Saturday, December 10, 2011

Train Those Triceps

I bet you've seen them all too often in that gym.  The curl monkeys.  You know, they're the ones near the dumbbells, curling the heck out of any weight they can handle before eventually tiring out and slamming the thing on the floor.  They'll then make their way to the preacher curl station, and go nuts on that.  They might even do the unthinkable, and curl the bar inside the squat rack (the gym's biggest sin).  And just when you think they've done enough biceps, they hit a few poses in the mirror, and get the heck out of there.  What did you just witness?  A gym failure due to improper knowledge of workout techniques and muscle anatomy.

Sure, obviously there's merit in training your biceps.  They need attention, and without proper exercise you won't get the giant guns you've always wanted, and won't be able to hand out those tickets to random girlies (tickets to what?  Why the GUN show of course!!!)  But if you want big arms, overtraining your biceps isn't the way to go.  In fact, you may be hampering your progress.  If you want big, rippling arms like tree trunks, TRAIN YOUR TRICEPS.  In fact, you might want to pay a little more attention to your triceps than your biceps.  Why's that?  Let's discuss!

(by the way, did you know that the words "triceps" and "biceps" are both the singular AND the plural versions?  Even the singular terms have an "s" on the end!  Leave it to latin...)

The biceps is a muscle defined by two distinct heads ("bi"..."cep"...that's Latin for "two, heads.") Your triceps, that muscle on the and side of your arm, has, you guessed it, three heads.  They can be defined further as the lateral head, long head, and medial head.

Check out the left-hand figure, it shows the different triceps heads
If you study the picture, and flex your triceps, I bet you can find all three heads on the muscle, or at least get a general sense as to where they are.  Different triceps exercises work somewhat different heads, though it's very difficult to isolate just one (muscles are good at working together).  But still, why would it do you good to pay a LOT of attention to those muscles that you can't even really see?

Well, guess what.  Your triceps are actually 2/3 OF YOUR ARM!  That's right, getting big triceps is a much faster route to building big arms than big biceps.  In fact, if you look closely enough at many pictures of bodybuilders and strength athletes, their biceps might seem pretty small in comparison to their massive triceps jutting underneath those ungodly giant arms.

See what I mean about the size difference between these two muscles?
Ok so now you get it, right?  Triceps are what really give those arms the mass you want.  But how should you go about training them?  Well, the sets x reps scheme for training triceps is up to much debate, but I can't really see how a beginner could go wrong with three to four exercises, each one 3 sets of 5-10 reps.  Certain exercises are better off 5x5-10, but I'll leave the research up to you.  I can give you a few of my favorite triceps exercises though!

Skull Crushers- A real killer when it comes to nailing the backs of those beastly arms.  This exercise involves taking a dumbell and laying flat on a bench.  Hold the dumbbell straight up with your arms, and get set for an exercise that you DON'T wanna mess up.  Slowly bring the bar down to to your forehead, bending only at your elbows and keeping your upper arms (biceps and triceps) completely perpendicular to the bench.  Keep those elbows in tight!  Press back up with your triceps when you reach guessed it...SKULL...and repeat.  Make sure you have a strong grip with this exercise, and don't be afraid to start relatively light.  You'll learn quickly what kind of weight you feel comfortable handling.

(The skull crushers start at 2:15)

Triceps Rope Pushdowns-  This one is pretty simple, yet can still be done improperly if you're not careful.  It involves a cable pull down machine complete with a rope attachment that most gyms possess.  You want to grip both ends of the rope firmly, stand close to the rope itself, and extend only with your tricpes, keeping back and legs fully locked.  You can flare the ropes out at the bottom for an extra triceps burn if you wish.

Diamond Push-ups-  These are killer!  Basically the normal pushup's evil twin.  Firstly, kneel down on the floor, and place your hands together so that your two index fingers and thumbs make a "diamond" shape (like on the playing card).  Next, put your palms flat on the floor with your hands still in this position.  Get into a good push-up start position, making sure the spade is centered under your chest.  And the next step?  DO PUSH-UPS!  Keep your elbows VERY tight into your body for the best triceps workout, and don't be discouraged if these are extremely hard at first.  They're probably the greatest body weight exercise for triceps I know of.  

Body-weight/ Weighted Dips:  This involves those two random handles that you may see in your gym, jutting out from some pull up bar/roman chair/dip machine hybrid.  I think you'll know what I'm talking about when you see the video.  Anyway, this exercise is pretty simple, but is yet another absolute killer with just body weight.  Step up to the two handles, place a hand on each, and push yourself up so that you're held in place in air by your locked out arms.  Slowly "dip" between the handles, bending at the elbows, and upon reaching a bottom position of choice (don't go too low at first, you might not have the flexibility), push back up with your triceps muscles.  When you get really good at these, you can add weight like the guy in the video, however I strongly suggest starting only with body weight.  

If you're still not quite strong enough to do body weight (don't be ashamed, this is a very difficult exercise), check out the second video, which shows chair dips, where the same action is performed except your feet are now suspended on something.  These are much easier to start out with, and a great first step toward body weight dips.  

(Suspended Dips)

(Chair Dips)

There's a good start to any respectable triceps workout.  Get to the gym and stop neglecting those powerful muscles on the backs of your arms.  They actually have the potential to be much stronger than your biceps, but they won't be if you ignore them!  

Train them hard, build massive arms, and as always, GOOD LUCK!

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