybe it's time to consider exploiting a few biomechanical advantages.
The idea here is to separate and conquer. Isolate—as best as possible—each of the individual triceps heads by strategically placing the tension to introduce new micro-trauma—and growth!
The triceps constitute more than half the bulk of your arms and consist of three heads. All the heads are involved in elbow extension, the straightening of the elbow. Let's take a closer look at how to zero-in on each head. Remember, it's impossible to completely isolate an individual head, but arm and hand placement can effectively emphasize one head (or even two) over the others.
Focus on the Long Head
The long head of the triceps is the only head that originates above the shoulder joint. Only when you position your arm overhead does the long head stretch fully. Take note of that because a muscle can't maximally contract unless it's fully stretched first. Movements in which arms are by your sides do little to hit the long head. Overhead movements like seated overhead dumbbell extensions work best.
Even lying skull-crushers—in which your arms are perpendicular to your body—target the long head to some degree. If they're done on a slightly inclined bench, you get even more emphasis on the long head. Not surprisingly, then, shoulder overhead presses recruit the long head to a great degree.
The best approach is to start with bilateral (using both arms at the same time) multi-joint movements first. These moves let you handle greater loads; follow them with unilateral or single-joint movements. If you want to blow up that long head, don't do one-arm overhead dumbbell extensions before your overhead barbell presses!
Seated Overhead Dumbbell Extension
Focus on the Medial Head
The medial head of the triceps is the most active of all the heads at almost all resistances and angles in both pressing (chest and shoulders) and triceps extensions. Usually all it takes to target this muscle is some good-old fashioned intensity. However, this head is relatively small, so unless you're King Kong, you can't go too heavy when trying to isolate it.
The debate continues about whether hand position really affects medial-head recruitment. Some argue that a reverse—or underhand—grip puts more emphasis on the medial head-fibers. Even still, it provides a good change of pace if you consistently do overhand-grip triceps exercises; you want to work a muscle from multiple angles for more complete development.
Most folks can't go heavy with reverse-grip exercises, so place those at the end of your workout.
Focus on the Lateral Head
This head is most active toward the end of the range of motion—when you straighten your arm. If you never fully straighten your arm, then guess which head you shortchange?
Neutral-grip movements (think dumbbell kickbacks or triceps exercises with the rope) as well as overhand grips, are the best lifts to target this head. The lateral head is also active when performing multi-joint triceps movements (dips, close-grip benches, machine dips) as well as skull-crushers on a decline bench.
ADDING INTENSITY WITH SUPERSETS
Though you likely do many of your exercises using straight sets—you do a single set and wait for about a minute before doing your next one—you can increase the intensity by pairing two exercises that target the same triceps head from slightly different angles. Doing so increases time under tension (TUT), which encourages the release of anabolic hormones such as growth hormone and testosterone.
In addition, the faster pace moves you through your workout quicker. By combining all three supersets, you can focus on each of the target areas with minimal downtime.
The first exercise in each superset pairing is a multi-joint movement—the action takes place at both the shoulder and elbow joints—followed by a single-joint movement. For the multi-joint movement, use a relatively heavier weight so you reach failure between 6-8 reps.
With the second exercise, choose a somewhat lighter weight so you reach muscle failure between 10-12 reps. The heavy weight used in the first set is a great trigger for testosterone release. You'll need more rest at the end of your superset to maximize the amount of weight you can handle on the next go through.
Isolate and conquer. Try this approach and see if your arms don't start growing again.
4 TIPS FOR TITANIC TRIS
Want to get your best triceps workout ever? Here are 4 ways to ensure you get a monster triceps pump.
Get off the flat bench
Close-grip presses and extensions done on a 30-45-degree decline bench will minimize deltoid recruitment and may slightly increase medial/lateral triceps recruitment. These same exercises invoke more long head activity when done on an incline bench.
Flip your thumb
Tightly clenching your thumb around a bar using a clenched fist recruits the brachioradialis. This steals some of the tension away from the triceps. If your palms and wrists are injury-free, try using a grip in which your thumb is on the same side of the bar as your other fingers.
Use isometric holds and "pumping"
Holding the peak-contracted position—the last inch or so of the range of motio—increases the neural activity in the triceps. This translates as a stronger contraction. Another way to bring on the burn is rapid-fire pumping toward the top of the range of motion, especially after failure, when you can't do any more full-range reps.
Apply advanced techniques
Negatives or eccentrics are techniques in which you lowering the weight slowly to allow you to push past muscle failure. You can also use rest-pause, a technique in which you choose a fairly heavy weight—say a weight that you can do eight reps with—and do only five. Rack the weight, take a 15-20-second rest, restart the set, and do another five reps. String together 4-5 such work/rest periods and you've done 25 reps with your 8RM. Now that's a ticket for muscle growth!