Q: I’m 45 years old, and I’ve been training for 10 years. I’m natural and want bigger arms. Could you tell me how you got your triceps so full and defined?
A: You may think that I have a secret, but I don’t. Most muscles are designed to be a particular shape and size once they reach maximum hypertrophy. I believe the best you can do is find the most leverage-advantageous exercises and blast away. When I say leverage advantageous, I mean the exercises that you feel most powerful doing and have total control over—the exercises that you’re able to do easily yet intensely.
For example, I have very strong triceps: I can do straight-bar pushdowns with 230 pounds for 10 good reps. Questions then arise: Are you strong when doing the exercise? Do you feel leverage and power in that position? Or are you weak and shaky, have problems mastering the exercise and/or don’t feel it in the directed muscles but rather in the joints in the surrounding area?
The power I feel when doing pushdowns I also feel when doing lying extensions with a cambered bar. I have done sets with 225 pounds for 12 reps with strict form. That’s because my triceps have low attachments and I was born with a lot of muscle fibers there. Now, oddly, I am not such a good bench presser. I’m average at best. I can bench-press more with a reverse grip—hands supinated as opposed to hands pronated. Often those of us with great triceps don’t have great pectorals and vice versa.
The key with any muscle group for those who are natural is to find the two or three most leverage-advantageous exercises and blast the hell out the target muscle once a week. I don’t agree with changing the routine once I find what’s making my muscles grow and separate. Why would I? If you’ve found two or three exercises that you can do with increasing intensity and increasingly heavier weight, why change for the sake of changing?
Say that you’re just beginning your journey. Start with the conventional exercises first when looking for keepers. For triceps that will be pushdowns, lying extensions, weighted dips, seated machine dips and so on. If none of them work too well for you, start getting creative. Look at your triceps and think of how they work and where the attachments are. Perhaps the attachments are high and you need specialized training. Visualize the biomechanics of the situation: Look at pictures that show the triceps and how they attach, and get into the process of setting yourself up for some creativity.
For instance, on extensions try putting a bar on a low pulley and bringing it overhead with both hands. Now put one leg forward and push out just with your triceps, then let the bar come back all the way so that your forearms collapse totally onto your biceps—then push out again. Keep your elbows totally still—right on either side of your head. Be as strict as possible and give a squeeze at the contraction point. Do 10 to 15 reps and see how they feel. If they feel good, then you’re on to something. What you’re doing is changing the point of attack. If it feels just right, then do three all-out sets. Try not to think of the exercise as a so-called shaping move or anything of the sort—there’s no such thing. When isolating a muscle, you want to use all the weight that you can handle and blast away as if you were doing any other major exercise.
If you think in biomechanical terms, the other exercises mentioned all press directly down or up. This is a bit different, designed to hit the triceps from a unique angle. Find two or three of these gems, and you have your path to triceps glory. You need to stick with the exercise(s) for at least six months to a year, however, before you’ll see real change.
The idea with any stubborn body-part is not to change for the sake of changing; rather, it’s to find or create the best movements for that bodypart and stick with them. I assure you, that’s how we’ve all done it over the years.
Editor’s note: To contact Paul Burke, write to [email protected]. Burke has a master’s degree in integrated studies from Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s been a champion bodybuilder and arm wrestler, and he’s considered a leader in the field of over-40 fitness training. You can purchase his book, Burke’s Law—a New Fitness Paradigm for the Mature Male, from Home Gym Warehouse. Call (800) 447-0008, or visit www.Home-Gym.com. His training DVD “Burke’s Law” is also now available.