Somewhere in the late 80s, a late-night infomercial turned the world of arm-training on its ear. "Triceps represent three quarters of your upper arm mass," the announcer said, matter-of-factly. Wait, what? Really? Then why the hell do I wreck my biceps all day?
Now, don't get us wrong, some people out there have understood this for decades but some of us were still slow to catch on. And looking around the gym today, some people are still pretty one-sided with their arm training. To bring balance, symmetry and aesthetics to your arms—if you're into that sort of thing—you need to understand that can't live by curls alone. You need to figure out how to train your triceps, especially if you expect to tap into that "three quarters" that infomercial mentions.
Here we address three of the most common complaints we hear from you about how triceps training and some practical remedies you can implement today.
1. My biceps tend to overpower my triceps. Why is that and what can I do to fix it?
"Ahhh, the 'show me' muscles!" says New York-based trainer Rocco Castellano, NASM-CPT. "We only work the muscles we can see. You're obviously not hitting your triceps as hard as your biceps. Triceps are three muscles compared to two muscles, so they need to be hit at least one third harder than their counterpart. If you schedule an all-arms day, I would hit your triceps first with two compound movements and one single-joint or finishing movement. On a push day (chest, shoulders, triceps) keep it to two movements, one compound one single-joint move compared to your biceps, which I would limit to one exercise until you feel there is a balance."
M&F Fitness Director Jimmy Pena, MS, CSCS sees a few additional possibilities: "Are you training your biceps alone or with something else like back? What about your triceps? If you're training your biceps alone, then tossing your triceps in at the end of a chest or shoulder workout, you're treating them as an afterthought and that's how they'll respond. And if you're training bi's and tri's together, you probably train biceps first. Try to mix up which muscle group you train first to ensure balance. Finally, don't always chase a pump with your arms—if you expect them to grow, then you need to challenge them with heavier weights in the 8-12-rep range."