Every male who enters the gym to lift weights in order to build muscle, at one point or another has had the same thought: “I want to build bigger arms”. It’s a very common goal and yet many people, males and females, fail to grow their arms greatly due to a lack of understanding on training. It’s important to understand the muscular makeup of the arms.
The arms are made up of 3 major muscle groups: The triceps, biceps and brachialis. The triceps comprise of over 50% of your overall arm anatomy, while the biceps are around 25% and the brachialis being right under 20%. With arm training, many people fail to recognize that the triceps are half of your muscles in the arm, so they lack training focus on the triceps while focusing a greater amount of emphasis on bicep training. The truth is, if you wish to grow your arms greatly in size, you need to focus primarily on the triceps and the biceps 2nd.
Since the triceps make up over 50% of the arms, it’s important to train them as heavy and as hard as you can when training arms. Research has shown that the triceps respond best when under heavier weight loads due to an increase in stress placed on the muscle. When we perform the bench press, we engage the pectorals, deltoids and the triceps mainly.
What studies have shown is that when we perform the bench press, pectoral and deltoid activation remains high even when we have reached our maximum weight load and remains at this high of a level regardless of how much greater we increase the weight load. With triceps, we have seen that as we increase the weight load, the amount of muscle fiber activation in the triceps continues to increase.
With bench press training for triceps growth, it’s important to understand that for maximum activation you need to switch your grip to a narrower grip. By having a narrow grip on the bar, we remove emphasis from the chest or pectoralis major and increase the weight load on the triceps. This forces the triceps to work harder, thus increasing muscle activation.
I recommend starting out with a lightweight to warm up before increasing the weight load as heavy as you can push for about 8-15 reps. Decrease your rest time down to 45-60 seconds per set. Once you have performed a few sets, the next best step to help with increasing muscle stimulation would be to add resistance bands to your exercises.
Adding resistance bands to your primary tricep exercises such as narrow grip bench press and overhead extensions will help further increase muscle stimulation greater when using a light-moderate weight vs simply increasing the overall weight load. 100lbs bench press with resistance bands can have a greater muscle activation in triceps vs a 200lbs bench press depending on your form or execution of the exercise.
Since the triceps are comprised of the long, lateral and medial head, we have to train the triceps with many different exercises to adjust the focus on each head. The bench dip using a narrow hand placement is shown to create one of the highest muscle stimulations on the lateral head. If you fail to stimulate the triceps with a bench dip, simply switch to a parallel bar dip with a weight belt.
I also recommend that since the triceps are made up of slow twitch and fast twitch fibers, it’s important to train the triceps with both heavyweight with moderate reps and with moderate weight with higher reps. For low rep training with heavy weight, focus mostly on the close grip bench press and weighted dips. For higher rep training, perform exercises that are more isolated such as cable push downs, skull crushers and overhead dumbbell extensions (single or double arm). Overhead extensions will target the long head more while pushdowns target the lateral head mostly.
For maximum growth, I recommend in your triceps routine to have at least one compound movement in which you go as heavy as possible, at least one isolation movement and one overhead isolation movement. Focusing on exercises such as close grip bench press, bar or bench dips, close grip push downs, and overhead extensions, changing your hand and elbow position will help with obtaining maximum muscle stimulation/activation for maximal growth in each of the heads.