When you compare the triceps and the biceps, it always appears as if the triceps are discriminated against by everyone due to their position on the arm.
This isn’t fair and it isn’t right as well and the reason is because while biceps help out with activities concerning the front of the body (your shoulders and chest), the triceps help out with the muscle activity in the back.
The triceps is the bigger muscle by far compared to the biceps, and even if they’re not regarded as the most important by most of the bodybuilding industry, we should still strive to have as well developed triceps as possible.
Most of the time people either neglect their triceps or exercise it unevenly, and sometimes even in the wrong way.
Here are the five most common mistakes:
MISTAKE No. 1: You Are Not Putting Stress on All Three Heads of Your Triceps!
There is a reason that triceps are called the way they are. “Tri” means, well, three and “ceps” means head – they have the long, medial and lateral heads which are located on the upper inside, lower inside and lateral side respectively.
Every time your triceps is activated all three heads join in the action, meaning you can’t stress just one head, no matter what you do. What you can do is shift the emphasis from one head to another to determine which one is the most stressed and which one is the most relaxed.
If you do this, you can grow all three heads and therefore the entire muscle. Lots of bodybuilders aren’t aware of this and keep exercising their lateral heads while they’re completely neglecting their medial and long heads.
Here’s how to fix this common mistake:
- Position your arms down by your sides and take a parallel or an overhand grip with the insides of your palms facing each other. This way, you will put most of the stress on your lateral heads like when you’re doing pushdowns.
- If you want to stress your medial heads instead of the other ones, position your arms down by your sides and take an underhand grip. Even more so, the medial heads will have pressure on them no matter what triceps exercise you do, up until you fully extend your arm. If you want to put extra pressure on your medial heads, throw in some reverse grip pushdowns in your workout and make sure that you always get the full contractions when you’re doing any triceps exercise.
- If you want to stress the long heads of the triceps, position your elbows in front of your body or over your head. If you want to “go long”, do some overhead extensions – they are by far the most effective for the job. I would suggest that you always have one overhead triceps extension or another in your workout.
MISTAKE No. 2: Inefficient Exercise Order
Of course, there isn’t one perfect order of doing things, but sometimes some orders are more efficient than others. If you keep switching up the order in which you do your exercises, you will shock your triceps.
If you want to take it to the next level, make sure to exhaust those muscles by throwing in some pushdowns before you do close-grip benches.
I would suggest that you start your routine with exercises where you can put the most pressure and stress on your triceps – this is because when you start training you have all your energy and you are by far the best prepared for it.
Here’s how to fix your routine’s order:
- Perform all of your compound lifts like close-grip bench presses and triceps dips right at the start.
- After that, do some free weight extensions with both of your arms.
- End the triceps workout with cable or one arm exercises.
- Of course, this is not set in stone but I would highly suggest you stick to it, at least for your triceps workout.
MISTAKE No. 3: You Focus Too Much on Cables and Machines Instead of Free Weights!
If you’ve ever had a personal trainer they’ve probably started you up with some cable extensions and pushdowns. Every time you go to the gym you will see bodybuilders doing four sets of V-bar and four sets of rope pushdowns one right after the other.
This is redundant as both of these exercises hit the lateral heads while completely neglecting the long and medial heads.
Here’s how to fix this:
- Perform some compound exercises (triceps, shoulders and your chest) whenever you work on your triceps. These are your classic close-grip bench presses, bench dips with your hands behind your back and upright dips.
- Perform some dumbbell extensions or EZ-curl bar extensions whenever you work on your triceps. These are things like dumbbell overhead extensions (with one or both arms) or EZ-curl bar triceps extensions. Whichever you pick is fine, they will both have a great effect.
- When it happens that you have two pushdown exercises in one workout, make sure that one of them has an overhand or a parallel grip for the lateral heads, and the other has an underhand grip for the medial heads.
MISTAKE No. 4: Your Form Is Wrong!
When you put a lot of pressure on your triceps, your elbows need to stay locked. This means that when you move your elbows in literally any direction, you transfer some of the pressure from your triceps to your shoulders.
If you do this, you can lift more weight and perform more reps, but it’s still counterproductive – when you’re not putting all of the pressure on your triceps, you are practically turning that exercise into some partial pullovers, which takes the pressure off the triceps and puts it on the shoulder. This will result in an ineffective workout.
Here’s how to correct this flaw:
- Make sure that your elbows do not move from their intended place until muscle failure. If you’re doing pushdowns this shouldn’t be a problem because all you need to do is press your elbows down by your sides and locking them there.
- When you’re doing strict reps and you get to muscle failure, loosen up your form so that you can do some more reps. This can be achieved by shifting the position of your elbows forward when you’re in the negative half of the rep, and back again when you’re in the positive half of the rep. Cheating is okay sometimes, but don’t overdo it – it should be just enough to allow you to keep going.
MISTAKE No. 5: Overtraining
People that want to make their arms huge know that the triceps are far larger than the biceps and they want to take advantage of that, so if they’re doing ten sets for their biceps, they’ll do fifteen for the triceps.
This is why the triceps is the one muscle in your body that is much more susceptible to overtraining.
There is another reason the triceps are being overtrained – when you’re doing back workouts your biceps come into play and they get a bit stressed as well, but when you’re doing chest or shoulder workouts (consisting of pressing movements or dips in the case of your chest), your triceps are activated instead.
The worst case scenario is the most common one – training your chest, triceps and shoulders on different days. If you do this, your triceps are getting pummeled every day without any time to recover, which means that they won’t grow at all.
Here’s how to fix this:
- Twelve sets are all you need for training muscles as small as your triceps. However, if you’ve got chest and shoulder exercises which include pressing, you should think about lowering that number down to less than ten because of the pressure that your triceps are put under when they lock out your presses.
- Your muscles need some rest! Make sure that you have at least two days between triceps exercises and shoulder or chest exercises. Switch up your routine – it will do you good.
So, all in all, make sure that you hit all three heads on the triceps – the medial, the long and the lateral head. Also, modify your routine so that the first exercises you do are compound lifts, the next triceps exercises are two-hand free weight lifts and ending with cable exercises or one-arm movements.
Furthermore, you need to know when to drop the cables and pick up some free weights. It’s not always about the machinery – some simple block of steel will help you achieve just as much progress.
Another thing to remember is that when you’re doing triceps exercises, you will need to lock your elbows in place until you reach muscle failure with strict reps. This is extremely important if you want to have any progress for your triceps.
And finally, don’t perform more than twelve sets when you’re working on your triceps and always have at least 48 hours between triceps and chest and shoulder exercises.
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