By Ken “Skip” Hill
Most of what is written these days in the sport of bodybuilding is simply a reinvention of the wheel. This happens a lot in the area of nutrition but it is even worse in the area of training. Why? Because there isn’t much about training that is terribly complicated. That being said, every other day it seems, there is another new, fancy, training protocol with a cute, catchy name attached to it.
Let’s use training plans as an example. One week the popular craze will be low volume, high-intensity types of workout plans that everyone swears will make them huge. Then, within a short while, everyone will suddenly switch to something higher in volume because that’s the surefire route to massive gains. It seems that just about the time we get sick of a certain training method, there is a bright, shiny new one ready to take it’s place and become the new badass way to train and … you guessed it, get huge.
I don’t subscribe to this way of thinking. I like to apply my own logic and figure out for myself what I feel works best for both me and my clients. Whatever I do has to be incredibly logical and it has to fall into the category of incredibly simple. Why? Because I don’t believe you need to be fancy to gain muscle mass. A lot of the same principles that applied years ago still apply – lift heavy weights, eat a good amount of healthy foods, rest, grow and repeat!
I approach triceps training with very much the same logic. If your triceps are lagging and you are doing the basics with no idea why your triceps aren’t growing, it could be time to question your approach. In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of training triceps is to focus more work on the long head of the triceps complex. Most of the basic movements that are considered mass builders for the triceps are compound movements that mimic most chest exercises. The only real difference is that the grip is closer together. Sure, you can move a lot of weight with those movements. However, you also move a lot of weight doing chest and shoulder presses. So why aren’t those movements considered triceps mass builders? According to the popular logic, because you take a wider grip while working chest and shoulders, those movements don’t qualify.
Doing heavy presses for triceps after doing heavy presses with a slightly wider grip for chest and shoulders just doesn’t sit well with me. It seems redundant and illogical. On top of that, most of the stress put on the triceps during these presses is on the lateral and medial heads. If you grab an anatomy chart you will quickly notice that the long head of the triceps is the one that appears the largest in a front and back double biceps pose. It didn’t take me long to deduce that if I wanted a big, hanging triceps when performing front and back double-biceps poses, I might want to focus more on the long head.
How do you hit the long head for added triceps mass? I can tell you that you won’t hit it by performing presses and all of the typical exercises that are recommended in most triceps routines. If you want to hit the long head, deep into the meat of the muscle, you will need to get your elbows over your head. Such exercises include:
1. Overhead dumbbell extensions
You can do these one arm at a time or with both arms holding one dumbbell. Sit on a bench and hold a dumbbell with both hands over your head. Bend only at the elbows taking the dumbbell down behind your head before returning the dumbbell back over your head with arms extended.
2. EZ bar extensions lying back on a preacher bench
I use these so much that they have been labeled “Skip Extensions”. Lying back with your shoulders on a preacher bench pad, start with the bar extended overhead. Bend only at the elbow as you take the bar down behind your head before returning the bar over your head with arms extended.
* There are many versions of these exercises, including cables and machines, all of which effectively hit the long head of the triceps exclusively from this angle.
Critics like to point out that these exercises can be very hard on your elbows and that is true if they are not done correctly. If the elbows get too far forward, the elbow can take more stress than it should, putting it in a vulnerable position. It is very much like when you allow your knees to drift too far over the balls or your feet when squatting. While doing these triceps exercises, you need to be sure that your elbows are far back enough so that you feel the stretch deep in the meat of the long head of the triceps complex. Below is an example of a triceps routine that emphasizes the long head for added triceps growth.
Skip’s Triceps Routine
Cable Pressdowns for 3 sets of 12-15
1. Overhead EZ bar extensions (or Skip Extensions) for 4 sets of 10-12 using a progressive weight every set.
2. Flat bench lying triceps extensions (skullcrushers) for 3 sets of 8-10 using a progressive weight every set.
3. Overhead dumbbell extensions (one dumbbell using both hands) for 4 sets of 12-15 using a progressive weight every set.
4. If you have anything left in the tank, hit 2 sets of close-grip push-ups for as many reps as you can, getting a full squeeze at the top of every rep.
Give this workout a go for 12 weeks and you will not only experience skin-splitting pumps but also a soreness so deep in your triceps that it will feel like your bones hurt. Oh yeah, and your triceps just might grow, too. That part is kind of important.
Ken “Skip” Hill has spent 30 years in the trenches of bodybuilding. He owns TEAM SKIP Nutritional Consulting, where he specializes in conditioning for bodybuilders and high-level athletes. You can reach Skip through his website, TEAMSKIP.net and follow him on Twitter (@IntenseMuscle).