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When it comes to the upper-body limbs, the biceps get all the love. The front double biceps pose is seen all over social media when people are trying to show off their physiques. From meatheads to the general population, we all can relate to a huge set of biceps. The signify the strength and size of someone and show us where you stand in the lifting and athletic game. I am all for the biceps, don’t get me wrong, but the triceps need some love, too.
The triceps actually make up the majority of the upper-arm, about 2/3 thirds of it. The triceps are also involved in just about all upper-body lifts, even pulling exercises like deadlifts and pull-ups. So, if you are doing 20-sets of bicep curls and only a few rope pushdowns at the end of your workout, it’s time to prioritize the triceps. Dr. Vladimir Janda said it best when it comes to the arms; stretch the biceps and strengthen the triceps. It will help improve overall strength, posture, and mobility in the upper body. I have found this to be true for my clients and myself.
The Best Way To Build Muscle
There are a few things that need to happen in order to produce muscle growth.
- You need to use significant load when lifting weights
- Enough time under tension to create structural damage to the muscle tissue
- Enough stimuli to upregulate anabolic hormones and increase protein synthesis
- Proper recovery and workout nutrition
This is crucial if you are looking to build a huge triceps.
We also need to make sure that you are selecting the right amount of load, sets, reps, and tempo for your triceps routine. There is no doubt that you have to lift heavy weights in order to get stronger and build muscle. You can’t lift tiny weights and expect to get huge. But there is a fine line. If you lift too heavy you will not be able to create enough time under tension in order to produce muscle growth. A review of the literature on hypertrophy reveals that the most important factor in training is mechanical tension.
Dr. Keith Baar also found that the key regulator of muscle protein synthesis is something called mTOR pathway. The more mTOR stimulated, the protein synthesis occurs, and there’s a direct relationship between mTOR and mechanical damage. The more tension the muscle is put under, the greater the mTOR stimulation. Since mTOR starts to be inhibited after about 60 seconds.
So if you do some quick math on how long a set takes (1 second up, 1 second hold, 2-3 seconds down), you need to shoot for about 5-12 reps using 65%-85% of your 1-rep max to create enough time under tension (TUT) to produce the best environment for muscle growth.
To make sure that you are hitting your triceps correctly, follow these rules below to help you increase mTOR, anabolic hormones and protein synthesis for muscle growth in the triceps:
- Use a weight that is about 65-85% of your 1-rep max, deepening on the number of reps
- Stay in the 5-12 rep range
- Use a 1 second up, 1-second hold, 2-3 seconds down (1/1/3) rep tempo and don’t cheat the eccentric portion of the rep
- Shoot for about 60 seconds, but no more of maximum tension on your muscles
- Decrease the metabolic demands of your hypertrophy workouts by fully recovering between sets
- Work each muscle group one-two times per week
- Consume enough amino acids around your workout to optimize mTOR, protein synthesis, anabolic hormones and muscle growth
There are some exceptions to these rules but following the basic premise of this research will help guide you in your routine and understand why you are doing what you are doing.
I have found that focusing on triceps-specific training twice a week is the best way to shock them into muscle growth. You need both a heavy exercise that includes compound movements to increase strength and density and an exercise for some detail work to drive blood into the muscle and isolate to stimulate muscle growth. All that we need is 2 exercises, done at the beginning of your workout. Don’t worry about being too fatigued for other pressing and pulling movements for the upper body. Remember that we are trying to prioritize the triceps to make them grow. The rest of your muscle groups will not suffer in fact with stronger and bigger triceps, they should improve.
Make sure to take at least 48-72 hours rest in between each triceps-specific workout.
Exercise Sets Rep Tempo Rest Period
1A Parallel Bar Dips 5 5 1/1/3 90 seconds
1B Lying DB Extensions 3 12 1/1/3 90 seconds
Exercise Sets Rep Tempo Rest Period
1A Close-Grip Bench Press 5 5 1/1/3 90 seconds
1B Straight Bar Cable Triceps Pushdowns 3 15 1/1/3 90 seconds Cable Triceps Pushdowns
Notes: Perform both exercises in a superset fashion. After 1 warm-up set using light weight, use a weight that is about 80-85% of your 1-rep max for the heavy compound lifts and 65-70% for the isolation lifts. Make sure to rest at least 48 hours before you perform the next triceps workout.
Justin Grinnell is the Owner of State of Fitness in East Lansing, Michigan. State of Fitness opened up just four years ago and is already one of the leading training facilities in the Midwest. State of Fitness has over 450 members who train every day under his leadership. In addition to being a facility owner, Justin has his own blog at www.grinnelltraining.com (link below), and has been a featured writer for over 6 years in the magazine Healthy & Fit and is a writer for Muscle & Fitness.