Let’s start with some quick background knowledge on your arm muscles. Your arm is made up of your bicep, a muscle that contracts your arm and is involved in any pulling motion and your triceps which are involved in all extensions of the arm and recruited in pushing movements. The common thought from rookie gym goers is that if they want big arms then you must train your biceps when in reality the triceps make up 2/3 of your arm size.
Within the tricep muscle, there are 3 heads, the lateral, the medial and the largest of the three, the long head. So if you want bigger arms it is important that you learn how to effectively train the biggest head of the muscle that makes up the majority of your arm size and that is what I will explain on for you.
Training The Long Head Triceps
The long head of the triceps is the largest and should be trained first when working arms so that it can be effectively used with the adequate load to gain maximum results. You can then work the surrounding muscles more effectively having pre-exhausted the long head.
Exercise #1 – Close Grip Bench Press
Take a narrow grip on a barbell, on most bars, this will be where the knurling begins and lower the bar just below your pecs keeping your elbows tucked close to your sides. This engages your triceps in the movement and prevents your chest from doing all of the work. A common mistake in this exercise is taking a grip too narrow, this puts a strain on your wrists and forearms without effectively working the triceps.
Exercise #2 – Triceps Roll Backs
Lay flat on the floor with a dumbbell either side of your head in the hammer position. Bend your arms up above your head and grip each dumbbell, now pull the dumbbells up in front of you and press them up until your arms are straight. Like a skull-crusher from the floor with a press at the end, then control the dumbbells back to their starting position and repeat. This exercise really stretches the long head and creates a serious burn in the muscle.
Exercise #3 – Modified Skull Crushes
Laying on a bench with a loaded up EZ bar take a close grip and press the bar up similarly to the close grip bench, then allow your elbows to bend and lower the bar over the top of your head until it is almost touching the bench behind you then straighten your arms without moving your elbows which should remain locked in place. This variation of the classic skull-crusher will focus more on the long head of the tricep and the limited range of movement isolates it to increase the stress on it.
Exercise #4 – Straight Bar Push-Down (with a difference)
On a cable machine attach the straight bar and place your hands on the top of the bar shoulder width apart, take two steps back from the pulley and perform 10 strict press down movements keeping your elbows locked in place raising the bar to about mid-torso and back to a full lockout at the bottom. Then take one step back in and perform 10 more reps, then finally one more step in right under the pulley and perform your last 10 reps. This will really work the triceps and force the long head to take different stresses in one exercise.
Exercise #5 – Single Arm Reverse Pull Down
Another cable pulley exercise, this time use one handle attachment and grip from the bottom and begin at a 90-degree angle. Lock the elbow tight to your side again and slowly extend the arm until straight then return to the starting position. Perform 10-15 reps with each arm per set focusing on the squeeze at the bottom of the movement.
Exercise #6 – Dips
I am of course talking about bodyweight dips, with bars either side lift yourself up and keep your upper body and legs in a straight vertical line (you can bend your knees), then lower yourself until at the very least a 90-degree angle with your bent arm and press back up to the top, slow and controlled and make sure your do not lean the upper body forward as this takes the stress off your triceps and onto your pecs and shoulders.
Take Home Message
Being able to effectively work and exhaust the long head of the tricep is critical in being able to build strength in your arms which directly correlates to your bench press. The lateral and medial head will be recruited for these moves also but as long as the long head is bearing the majority of the load you will see significant improvements in arm development.