As a strength coach, I’m not typically worried about developing the aesthetics of a bodybuilder with my athletes. I want them to train hard, get stronger, and potentially improve their performance in their sport. But, whether their ultimate goal is more muscle mass or not, it happens when you train hard and smart.

Training hard means you’re pushing the weights every workout and really getting after it. Training smart is sometimes a little more difficult to accept. Training smart means you’re picking the right exercises for YOU and not being restricted to what everyone else is doing.

A good coach is going to take you off benching with a barbell if your technique is bad, or if it’s causing some pain in your shoulders. While your boys are hitting the bench, you’re hitting neutral-grip bench or dumbbells or a Swiss bar. That is absolutely fine. In fact, it’s really smart. The goal is to get stronger and stay healthy, not to beat your body up and force your joints outside of their limitations with certain exercises.

There’s always a different bar and there’s always a different exercise.

Mass Building for Triceps

It goes without saying that the size of your triceps makes up a large portion of your overall arm mass. Unfortunately, however, many lifters consider training their triceps an afterthought at the end of their workout, or they pick exercises that wreck their elbows.

To put muscle mass on your triceps (3 heads) and to improve your horizontal pressing power, you have to train them heavy and with a variety of exercises.

Stop thinking about skull crushers and start thinking about close grip bench press. I can’t tell you how many times I see people overdoing skull crushers, only to stand up between sets and rub their elbows.

Or they can’t do any pressing exercises because the exercises they picked for their triceps the day before left their elbows feeling like they had been smashed with a hammer.

The Moves

1. Close Grip Barbell Bench
The close grip bench press is always a beast exercise, especially if you have shoulder issues. Pulling your hands in – typically with the middle finger on the line between the knurling and smooth spot on the bar – will distribute the load more on your triceps and help you dial in your bench press form.

2. Crush Grip Bench

This exercise is money. It will not only keep you in a good shoulder position and target your triceps, but it will also create tension across your entire upper torso (irradiation). The focus during every rep should be to drive the dumbbells together as hard as possible. Also, more time under tension should be utilized by making sure you lower slower than you press, i.e., lower under control and drive as hard as possible.

3. Crush Grip Incline Bench

Here is the same crush grip exercise, but now we’re on an incline bench. Increasing the height on the bench will crush your triceps and pull in more front delts. Keep your chest high, especially at the bottom of the lift, to ensure you don’t lose tension in the upper back.

4. Dips with Chains

Very few exercises will pack mass on your triceps like dips. But, here is the problem: Dips can be very problematic for many lifters who have had a previous shoulder injury or a shoulder that isn’t working quite right. So here is what we do; use chains.

We’ve used chains for everything from deadlifts to curls to pressing exercises, and we can use them here. Using chains for dips offers a unique solution for beat-up shoulders.

At the weakest part of the lift – at the bottom – there is more of the chains on the ground and the total weight is lighter.

As you drive to lockout, the chains deload off the floor and jump on, increasing the total load; this is the essence of accommodating resistance. And depending on how you hook up the chains, the deload is more or less significant.

Try out these elbow-friendly exercise variations the next time you train your arms or chest. They have made a huge difference in training for my older clients, and they don’t have the long recovery associated with most popular tricep “isolation” exercises.