For really big arms, stop listening to the bro science and take a break from the preacher curl bench.
Sure, curls are a great way to pump up your biceps and annoy everyone else trying to use a pair of middle weight dumbbells — hopefully, you know better than to even think about getting in the rack for straight bar work — but a permanent residence on the curl machine and repeated 21s won’t help you develop those sleeve-busting arms on their own.
For true gains and size, you need to cut back on your biceps, believe it or not, and concentrate on your triceps. Your squat rack-hogging, curl-head buddy might not want to hear it, but it’s the truth, right down to the basic anatomy of your arm.
“Your triceps comprise more than two-thirds of your upper-arm mass,” says BJ Gaddour, former Men’s Health Fitness Advisor. “So building thicker, more developed triceps muscles makes your entire arms look more like shotguns than pistols.”
What’s more, according to Gaddour, triceps also play a huge role in some of the most effective and popular exercises, like the pushup and bench press. “Triceps strength is usually the limiting factor in pressing movements,” he says. “So your bench, pushup, and other presses only go as far as your triceps take them.”
That’s why you need to throw the following 12 exercises into your routine. There’s no better way to build gigantic arms — which leads to a bigger bench, better pullups, and and all-around improved outlook on fitness.
Close Hands Pushup
It doesn’t get any more basic than this. The standard pushup is great for your chest and arms, but moving the hand position in closer puts the attention squarely on the triceps. You’re still going to get some work for your pecs with this variation, but your tris should really feel the burn by the time you’re through.
DO THIS: Lower yourself down into a standard plank or pushup position. Bring your hands close to each other at chest level, with your thumbs touching one another. Your spine should be straight, and your core and glutes should be squeezed tight.
Lower yourself down to the floor, bending your elbows at a 45-degree angle. Make sure your elbows don’t flare out to the sides; keep them locked in place. Pause, maintaining the squeeze in your core and glutes, then push back up to the original position by straightening your arms.
Standing Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extension
Add a set of dummbells into the mix for a classic exercise that will torch those triceps. Make sure you don’t grab too much weight, either — you want to control the motion through both the eccentric and concentric phases, and you don’t want to drop them on your head.
DO THIS: Raise a pair of dumbbells over your head, holding them together with your palms facing each other. Hinge your elbows so and lower the weights behind your head, keeping your shoulders stable. Squeeze your core and glutes to keep your torso in place.
Squeeze your triceps to lift the dumbbells back up to the starting position. If your shoulders dip while you’re performing the movement, grab a pair of lesser weight.
TRX Tricep Extension
Suspension training allows you to work against your own body weight, which can be a novel way to use resistance for upper body exercises. If you’re stuck in a small space without room for weights, a set of straps is all you need to get your triceps burning.
DO THIS: Grip the handles with each hand, holding your palms facing out. Extend your arms straight out and lean slightly forward into your toes, so the lines are taut.
Hinge at the elbows and bend your arms, leaning forward until your head is between your hands. Squeeze your core and glutes to maintain good posture — don’t bend your knees. Squeeze your triceps and press forward, pushing yourself back up into the starting position as your straighten your arms.
When you work your triceps, you might forget there are three parts to the muscle: the lateral head, the medial head, and the long head. The last part might not always get the attention it deserves—unless you’re regularly doing exercises like this one, with your arms over your head to isolate the long head.
DO THIS: Sit on a bench and grab one dumbbell. Form a diamond shape with both hands to grip the top end of the weight. Raise the dumbbell over your head, keeping your elbows up and your core tight.
Lower the barbell down the top of your back by bending at the elbow, maintaining your strong chest and keeping your shoulders still. Raise the weight by fully extending your arms, pausing for a count to squeeze at the top of the movement.
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Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extensions
This exercise nails your triceps, and doing high reps of it results in a serious rush of blood to the muscle and gives you a great pump, says David Jack, MH Fitness Advisor.
A review in the Strength and Conditioning Journal found that “the pump”—cellular swelling that occurs from blood pooling to the muscle—can actually speed muscle repair and growth after your workout.
DO THIS: Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie faceup on the ground. Hold the dumbbells over your head with straight arms, your palms facing each other.
Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows to lower the dumbbells until your forearms are beyond parallel to the floor. Pause, then lift the weights back to the starting position by straightening your arms.
Working your triceps is more than just an aesthetic pursuit. You’ll build major strength, too, specifically for the standard bench press. Elbows-Out Triceps Extensions, aka the Tate Press after powerlifter Dave Tate, could be the boost you’ve been looking for to boost your bench max.
DO THIS: Sit on an incline bench with a set of dumbbells. Raise them into the air in a press position, with your palms facing away from you.
Lower the dumbbells to your chest by bending your elbows. Touch your upper check, pause, then press back out to the starting position.
Foam Roller Press
Lowering the bar to the top of the foam roller cuts your range of motion in half. Pressing from the midpoint of the lift emphasizes the “lockout,” or the ending push of the bench press.
“The lockout is all triceps, and you can use a big weight on the bar” says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., co-owner of Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA. It also allows you to train hard for the bench press, with minimal strain on your shoulders.
DO THIS: Lie down on a bench and place a foam roller length-wise on your chest. Secure it with a resistance band, if need be. Grab the barbell overhead and hold it directly above your chest. Lower the bar to touch the foam roller, and then press it back up.
Because you’re lifting your entire bodyweight, your triceps have to work against a much heavier load than they would in a triceps-isolating exercise, according to Ian King, owner of King Sports International.
DO THIS: Hoist yourself up on parallel bars with your torso perpendicular to the floor; you’ll maintain this posture throughout the exercise. (Leaning forward will shift emphasis to your chest and shoulders.)
Bend your knees and cross your ankles. Slowly lower your body until your shoulder joints are below your elbows. (Most guys stop short of this position.)
Push back up until your elbows are nearly straight but not locked. If you have shoulder issues, skip this move.
Close-Grip Bench Press
The bench press is a great exercise to work your chest and core. But a change in grip can help expand your arms.
“Placing your hands closer together makes it so your triceps have to work harder,” says Craig Ballantyne, Owner of Turbulence Training. “That can lead to new growth and more strength.” (It’s also one of the 3 Secrets to a Bigger Bench Press.)
DO THIS: Grasp a barbell with an overhand grip that’s shoulder-width apart, and hold it above your sternum with arms completely straight. Lower the bar straight down, pause, and then press the bar back up to the starting position.
Rolling EZ-Bar Triceps Extensions
This method of the triceps extension gives your triceps short pauses between each rep. “This allows you to rest more so you can bang out more reps and really pump up the muscle,” says Gentilcore.
DO THIS: Lie with your back flat on the ground, a loaded EZ-bar laying on the floor above your head. Grasp the bar, roll it towards your head until your upper arms are vertical. Now press the weight so that your arms are straight and vertical.
Reverse the move, placing the weight back on the floor and “rolling” the bar back. Repeat. Do as many reps as you can.
Kettlebell Floor Press
This variation of a classic bench press favors the lockout portion of the lift, which recruits your triceps to an extreme degree, says Gentilcore.
And since the load is distributed differently with a kettlebell than a barbell, your stabilizing muscles have to work harder to keep the weight positioned correctly.
DO THIS: Grab a kettlebell with each hand and lie with your back on the ground. Hold the kettlebells overhead, the bell hanging on the outside of your wrists.
Bend your arm to lower the kettlebells. Touch your elbows to the ground, pause, then press them back up.
Rope Triceps Pressdown
This move zones in on your triceps—but only if you do it right, says Mike Mejia, C.S.C.S. If you use too much weight, you’ll involve your back and shoulder muscles, defeating the purpose.
The trick: Imagine that you’re wearing tight suspenders that hold down your shoulders as you do the exercise. If you can’t keep your shoulders down, lighten the load.
DO THIS: Attach a rope handle to the high pulley of a cable station. Bend your arms and grab the bar with an overhand grip, your hands shoulder-width apart. Tuck your upper arms next to your sides.
Without moving your upper arms, push the bar down until your elbows are locked. Slowly return to the starting position.
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