March 26, 2023

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If you asked 100 gym rats whether they’d love to have that horseshoe triceps appearance, 99 would say yes. The one person who said no to that is obviously lying and haven’t been including any tricep exercises in their routine.
The triceps make up over 2/3 of the upper arm and it takes time and patience to build a big set of pythons. But vanity is not the only reason to perform triceps-focused exercises. Those three muscles that sit on the back of your arm play a big role in your health and performance too.
This article will go into the anatomy and function of the triceps, the benefits of tricep exercises, and 4 great triceps exercises. Then we will explain how to do them, the benefits, and set-and-rep suggestions. Ready to get your flex on? Then let’s go.
The triceps, or triceps brachii, is Latin for the three-head muscle of the arm made up of three separate muscles — long, medial, and lateral head — with different origins, but they all converge in the same place on the elbow.
The triceps long head is the biggest of the three muscles and originates at the infraglenoid tubercle of the scapula. Because the long head crosses two joints, the shoulder, and the elbow, it’s involved in some overhead movements like lat pulldowns and chinups.
The triceps lateral head is the horseshoe muscle that gives your triceps the look you want, and this originates on the posterior surface of the humerus (upper arm bone). Last, but not least, the triceps medial head originates at the posterior surface of the humerus and like the long head, it contributes to the overall size of your triceps.
All three heads insert on the ulna’s olecranon and the forearm’s fascia, which is located just below the elbow. The triceps’ main job is to extend the elbow and is involved in the last 1/3 of most pressing movements. When you’re performing a bench press variation, the chest muscle works to push the barbell off your chest but once your elbow breaks 90 degrees, it’s all triceps.
This is why the triceps play a major role in your lockout strength. More on this below.
Besides your arms looking great in a form-fitting or sleeveless shirt, there are a few health and performance benefits of strong, well-defined pair of triceps.
Build up this overlooked body part to improve your everyday movements.
To add size and strength to the triceps, you need exercises you can load up or reduce or increase the range of motion to feel your triceps working. Here are 4 exercises that do just that.
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This was named after JM Blakey when he was training at Westside Barbell and crushing every bench press record in sight. Blakey used this lift which is part close-grip bench press and part skull crusher to strengthen his lockout strength and build a monster set of triceps.
How it helps: Because the chest is involved, you’re able to use more weight than a skull crusher and the shorter ROM allows you to use more load.
How to do it: Set up the same way as you would for a close grip bench press but make sure the barbell is directly above your upper chest. Use a narrow grip of 16 inches apart using either a false or regular grip. Keep the elbows at 45 degrees from the body when bringing the barbell towards you and cock the wrist to avoid wrist hyperextension. Keep lowering down until your forearm touches your biceps. Let the bar roll back about one inch to keep the elbows pointed up and press the bar back to the starting position.
Sets and reps: Perform four sets of 4-6 reps for strength, or three to four sets of 8-12 reps for added muscle.
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The decline bench cable extension is difficult to set up since you need a bench and a cable machine, but it isolates the triceps through a larger ROM. Plus, the cable machine provides constant tension throughout the ROM for better muscle-building potential.
How it helps: Here the decline helps increase the ROM, which gives you a greater stretch on the triceps.
How to do it: Set up a decline weight bench about a foot in front of a cable pulley machine. Set the cable pulley to its lowest point, then attach either a straight, EZ-bar handle or rope attachment. Lie back on the bench and grab the handle with both hands and perform this exercise like a standard skull crusher.
Sets and reps: Best performed at the end of your training for two to four sets of 12-15 reps.
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The close hand placement of the diamond pushup shifts more focus to the triceps than the standard pushup. Plus, with the narrower base of support, you’ll get increased core stability benefits while blowing up your chest and triceps.
How it helps: Little more elbow friendly than the other two variations above while still training the triceps for size.
How to do it: The idea here is to keep your hands close together. If the diamond shape aggravates your joints, then don’t do it. Perform the pushup like usual while keeping your core and glutes tight and your spine neutral.
Sets and reps: More of a muscle-building exercise than for strength, try two to four sets of 12-20 reps.
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The unilateral dumbbell floor press reduces the range of motion and puts more focus on the triceps to help build triceps lockout strength. This is due to being able to load this press variation more and limiting the lower body’s involvement. Both give the triceps the attention they deserve.
How it helps: This builds unilateral triceps lockout strength while reducing the strain of the shoulder joint due to the limited ROM.
How to do it: Lying face up on the floor with a dumbbell beside you, roll to the side, grab the dumbbell with both hands, and roll back onto your back. Press with both hands and take one hand off. You can have your feet on the ground or legs extended and this is a matter of personal preference. Then slowly lower until your upper arm touches the floor and press back up.
Sets and reps: Best performed for muscle rather than strength, two to four sets of 8-15 reps works well here.
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