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When it comes to getting big arms, the biceps generally get all the attention. The front double biceps pose is a classic when people are trying to show off their physiques and big arms.
Everyone from meatheads and average Joe’s knows what it means to have big biceps. They signify the size and strength of someone who has put in some hard work at the gym and some meathead probably even think it’s about male dominance.
The biceps may get most of the publicity, but if you are looking to get arms then triceps training is where it’s at.
Triceps: The Key to Big Arms
If you don’t already know, the triceps make up 2/3 of your upper arm. It is also involved in almost every upper body lift there is, even pulling exercises wouldn’t think involve the triceps like pull-ups and deadlifts.
This means if you are doing 15 sets of bicep curl variations and only a few sets of pushdowns at the end of a workout you are doing yourself a huge disservice.
You need to make triceps training as much of a priority as your biceps training if you want respectable arms. There is way more to having big guns than just doing a bunch of curls.
Today we are going to give you the right exercises and workout to build those triceps up and give you arms that command respect.
Related: The Top 13 Biceps Exercises Ranked
The Best Way To Build Muscle
In order for muscle growth to occur in the triceps or any other muscle, there are a few things that need to happen.
- You must use a significant load when weight lifting
- Time under tension must be long enough to create structural damage in the muscle
- There must be enough stimuli to increase protein synthesis and release anabolic, muscle-building hormones
- You must have proper nutrition and rest and allow for adequate recovery
These are all important if you want to build serious triceps.
Triceps Building: Sets, Reps and Load
It is also important that you use the right amount of weight (load), reps, sets and pace for your triceps workout. There is no doubt that you will have to move some heavy weights if you want to grow and get stronger. You can’t lift those little wimpy weights that are easy and expect much at all in terms of growth or strength increases. You also can’t lift too heavy though either as there needs to be enough time under tension to produce muscle growth. We want to be between 3-5 sets using 5-12 reps per set to get adequate time under tension.
There is also a regulator of proteins syntheses called the mTOR pathway which was discovered by Br. Kieth Barr. The more this mTOR is stimulated the more protein synthesis occurs and there is a direct relationship between mechanical damage and mTOR. The more tension the muscle is put under, the greater the mTOR stimulation. Since mTOR starts to be inhibited after about 60 seconds.
Time under tension builds muscle.
Now let’s do some quick math on how long it takes to do 1 set (1-second up, 1-second hold, 2-3 seconds down),. That gives you a total of about 4-5 seconds per rep. This means you need to shoot for about 5-12 reps (20-60 seconds total) using roughly 65%-85% of your 1-rep max to create enough time under tension (TUT) to produce the best muscle growth. Fewer reps won’t give you enough time under tension and more reps will mean that the weight is not heavy enough.
To make sure you are getting the most out of your triceps workout be sure to follow the following rules to increase your mTOR, protein synthesis and anabolic hormones for the most muscle growth.
- Use a weight that is roughly 65-85% of your 1-rep max
- Make sure you 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 of muscle tension but do not go higher than that
- Decrease the metabolic demands of your hypertrophy workouts by fully recovering between sets
- Hit the triceps 1-2 times per week
- Consume enough amino acids around your workout to optimize mTOR, protein synthesis, and muscle growth
There are some exceptions to these rules but these should give you a good base to work from to optimize muscle building, as you get more experienced you can tweak these rules however you see fit but don’t stray too far from these if you are looking to build muscle.
In my experience, training the triceps twice a week is the best frequency to stimulate muscle growth. Once a week isn’t enough and 3 times is too many.
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 you need to do is 2 exercises at the beginning of your workout. Don’t be too worried about the triceps being too tired for the rest of your workout when you are doing things like the bench press and military press. Remember triceps growth is the top priority here so we will train them first. The rest of your muscle groups will not suffer in fact with stronger and bigger triceps, they should improve. Plus having tired triceps on an exercise like the bench press would work your chest even harder to compensate for the tired tris. It’s a win-win.
The Triceps Workouts
Be sure to take at least 2-3 days off in between each triceps-specific workout.
Exercise Sets Rep Tempo Rest Period
- Parallel Bar Dips 5 sets, 5 reps, 1 second up, 1-second hold, 2-3 seconds down
- Lying DB Extensions 5 sets, 12 reps 1 second up, 1-second hold, 2-3 seconds down, rest 120 seconds
Exercise Sets Rep Tempo Rest Period
- Close-Grip Bench Press 5 sets, 5 reps 1 second up, 1-second hold, 2-3 seconds down
- Triceps Pushdowns 5 sets, 12 reps, 1-second down, 1-second hold, 2-3 up, rest 120 seconds
Notes: Both of these workouts are to be done in a superset fashion. After warming up with some light weight, use a weight that is around 80-85% of your 1-rep max for the heavy compound lifts and about 65-70% for the isolation lifts. Make sure you get at least 2 days of rest before you workout your triceps again.
Ryan is a former college wrestler and lifelong fitness fanatic. He has run half marathons, done mud runs, placed in body transformation contests, coached wrestling and now coaches girls soccer. Not to mention he has also tried literally hundreds of supplements over the years and has a vast and thorough supplement knowledge. He has written for Muscle & Strength, Testosterone Junkie, The Sport Review and other publications. He is also the editor in chief of this website. Feel free connect with him on his LinkedIn page below.