A Routine For Thicker Triceps

When I first began weight training in my teenage years, it was in part due to the attraction of wanting big arms. I focused on numerous bicep exercises in the hope that they would grow into sleeve-busting arms. No matter how many sets I did, or whatever weight I could manage back then, they simply weren’t responding the way I wanted.

It wasn’t until several months later, after I had amassed a greater understanding of weight training and anatomy, did I realize that to get my arms to the point where I wanted, I would need to put some serious time into training my triceps. After all, they make up about 2/3’rds of the mass of the arm, and a few pushdowns after countless curls just wasn’t going to cut it.

This routine below is a homage to the routine I developed that finally gave me the mass, shape, and size in my arms I had wanted. I’ll train my triceps as a separate muscle group* (like in this routine), one every 7-10 days, as well as combine them with another muscle group, such as biceps or chest, somewhere in the middle.

*Adding a forearm or abdominal circuit on the end of this routine would make for a great pairing.

The Warm Up

I’ve learned over the years that properly preparing the muscles (and joints & tendons), prior to the workout itself, will not only lead to greater fiber involvement and a bigger pump, but also gives you feeling of everything working like a fine-tuned machine. Maybe it’s just me, but I also find my recovery post-training is shortened, and with less muscle soreness.

The warm up below doesn’t require any weight, although there is resistance placed upon the muscle via various resistance/pull-up bands. If you don’t have access to any of these, I highly recommend buying some. They’re relatively inexpensive and can be used for a whole range of different applications

The warm up circuit takes about 5-8 minutes, and can be broken down as such:

Low Band Tricep Stretch. Secure one end of the band to a fixed point, and insert your hand into the other end of the band, gripping the outside. Keep the upper arm pointed up high, so the bicep is right next to your ear, and hold for 20 seconds as you take two big deep breaths in. Repeat with the other arm. (You may want to perform a second set of these as you feel the muscle fibers begin to open up, or perform all movements first, repeating them for a second time as you return for another circuit).

-Barbell Self-Myofascial Release. I’ve been using foam rollers for SMR for years, but have only recently started incorporating the same practice using the barbell (for arms and hamstrings in particular). Holding your arm stretched out on the barbell, triceps pushed into the bar, begin to rotate the bar forwards with your free hand as you pull your arm back across the bar. You can rotate it from side to side, applying a little more pressure onto the bar when you feel a tight spot. I also love this for working the spot just below my elbow, getting deep into all the sinu-tendons that you feel when performing the likes of barbell skull crushers. Use your free hand to rotate your forearm/wrist in circular motions as you continue to apply force downwards on the bar. Perform for 30-60 seconds for each arm separately, spending longer if you feel the need to.

 

-Banded Pull-downs. This movement can be replaced with cable pull downs (using a light weight) if you don’t have access to any resistance bands. I prefer to use the bands for warm ups whenever I can, because the resistance increases the more the band is stretched, allowing me to gauge how much stress I want to place upon my triceps. This allows me to progressively get into deeper, more forceful contractions as opposed sticking with a fixed weight. 20 repetitions on here is usually sufficient.

-Bench Dips. These, along with the previous banded pull-downs, are the only two movements that work the muscles through a concentric and eccentric motion, and both work the triceps from a different angle, with a different emphasis on the 3 main triceps heads. 15-20 repetitions on here, stopping when my elbows are in line with my shoulders, and fully flexing the arm as I push back up so as to concentrate on the muscular contraction at the top of each rep.

Supplementation

BeastMode_Black_RobRiches2
Beast_ShakerCup_RobRiches

I’ve been a fan of supplementing my diet and training with the right products since I started competing on stage, and found the benefits they offer – so long as every other aspect of nutrition, rest, working out, is close-to-optimized.

I’ll mix 1 scoop of Beast Mode Black Pre-workout with water and sip on this throughout the first half of my workout. (I know many may prefer to ingest this before arriving at the gym, but I’ve found it to be more synergistic to my training when I sip it during training). Towards the mid-point and end of the workout, I’ll mix up some BCAA’s to drink, and follow that with a protein blend after finishing my training.


Triceps Superset Combos

The routine you’ll see below (and shown within the video) is comprised of three paired movements. Each superset has two exercises that are performed back-to-back for a total of 3-4 sets and for the prescribed number of reps. This approach to training – especially for a smaller muscle group such as the triceps, allows blood concentration to be kept high in the muscle, keeping oxygen and nutrients close to the working muscles. It allows intensity to be kept high without needing to use a high amount of weight (something I’ve experimented with both options, and definitely prefer this approach than straight sets with the heaviest weight I can manage).

Superset 1: Skull Crushers and Incline Bench Rope Pull-downs
4 sets total: 15-12 reps on each exercise. Only small increments in weight for each set.

Skull Crushers

Rob Riches Skull Crushers

The skullcrusher is to Triceps as the barbell curl is to biceps for mass. It’s a great movement that allows you to move a lot of weight, providing the exercise is performed correctly. Keep the elbows from flaring outwards, so that the stress of the weight is spread across the width of the triceps and limiting the involvement of the shoulders. You’ll see within the video that I perform this using an Olympic barbell with my hips off the edge of the bench. This is simply because I feel more stable with my lower back and shoulder blades firmly pressed into the bench, and the Olympic barbell places the weight further apart, which also helps with balance.

I also prefer to angle my upper arms about 30-40 degrees back from the standard upright/90-degree angle to the floor, and lower the bar just behind my head as opposed to my forehead. Besides the obvious safety benefits of not hitting your forehead with the bar, the angle of the upper arms also means that tension is always kept on the triceps throughout the full range of motion. If the upper arms where always kept upright then when the weight was in the top position, it would essentially be resting on the arms, and not working the triceps as hard.

Keep the movement slow and controlled, and focus on consciously contracting the triceps as you flex at the elbow to bring the weight back up.

Incline Bench Rope Pull-downs

Rob Riches Incline Bench Rope Pull-downs

The next exercise, which is performed as a superset, is another modification from a familiar exercise. The same principle applies here as with the first movement: Keeping the arms at a fixed angle so as to ensure optimal tension and stress on the triceps. You can perform these as a standard pull-down, but due to the positioning of the cable pulley overhead, when your arms are fully extend and your squeezing the triceps with everything you’ve got, it’s all to easy to lock out the arms and have the bone structure basically support some of the weight and relieve the triceps from doing all the work.

By positioning an incline bench in front of the pulley, and sitting facing away from the pull-down motion , your triceps can be fully flexed without feeling like the tension is in any way relieved from the muscles.

Keep the upper arms fixed at the side and focus on only flexing at the elbow with minimal-to-no movement at the shoulder. Try slightly externally rotating your elbows outwards, and feel the difference it makes on the triceps.

Superset 2: Behind the head Extensions and Dumbbell Kickbacks
3 sets total: 15-10 reps on each exercise. Keep the same weight for all sets.

Rob Riches Behind The Head Extension_1
Rob Riches Behind The Head Extension_2

In an earlier article/video where I focused on biceps, I showed the different muscle heads worked when the arms were kept at the side of the body compared with in front of the body. We’re essentially doing the same thing with this exercise – stressing the muscles in a different way by performing a familiar extensor motion at the elbow, working the tricep, but with the arm extended and fixed laterally at the side of the body.

Holding on to the cable itself (or by using a rope attachment and holding on to one end), stand at a right angle to the cable pulley with the cable behind your head and your upper arm fixed parallel to the floor. Flex at the elbow and extend the arm so that it’s straight, consciously contracting the tricep as you do so. Pause momentarily at the end of each rep and flex the muscles hard before returning back to the start position. It’s important to keep the upper in a fixed position, so as to keep all the focus firmly on the triceps. Repeat the same motion on the other arm before moving on to the next exercise below.

Rob Riches Beast_TricepsKickBack_Start
Rob Riches Beast_TricepsKickBack_Finish

Dumbbell kickbacks are one of the most underused exercises I see in the gym. They are a great addition to any arm workout, and can help build and define the triceps in a way that few, if any exercises, can match.

I find that using a lighter weight and focusing on the quality of each repetition is far more beneficial than simply trying to move as much weight as possible.

Like with most tricep movements, the upper arm should remain fixed and free from any swinging during the motion. With a dumbbell in one hand (palm facing into you – in a semi-supinated grip), bend forwards at the waist and use your free hand to brace yourself against something sold. Drive the weight up and behind, straightening the arm as much as possible (full extension may not be possible, and if it is, chances are you should be using a heavier weight). Pause momentarily at the end of the rep so as to eliminate any momentum from building, and force a deep contraction within the tricep. Slowly lower it down in a smooth and controlled manner, and repeat. Then perform on the other arm, and return to the first exercise within this second superset combo.

Superset 3: Weighted Dips & Reverse Grip Pull-down*
3 sets total: 15-12 reps on each exercise. Keep the same weight for all sets. *Final set (3rd), add in a set of push ups after the final set of reverse grip pull-downs, and perform until failure.

Tricep Dips

Rob Riches Weighted Dips

Dips are another highly beneficial triceps movement. I like to add additional resistance beyond that of my bodyweight by attaching plates to a chained dip belt, or even placing a dumbbell between be knees. Both of these also allow for additional drop sets upon reaching muscular failure, but removing the weight and continuing with your own body weight until you can no longer lift yourself up.

Keep your knuckles pointing down (which will help minimize stress on the wrists), and keeping your elbows tucked in (in alignment with your shoulders), lowering down so that your shoulders don’t dip below the same height as your elbows.

Try to keep the motion smooth and controlled, with a pause and flex at the top of the rep. If you struggle with this movement, you can perform this on an assisted dip machine, or switch it out for bench dips with the arms positioned behind you.

Reverse Grip Pull-down

Rob Riches Reverse Grip Pulldown

When it comes to training the triceps, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of only using an overhand/pronated grip (the same goes with training biceps and typically only using an underhand/supinated grip). There’s a great benefit to working the arms with an atypical grip, and this reversed grip pull down will ensure you work the triceps in a way where they’re just not worked the same with other tricep movements.

I find that using a bent-shaped bar as opposed to a straight one will relive any stress on the wrists, as well as helping to encourage the elbows to be slightly rotated outwards (which for this particular movement will help focus on the smaller tricep head that is usually only see during a flexed bicep pose). Keep the upper arms slightly positioned forwards as well, as this will once again ensure that tension is always kept high on the muscles.

Diamond Push-Ups

Rob Riches Diamond Pushups

If the workout above wasn’t already punishing enough on the triceps, you can add in push-ups at any time. I like doing diamond pushups, where my hands are spared open and positioned in a diamond shape (fingers and thumbs make a diamond-like shape), as this keeps my elbows angled slightly outwards and once again works the triceps from a different angle and motion.

After completing this routine, your arms will no doubt be full of blood and you’ll have a great pump going. I’d recommend performing at least several minutes of cool down movements, which can basically mimic much of the warm up routine. Make use of the bands for stretching and the foam roller or barbell for the self-myofascial release work. It will be worth the time and help to flush out much of the toxins that would have build up as a byproduct from all the exercises.

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