If you’re in the gym chasing big arms, there’s a good chance you’ve spent plenty of time doing biceps curls. And hey, you can’t be blamed. After all, when most people think of big arms, they definitely think big biceps.
But if you want big arms, that’s not the only muscle group you need to grow. Yes, building full, thick biceps helps, but you also need to seriously develop your triceps, too. Why? Because your triceps are actually a larger muscle group, and they visually complement your biceps. A perfect, well-sculpted set of arms includes big, strong biceps, and well-defined triceps, too.
Triceps training isn’t always the most natural, though, partly because you can’t always see the muscle you’re working. Part of the reason a lot of guys love training biceps is they can instantly “see” progress. You can’t always see that with your tris, but that’s where this program comes in.
The trick with triceps training is attacking the triceps from a variety of different angles so you can hit all three of its heads. Do this right, and you’ll craft well-rounded tris — and in the process, you’ll build the truly massive, powerful arms you’ve always wanted.
First an Anatomy Lesson
Before we dive into your twice-a-week triceps workout, let’s understand the muscle a bit more. The triceps is a three-headed muscle running mostly along the back of the arm. The three heads (the medial, long, and short head) attach to the olecranon process, better known as your elbow. They also all connect to the back of your upper arm bone (the humerus). The long head of the triceps is unique in that it connects to your shoulder blade.
The medial and lateral heads of the triceps are the outer and central piece of what’s known as the “horseshoe” look of your triceps. The long head, meanwhile, connects to the scapula — and to build it, you’ll need to do different motions. When you do a triceps pressdown, for example, you’re mostly attacking the medial and lateral heads. Once your upper arm starts moving overhead (known as shoulder flexion), you’re going to start attacking the long head.
A good set of tris can account for roughly two-thirds of the muscle mass in the upper arm—more than the biceps. And really, your triceps are more involved in your day-to-day life than your biceps. From driving to typing to handling money to a cashier, you spend more time every day pushing your arm away from your body than you do pulling. All that pushing is part of the triceps’ responsibility.
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Your triceps are a secondary mover in just about every upper body pushing movement because they’re responsible for straightening your arm at the elbow. That means they don’t just get work when you do triceps-specific exercises with them. They’ll also get plenty of work when you bench press and shoulder press.
That also means training your triceps isn’t just about packing on muscle. It could be the difference between a new bench press career-high and a missed max lift. Most of the time, in my experience, the triceps are the reason you can’t progress past a certain weight on the bench. If you can’t extend your elbows, you’ll have a hard time finishing an overhead press, chest press, or any other upper body press.
Your Ultimate Triceps Workout
Constructing elite triceps requires taking a multi-angle approach, and it also means doing the right moves. Details matter with this too: You have to keep your elbows tight on all motions and work to really isolate your tris. Don’t just use massive weights with sloppy form.
You can do this triceps workout up to two times a week. Rest two days between triceps workouts, but aim to train other bodyparts on those days, hammering legs one day and attacking your back on another day. You can train your triceps by themselves, or train them after chest. Go as heavy as you can with good form, but focus on form first and foremost.
If you train only triceps, make sure to warm up before doing this workout: Do at least one minute of jumping jacks, then do this rotator cuff warmup with resistance bands. Then dive into the action.
Close-Grip Bench Press
The triceps are heavily involved in pressing motions, and the close-grip bench press involves them that much more by limiting the involvement of the chest. This is a great way to load the triceps with heavy weight, because your chest is still somewhat involved, which means you will be able to go heavier on this motion than you can on many other motions. Do 4 sets of 12 reps, resting 90 seconds between each set.
Cable Triceps Pressdown
This move will seriously test your arms, and while there are multiple ways to do it, in this workout, you’ll train heavy and continue to try to pack meat onto your tris. Stand grasping a rope or bar attached to a cable column, hands about shoulder-width apart. Tighten your core and glutes and hinge forward slightly so your torso is at a 45-degree angle. Keeping your elbows tight to your sides and moving only at the elbows, press the bar or rope straight downwards. Pause, squeeze your tris, and slowly return to the start. That’s 1 rep; do 3 sets of 15, resting 60 seconds between sets.
Cable Overhead Triceps Extension
This is where the long head of your triceps is going to get challenged. You can do this with a rope or with any cable attachment. Stand grasping a rope or bar attached to a cable column, then turn your torso away, staggering your feet and hinging forward at the waist so your torso is at a 45-degree angle. Keep your upper arms close to your ears and tighten your shoulder blades. Keep your core tight. Moving only at the elbows, straighten your arms, then slowly return the weight back until your elbow is fully flexed. That’s 1 rep; do 4 sets of 15. Rest 90 seconds between sets.
This is one of the more difficult triceps moves out there, because your triceps faces not only the dumbbell but also gravity. You’re also training multiple triceps responsibilities. You know the triceps straightens your arm; it also stabilizes the shoulder, and here it handles both tasks. Try the kickback variation below. Do 4 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 90 seconds between each.
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