HOW TO GET BIG TRICEPS
Guys, I understand the struggle when those guns just won’t grow, and those triceps seem to be playing hard to get.
It’s like hitting a wall, right?
But fret not, because today, I’m going to teach you exactly how to get big triceps.
I’ll show you how to upgrade exercises that target the long head – the muscle that makes up two-thirds of the size of your arm.
Don’t worry, these aren’t some fancy training techniques. Rather, you’ll make small tweaks to exercises and basic techniques you’re probably already doing.
I’ll be walking you through each one step by step, so you won’t miss a beat.
The result is going to be the muscle growth you’ve been after.
Say goodbye to those underwhelming triceps and hello to sleeve-busting guns! Let’s get started.
ANATOMY OF THE TRICEPS MUSCLE
Before I show you how to get big triceps, I want to talk about arm muscles, especially the triceps brachii.
The triceps is a three-headed beast of a muscle. But did you know that each head can be targeted differently depending on the exercise you choose?
It’s like choosing your weapon of mass muscle destruction!
Some exercises may favor one head over the other two. And this is important to know because it’s what we’re going to use to focus on that long head of the muscle.
One of the three heads of the triceps muscle, the lateral head, is located near its bicep buddy, the brachialis.
Its primary function is elbow extension or straightening out the elbow.
Dumbbell Triceps Extensions are a great way to specifically target the lateral head and help it grow like a weed.
Now, we get to the muscle head of the hour: the long head of the triceps brachii muscle.
The triceps long head extends over the shoulder joint and plays a major role in arm adduction and extension.
It also helps to stabilize during elbow flexion.
While you will target the long head during compound lifts – “multiple-joint” movements – like the Bench Press and the Close-Grip Bench Press, you can focus in on the muscle head with different exercises.
If you want to target the long head, you’ll want to take exercises you’re probably already doing – Overhead Triceps Extension and Triceps Pushdowns – and tweak them a bit to further isolate this muscle head. More on that below!
WHY YOUR TRICEPS WORKOUTS ARE FALLING SHORT
The reason we’re targeting the long head more than the other two muscle heads has everything to do with your goal of muscle mass and size in the triceps.
If you look at the outside of the triceps, you’ll see that the long head makes up two-thirds of the size of your upper arm. Two-thirds!
Compare that to the one-third that the lateral and medial muscle heads make up combined.
Now, your problem involving the triceps is that you might be putting too much effort on the lateral and medial heads and not enough attention on the long head.
This lack of muscle activation might be the reason that your triceps aren’t growing to their full capacity.
When you aren’t tapping into the meat of the triceps muscle during your training, you’re shortchanging your gains.
The long head of the triceps crosses the shoulder joint and attaches to the shoulder blade.
That means to get the long head to respond in an optimal way to your triceps training, you need to do two things involving your shoulder:
You need to get it way up to apply a better stretch to that long head using time-proven techniques!
And you need to figure out a way to get it back behind your body to supply a better and fuller contraction of the long head.
I also want you to take each repetition to absolute muscle failure.
With that said, I’m going to show you exactly how to get massive triceps with a few simple tricks you can apply to triceps movements you’re already familiar with. You’ll also see a jump in your triceps strength.
BEST EXERCISES TO GET BIG TRICEPS
If you want bigger arms, you now know the muscle head to target is the long head of the triceps.
That doesn’t mean you have to radically change to different workouts every week. In fact, you probably don’t have to change up your triceps workouts that much.
For example, if you’re currently doing Push-Ups, Reverse Grip Bench Presses, and these types of exercises, keep doing them.
All you have to do is slightly change the way you’re performing certain tricep exercises in order to put the focus more on the long head.
The more we hit the long head of the triceps, the faster you’ll fill in those sleeves.
Here are some of my favorite triceps isolation exercises. Keep in mind that you can substitute resistance bands for each of these exercises.
LYING TRICEPS EXTENSIONS
HOW TO DO THE EXERCISE: Lie on a flat bench with an EZ-Curl Barbell. You don’t need a lot of extra resistance when you are first starting out. In other words, stick with lighter weight. The extra stretch is going to be more than enough for your muscles. Put your feet flat on the floor, tighten the core, and push the bar overhead. Bend at the elbows, guiding the barbell back behind the head. Once your hands go past the bench, contract the triceps to bring the barbell overhead. Focus on getting a full range of motion with your arms angled back from vertical. This will help to get a better stretch on the long head. If you bring it all the way up to the top to a vertical position, you’re going to lose the tension on the triceps.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: Better known as Skull Crushers, the Lying Triceps Extension is an excellent exercise for giving you the ability to get that arm back up over your head more. That little extra stretch on the triceps is going to help you get a better contraction and a better recruitment of muscle fibers in the triceps that are dormant. Remember to take your repetitions to failure.
OVERHEAD CABLE TRICEPS EXTENSIONS
HOW TO DO THE EXERCISE: Adjust the cable pulley to a position above your head and attach a rope handle. Grab the rope with both hands, palms facing each other, and step away from the cable machine. Take a step forward with one foot to create a stable base. Normally, this is where you would hinge forward, but you’re not going to do that this time. Instead, stay more upright. Doing so puts a greater stretch on the triceps muscle, turning this into one of those triceps stretching exercises. Push the cable handles up while maintaining a more upright posture. Your hands should come out in front of your head, but not over extended.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: When you perform the Overhead Cable Extensions, keep this in mind: If you stand a little bit more upright and really try to get those arms up high on every repetition, you’re going to have a better shot at bringing the triceps muscle to failure for every set you do.
WEIGHT PLATE OVERHEAD EXTENSIONS
HOW TO DO THE EXERCISE: This might be my favorite exercise for the triceps! Instead of using the traditional dumbbell, I want you to use a weight plate. Grab the plate so that the elbow joint is at a 45-degree angle. Push the weight plate overhead and keep your upper arms stationary. Drop the plate behind your head. You’ll immediately find that you’re able to go much further than usual. Get a full stretch on the triceps then reverse the movement, pushing the plate overhead. You can treat these as lighter triceps extensions. Use light weights and gradually increase the workload.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This targets the long head of the triceps because it uses an over arm, overhead posture. What’s more, the plate gives you a lot more stretch on the triceps. The plate is narrow so you’re able to lower it all the way down, whereas a dumbbell stops you from going that far.
WEIGHT PLATE OVERHEAD EXTENSIONS
HOW TO DO THE EXERCISE: While all the other exercises have involved getting the arms above and behind the head to maximize the triceps stretch, the Cable Triceps Pushdown is going to focus on contraction of the muscle. Set the cable machine pulley to a height above your head. Stand with a staggered stance. Instead of doing the exercise where you keep your arms right out in front of your body, I want you to use an offset grip and pull to one side at a time. Get the arm behind the body, then get the arm up, contract the triceps muscle and hold. Slowly, return to the starting position. Once you wrap up with the sets and reps here, be sure to do the other side.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The Triceps Pushdown is an all-around awesome exercise. By using offset grip, you get more length to get your arm behind your body. You’ll also get a more intense contraction.
Guys, with all this talk of triceps, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I want you to keep doing compound tricep exercises such as the Bench Press – not just isolation exercises. Stick to basic movements. They are classics for a reason.
When it is time for arms, if you want horseshoe triceps, take the exercises that you’re most likely doing and tweak your form a bit.
By targeting the long head with exercises like I covered above, you’re sure to see bigger guns in no time.
Looking for a dedicated triceps workout complete with compound lifts? We’ve got you covered! Check out our ATHLEAN-X programs to see which is the best fit for your goals and fitness level.
- If you want to noticeably increase triceps size, you should focus on the long head of the triceps for maximum growth.
- While the lateral and medial muscle heads of the triceps are often targeted by popular pressing exercises, it is the long head that makes up two-thirds of the overall size of the triceps.
- To focus on the triceps and break out of your plateau, you simply need to make a small change to the tricep exercises you’re probably doing.
- Lying Triceps Extension: First, you have to make sure that you keep your arm angled backwards even at the top of the movement. This helps to keep tension on the triceps throughout the entire exercise. Second, aim for a deep level of stretch placed on the triceps muscle at the bottom.
- Triceps Pushaway: This is often performed with either a cable or band setup. The key is not to angle your body too far forward when doing this. Standing more upright can greatly increase the elevation of the arm overhead, which increases the stretch on the muscle head.
- Dumbbell Overhead Extension: Switch out to a plate to get a deeper stretch. You’ll also put your shoulders in a more biomechanically favorable position.
- Triceps Rope Pushdowns: Instead of focusing all your attention on performing standard pushdowns with your elbows in front of your body, you will want to use an offset grip to get your elbow behind your body.
HOW TO GET BIG TRICEPS FAQS
The long head of the triceps makes up two-thirds of the overall size of the muscle. So, if you want to get big triceps, you need to prioritize this area. Exercises like Overhead Triceps Extensions, Lying Triceps Extensions, and Triceps Pushdowns with a rope attachment can help you target the long head.
While it's important to focus on the long head, you don't want to neglect the other two heads of the triceps.
Fortunately, you can hit these during your normal upper body workout routines that focus on pushing movements, or compound exercises like the Bench Press, Bench Dips, and Close-Grip Bench Press. These are the classic mass builders for your prime movers.
These exercises allow you to lift heavier weights, which is important for triceps growth as long as you’re using the appropriate acute variables.
If you want to get big triceps, you can utilize the principles of progressive overload.
Progressive overload means gradually and consistently changing one or several acute variables during your workouts. For example, reps, sets, weight, tempo, and rest time are all acute variables.
If you want to continue seeing real progress with the size of your triceps muscles, then you’ll want to increase or decrease one or more of these variables from week to week, and month to month.
For example, if you are using heavy weights, you’ll want to perform fewer reps and more sets per week. On the flip side, if you are performing exercises using your body weight, then you can increase the rep ranges.
Changing up acute variables helps to keep your muscles adapting and growing.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.