Triceps make up around two thirds of the muscle mass in your upper arm. If you want your arms to look big and muscular, you are going to need big triceps. They are also extremely important for maximizing bench press performance. I can build biceps very easily, but my triceps always lagged behind. I was forced to learn the best ways to increase my triceps size. I've put together this list for people like me who need bigger triceps.
The triceps are the muscles at the back of your upper arm. They are located opposite from your biceps along the humerus bone. They are responsible for arm extension and are key role players in most chest exercises (like the bench press, push up, dip, cable cross-over).
As per their name, the triceps consist of three main muscles. These are aptly named the long head, the medial head and the lateral head.
Image from Webuserblog.com
Image from Webuserblog.com
The Long Head of Your Triceps
The largest of the three, the long head is the only head of the three that attaches from the top of your shoulder joint. It is the one that runs along the bottom part of the back of your arm. It stretches when your arms are above your head. This is important because triceps exercises that are performed overhead (like French presses and overhead presses) stretch the long head and therefore stimulate it fully. Training a muscle when it is not stretched is like doing a bicep curl only half way. When you do chest presses from an incline angle, your arms get closer to an overhead position and therefore the long head of the triceps will be stimulated more.
Exercises That Stimulate the Triceps' Long Head
Since it is fully extended when your hands are above your head; overhead presses, French curls and French presses will work your long head more than other triceps exercises. Make sure to have over-head movements in your routine to fully stimulate your long head. Try to keep your elbows close to each other (don't flare them out) to work this muscle properly. Flaring out will recruit fewer fibers from the long head muscle.
The Medial Head of Your Triceps
The medial head lies around the middle of the back of your arm. It is mostly covered by the long and lateral heads. It is located near the inner sides of the arm (on the side of the elbows towards the torso). It is responsible for elbow extension, extending the forearm away from the upper arm. Triceps kickbacks and extensions work this head very well.
Exercises That Stimulate the Triceps' Medial Head
Pushing and pressing exercises where the elbows are alongside your torso. These include bench presses and cable cross-overs.
The Lateral Head of Your Triceps
This head is responsible for the horseshoe shape that people like to see. It is the one that lies most outward from your body. This head is best worked with your arms at your sides.
Exercises That Stimulate the Triceps' Lateral HeadMovements that include exercises like presses, cable crossovers and push-downs. Increasing the size of this head will improve your overall upper muscular width.
Exercises that Work all Three Triceps Muscles
It is not possible to completely isolate one head from the others since they are so closely linked and are always supporting each other. That being said, the exercises below are great for adding bulk, strength and volume to all three of the triceps heads.
Dips are one of our favorite compound movements. They stimulate all three triceps heads and also heavily recruit your chest and shoulder muscles. Bench dips are also good, but try the body-weight version where you hold your body on your hands and stabilize yourself in the air. The fact that you have to keep balance forces each of the triceps muscles to participate.
Although triceps-specific exercises are also needed to carve out huge triceps, bench presses stimulate the triceps very well. Bench presses add size to your triceps along with your chest and front shoulder muscles. Using a closer grip will isolate triceps more than a wider grip, which will use your chest muscles more. Closer grips also stimulate the triceps more when doing push ups.
This exercise is great for all three heads of the triceps. Keep your elbows tucked in (not flaring out) to stimulate your triceps properly and avoid using other muscles that should not be used. Also keep your upper arms still during the entire movement to make sure that the triceps are working throughout all of the movement.
See also: 7 Best triceps Exercises.
Final Tips for Massive Triceps
- Make sure that you dedicate time to these muscles, over and above your chest and shoulder exercises.
- Stronger triceps will increase your max bench press.
- Chest and shoulder exercises also stimulate your triceps. If you are doing chest on the one day, shoulders on the other and triceps the next; they will be working all three days in a row and won't have enough time to rest. This is especially true if you are pushing your body as far as what you should for best muscle growth. Make sure that they have time to recover and rebuild, or else they won't get a chance to get as big and strong as they could. Take this into consideration when thinking about whether to have separate shoulder days (apart from arms, back or chest days). Also, make sure that you get the most out of your rest and recovery days.
- Prioritize triceps above biceps if they struggle to grow (like mine). For example, I do my triceps exercises before my bicep exercises on arm days because I find them harder to grow.
- Make sure that your triceps are stimulated by working with a variety of angles. Ensure that your workout regime incorporates pressing movements that have your elbows moving overhead, perpendicular and behind your body. This stimulates the triceps in a variety of ways instead of just one. If you don't have a proper workout plan, try one of these.
- Use a variety of grips. A 'false grip' with your thumbs on the same side as the rest of your finders removes some responsibility from your forearm muscles. When your thumb wraps around the opposite side of the bar, the forearm is recruited to assist with the lift. This gives the triceps less work to do. As you can see in the image above, different hand grips stimulate different parts of the triceps.
- As with all muscle groups, if you want to bulk up your triceps you to need to bulk up your diet. If your body isn't getting the nutrition it needs, it will take longer to grow.
- Always make sure that you are using the correct form. I find this extremely important for triceps exercises in particular, because the wrong form can so easily hurt your elbows or shoulders joints. This means that you will have to waste time recovering from shoulder pain or injury.
- Stretching these muscles regularly will lengthen them and aid in recovery. It will promote blood flow and decrease risk of injury if done right. See how stretching can aid muscle growth.
- A post at Reddit recommends training triceps at high, low and medium rep ranges for better stimulation.