Build Killer Triceps

When the average person thinks of big arms, the biceps is the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, many people train just the biceps in their quest for big guns forgetting that the triceps is the larger of the two and actually accounts for 2/3 of your upper arm size. What many people also forget is that both biceps and triceps should be trained so that you have big, but balanced, arms. Lack of balance, or a focus on only biceps is one reason people have weak triceps. Weak triceps means weak arms, arms that are no where near their full size potential no matter how much you do for biceps. Now, those who read my articles know I review the anatomy of the muscle we are working, because it makes sense to know what the muscle is supposed to do, so here’s the anatomy of the triceps:

The Triceps Brachii has three heads which connect the humerus and scapula to the forearm bone called the ulna. These heads are known as the Lateral, Medial, and Long heads. The Lateral head is located on the outer side of the humerus. This head is largely responsible for the horseshoe shape of the triceps. The Medial head originates on the back of the humerus. The Long head is located along the bottom side of the humerus and is the largest of the three heads.

The primary function of the Tricep is to extend the elbow (straightening the arm). The secondary function of the Tricep is achieved only by the Long head of the muscle, which is to bring the arm down towards the body (adduction). The triceps shares this function with the lats.

When putting together a triceps routine it’s common to work them after chest, since they are involved in all chest exercises and are well warmed up. Some people include shoulders (push, pull split) in this group but I tend to think that’s too much work in one session, so I suggest shoulders with traps on their own day. Why do so much in one workout? If you train chest, then shoulders, then triceps, how can you possibly have enough energy left to do justice to tris? Most likely, you can’t, if you’re training hard enough in the first place. You can train arms alone, especially if they are weak, but allow ample recovery time from training your other upper body parts and don’t schedule them to close to upper body work.

Here’s a sample split that’s great for this:

Day 1 – Legs, abs
Day 2 – Rest
Day 3 – Rest
Day 4 – Chest, triceps
Day 5 – Rest
Day 6 – Back, biceps
Day 7 – Rest
Day 8 – Shoulders
Day 9 – Rest
Day 10 – Repeat

If you can’t train 4 days a week, then I would suggest a basic 3day push/pull/legs split. I’ve had to use this many times and I usually stay with compound movements only to get the biggest bang for my buck in the least amount of time. This makes sense: don’t waste time and energy on isolation moves, if you’re trying to get big use the big exercises.

Let’s take a look at what exercises best work each head of the triceps:

For overall size: close grip bench press, dips (this can be normal dips or bench dips).

To develop the horseshoe/lateral head: pressdowns and pressdown variations. Much of the impressiveness of the triceps comes from the horseshoe shape. I can still remember seeing Frank Zane in a tight t-shirt back when he was Mr. O and the most noticeable thing about his arms was not the biceps or the size but the horseshoe. What is interesting to note was that his arms were only about 17 inches but you would never know by looking at him, as his arms seemed big and ripped.Medial head: most exercises will hit the medial head to some degree.

Long head: extensions and extension variations.

Before I lay out the routines, let me introduce you to one of the best triceps exercises out there: the EZ bar extension/pullover/press. This is a variation to the more standard pullover and press. With the pullover/press, you actually press the weight, then do a pullover, then press, then do a pullover and so on. With my exercise, you will do 6-8 reps of skullcrushers, then go right into 6-8 reps of the pullover, keeping elbows close to your head and doing a pullover that is close to your face to more fully involve the triceps, then you go right into close grips. So, this is really a tri-set of three distinct exercises all done as one exercise.A performance note:when doing a lying extension, there are two ways to perform this exercise: lower the bar close to your head, hence skull crushers, and lower the bar out and back away from your head. In this exercise, do skull crushers.

Routine # 1

Warm ups- the EZ extension/pullover/press using this rep scheme: 15, 12, 10.Work sets: 3 sets of 6-8 reps on each segment of this exercise. Use a challenging weight on this. By the time you get to the close grips, they should be near impossible to complete. In fact, use a spotter for some forced reps if you need to.3 sets of press downs: 8-12 reps at the bottom of the movement hold and squeeze for a 2 count, lower back to the starting position slowly, taking full advantage of the negative. On this exercise, let the triceps do all the work. For added intensity, stop at the halfway point and hold for a 3 count.

Rep performance: use a continuous tension style on the EZ ext/pullover/press, no pausing or stopping unless you need to use a rest pause technique to complete your sets. On both, no “speed” reps, let the muscles do the work, not momentum.

Routine # 2

Warm ups- using a light dumbbell, do extensions for an easy 15 reps over 3 sets. For this routine, we will be doing tri-set drop sets with rest pause. Take 2 progressively heavier dumbbells and an EZ bar. Begin with the EZ bar, which should be set with the heaviest weight, do as many full range extensions as you can, put the bar down, count to 10 and do as many more as you can then instantly drop to the heaviest bell and repeat, then drop the the third dumbbell and repeat. If this is done right one series should be all you can handle.

Rep performance: explosive up, slow and controlled down.

Routine # 3

Warm ups – using a rep scheme of 15, 15, 12, use a light weight on close grips for your warm up.Close grip bench presses 2 sets of 6-8 repsBench dips – 2 sets of 8-10 repsPressdowns – 2 sets of 10 reps

Rep performance:explosive up, slow and controlled down. On pressdowns, hold and squeeze at the bottom.A performance note: always use a weight that will challenge you. You should train to that point where you can’t complete one more rep on your own and in good form. Don’t be afraid to step beyond that point, however. I am using techniques like forced reps, rest pause and drop set style sets in some of the routines. Take full advantage of this, don’t stop just because you hit the prescribed number of reps. Knock out a couple more if you can. Also, add weight each workout, there is a direct correlation between strength and size – strive to always beat the performance of your last workout. If you can’t add weight, then add a few reps or use shorter rest periods.

Nutrition/Supplement Strategies

Any time you are trying to build muscle you need to remember that you have to take in more calories over and above maintenance requirements. Now, the timing and type of calories is critical to your success. Rather then just take in a bunch of excess calories, you want to time your intake of protein and carbohydrates. Protein, as I often say, should be at least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight evenly divided throughout the day, or you’re taking in protein every 3 hours. In the hours leading up to your workout, you can take in small amounts of carbs, such as 20-30 grams at a time to give you energy when you train. How I do this is have a small carb based meal with some protein, usually powder. The carb source is typically a granola bar, which has a mix of simple/complex carbs, about 4-5 hours before your workout, have another one 2-3 hours before. A complete meal can take 24 hours or more to digest but small amounts of food can digest in a few hours. Doing this, you will find you have more energy to train. Another thing I often suggest is to use a during the workout drink of Gatorade with some BCAA/glutamine powder mixed in, this provides energy and keeps you anabolic while you train. Of course, don’t forget your post workout shake. Now, if you are trying to stay lean, you need to limit carbs at all other times of the day and on non training days because an excess of carbs over and above energy needs will be stored as fat. Feel free, however, to eat fibrous carbs because they aren’t really digested by the body. Also have most of your starchy carbs early in the day, and other than around the workout only have simple carbs at breakfast. Of course you should limit fat intake as well. Now, you can add things like creatine and NO to your workout drink, and use this stack on it’s own for solid size and strength increases. This is, in fact, my favorite natural stack. I always see great results anytime I use it.


Jim Brewster has over 30 years experience in bodybuilding and
is known internationally as an authority in the fitness field.
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