Strong, well-defined arms show that you work out. After all, your arms are more exposed than other parts of your body. Plus, having upper body strength makes it easier to do the activities you do every day – carry packages, lift things, or haul a heavy bag of garbage out the back door. Weight training is the way to get those well-defined arms of steel.
Are you having problems getting the arm definition you’d like? One question to ask yourself is how balanced is your arm workout? As you know, there are two main muscle groups in the upper arm – the biceps and triceps. Most of us are guilty of working our biceps more than the triceps. The reason? Because they’re the muscles you see when you look in the mirror. You really don’t see the back of your arms – but other people do. If you used a mirror, you might notice that your triceps don’t look as defined as the front of your arms. Some women even develop “bat wings,” a flap of loose fat on the back of the arms. These are all signs that your triceps could use some work and that your arm workout needs more balance.
Arm Workout: Biceps vs. Triceps
Biceps typically get most of the emphasis during an arm workout, but the triceps make up the bulk of the muscle tissue in your upper arm. In fact, two-thirds of your upper arms muscles are your triceps. Why would you focus on the smaller muscle and skimp on training the larger one? Yet many people do.
How do these two arm muscles differ? Your biceps have two heads, a short head, and a long head. Both heads originate from the scapula and attach to the radius in the forearm. How do they make your life easier? The main function of the biceps is to flex your arm at the elbow. The biceps also supinates the forearm or rotates the forearm and outward. Even though the heads of the biceps are distinct, they function as a single muscle.
In contrast to the biceps, the triceps has three heads – a long head, a lateral head, and a medial head. The main function of the triceps is to extend or straighten the arm. The parts of the triceps muscle that you see are the long and lateral heads since the medial head is deeper. All three heads insert into the elbow but it’s the lateral head that mainly determines the shape of the back of your arms.
Arm Workout: Best Triceps Exercises
Now that you know that your triceps need the same attention as your biceps, what are the best exercises to get the job done? The American Council on Exercise used EMG data to compare a variety of triceps exercises in terms of how much they activate the triceps muscle. The exercises they tested include:
· Lying barbell triceps extension
· Rope push-downs
· Bar push-downs
· Closed-grip bench press
· Overhead triceps extension
· Triceps kickbacks
In a second round, they tested dips and triangle push-ups. The results? The winner in terms of muscle activation was triangle push-ups. If you’re not familiar with triangle push-ups, it’s a close-grip push-up where you place your hands on the floor with your thumbs and index fingers forming a triangle. It’s a more advanced variation of the standard push-up. Following close behind in terms of triceps activation were triceps kickbacks and dips. How many of these exercises do you do regularly?
Of course, your triceps will respond best to a diverse group of triceps exercises, so don’t forget to throw in overhead triceps extensions and cable or rope push-downs. If you have a tendency to show your triceps less love than your biceps and you train them both the same day, change your approach. Work your triceps before your biceps. Remember, your triceps are a group of three muscles, so you need to hit them harder than your two-headed biceps.
Arm Workout: Making a Triceps Workout More Effective
To most effectively work your triceps, don’t use momentum when you train. It’s easy to let momentum enter the picture, especially for exercises like triceps kickbacks. Every time you use momentum, you take tension off the muscle and make the exercise easier. Constant tension is the best formula for muscle growth as it creates more muscle damage.
Are you bouncing the weight at the bottom of the exercise? Then you’re using momentum and not holding the muscle under constant tension. You’re also using momentum if you use your core to throw the weight up. Slow and controlled movements are best for holding the triceps under tension and stimulating growth. Remember, when you cheat you’re sabotaging your results.
Another triceps training tip is to use full range-of-motion. If you hold constant tension through a wider range-of-motion, you’ll elicit more muscle damage and create conditions favorable for growth. Holding tension using full range-of-motion also creates more metabolic stress, another stimulus for growth.
Make sure you’re using proper form both to maximize growth and to avoid injury. It’s also important to use progressive overload. Many people, particularly when they train their triceps, don’t increase the weight over time. They start out using 6 or 8 pounds for triceps kickbacks and never increase the weight. You won’t get very far with this approach. Progressive overload is a basic principle of muscle strength and size development. Ignore it and your growth will stall.
You might hear that you can best develop your triceps by doing compound pushing exercises like bench press and overhead presses. While these exercises recruit your triceps muscles, they aren’t always enough to shape and define your triceps. It depends on your genetics. If you gain muscle easily, you may get enough triceps stimulation from upper body compound exercises that work the triceps. However, if you don’t gain muscle size so easily, you need to incorporate other exercises, particularly the ones listed above.
The Bottom Line
Make sure your arms workout is balanced. Most people place too much emphasis on the muscles they see in the mirror and don’t focus enough on the muscles in the back. That’s especially true of the triceps. Use these tips to make sure your triceps are muscles you can be proud to display in a tank top.
American Council on Exercise. “ACE-sponsored Research: Best Triceps Exercises”
The Glute Guy. “Partial Vs. Full Reps… Or Both?”
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