This article was slated for Muscle & Fitness but was a little too long for what they needed so now it's my blog entry for today.
Your triceps are what give your arms the appearance of being huge, not your biceps. If you want huge arms you need to train triceps and train them hard. Thickness comes from breaking down muscle fibers so they can adapt to being worked hard again and again. No one ever produced massive arms without massive triceps.
I get questions all the time on this blog, asking me the same thing. “I just can't seem to bring up that outer horseshoe part of my triceps, even though my inner triceps are pretty meaty” or “I do plenty of extensions -- lying, cables, dumbbells, overhead, kickbacks -- but can't seem to add any real size to my tri's. Am I doing something wrong?...and it goes on forever. Here’s the best advice I can ever give you. In order to create mass you need to handle big weight. Not a hard concept to grasp but it does take some work and if you’re a wussy don’t expect to get massive. Stay in puneyville and have a nice day. If you’re willing to do the work, than I have an awesome tricep workout for you specifically designed for creating mass.
If you want to build crazy thick triceps you need to increase the weight and intensity of your workout. The simple formula: push as much weight with as much intensity as you can and muscle fibers will react. Again, not a hard concept to grasp. Want mass? Two words…Compound Movements, but compound movements need to be done in a process called “breakdowns” to increase the intensity or you’re just wasting your time.
One of the biggest mistakes bodybuilders make is trying to handle weight that will get them 6, 8, 10, 12 or 15 reps. Stop this because it's hindering your growth. My favorite mass building exercise is “weighted dips”. If you have strong legs, it’s easy to place different size dumb bells between your legs. If you have trouble holding the dumb bells for some reason, grab a dip belt. What I like to do is see how many dips I can do with my bodyweight then I add 30% of my bodyweight to the belt. So, for the mathematically impaired, I weigh 225 lbs so I would load 68 lbs on the belt or grab a 70 lb dumb bell. Now this is where it gets tricky so pay attention. You need to get at least 20 reps out of your set. Yes, 20! Before you start your set, go grab 2 more sets of dumb bells or make it easy to take half of the weight off the dip belt. Push yourself to get as many reps with 30% of your bodyweight and when you can’t go anymore, drop the weight by half, in this case 35 lbs. Keep pushing until you hit 20. If you have a problem getting to 20, drop the weight again by half (15 lbs) and finish out the set. Rest for no longer than 30 seconds and do it all again. This same procedure can be used for any compound movement such as; Close Grip Bench Press, French Presses and Weighted Diamond Pushups.
One of my favorite exercises to hit all three heads of the triceps and one that no one does anymore or is rarely seen in the gym, is an exercise I learned from my friend and the “Father of American Bodybuilding”, Bill Pearl. It’s called the Reverse Grip Tricep Press. You can perform the movement any number of ways and with different equipment but the most basic is utilizing a barbell. Lie flat on your back (bench or not) and grip the bar the way you would if you were going to do bicep curls (supinated grip), start the exercise in the down position with the bar over the top of your head, keep your arms at an angle and raise the bar to a position just before lock out. Go through the same breakdown process as you did with weighted dips.
Anytime you push heavy weight you will increase the size of the outer head of the triceps, but I get many questions about fine tuning the horseshoe effect of all three heads that make up your triceps. This is not as easy as it seems because your arm’s leverages play an important role of how you exercise your arm at the elbow joint. What I have found is that you need to allow your body to make its own decision and not force undue stress on your joints, especially your elbow. I like ropes and cables as a finishing exercise because it allows your arm to be free to work in its natural plane. If you try to make your arms conform to a specific plane of movement you may miss the intended muscle completely. Not a good idea. Movements that work the inner and top head of the triceps are Tricep Press downs (independent cables or ropes), Lying Tricep Presses (Rope). On occasion I will use a towel to get the same effect as ropes and cables. When you train your triceps in this way you are creating an unstable environment at the joint, so all three heads are basically recruited to help move the arm to its intended position. Train hard, get huge!
Rocco Castellano is the founder of askROCCO Media, which provides boot camps, seminars, media content and online fitness services at askROCCO.com. He is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and has written "askROCCO Uncensored v1," available at bookstores everywhere.