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When it comes to building your triceps, it’s not hard to close-grip bench and dip your way into some decent looking horseshoes. But just like developing the coveted biceps peak, getting defined tris demands special attention. Adding some serious triceps size takes more than just a cursory glance at your programming.
As the name suggests, the triceps consist of a group of three muscles. The lateral and medial heads of the triceps are easily targeted by way of the most common movements—close grip bench press, parallel dip, rope pressdown and narrow grip pushup. That leaves behind the often neglected long head of the triceps. While the lateral and medial heads are mainly involved in extending the elbow, the triceps’ long head changes your arm’s angle at the shoulder joint.
Logically then, the further away a lifter’s arm moves from his torso, the more effectively he can train the long head of his triceps. With that said, overhead training is the key.
There are secret weapons to attack this weak point. In most cases, the only overhead training that lifters will practice comes in the form of pullups, pulldowns and, sometimes, overhead presses. None of these options are bad, but are only half the battle when triceps come into play. Here are my favorite moves to hit the long head.
Set up a bench to one notch below upright, or slide forward in your seat in an upright chair. Using an EZ Curl bar, hold the weight overhead with a narrow grip. Turn the elbows to face in towards each other, as much as possible. Using gravity as a mild aid, bend at the elbow and let the weight stretch your triceps as it moves behind your head. Drive up to the top position and repeat.
Note: This exercise may be somewhat tricky for lifters with bad shoulders. If you’re suffering from impingement syndrome or a plain crappy rotator cuff, then be careful when approaching this movement, and attempt with lower loads first.
This cool variation targets the long head because the bar moves the elbows up and away from the torso as it travels towards the floor. The added benefit of the extra ROM and decline bench means more triceps isolation and less strain on the elbows, thanks to the modified force curve. Remember to keep the elbows in tight, and keep the shoulders set. Because this simulates a pullover motion to some degree, it’s easy to let the lats enter the motion to “help out.” Check out the video to see a set with good shoulder stability.
Change up standard pressdowns by applying the same principle that the above exercises are based on to your pressdowns while standing up. Simply take a step backwards, keeping your upper arm perpendicular to the floor. Press the weight downwards, and during the eccentric phase, return the elbow to a 90-degree angle and flex at the shoulder joint. Move the upper arm away from the torso.
Before you bring out the pitchforks about recommending a false grip despite the dangers of using one, this section is targeted towards intermediate and advanced lifters. As far as triceps training is concerned, it’s worth noting that you’ll get more triceps activation from the palm of your hand. You can more effectively squeeze through the pinky finger, which has a huge effect on how much you activate your triceps on a given pushing exercise. It also creates a much more direct “shelf” above your carpal bones (the wrist) for the bar to sit on, rather than sitting higher in the hand, which creates a lower power output and extra energy to keep the bar centred over the forearm.
For the full horseshoe, you’ve gotta hit the full muscle. There’s no way around it. The triceps, like any group, need to be attacked from all angles. Taking advantage of each of their functions through a complete ROM will have you splitting your sleeves faster than you can say “gun show”.