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Today I would like to talk about the triceps muscles.
Fun Fact: the term triceps is both singular and plural. A singular muscle is referred to as triceps, not tricep.
This is because triceps comes from the Latin “musculus triceps brachii” which means three-headed muscle of the arm. When you are referring to the triceps muscle, you are referring to three muscles, hence triceps, but they are combined as one muscle as far as function goes, hence triceps. Clear as mud! I will be referring to them as triceps hence forth!
The triceps are the second most popular muscles to train, right after the biceps, as these are the most visible muscles on the body. The triceps, along with the biceps, which I talked about in this post, are the muscles that men (and women) want to grow to great size to show off their fitness level.
For today, we will talk about the triceps muscles: where they attach at both ends, what they do for us, and how to exercise them properly.
Let’s get started!
The Triceps Muscle
The triceps is a large muscle on the back of the upper arm and consists of three separate muscle heads: the lateral head, the medial head, and the long head. Each of the three heads originate in different places, but they all insert at the same point.
The long head originates from the scapula (shoulder blade), the medial head originates from the back surface of the humerus just below the medial groove, and the lateral head also originates from the back of the humerus, but just above the radial groove.
All three of these heads run down the back of the upper arm and insert (attach) together onto the olecranon process, which is the pointed portion of the elbow joint.
In the diagram, the long head is red, the lateral head is yellow, and the medial head is green.
What it Does
The three muscle of the triceps always work together to perform their functions, even though they are comprised of different types of tissue and do not share tissue or ever join together at any point. The reason they function together is that they are attached at the same point on the elbow. This forces them to perform the same function.
Having different origin points allows the triceps to add stabilization to the humerus in the scapula but means we need to work them out in various manners, as will be discussed below.
The triceps is principally responsible for the extension of the elbow joint. In other words, when the triceps contract, your arm straightens. The triceps are the antagonist muscle to the biceps, which when contracted bends your elbow joint.
The secondary function of the triceps is to bring your arm closer to the mid-point of your body, known as adduction of the arm. The triceps share this responsibility with the Latissimus Dorsi muscle.
Best Triceps Exercises
There are a variety of exercise that can be performed to strengthen and grow the triceps. I will list a few here and then put together a sample workout for your triceps in the next section.
Close Grip Bench Press – leave the bar on the bench, take off some weight, move your hands in to just inside shoulder width, and do a few sets of close grip bench press. A great exercise to transition from chest exercises to triceps exercises and it will grow large triceps.
Dips – a classic exercise to perform if you have the correct equipment. Using a dip station is ideal, and you need to remember to stay upright to work the triceps, as leaning forward will put the onus on your upper chest muscles. Also, it is not necessary to have a full range of motion. Focus on the mind-muscle connection to your triceps and find the range of motion that keeps the tension on the triceps for the entire motion, both up and down. Never release the pressure on the muscle.
Kickbacks – Grab a dumbbell, lean forward, pull those elbows up to your side, and kick the weight back. Two points: be sure to squeeze your tricep at the top, and second. Turn your palm to the sky at the top of the motion. By doing these two thins, you will be sure to get the most out of this exercise by engaging all three heads of the triceps.
Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension – for this exercise grab a dumbbell with both hands, hold it up over your head and then lower it so the dumbbell touches your back. Lift and repeat. Again, never release the tension from the muscle.
Push Ups – both regular and diamond (where your thumbs and index fingers touch in the shape of a diamond) are excellent exercises, which by the way can be performed anywhere, for the growth and strengthening of the triceps.
As an added bonus, instead of keeping your back perfectly straight, lower your hips and perform the push up as if doing a downward dog yoga pose. This will put added pressure on the triceps.
Rope Tricep Pushdowns – this is a great finisher for the triceps. By using the ropes, you can extend your arms behind your hips at the bottom, and turn your palms outward, giving that extra pressure to the triceps. Use a lighter weight that allows full range of motion and never let your elbows go higher than parallel to the floor.
Skullcrushers – using a straight bar or an EZ Curl bar, lie down on the bench with your head near the end. Hold the weight above and a bit behind your face and then lower the weight down by bending your elbows. Lift the weight back up, but not all the way, keeping the pressure on the triceps at all times. These can be performed on a flat bench or on an incline bench to ensure all three heads are being worked.
Bench Dip – this is a classic move that can be performed at various skill levels. For beginners. keep your feet on the floor, sit on a bench, put your hands on the bench beside you (fingers pointing out), move your torso in front of the bench, and lower your body by bending your elbows. You back should just miss the bench on the way down. As you progress in strength you can put your feet up on another bench or chair, and then you can add weight to the top of your legs for added resistance. Always be mindful of your shoulders, as this exercise can cause undo stress on them.
Pull Overs – grab a dumbbell, support your upper back on the bench and hold the weight above your face. Lower the weight down below the bench by bending your elbows. Be sure to keep your hips down. Raise the weight back up, but be sure to keep the pressure on the triceps by not going all the way up and allowing your arms and shoulders to hold the weight. This is an excellent transition exercise from chest to triceps as it also works the chest muscles by stretching them out.
Best Triceps Workout
Note: always use a weight that will allow you to complete the set of exercises with some strain on the last few reps. Also, remember that the triceps are a “push” muscle; that is, they are used to push the weight. Your chest muscles are also push muscles. These two groups can and should be worked out together, starting with the larger chest muscles. Doing the chest exercises will pre-exhaust the triceps and you will need to perform fewer sets and reps to cause the triceps to grow.
Also, note that you should not be working your triceps every day. They are just like any other muscle and need time (at least 48 hours) to recover and grow – remembering that muscles actually grow when they are recovering from the damage we inflicted on them when we worked them out.
Proper sleep and nutrition are also key components to biceps growth.
The final note I will make is timing. Slow down your reps. This is not a race. Keep an eye on the clock. It should take about 60 – 90 seconds to do 12 reps of these exercises. Three seconds up, rest, two seconds down, rest. About seven seconds per rep, times 12 reps, is 84 seconds. Time yourself. You will be surprised how fast you are banging out the reps.
Let’s get on with the show!
It is always good to start with a transition exercise to move from chest to triceps. There are a couple of choices (at least). Perform three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions of either the close grip bench press or the pull overs. Then do a kickback exercise with fairly heavy weight, remembering to glue your elbow to your side and turn your palm to the sky. Perform three sets of 12, either standing or with on knee on a bench and your non-lifting hand planted on the bench (see photo).
It really isn’t necessary to do more than three exercises, with three sets of each exercise to build your triceps. Remember, you have already worked them by performing chest exercise. If you feel that you have the energy and strength, you could do another triceps exercise from the list above before finishing with rope pulldowns.
Remember to use a lighter weight and a perfect form when performing the rope pulldowns to ensure all three heads are getting the proper workout.
That should drain your triceps of all energy. Well done!
So there you have it.
My suggestions are just that – my suggestions. There are many ways to put together a tricep routine, and you should change it up once in a while to keep your muscles guessing.
Thanks for listening. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
Also, if you are a father (or mother) (or anyone for that matter) who would like an easy to follow program that includes a menu and work out information, check out this article from a few months ago.
See you in the next post.
Have a great day!