How do your triceps look? If you’re not sure, grab a mirror and take a peep. Are they firm and defined with soft curves, or could they use a bit more definition? Too often, we focus the bulk of our training time working the muscle in the front of the body, the “vanity” muscles that are more visible than the muscles in the back. In regards to triceps, we focus more on biceps than triceps. However, training in this manner can lead to muscle imbalances.
Plus, how you look in the back matters. You may not see what your body looks like from behind, but other people do! So, let’s keep our training balanced. Could you use some tips for boosting your triceps training? Here are some that will help you get better results, especially if you don’t have the strength and definition you’d like to have.
Work All Heads of the Triceps
The triceps muscle is more complex than the two-headed biceps because it’s made up of three heads, all of which work together to extend your forearm. You can’t train each head of the triceps in isolation but you can shift the emphasis from one head to the next by changing the angle of your arms and by choosing exercises that work all three heads.
How do you switch the emphasis to each head? To target the long head of the triceps, overhead movements are best. So, include overhead triceps extensions in your routine. In an American Council on Exercise study, this was the fourth most effective in terms of triceps activation of the eight exercises they tested.
To hit the medial head of the triceps, reverse grip pushdowns do the job. That’s because your hands are in an underhand grip and this activates the medial head better than an overhand grip. To target the lateral heads, conventional triceps pushdowns are a better choice as you use a neutral grip for this exercise. Be sure to work the lateral head since it’s the portion of the triceps that when developed makes the muscle look firm and toned.
By including all three of these exercises in your triceps training routine, you’ll work the triceps from different angles and place emphasis on each head of the triceps.
Do Triangle Push-Ups
Chances are, you do push-ups, but do you do triangle push-ups? Of the eight exercises the American Council on Exercise tested, triangle push-ups activated the triceps the most. It’s a demanding exercise, so don’t try it until you’re comfortable with easier push-up variations. But once you can do a few, you’ll discover it’s one of the best exercises for hypertrophying this muscle. Remember, all push-ups target the triceps, so they should be in your routine regardless of whether can do this tough variation. Here’s how to do one:
· Place your hands on a mat so that your fingers are spread and facing each other at an angle. Your thumbs should be touching each other to form a triangle shape.
· Assume a plank position with your abs tight and back flat.
· In this position, lower your body as much as you can while maintaining good form.
· Slowly raise your body back up to the starting position.
Due to the difficulty of this exercise, start by mastering the movement on your knees first. Once you can do it with good form, advance to your toes. This push-up variation is a real triceps scorcher! Plus, it is harder to use momentum with this type of push-up.
Include Compound Exercises Too
Too often, people focus mostly isolation exercises for the triceps, but you’ll get more bang for your buck if you include some compound exercises that work the triceps. One of the best compound movements for this muscle is triceps dips, an exercise that also works your chest and shoulders. But triceps dips aren’t the only compound exercise that targets the triceps. Bench press using a close grip, around shoulder width apart, and skull crushers also activate the triceps along with other muscles in the upper body.
Include at least one of these movements in your triceps training. Vary the compound exercise you do regularly too to avoid reaching a plateau. It’s best to start your triceps workout with a compound exercise while your muscles are least fatigued. After the compound exercise, do two or more isolation exercises that directly target the triceps. For example, you might start with a few sets of triceps dips followed by a set of kickbacks and triceps push-downs. Vary the isolation exercises you do as well.
Sacrificing Form for Weight
The triceps are a small muscle group. You don’t need to use heavy weights to build strength and size, especially if you use good form. In fact, research shows you don’t have to lift near your one-rep max to hypertrophy small muscles like the triceps. Higher volume and lighter weights work best, especially when you’re doing isolation exercises for smaller muscle groups. If you use a weight that’s too heavy, it introduces momentum into exercises. You’ll recruit more of your lats, shoulders, and forearms into the exercise so that your triceps don’t have to work as hard. Also, you’ll maximize the range of motion of the exercise if you use a lighter weight and focus on. Plus, you’ll keep tension on the triceps longer if you slow down the tempo.
Not Doing Enough Triceps Volume
If your triceps are lagging in strength or hypertrophy gains, look at how much volume you’re doing. Most people focus more on their biceps than their triceps. Make sure you’re not skewing your training toward your biceps at the expense of your triceps. It’s the fastest way to create a strength imbalance and unbalanced muscle development.
The Bottom Line
Train those triceps–but do it wisely. Now, you know some ways you can make your triceps training more effective and avoid injury. Triceps are muscles that don’t always get the attention they deserve; make sure you’re not giving them the cold shoulder when you train.
· Muscle and Fitness. “Top 5 Triceps Training Mistakes”
· J Sports Sci Med. 2016 Dec; 15(4): 715–722.
· American Council on Exercise. “ACE-sponsored Research: Best Triceps Exercises”
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