Triceps Anatomical Training Guide



Triceps Anatomical Training Guide by Thats_Justice

The average person’s triceps routine is stationed at the press down station. But the triceps are a unique muscle group that needs to be trained in various ways to maximize growth.

ANATOMY

There are three heads to the triceps muscle; the long. lateral, and medial head.

  • The long head starts (originates) on the scapula (shoulder blade)
  • The lateral and medial heads both start on the humerus (bone of the upper arm)

All three heads then come together to a single tendon and attach (insert) on to the ulna.

A really interesting fact about the triceps is that different muscle fiber types make up different heads of the muscle.

  • Medial Head
    • Primarily made up of small type I fibers (“slow twitch” muscle fibers, which are used in lower intensity exercises. These fibers are involved in muscular endurance/high rep training)
  • Lateral head
    • Predominantly made up of large type IIb fiber types (“fast twitch” muscle fibers, which are used during high intensity exercise. This fiber type is involved in high force, power, and speed generation.)
  • Long head
    • Made up of a mixture of both fiber types

FUNCTION

The function of every muscle depends on its origins and insertions. If a muscle crosses a joint, it will act on that joint. For example, since the triceps go across the elbow and attach on the forearm, flexing the triceps will affect the elbow joint. More specifically, the triceps will extend the elbow. This is their primary action.

But remember that the long head of the triceps starts at the shoulder blade. This means that the triceps must also affect movement at the shoulder joint. The long head of the triceps plays a role in:

TRAINING TIPS

Due to the diversity in muscle fibers that make up the triceps, it is very important to train them in low, medium, and high rep ranges to attain maximal growth (the medial head is used primarily for light/high rep exercises, the lateral head for heavy/low rep exercise, and the long head is used for all exercises).

LOW REP TRAINING

It is recommended to use compound movements to target your triceps. This is because using heavy weights for isolation exercises (such as skull crushers) can be very detrimental to your elbow health. Use compound movements for your heavier triceps training. The best compound movements, in my opinion, for triceps growth are:

The grip that I use for close grip bench press is slightly less than shoulder width. The closer your grip, the more activation you will get in your triceps (to an extent). In the video linked with “close grip bench press”, Jim Stoppani cites a study where going closer than shoulder width doesn’t stimulate any further triceps activation. It is also important to remember that positioning your hands too close can place a great deal of stress on your wrists.

Weighted dips are also a great exercise to attain triceps mass. When doing these, try to stay as upright as possible. The more your torso leans over, the more your chest will activate.

HIGH REP TRAINING

For your higher rep training, it is best to use isolation exercises. My favourites are:

Overhead tricep movements are said to primarily target the long head, while pushdown movements target the lateral head.

Skull crushers are a great triceps exercise. A trick that can be used to maximize triceps activation during this exercise is to allow your elbows to go back (shoulder flexion) at the bottom of the movement, and then as you push the weight up with your triceps, bring your elbows back to the normal position (extend the shoulder joint). Mark Rippetoe demonstrates this very well in this video.

CABLE VS BAR PUSHDOWNS

The reason why I prefer cable pushdowns over bar pushdowns goes back to the function of the triceps. Remember that the triceps also play a role in shoulder extension. Shoulder extension occurs when your upper arm (humerus) is behind your body (this can be seen under the clickable link for shoulder extension under “function”). When you are using a bar, your legs limit your range of motion. When you use a cable, you can fully contract each triceps by not only extending your elbow, but by also slightly extending your shoulder.

This great video by IFBB Pro Ben Pakulski demonstrates how to perform triceps pushdowns correctly.

SUMMARY

For a full triceps workout, I would recommend doing one compound movement, one isolation movement, and one overhead isolation movement. Remember to train your triceps in all rep ranges, through different elbow positions (overhead, pushdown, etc) to attain maximal growth in each head.

TL;DR

  • Triceps extend the shoulder and extend the elbow
  • There are three heads to the triceps, each of which are composed of different muscle fibers that are active during different work loads
  • Overhead movements target the long head, pushdowns target the lateral head
  • Train the triceps in high, medium, and low rep ranges to attain maximal growth
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