OK. I GIVE UP. LET'S TALK ABOUT GETTING BETTER ARMS
The Best Tricep Isolation Exercises
Review Part 1 HERE
From Part 1:
What you should be doing;
1. Lose the fat. Your arms will get more attention if your gut isn’t hanging over your belt. And you’ll never get any definition in your arms until you lose the fat.
2. If you’re skinny, eat to gain lean mass.
3. Stop with the endless sets of single joint isolation exercises. (curls and tricep extensions). You don’t need an “arm day” in your program if you are a beginner or until you’ve been able to add 5% to 10% of your body weight in lean muscle mass.
4. Get stronger and build more lean mass by doing compound exercises. (Squats, dead lift, bench press, overhead presses, pull-ups, dips, weighted carries and rows) It is infinitely easier to add inches of muscle to your arms by doing compound exercises than by doing isolation exercises.
5. Only after pre-exhausting your arms doing compound movements should you do isolation work for your arms. Pushing compound movements (bench press, dips, over head press) will work your triceps. Pulling compound movements (pull ups and all rowing movements will work your biceps). Basically, do isolation movements for triceps at the end of chest day and isolation movements for biceps at the end of back day.
Let’s assume you understand and have followed the rules in Part 1 so now you’re ready to learn how to do the best isolation exercises for your triceps and do them correctly.
We’re starting with the tricep muscles simply because they make up 60 to 70% of the muscle in the average person’s arm mass. Yet they often are somewhat neglected in favor of the biceps.
Remember, there are 3 parts (or “heads”) to the tricep muscle. While most tricep exercises stimulate all 3 heads to some degree, some exercises (or variations) will stimulate one head more. Learn which movement or variation works on each head and work all three.
First, some rules:
1. Don’t go too heavy. This is not a power lifting competition. Trying to train arms with loads that are too heavy will lead to several problems:
· You’ll be forced to “cheat” which will negate a large portion of what you are trying to do. When you cheat you transfer a large portion of your effort to other muscles or several muscles resulting in not accomplishing anything at all for your efforts.
· You will incur injury. You are using two relatively small and unstable joints in the wrist and elbow. Both contain a lot of small muscle and bone structure. Injury to the wrist and elbow are painful and take an inordinate amount of time to heal-weeks to months.
· You’ll look like a fool.
2. The muscles in the arms respond best to strict form and a slow rhythmic pace.
3. Arm muscles respond best to medium and high rep counts. (8-15 reps) and Time under Tension (TUT). Use slow eccentric, drop sets, rest pause and finisher sets (A “finisher” set is a final set using about 50% of the weight and high rep count to failure on the last set), static holds, half reps, 21’s…anything to extend the TUT. Before you even think about increasing the weight, extend the TUT. Every set should take you a minimum of 30 to 45 seconds to complete.
4. Genetics( and old injuries) matter. “You are unique, just like everyone else”. Tailor all exercises to fit your particular bone, joint and muscle structure. If an exercise causes pain (as opposed to discomfort) try a variation. If an arm exercise causes you wrist pain all you usually need to do is vary your grip (wider or narrower) or try a different handle or apparatus. I’ll give some examples when we get into the various exercises.
The Best Exercises for Triceps
1. Decline Lying Barbell Extension (AKA “Skull Crushers”)
· Do not lock out the elbows at the top. That’s cheating. You are taking the tension off the muscle and, toward the end of the set, it’s almost impossible not to rest a moment or two (or three) at the top. That’s also cheating.
· Keep your upper arm perpendicular to the floor at all times
· The movement places most of the work on the long head. Lowering the weight lower than the top of your head (as opposed of just down to your forehead) also works the medial head more.
· If the movement causes pain in the wrist, try taking a narrower grip or a wider grip and/or using an EZ bar instead of a standard barbell.
Flat Bench variation- This exercise can also be done on a flat bench but you’ll get a shorter range of motion. But not all gyms have decline benches.
Dumbbell variation- I like this variation for two reasons. (1) Its easier (and safer) to lower the weight below head level for a longer range of motion by lowering the dumbbells past either side of the head. (2) You can usually handle more weight safely using 2 dumbbells than a barbell.
2. Two Arm Seated dumbbell extension
· I don’t usually like movements where you are lowering a weight behind the head but because of the position of the hands in this exercise there is much less stress on the shoulders than say a lat pull down behind the head. That said, be careful when you get into higher weights. You can probably do the exercise with substantial weight but the act of getting a 100+ pound dumbbell into position above your head can put a lot of explosive stress on the shoulders. Have a spotter put the dumbbell in position for you or use one of the variations below.
· Keep your upper arms perpendicular to the floor at all times
· Do not lock out. Keep the tension on the muscle at all times
One arm variation- Perform the movement using one hand at a time. Use the free hand to hold your upper arm tight against you head to keep it perpendicular to the floor. You lessen the risk of shoulder injury and can use greater than 50% of the weight used for the 2 hand variation.
Cable Variation-Using a low pulley cable station and the rope attachment set the pulley height at a point where the ends of the rope attachment reach the top of your shoulders. Grasp the ends of the rope with both hands and lift straight up above your head.( and keep the arms perpendicular to the floor). Adjust the pulley height so that the tension is on the rope at all times.
This is also a good variation to use a static stretch on the last rep. (simply let the rope pull your hands down as far as possible without releasing the tension and hold that stretch for 10-15 seconds or longer.)
Do not bend forward at the waist or lean forward when doing this movement (like about 75% of the people I see). You are transferring the load to your back and shoulders and negating the whole purpose of the exercise. Yes, you can move much more weight. Big deal…you’re cheating to do it!
3. High Pulley pull down
The high pulley is a very versatile piece of equipment for tricep extensions. Using a variety of available attachments you can do any number of exercises and hit all 3 heads of the tricep. Remember, transferring the work load to the different heads is mostly a matter of the grip you’re using.
Some high pulley stations have an arm that extends outward where you can put your back to the stack (some even have a pad for your back). Use these if at all possible. It’s much easier to avoid cheating on the movement. Even if you don’t have one of these stations try to do the exercises facing outward. Having the cable running within inches of your nose tends to dissuade you from leaning forward to cheat.
On all of the exercises that follow:
· Keep your elbows pinned to your side. Never let them flare out or back or forward.
· Starting position is always with your forearms parallel to the floor. Don’t let your forearms rise above parallel at any point during the set.
· Squeeze for 1 or 2 seconds at full extension.
· Be conscious of it and never let your shoulders take over the load.
High Pulley with rope attachment (Short head/long Head)
· Spread the rope ends at the end of the range of motion without moving your elbows
High Pulley with straight bar attachment (Long head/ Short Head)
High Pulley with Revolving Curl Attachment (Medial Head/short head/ Long Head)
· I would use only the Revolving Curl Attachments for this exercise if you have any wrist issues.
Don’t forget that compound lifts contribute much more to muscle growth than isolation exercises. And there are variations to the compound lifts that will put more emphasis on the triceps too.
-Bench Press- Use a closer grip
-Dips- keep your upper body more upright. Leaning forward puts the emphasis on the chest
-Pushups- Put your hands close together forming a triangle with your fingers.
There’s the short list of what I consider to be the best tricep isolation exercises. There are almost 80 more (including variations) in my video library (Go to the tab at the top of the page labeled "Calculators and Resources" ). Remember, different things work for different people. Use them.
Don’t stick with the same exercise forever. You’ll get better results if you switch them up. Different variations, different angles.
How you do any exercise is more important than which exercise you do.