Building Big Triceps – Tricep Exercises

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In the pursuit of flawless horseshoes, the name of the game is building freaky mass. Everything I do in the gym is geared toward getting bigger and better in every possible way. I’m not into wasting time with a lot of the methods for packing on mass that other bodybuilders swear by. My mission is to go balls out with as much weight as I can handle with perfect form and absolute control.

Building Big Triceps – Arm Day

Let’s use triceps as a case study in my “Brave New World” of building mass. I work my triceps once a week, on the same day as my biceps. I like to hit triceps when I’m fresh (before biceps), as this allows me to lift with heavier weights and with stricter technique.

My plan of attack is quite simple: I go as hard and heavy as I can (but under control) until failure on each exercise. I don’t care if it takes me three or 33 reps to completely fatigue the muscle; my main concern is kill, kill, kill until the job is complete.

Now, I know this sounds somewhat psychotic, but let me reassure you: It’s a controlled form of psychosis, without the negative connotations usually associated with bizarre behavior. Hard work and maxing out are not the least bit bizarre.

Building Big Triceps – Under Attack

Beginners and intermediates should not run for cover when I explain my training strategy. Although this is an advanced approach to promoting growth, there’s no reason why less experienced bodybuilders can’t make the necessary adaptations. The goal is to train in the heavy range of your strength curve. Beginners should select the heaviest weight that will enable them to precisely execute each movement for eight to 10 reps. Intermediates will be able to go even heavier; feel free to lower the reps as you increase the weight. If you can only squeeze out three or four reps, so be it. Forget about letting your ego decide how much weight to lift; the decision must be based solely on the strength of your triceps. The goal is to prod your muscles to grow, not to screw up your joints, tendons, and ligaments.

I rotate six basic triceps exercises in several ways. I might do all six movements for one to three sets of six to 20 reps. Or perhaps I’ll vary the combination of exercises over three consecutive workouts, using three exercises per session (see chart).

Rope pressdowns 1-3 6-20  
Lying triceps extensions 1-3 6-20  
One-arm standing dumbbell extensions 1-3 6-20  
One-arm reverse-grip pressdowns 1-3 6-20  
One-arm seated dumbbell extensions 1-3 6-20  
Dumbbell kickbacks 1-3 6-20  
Pressdowns with an angled bar 1-3 6-20  
Lying triceps extensions 1-3 6-20  
Rope pressdowns 1-3 6-20  
Note:Your numbers will reflect how many reps you can pump out with strict form at your maximum weight.

I know that one to three sets of six to 20 reps is a wide range of options, but I rely on my instincts to decide what I’ll do that day. If you make up your mind in advance to do three sets of each movement, subconsciously you’ll tend to pace yourself on the first set. I go all-out for as long as possible before advancing to the next exercise.

Random Exercise Notes

Every exercise I do is geared toward building mass. I’m constantly messing around with the sequence to keep the muscles guessing. But my preference is to begin with a wake-up-call-type movement, something that will warm up the muscles while still allowing me to handle heavy weights. Pressdown movements are ideal for this purpose.

Three of my favorite openers are press downs with an angled bar, press downs with a rope and one arm reverse-grip press-downs.

Building Big Triceps – Press Down With An Angled Bar

For this movement, I begin with my wrists straight and the bar at pee level. I’ll press down on the bar, straightening but not locking out my arms, while keeping my elbows close to my sides. Don’t snap at the bottom; hold for the squeeze and return to the top. I’ll do one warm-up set before trying to go as heavy as possible with strict form for one or two more sets. In the old days, I used to cheat, but I now put the emphasis on remaining strict (no matter how heavy the weight).

Building Big Triceps – Rope Press-Downs

Beginners and intermediates can use this as a finishing movement to obliterate the triceps. My preference is to treat it as an eye-opener. Begin with the rope handle at chin level and press it down to your upper thighs, holding for an iso tension squeeze at the bottom. Your elbows should be locked close to your sides, and your wrists should stay as straight as possible throughout the motion.

Building Big Triceps – One-Arm Reverse-Grip Cable Press-Downs

This is another finishing movement that can double as a warm-up. The focus is to isolate the muscle while still lifting with heavyweights. If I’m working my left triceps, I’ll place my left knee on a bench for support, then move from the bent elbow to the straight-arm position in a smooth, fluid motion.

Bread And Butter

The bread and butter of mass building come in two distinct packages: lying triceps extensions with an EZ-curl bar and one-arm dumbbell extensions, either seated or standing. These movements tend to emphasize the long head of the triceps; though I don’t spend all my time dwelling on which head of the muscle is bearing the brunt of the resistance. The mind-muscle connection dictates that you focus on the muscle you’re working on, but shifting your attention to one head or another is counterproductive to working the overall muscle to its fullest.

Building Big Triceps – Lying Triceps Extensions With An Ez-Curl Bar

I grasp a cambered (EZ-curl) bar with a narrow grip. After extending my arms perpendicular to my torso, I’ll bend my elbows slowly as I lower the bar in an arc to my forehead. Make sure that your upper arms stay perpendicular to your torso throughout the movement. I’ll begin with a warm-up set using a 45-pound plate on each side of the bar. Then I’ll throw on a couple more 45s. Making sure I’m controlling the motion and isolating the muscle, I’ll lift until failure. My partner and I will take turns helping each other squeeze out a few forced reps (between two and 10) to push our strength to the limit.

Building Big Triceps – One-Arm Dumbbell Extensions

The question always remains: Do we crank these out seated or standing, and why? I’ll do them seated on a bench if I’m striving more for isolation; I’ll do them standing if I want to cheat a little and go heavier since I can throw my back and shoulders into the movement. Whether seated or standing, the movement mirrors the primary function of the triceps: to straighten the arm.


The dumbbell kickback is an advanced exercise for bodybuilders who already have a solid foundation of mass and strength. Kickbacks are sort of a postscript to an intense triceps workout. Let’s say my partner has kicked my butt, but as I prepare to train biceps, I feel something is missing (my triceps aren’t completely fried). We’ll go back and do one or two sets of kickbacks, always extending the arm as far as the range of motion will allow. My objective is to use a full range of motion on all of my exercises unless I’m too tired to squeeze out the rep with precise form. When that happens, I know I’m done for the day and that it’s time to move on to the next body part.

This training game is an ongoing adventure, a quest in pursuit of perfection. My partner and I view ourselves as artists. We like to draw and paint, and we’re building our physiques to emulate superheroes.



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