The reason a lot athletes have big arms is down to the triceps. If these muscles are trained well, then they can be visible in a flexed and relaxed state. As they’re in the arm, the triceps belong to a small muscle group. However, they are important to pay attention to when training because they make up two thirds of the upper arm. Therefore, if you want to get strong and have big arms, then training the triceps is a must. Triceps is the secret to big arms!
Structure and functions
The triceps are located on the rear part of the upper arm. Consisting of one muscle – Triceps brahii – it has three heads (parts): long, medial and lateral. The largest is the long head.
The main functions are straightening your arm (elbow extension) and assisting shoulder extension. Interestingly, not many people talk about that triceps assisting in shoulder extension. If we know that, then we can adapt exercises for better performance and load the triceps more, and therefore, get better results.
The triceps are not part of one of the largest muscle groups, so if you don’t have enough time to train them specifically, then skipping it won’t be a problem. The triceps are also loaded during chest, shoulders, and even sometimes back training.
Your priority should be training the large muscle groups such as legs, back and chest. But if you have enough time for training or your triceps are lagging, then using special exercises is helpful. It’s also helpful to train them specifically if you want to set a personal record in the bench press or have big arms.
Women often accumulate fat around the triceps area. However, using workouts to spot reduce that area will only make it become a little tighter. Overall, it will only help a little. More attention should be placed upon total body workouts, and most importantly, eating habits.
We train the triceps in all exercises where the arm is straightened. There are compound exercises (several muscle groups are loaded) and isolated (only one muscle group is loaded) exercises.
Compound exercises include dips, close grip bench press, triangle or “diamond” push-ups, and bench dips.
Examples of isolated exercises are French press (Skullcrushers), triceps push-down, and dumbbell kickbacks. In general, greater emphasis should be placed on the compound exercises. This will help increase the triceps muscle mass quickly. However, there are different opinions and scientific studies on the best exercises.
I recommend periodically changing exercises. Remember that the word “best” is always relative.
During exercise, it is important to use the correct form and perform exercises with a full range of motion, holding the end of the movement for a short amount of time. This is so the triceps receive the maximum load. To increase the load placed upon on the triceps, a number of experiments have been reported looking at different exercises.
The load on the triceps increases if the close grip bench press is performed on a stable (bench) rather than an unstable (fitness ball) surface. However, the opposite is true during a push-up.
If you place your hands on an unstable surface like ball or TRX handles, the triceps are loaded more than on a stable surface like the floor.
Can we train each head of the triceps individually?
Generally, the entire muscle will work during exercises as opposed to being isolated. We can only slightly affect which head is being trained. The long head works a little more if the exercise is performed with the hands raised and stretched behind the head such as when performing an overhead tricep cable extension.
You can experiment with different grips by hanging the handles in some machines. For example, if the palms are in a neutral position, then the outer part of the triceps receives more of the load.
For beginners, one exercise will be enough. Repetitions: 10 -15, sets: 2-3.
Triceps push-down with straight bar or rope 3 sets of 10-15 reps.
More advanced athletes can choose more exercises and perform them with heavier loads. Exercises: 1 – 3, repetitions: 6-15; sets: 3-4.
Close grip bench press 3 sets of 6-10 reps.
Triceps push-down with straight bar or rope 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
Close grip bench press 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
Dips between benches 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
Weighted dips 3 sets of 6-10 reps.
French press 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
Bench dips without weight (at least at the beginning) 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
Triceps push-down with straight bar or rope 3 sets of 10-15 reps.
For women, exercise choice is largely determined by their fitness level and available gym equipment. If there is only a 20 kg (45lbs) barbell, then it could prove too heavy to perform some exercises.
In this case, you can choose the same exercises as beginners but simply add higher loads. Also, a good option is to perform many exercises with just your bodyweight. But if you feel strong enough, you can also choose the same exercises as men and perform 8-15 repetitions.
In some situations, where you don’t have enough time or if the triceps are already well developed, then you can choose just one individual exercise for triceps.
Some words about split training…
I wouldn’t recommend you train the triceps with the chest and shoulder muscles. Instead, train them with other muscle groups. During many chest and shoulder pressing exercises, the triceps are heavily loaded. Therefore, it could be too much for triceps to also train them specifically. These training programs should only be used by professional athletes.
If you choose full body training, then don’t train these muscle groups one by one.
A popular training split is to work the biceps and triceps or triceps and back in the same session.
How Often Do You Train Triceps?
- Chris Aceto. Championship Bodybuilding: Chris Aceto’s Instruction Book For Bodybuilding, 2001
- Frederic Delavier: Strength Training Anatomy, 3rd Edition, 2010.
- Stuart McRobert. Brawn.
- Wend-Uwe Boeckh-Behrens, Wolfgang Buskies: Fitness-Krafttraining. Die besten Übungen und Methoden für Sport und Gesundheit, Rororo.
- Арнольд Шварценеггер – Новая энциклопедия бодибилдинга; Эксмо-Пресс, 2000.
- ACE-sponsored Research: Best Triceps Exercises.
- A comparative electromyographical investigation of muscle utilization patterns using various hand positions during the lat pull-down.
- A Comparison of Muscle Activity Between a Free Weight and Machine Bench Press.
- A comparison of muscle activity and 1-RM strength of three chest-press exercises with different stability requirements.
- An electromyographic analysis of shoulder muscle activation during push-up variations on stable and labile surfaces.
- Electromyographic activity and 6RM strength in bench press on stable and unstable surfaces.
- Electromyographic analysis of the triceps brachii muscle during a variety of triceps exercises.
- Electromyographic Comparison of Traditional and Suspension Push-Ups.
- Morphological and functional differences in the elbow extensor muscle between highly trained male and female athletes.
- Muscle activation patterns while lifting stable and unstable loads on stable and unstable surfaces.
- Muscle Fatigue in the Three Heads of the Triceps Brachii During a Controlled Forceful Hand Grip Task with Full Elbow Extension Using Surface Electromyography.
- Shoulder muscle EMG activity during push up variations on and off a Swiss ball.
- The shoulder extension function of the triceps brachii.
- Width on the Myoelectric Activity of the Prime Movers in the Bench Press.