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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tri This

The triceps isn't a particularly complex muscle, but it can be a tricky one to develop properly.  A lot of people have problems in their upper body with symmetry and proportion, and the triceps is no exception (I am no exception either--left side fail!).  Most people have imbalances within the triceps as well, usually caused by chronic imbalances in the training itself, not to mention structural differences and variations in chronic postural tendencies from side to side.  That being said, here are a few pointers to help with symmetry, general development, strength, and size!


The basic idea behind triceps training is to either push the weight through an arc or press it straight up and down.  In most upright exercises you want to adopt the "default" stance: slightly bent at the knees and hips (like a very partial squat), lower back slightly arched or at least straight, chest up and out, and shoulders down and back.  Now from start you can either press the weight down, pushing the elbows in slightly as you extend your arms, allowing them to come out again as you lower the weight in a straight line, or you can push the weight through an arc, keeping the elbows tighter against your body--still with shoulders down and back.  Most triceps exercises are a variation of one or both of these ideas, and in all cases the arm should fully close and extend.  Make sure to load the muscle completely, allowing it to fully stretch before the explosive concentric phase.  Once you've started the rep, make sure to extend your arm fully, contracting the muscle but not locking out--locking out places tension on connective tissue and bone and relieves the triceps of stress--counter-productive and dangerous! 

The triceps is composed of three "heads:" the long head, the medial head and the lateral head.  For training purposes, the medial and long heads are colloquially grouped together and trained as one.  These two heads of the triceps attach proximally at the shoulder and distally at the elbow, and are the part of your triceps closest to your body.  The long head is extremely important to develop because it adds significant dimension to the arm when viewed  from the rear and side, and also adds thickness to the underside of the arm when the arm is lifted.  This is called "triceps sweep."  Sweep, in the bodybuilding community, generally refers to how far out from your body a particular muscle is protruding.  For example, "quad sweep" would describe how far your vastus lateralis "sweeps" out from your hips before rejoining the rest of your leg at the knee; in this case, "triceps sweep" would denote favorable thickness and "low hanging" qualities when the humerus is in a horizontal position, i.e. during front double biceps poses.  Because the long head of the triceps attaches at both the elbow and the shoulder, it must also be worked at both the elbow and the shoulder.  This means incorporating pressing style movements in your triceps training is absolutely necessary.  French press, or lying EZ bar extensions, are a great long head exercise when done properly.  So are close-grip bench presses, V-bar pushdowns, and even EZ bar pushdowns.  Instead of using an "arcing" motion, try instead allowing the elbows to come out slightly during the loading phase of the movement and moving the bar in an up-and-down motion instead (as described above).  This stresses the triceps at the shoulder, and when the shoulders are kept back and down, isolation is not greatly affected.  Loading the triceps in this way also helps develop the muscle more fully into the attachment points, creating thickness and fullness all the way into the insertion.  

The short head of the triceps, on the other hand, attaches along the distal triceps tendon, forming the opposing horseshoe "prong" of the triceps closer to the front of your arm.  Because the short head is a weaker muscle and also operates somewhat differently, it will need to be worked with different angles, weights, and grips than the long and medial head.  It is also important to note that the long head, being by far the strongest, will often attempt to aid or even overpower the other two, leaving you with a thinly defined outer head and disproportionate thickness elsewhere--instead of the dramatic, deep, and complete horseshoe you wanted.  Exercises which position the hand in a pronated or neutral position will help attack these smaller, yet still important, muscles, i.e. rope pushdowns, dumbbell kickbacks, and reverse-grip pushdowns.  Focusing on an arcing motion can be helpful here as well, as keeping the shoulders and elbows in a more fixed position will help work the triceps lower on the arm and at the elbow.  Using both styles of movement, "pressing" and "pushing," in your triceps training will significantly boost development and symmetry.   Incorporating unilateral exercises, such as kickbacks or one-arm cable movements, will help  you overcome imbalances between the two sides as well.

While I've always espoused impeccable form, I do also think that all muscles work better, and grow better, when they are allowed to work together.  In this case, the three triceps heads can never be fully isolated from one another, only emphasized over one another--just like any other bodypart for that matter.  So while keeping the elbows and shoulders in a completely fixed position might not be ideal, controlling the movement of these joints should still be an integral part of triceps day, no matter what training style you choose.

Now for the video!  This is from triceps training yesterday evening after back, note the improvement since a few weeks back!  For this session I chose V-bar pushdowns with a pressing-style movement, dumbbell extensions (also with a more fluid elbow position), and kickbacks (not shown--who would guess that exercise would look really awkward on film?).  AND I'm now 36 weeks out from Nationals!  Dieting starts in 14 weeks, then it's 16 weeks to the Nevada State in Reno and another 5 to the USA's in Vegas o.O


Thanks again to (530) for the habit-forming mix I've been using in my videos!  All the sections I've used are from one mix, and it's even better live!  Check out his artist page on facebook for upcoming DJ related awesomeness!

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