Q: My triceps seem to be a lost cause. Every head is flat and underdeveloped. Can you give me some pointers on how to get some meat on them?
A: The triceps muscle has three heads’the inner, lateral and long. The long head is the belly of the muscle, and exercises that work the long head are best for adding mass, including close-grip bench presses, lying EZ-curl bar triceps extensions, dips, supine triceps presses with an EZ-curl bar, triceps pushdowns with the elbows wide and pushing straight down and kneeling long-pulley triceps extensions using a twin-pedestal bench. Only the last exercise requires special equipment, an adjustable pulley machine’which allows the handle to be set about five feet off the ground’a twin-pedestal bench and a special V-shaped bar that’s three inches thick. Larry Scott sells such a machine, and he claims that the exercise is the absolute best movement there is for pure triceps mass.
The triceps muscle has three heads’the inner, lateral and long. The long head is the belly of the muscle, and exercises that work the long head are best for adding mass, including close-grip bench presses, lying EZ-curl bar triceps extensions, dips, supine triceps presses with an EZ-curl bar, triceps pushdowns with the elbows wide and pushing straight down and kneeling long-pulley triceps extensions using a twin-pedestal bench. Only the last exercise requires special equipment, an adjustable pulley machine’which allows the handle to be set about five feet off the ground’a twin-pedestal bench and a special V-shaped bar that’s three inches thick. Larry Scott sells such a machine, and he claims that the exercise is the absolute best movement there is for pure triceps mass.
In Loaded Guns he explains why: ‘The long head of the triceps is the largest and has, by far, the most potential for adding massive size to the upper arm’even more than the biceps and certainly more than the external and inner triceps heads. Yet we seldom see exercises being done to specifically target this potentially huge muscle’. The long head is not attached to the humerus (arm) bone as are the external and inner heads of the triceps. The long head is attached to the super glenoid tubercle of the scapulae (the back of the shoulder).
‘I am sharing this with you so you will know why elbow position is so important. You see, a muscle cannot work effectively unless it is placed in a position in which it can be stressed through full extension and full contraction. In this instance, the elbow must be raised entirely overhead in order to place the long head in full extension. There are very few exercises that accomplish this movement unless one considers the overhead extension with an EZ-curl bar. This exercise places so much stress on the elbows it isn’t long before one cannot do any exercises for the triceps at all, let alone those that specifically target the long head.’
Larry likes to use heavy weights on all of his exercises (he can do kickbacks with 90-pound dumbbells), so any exercise that is overly stressful to the joints and prevents heavy training gets nixed in a hurry. That’s the reason he likes the kneeling triceps extension using the twin-pedestal bench. That special bench enables your arms to rest on the pedestals while your head ducks down between them. The long pulley is set about five feet off the ground, and you kneel on the floor. When your arms are pulled back behind your head, the only muscle that can move the weight forward to full extension is the long head of the triceps. You have to try it to appreciate how great an exercise it is’much better than pressdowns or other types of extensions.
Dips are great for the triceps if you stay upright (don’t lean forward as you do for pec development) and lock out to full contraction at the completion of each rep. You don’t have to dip all the way down’about two-thirds is enough’but you must push up to complete lockout and even lean back a little at the top.
Close-grip bench presses are pretty straightforward, but there are a few little tricks you can use to work the triceps. For example, you can lower the bar to your lower chest and then push the bar up and slightly toward your feet as you lock out. That activates a bit more of the lateral head too. I learned that from Mohamed Makkawy, and he had awesome triceps.
You can hit the triceps a little differently by pushing the bar up and slightly over your face as you lock out. The bar actually moves only a few inches, but it’s enough to hit muscle fibers not worked by pushing straight up or toward your feet.
Another Larry Scott favorite for building thick, massive triceps is the supine press using an EZ-curl bar. It’s basically the same as close-grip bench presses, but you use the EZ-curl bar to lessen stress on your wrists, and you let your elbows splay out to the sides. Use heavy weights; form is secondary. Scott says he doesn’t care how much he has to cheat to get the weight up as long as it gets up. When he finishes a set, he immediately goes to the kneeling triceps extension. He’ll go back and forth for six supersets of approximately six repetitions, plus four burns (partial reps).
The regular triceps extension done with an EZ-curl bar can be a good long-head developer, especially when performed on the decline bench. The decline bench gives you greater range of motion and puts less stress on the elbows. You can lower the bar to your throat/chin, to your nose, to your forehead (skull crushers) and behind your head. All are good exercises, and the variety stresses the triceps a little differently.
While most people lower the bar somewhere over the face and then push straight up to lockout, you can get a harder contraction if you push the bar up and back as the bar comes up. Give it a try and see if it doesn’t make a difference.
Just about everyone loves to do triceps pressdowns. They are to triceps what bench presses are to chest training. There are two ways of doing pressdowns’what John Parrillo calls the strict method and the cheating method. In the strict method, you keep your arms close to your sides and push the bar down to lockout in a semi-circle. It’s important to keep your arms and elbows in that position throughout the entire range of motion. The cheating method builds the belly of the triceps, the long head. To do that version, drape your hands over the bar, with your thumbs on top of the bar, not wrapped around. Next, angle your elbows out away from your body in line with the bar. As you do your repetitions, push the bar straight down, not in a semicircle, to full lockout. Guide the bar straight up to your lower pecs.
ALLOf course there are many more triceps exercises and variations. One-arm dumbbell and cable extensions are good for building the inner head, and triceps kickbacks are good for working the rear head, where the rear delt and triceps meet. One-arm reverse pressdowns work the lower triceps near the elbows.
To develop the lateral head of the triceps, try lying cross-face triceps extensions. This was a Steve Reeves favorite, and we all know what kind of triceps he had. The cross-face triceps extension is done just as the name implies. Lie on a flat bench holding a moderately heavy dumbbell in your right hand at arm’s length over your face, and then lower the ‘bell to the opposite deltoid. Experiment by changing the angle at which you push the weight up until you find the motion that enables you to isolate the lateral head.
Those exercises should be done only after the completion of the heavy exercises for the long head and belly. A great finishing exercise is the triceps dips between benches with the feet elevated. You can place barbell plates across your thighs and do drop sets until your triceps are fully exhausted. IM