If you’re seeking to take your triceps training to the next level… Then you need to read this article.
When it comes to building big, impressive looking arms there’s no doubt that you have to prioritize the triceps (Article on best tricep exercises here).
Sure the biceps are nice to look at but the triceps actually make up most of the size of your arms:
But, in order to best grow this muscle, you need to pay close attention to how exactly you’re performing your triceps exercises and the approach you use to train them.
For example, let’s use Bob and Billy as an example:
Although Bob may do the exact same amount of sets and reps as Billy does AND maybe even lifting more weight than him…
…I can guarantee you that overtime Billy will see better triceps growth due to the various technical aspects of the movement that he’s taken the time to fix and optimize.
And these fixes may be exactly what you need in order to take your triceps growth to the next level.
Therefore, in this article, I’ll go through 3 of the most common mistakes people make that hinders triceps growth. And more importantly, I’ll show you exactly how to fix them right away.
Mistake 1: Letting Other Muscles Take Over
The first and probably the most common mistake is letting other muscles takeover and “steal” tension from the triceps during pushdowns for example.
And the 3 main culprits for this are the lats, shoulders (Shoulder Workout), and forearms:
But luckily, these can all be quickly fixed with simple tweaks in your form.
If you’re letting your elbows excessively sway forward and back during the movement, then all you’re doing is involving more of the lats since they are mainly responsible for shoulder extension.
Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But, it is something you want to avoid if you want to prioritize triceps development given that this takes tension away from the triceps during the movement.
So what you want to do instead is:
- lower the weight
- ring your elbows down to your side
- keep them locked and pinned to your side throughout the movement
This will ensure that the triceps take on the majority of the load, while the involvement of the lats is minimized.
Letting the forearms takeover is a little harder to catch but is just as common – especially when the bar attachment is used.
And this happens when you flex your wrists as you push the weight down.
This not only shifts tension away from the triceps and onto the forearms, but also:
- puts your wrists at a mechanical disadvantage
- stresses the elbow joint
Instead, you want to keep the wrists in a neutral position relative to your forearms in order to both increase wrist stability and elicit a stronger contraction from the triceps:
And finally, another common error people make is slowly leaning forward and rounding their back as they begin to fatigue or when they use a weight that’s too heavy.
This actually causes the elbows to widen – which not only creates a favourable leverage to make each rep easier…
…but it also shifts tension away from the triceps and more so onto shoulders and even the chest.
Instead, you want to:
- stick your chest up and out
- retract your shoulder blades
- pin your elbows to the side
- maintain this position as you perform each rep
Mistake 2: Failing to Maximize Tension on the Triceps
Another costly yet common mistake is failing to maximize the tension placed on the triceps during your exercises. And this just comes down to how exactly you perform them.
For example, during lying overhead extensions or skull-crushers, if you’re performing the movement with your arms locked directly overhead, then you’re not maximizing the tension placed on the triceps.
In fact, the triceps experience very little tension at the top part of the movement (highlighted in red):
This is due to the position of your arms relative to gravity.
So instead, applying the findings from this 2006 biomechanical analysis, which concluded that:
Greater degrees of shoulder elevation provides a greater stretch on the long head of the triceps.
You want to move your arms slightly back, lock your arms here, and then proceed to perform your reps:
This way, you provide more stretch on the long head of the triceps and enable the muscle as a whole to be active throughout the whole range of motion.
And similarly, during tricep pushdowns, a lot of people tend to stand too close to the cables with their body positioned completely upright.
But with this setup, your range of motion is compromised and becomes limited since your hips get in the way at the bottom position.
And, in addition, the tension of the triceps at the bottom becomes minimal due to the direction of the cable relative to the forearm:
Thus leading to a sub-optimal contraction of the triceps, especially of the long head.
So what you want to do instead, is:
- take one or two small steps away from the cable
- slightly hinge at the hips
- then perform the movement with your elbows pinned to your side
Doing so will slightly increase the range of motion of the exercise and enable the triceps to reach their peak contraction at the bottom position.
Mistake 3: Too Much Isolation
Although isolation exercises for the triceps like the ones previously discussed are great for development, there’s no doubt that heavy compound pressing exercises will provide the most bang for your buck.
This is mainly because you’re able to overload them more effectively and lift much heavier loads with them when compared to isolation exercises.
And this is especially important for triceps growth since research indicates that:
The triceps are composed mostly of type II muscle fibers (around 67%), which are theorized to be best stimulated by using heavy weight.
Two great pressing exercises that you should incorporate and prioritize for these reasons are the close grip bench press and the standing barbell overhead press.
Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press is a great option because as shown in this 2005 paper from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research:
The bench press on its own already elicits high triceps activity. But by narrowing your hand spacing, you’re able to shift more of the load to the triceps and hence produce even greater triceps muscle activity.
However, just note that going too close often does more harm than good.
So sticking to roughly shoulder-width apart would be the best option to avoid discomfort while still maximizing triceps activation:
Standing Barbell Overhead Press
The barbell overhead press is another great exercise you should be prioritizing for triceps development.
In fact, it was shown in this 2013 paper from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research to elicit the greatest triceps activity when compared to other shoulder press variations:
Not to mention it was also the one exercise where the most weight could be lifted. Thus proving that if prioritized, it will be one of the main contributors to your triceps development overtime.
Weighted dips are another exercise that could definitely be added to this list as well.
But the main point here is that for the best results, start your workouts with heavy movements like these and really strive to progress them overtime. And then as needed, use isolation exercises afterwards to fit in more triceps volume to further stimulate growth.
By using this approach, in combination with the various technique fixes previously discussed, I guarantee that you’ll begin to see a major difference in your triceps development overtime.
Now keep in mind that you don’t just want nice triceps…
…you want to have a proportionate physique with adequate development of your other major muscle groups WITH a low % body fat to top it all off.
But if you want to achieve that, then you need to be following a routine that’s catered specifically to your current starting point.
And to figure out what exactly that routine is, simply use my start-point identification quiz here which will determine what approach is best for you.
Anyways, hopefully you learned a thing or two from this article that you can implement right away!