Kicking back some thoughts on tricep training…
When I think of strength training, I think of training the muscle one of three ways:
- Strength – to make as strong as possible.
- Hypertrophy – to make as big as possible.
- Conditioning – to be able to handle and recover from the abuse of No. 1 and No. 2.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of trying to build a bigger bench. Will training the bench press do this?
Those who have been training for a period of time already know the answer to that question is “no.” If that were the case, everyone who walked in a weight room would have a bigger bench, because they ALL bench. Yet, they don’t. Why?
There are many reasons for this, but for the sake of this article we will assume it’s your lockout strength. Your lockout is largely determined by the strength of your triceps, so all you need to do is add in some more tricep work, right?
Wrong. We’ve all tried that as well, and who did it work for?
What I’m going to suggest is to look at this from a different perspective. If I’m helping someone overcome a sticking point in the bench press, one of the first things I want to know is what movements seem to correlate with their bench. In other words, what other movements go up when their bench goes up? Does their 2-board press go up at the same rate as their bench press? What about the floor press or close grip incline press? If you look hard enough, you’ll find something.
The answer then becomes, what do you need to do to make THAT movement get strong(er)? Assuming your 2-board press goes up at the same rate as your bench press, then what movements are you doing to bring up your 2-board press?
In most of the programs I see, the core movements are programed pretty well. If they use a conjugated approach, the dynamic and max effort work is also programmed very well. Where I see the ball being dropped is with the supplemental and accessory work. For most, these are seen as an afterthought, or that they just need to do something for “tris, lats and delts” and then go home. To really push the boundaries, it has to be better than that.
I’ve said this a millions times before, “You can either train a lift or build a lift.” If you want to bench press just to bench press, so be it. Train it to no end, but if you want to build the bench press, you need to put some thought and experience into it. You need to know what builds your bench (usually another core movement) and then what you can use to strengthen this movement (usually a supplemental movement).
Driving the Bench Press
While everyone is different, here are three examples of each grouping. Keep in mind the bench press is the core movement:
1. Close Grip Incline Press - this was always a favorite of mine and one that always had a great effect on my bench press. I like to work up to heavy sets of 3-5 reps and see if I can break a record each time I did this movement (about once a month). Over the years, I’ve discovered this works better for me using a fat bar or some type of fat grip. The reason for this is to put more emphasis on the triceps and take some off the pecs. To illustrate what I mean, do a set of pushups on the floor with an open hand. Then, do a set with a closed first. With a closed fist, you will feel more tension in the upper pec and with an open hand, you will feel it more so in the triceps. The fat bar opens the hands up some allowing for more of the work to be done by the triceps. Of course, if you feel it is your chest that is holding back your bench, then don’t use a fat bar. However, in my experience (raw or geared) this is seldom the case.
If this is a movement that does drive your bench press, we need to look at what supplemental movements can push this lift up. Without getting into great details, these could include palms out dumbbells presses, elbows out extensions, cross body extensions or any other tricep movements where the elbows come out and away from the body. These movements should cycle for three to four weeks in the higher rep ranges (6-8) for multiple sets (3-4) just shy of failure.
2. Board Presses – I personally think the best all-around board is the 2-board press. It still allows for good technique, takes much of the shoulder rotation out of the movement and gives enough ROM to allow for you to build a bigger bench. A lower board is great for bench shirt work, but too low for much of anything else other than technique work. The higher boards are awesome for lockout strength and building a stronger set-up and upper back stability.
For a quick review of the board press, here is the article we posted titled, Board Press 101.
Here are some other type of lumber lifting:
The supplemental exercises that would effect this the most would include (but not limited to), rolling dumbbell extensions, spoon presses, close grip swiss bar press or extensions, or any other tricep movement where the elbows are tucked. These movements should cycle for three to four weeks in the higher rep ranges (6-8) for multiple sets (3-4) just shy of failure.
3. Any Chain Press – (using the bench or variation of the bench) also make this top list. Not only does this help build the lockout strength, it offers something else most people never consider. It deloads the eccentric portion of the movement, making it easier to increase volume, repeat more frequently and train heavier at the top end. It is very easy to set these movements up so you are over 100 percent at the top and 60 percent at the bottom.
For a quick review of chains, here is our Chain 101 article.
Here are some other movements using chains:
The supplemental exercises here depend on what the main movement is. For now, just refer back to No. 1 or No. 2 to see if it’s more of an elbows-in or elbows-out selection.
What if your goals don’t have to deal with strength, but you are just looking to build bigger arms? This does change a few things such as exercise selection, order, volume and execution of the movements. This can always be revisited later if you like, but I’m sure if you are reading elietefts™, you already have a grasp on this, so let’s just cut to the case and post some workouts for you.
I asked John Meadows of Mountain Dog Training Systems to provide me with some workouts to post in this article.
Workout No. 1
- Fat bar pushdowns – After warming up, do a nice and heavy pyramid here. Rep scheme is 15, 12, 10, 8 and 6 for a total of five work sets.
- Seated dip machine – Just use the range of motion that is ok on your shoulder and try to keep continuous tension…burn the shit of them! Complete four total work sets of 8 to 10.
- Decline lying extension – This is just a slight decline. I use a sit-up bench and lower it all the way down. Lower the bar to your forehead, and then drive it up and sort of back a bit, but not directly over you. Do four total work sets of 15.
Workout No. 2
Rest break for triceps is 45 seconds between all sets.
- V-bar pushdowns – Do 2-3 sets to warmup elbows. Pyramid up. Rep scheme is 15, 12, 10, and 8 for a total of four work sets.
- Pronated tricep kickbacks – Four total work sets of six. Try to go heavy! Flex hard at the top!
- Dip machine – Do 4 total sets of 8. On the negative, take 5 seconds to let the weight come up….then blast it down!
- Incline skullcrushers – Now that your elbows are juiced up, do these and try and let the bar go behind your head for a real good stretch. Do 3 total work sets of 15.
Workout No. 3
- V-bar pushdowns – Do a few sets to get warmed up. With the blood already in your arms from bis, it won’t take as long as usual. Start with a weight that you pretty much hit failure with around 20 reps. You are going to do four more sets. On each set, add some weight and go to failure. Complete five total working sets.
- Dip machine – Do five total work sets of 8-10 with a shortened range of motion. Don’t come all the way down and flex, but don’t let it come up too high either. Work the middle range of motion and focus on doing all the driving with the inner head of your tri.
- Incline skullcrushers – Now that you have some juice in your elbows, these should feel awesome. You can use an EZ bar or straight bar on these. I have video of these on my YouTube channel. I want you to take the bar behind your head and get an awesome stretch. Do not lock it out. Only come up ¾ of the way. Shoot for 5 total work sets of 10-12 reps.
Workout No. 4
Rest will be 45 seconds between all sets!
- V-Bar pushdowns – 3 sets of 12 to warm-up
- Bent over tricep rope extension– Do 4 total work sets of 12 reps on these. Let the rope come back on each rep and really stretch your tris.
- Pronated kickbacks – Go heavy and flex for a second. 4 sets of 8, for four total work sets.
- Dip machine – 3 sets of 10. On every rep, I want a three-second negative. Do this for four total work sets.
- Skullcrushers/lying extensions done on an incline bench – 2 sets of 20 for two total work sets.
There are a few ways to look at this; endurance, strength endurance, recovery, rehabilitation and injury prevention.
Keeping with the simple theme of this article, these types of movements should be a part of ALL training. How you incorporate them will depend on the goals of the program. Personally, I always liked to use finisher type movements such as these:
This is one that I just started using and it BLOWS my arms apart.
We would LOVE to hear what triceps articles you like best. Please list them and why you like them in the comments section below.