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The triceps muscles make up about two thirds of what most lifters think of when they’re dreaming about the massive arms they’d like to have. Yet, the biceps get most of the attention, despite having less potential for increasing overall arm size. Getting bigger triceps will give your arms a three-dimensional look that you could never develop with biceps alone.
The triceps muscles have three parts, or heads: lateral, medial, and long. The outer edge of the humerus (the long bone connecting the elbow to the shoulder) holds the lateral head. The lateral head is the muscle that gives the triceps a horseshoe shape. The medial, or middle head, sits on the back of the upper arm. The long head runs farther down the back of the upper arm and can reach nearly to the elbow, depending on how well-developed it is. In order to get bigger triceps, all three heads must be developed.
Over a lifetime of training, triceps exercises can take a toll on the elbows. The actual function of the triceps is to straighten the elbow, so this isn’t surprising. In order to get bigger triceps, you have to keep your elbows healthy or you’ll lose the ability to perform the best triceps building exercises. It’s wise to ease into whichever triceps movement you’ll be performing with very light weight, gradually increasing the resistance so that you’re completely warmed up before your working sets. If you’ve been in the game for a long time and already have glass elbows, wearing elbow sleeves and/or using a heating cream to warm up the joints prior to lifting can also work well.
When it comes to building bigger triceps muscles, as with any muscle group, higher poundages equal greater muscle growth. You may have seen lifters performing endless sets of triceps kickbacks with small dumbbells for high reps. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can only load a kickback with so much weight. A movement like the bench press – particularly with the hands brought in to a narrow grip (narrower than shoulder width) – offers greater loading opportunities, and therefore, more impressive triceps development. Whenever possible, start with big movements and use smaller movements as workout finishers.
A superset is when you perform multiple exercises in a row before resting. For instance, to build bigger triceps, you could perform 10 reps of a close-grip bench press, followed by 10 bodyweight dips, and then finish with 10 reps of a rope pulldown. Multiple exercises will ensure that all three heads of the triceps are worked and that thorough muscle exhaustion is achieved.
The lockout portion of a lift is when you complete the motion and can “rest” for a moment before performing another rep. For instance, during a close-grip bench press, the lockout is when you straighten your elbows. If you stop just short of lockout – even an inch shy of it is sufficient – and then perform your next rep, you’ll increase your time under tension and you’ll never feel like you took a break during the set. The more time the muscle spends under that tension, the more it will grow. Stopping your triceps exercises just short of lockout will definitely lead to bigger triceps. This can also help prevent common elbow injuries.
The mind-muscle connection (MMC) refers to your ability to really “feel” the muscle you are working. In a 2016 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, the author found that, even during a maximum effort bench press, lifters could still isolate the triceps muscles with the MMC, resulting in greater triceps strength and a bigger bench than simply forcing it up with brute power.
When many people begin lifting weights, they aren’t sure of how to flex muscles like the triceps. If the muscle was never developed to begin with, they may ever have even known what it feels like to flex new muscles. Therefore, they aren’t able to feel them working. If they can’t feel them working, they will never be sure that they’re getting the most out of a triceps exercise. As you chase bigger triceps through lifting, slow down, concentrate, and make sure you learn to feel when the triceps are working. That way, you’ll always know you’re working the muscle instead of just working a movement.
Don’t be afraid to keep trying new exercises. Even when you find something that works for you, there might still be something that works better. Experiment with dumbbells, barbells, cables, and bodyweight exercises. Pay attention to how your triceps respond. That way, when you hit those inevitable plateaus that accompany every lifting career, you’ll never feel stuck because you’ll always have something else to try.
The triceps muscles are prime real estate on your arm. The more attention you pay to them, the more impressive your guns will be. Don’t neglect the curls either, but keep in mind that the triceps have the potential to offer you a lot more size. Seek balance in all things, particularly when you’re developing your body.