Sculpting the Triceps

Hitting the triceps hard is one of my favorite things to do. Not only is it a functional secondary muscle used in almost every compound movement to build upper body strength; but it is also where about 2/3 of arm mass derives from. Anyone looking to build the strong and powerful arms we see on today’s modern athletes and yesteryear’s ancient Greek Olympians, should look no further than a few fundamental tricep exercises.

When I’m in the gym, I love watching the over-abundance of these world class know-it-alls who are pumping out reps upon reps of every variation of bicep curls with conviction that those movements are the ones that will bring them the arms of an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Darren Charles. Unfortunately, they will be unpleasantly surprised to find minimal results for their maximal effort. The fact of the matter is that the biceps account for a much smaller portion of the upper arms and thus, no matter how much peak or vascularity an individual may achieve, the overall growth will be modest.

The Approach

I like to start with the big picture. I approach mass building work outs like a pyramid in the sense that I start with exercises that kill the most birds with the fewest stones (ex. triceps exercises that hit the various heads of a muscle with one movement). I recommend beginning with a close grip bench press. However, those of you who have had encounters with close grip benches before know that it can be difficult to find which grip suits your wrists and elbows best. The short answer to that is- it varies. Depending on what you are trying to accomplish with close grip bench presses, whether you are lifting for heavy sets or for lighter sets, the grip should be adjusted accordingly.

For the purposes of what we are trying to accomplish which is pumping mass into those triceps, I would recommend a combination of grips.

Close Grip Bench Presses [inner chest grip]

For the first exercise, grip the bar in a position that aligns your hands with your inner chest, which makes the exercise less of a close grip press. Allow your elbows to flare out a little bit and go for heavier sets with lower reps. For the next exercise, grab the bar with a closer grip; using both thumbs as the length by which to align your grip. With these sets, the form should be stricter; don’t let the elbows flare out and really concentrate on the full contraction of the triceps. And, one more thing; which really pisses me off when I see it. Focus on the negative portion of the rep just as much as on the positive portion. What makes people think that the negative is unimportant is beyond my comprehension. If you’re going to do your sets, do them right. Don’t think that your work is done once the weight is up, it takes just as much emphasis on bringing the weight back down to create solid muscle gains.

Close Grip Bench Presses [thumbs grip]

Once you’ve finished up with the heavier sets of close grip benches, I recommend switching it over to a closer grip, to really focus on isolating the triceps. However, for a lot of people, this tends to bear more pressure on the wrists. Hence, the most viable solution is to lighten the load a little bit. Don’t go as heavy as on your first exercise, focus more on maximum triceps contraction and really flushing all the blood into the muscle. As far as the grip is concerned, align your hands on the bar in such a fashion that your hands are no further than two thumbs lengths apart. Now, when doing the reps, don’t allow the elbows to flare out; keep them tight to the body, minimizing the involvement of the secondary muscles, namely, the chest and shoulders. Make your triceps do all the work. Again, this exercise is going to apply more pressure to the wrists, so make sure the weight is adjusted accordingly.

Parallel Bench/Parallel Bar Dips

For the third exercise, I like to go with a dip of some sort. Whether it’s a parallel bar dip, a parallel bench dip, or a machine dip, dip exercises really put emphasis on the outer head of the triceps. With any type of dip, it is important to have an understanding of the correct range of motion. Nothing aggravates me more than watching someone doing dips with a half range of motion. Don’t fall victim to this, make sure you come all the way down, making a 90-degree angle between the upper and lower portion of your arms. Come down slow on the negative and explode on the way up of the positive portion of the rep. As with all triceps exercises, the closer the grip, the more isolation of the muscle will result and the lesser the demand will be on the chest and shoulders.

V-Bar Press Downs

Lastly, I like to finish with a press down of some sort. As you are probably aware, there are a trillion different variations of the press down and it’s a movement that can be modified to hit virtually any part of the three heads of the triceps. For the purposes of the sculpting the masterpiece series, I would suggest a V-bar press down with full emphasis on the contraction at the bottom. On the negative portion of the rep, come up slow and come past 90-degrees. Make a point not to come up too high, but just high enough. The Elbows should be pinned as close to the body as possible and should not move with the press down motion. Hence, on the negative, when trying to judge how high to come up, come up as high as you can while still keeping the elbows in place. This should apply for all your press-down movements. Stick with this routine for at least 6 weeks and watch those spaghetti arms turn into pythons.


  • Close Grip Bench Presses [inner chest grip] – 4 sets
  • Close Grip Bench Presses [thumbs grip] – 4 sets
  • Parallel Bench/Parallel Bar Dips – 4 sets
  • V-Bar Press Downs – 3 sets

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