Q: I’ve been following your bodybuilding career for years and have always been impressed with your triceps development. Do you have any tips for an over-40 guy trying to build bigger tri’s?
A: Thanks for the compliment and for your question. Every month I agonize over what to write about, so your letter came just at the right time.
Big triceps have always impressed me in bodybuilding photos. As a young man, when my buddies were enamored of building gigantic biceps, I was more worried about adding mass to my “horse shoes.” Triceps contribute overwhelmingly to total arm size, and big triceps can make you look significantly wider from the front when you’re standing “relaxed.” Additionally, great triceps add a great deal of size and detail to your back poses.
My first tip for triceps development is to train your chest with basic exercises and get very close to lockout on your pressing movements. Bench presses and incline presses are basic movements for the chest, but the triceps are unavoidably and heavily involved. All too often I see guys doing benches and/or inclines going from the bottom to only a third or halfway up. In my opinion that’s a mistake because it robs both the pecs and the triceps of a more complete contraction. Your triceps can get a great workout when you do heavy pressing, so pile on the weight and stop just short of lockout—not halfway there.
When doing a triceps workout, I generally choose two exercises. I pick one exercise in which my arms are extended away from my torso to put the long head in a stretched position, which enables the long head to contract through a greater range of motion and perform more of the work. My favorite exercises for that position are skull crushers, also called lying extensions, and seated dumbbell extensions.
For the second exercise I choose a movement in which my upper arms are close to my sides, which shortens the long head, transfers more work to the lateral head and makes for a greater peak contraction of all three heads. My favorite exercises here are V-handle pressdowns, rope pressdowns and dumbbell kickbacks. Dips are another favorite triceps movement of mine, but sometimes shoulder issues limit my ability to perform them.
In just about every interview I’ve done over the past five or six years, journalists have asked how my training has changed since I’ve gotten older. My answer to that question is that I now perform my exercises more smoothly and more deliberately, and I try to establish a great mind/muscle connection. I always do some lighter warmup sets on my triceps isolation exercises, even if I performed pressing movements earlier in the workout. I’ve also found that if I try to lift too heavy on my triceps exercises, my triceps tendons can become irritated. So I generally keep my reps for triceps at eight and above—sometimes as high as 20 reps on the more stretch-oriented exercises. If I find that my tendons are sore at the beginning of my triceps workout, I do a contracted-position exercise, such as pressdowns, first before loading the tri’s with weight in the stretch position.
Here are a few of my favorite triceps workouts. Note that in the first workout I’ve included my weights so you can see the progression.
Triceps Workout 1
Seated dumbbell extensions
40 x 20, 60 x 20, 70 x 15-20,
80 x 12-15, 80 x 12-15
60 x 15, 70 x 12, 80 x 10,
90 x 8-10, 90 x 8-10
Triceps Workout 2
(warmup) 1-2 x 10
(work sets to failure) 3 x 8-10
(warmup) 1-2 x 12
(work sets to failure) 3 x 10-12
A variation that I use on skull crushers—when my shoulders are feeling good—is to start with a pullover and pause at my forehead, then perform the regular skull-crushers to full extension. Next I return the weight to the forehead position, pause, then go back into the pullover movement and repeat.
Every so often I do dips supersetted with seated dumbbell extensions for five rounds, doing maximum reps on dips and then moving to a weight I can handle for about 8 to 10 reps on extensions.
Remember: Always warm up your triceps tendons fully and keep the movements smooth. Pause in the fully contracted position and consciously flex your triceps for a strong complete contraction. Keep your mind in the muscle and feel the triceps contracting, even as they are elongating into the stretch position. When performing skull crushers, always aim slightly beyond your forehead—never bounce the weight off your head under any circumstances!
Give the above triceps workouts a whirl, and let me know how it goes.
Train hard and eat clean!
Editor’s Note: See Dave Goodin’s blog at www.IronManMagazine.com. Click on the blog selection in the top menu bar. To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to TXShredder@aol.com. IM