I don’t care what anyone says…if you want powerful, ripped-up, well-defined arms, building a strong set of triceps needs to be your number one priority (I hate to say it, but they’re even more important than biceps). Don’t worry, the guy above is a bodybuilder (Jeff Rodriguez), so don’t get too discouraged…
The reality is that developing a set of horseshoe-esque, toned-up triceps is ridiculously impressive, looks sexy, and projects Hulk-like power and strength. Developing them also requires precise, well-rounded training that emphasizes the entire triceps muscle.
In fact, the triceps isn’t one muscle, it’s actually comprised of three different heads–the lateral head, medial head, and long head–which together form the larger “triceps” muscle group. In order to build fully-developed, cut-up triceps and get that incredible horseshoe-shaped look, it’s essential to hit each of the three heads as hard as possible in every single triceps workout (otherwise you get imbalanced, awkward looking triceps).
Here are my top 5 exercises for building ginormous, powerful, horseshoe-shaped triceps. Each exercise hits all three heads to a certain degree, but some are better than others at activating each head. Incorporate these exercises into your arms routine and I promise you that not only will your triceps begin to pop out and add some awesome definition/size, but it’ll also bump up your bench press and other chest & shoulder exercises.
The Big 5
1. Triceps Dips.
If you want big triceps, dips are absolutely essential. Dips are fantastic for hitting all three heads at once, and they’re one of the only exercises that effectively blasts all three heads simultaneously (along with the closed-grip bench press, which is # 2). Also, unlike cable exercises and a lot of other isolation triceps exercises, dips allow you to overload your triceps with a significant amount of weight. After all, more weight lifted = more muscle gained.
Make sure to lower slowly all the way down until your triceps are parallel to the ground. At the top of the movement, squeeze your triceps hard for 1 second.
Below are two different variations. The bench dip (the top picture) is significantly easier and a much better option for beginners. The bench dip is also a great exercise for building up endurance and really blasting your tris hard at the end of a workout. Traditional dips like the ones in bottom picture allow the body to handle more weight, and thus are much better for building muscle mass. Once you’re able to get 12 reps in a set increase the weight by using a weight belt and weight plates.
The Closed-Grip Bench Press is another great exercise that destroys all three heads of the triceps at once. Closed grip bench presses are also phenomenal for adding definition to the inner chest and creating that really nice line of separation between the two pecs. The CGBP allows the tricpes to handle a huge amount of weight, which results in quick muscle and strength gains.
Your hands should be spaced closed together at the middle of the bar, about 1 foot apart. Your elbows should be tucked in close to your torso throughout the movement and should not stick out to the sides at all. Slowly lower the weight down until your triceps are parallel to the ground, hold for 1 second at the bottom, and accelerate back upwards.
Skull crushers, aka Barbell Lying Triceps Extensions, work primarily the long and medial heads of the triceps. Building up the long head adds size to the inner-bottom portion of the arm, which helps add overall height to your arms. It’ll also make your arms come out bigger if you ever decide to measure them…having a well-developed long head can push you from a meager 18 inches to the big 2-0.
Load an EZ bar with weight plates, lay down on a flat bench, and extend your arms straight overhead. Without moving your upper arms at all, slowly bend your arms at the elbow and lower the EZ bar back beyond your head until your arms hit a 90 degree angle. Forcefully extend your arms upwards and hold the contraction at the top for 1 second.
Some people like to lower the weight directly to their forehead. I prefer (and recommend) lowering the weight behind your head because it’ll take a lot of stress off of the elbow joint and displace it all onto the triceps. I also kinda like not having to worry about crushing my face like the name implies…
Overhead Lateral Triceps Extensions are awesome for destroying the lateral head of the triceps, which is critical for building up a dense, well-shaped horseshoe (they also hit the long head hard, the other half of the horseshoe). I love overhead lateral triceps extensions because they really allow you to feel a nice stretch on the way down and a powerful contraction on the way up.
Start by raising one arm vertically overhead. Slowly bend your arm at the elbow and lower the dumbbell sideways behind your head. Make sure to keep your upper arm completely stationary and locked in placed! Lower slowly for 2 seconds, hold at the bottom for 1 second, and then squeeze your triceps hard at the top of the movement.
These are my favorite triceps exercise ever! They emphasize the medial head, which adds length to the triceps and helps builds size around the elbow joint. I also find that I can pump out an insane squeeze at the point of contraction.
Set up a cable station with a one-arm handle attachment so that the handle is as high as possible on the rack. Tuck your arm and elbow tightly into your torso and keep it there throughout the entire movement. Your upper arm should NOT move at all! Grab the handle with a reverse grip (underhand grip, palm facing upwards), bend at the elbow, and squeeze your triceps hard at the bottom of the movement. Hold the contraction for 1 second. On the way up slowly raise the cable all the way to the top and repeat the movement.
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