Triceps Moments – “The settler, the village blacksmith, the lumberjack, the carpenter and builder all needed powerful arms to ply their trade well, and, in time, those with the greatest, most powerful arms grew to be respected for their contributions,” said old-school bodybuilder Chuck Sipes.
Sipes was not limited to pumping and posing!
In an era when the biggest bench press was 617 pounds by 300 plus pound powerlifting behemoth, Pat Casey, Sipes was pressing 570 at a paltry, 220-pound bodyweight.
Sipes was the quintessential powerbuilder, had the physique of a champion bodybuilder and could cause jaws to drop in the most elite strength circles.
After all, what gym rat wants to look like Tarzan and lift like Jane? Or conversely, be referred to as the fat guy at the gym that can lift a lot of weight.
Most gym rats want size and strength; let’s take a look on how to cover both bases.
We are going to look at three exercises for the triceps that you aren’t doing!
Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Board Presses (AKA Triceps Death)
Triceps death describes the feeling your triceps experience after performing this exercise! This exercise is performed by completing five full-range-of-motion close-grip bench presses. Then, without racking the bar, have a partner immediately place one board on your chest then performing five reps. Then, without racking, have a partner place two boards on your chest and complete five reps. Then, without racking, have a partner place three boards on your chest and complete five reps.
By the end, you’ve done 25 repetitions. As you fatigue, you improve positional strength/leverage and the weight stays the same, intensifying the triceps overload.
How to correctly perform a triceps death:
- Lie flat on a bench
- Un-rack the barbell at arms extension over your chest
- Grasp the bar with a pronated grip and approximately shoulder width (about three inches closer than your regular grip)
- Keep your upper back tight
- Have partner put 2x4s on chest as described
- Make sure your feet are flat throughout the entire movement
- Grip the barbell tightly and lower the barbell under control to your chest/board
- Forcefully push the bar back to arms extension
This is not me sitting behind a keyboard fantasizing; check out Cory Mathews putting this exercise into practice, under my tutelage, in route to earning his IFBB pro card in 2012.
A good starting point for this is using 65 percent of your bench press max. Rest two minutes and do the same thing with 50 percent of your bench press max.
Dips are probably not the best choice for the geriatric with a shoulder replacement but that doesn’t mean that perfectly healthy folks pursuing size and strength need to avoid what has been touted by the “old school” as “the upper body squat.”
In the video above, you can see BJ Whitehead, champion powerlifter and my longtime client, pumping out weighted dips to aid in the acquisition of his world-class pressing power.
“Lest we forget,” Rudyard Kipling warned about the dangers of imperial hubris in his famous poem, “Recessional.”
Weighted dips have helped develop some of the strongest and most-muscular physiques of all time and have a place in a wide spectrum of programs that serve a wide range of goals.
MRI research, performed by Per Tesch in his book, Targeted Bodybuilding, showed dips were the only movement tested that significantly stressed all three heads of the triceps.
Pat Casey, the first man to bench press 600 pounds, had weighted dips at the core of his program. As a bonus, heavy dips can also help performance on the overhead press. On a personal note, dips helped me win the overhead press with ease at the 2005 Atlantis Strongest Man in America Contest. Virtually every great presser has trained with dips at some point.
Let’s not forget the who’s who of bodybuilding, present and past, which have included weighted dips as part of their regimen.
For some athletes with shoulder or elbow injuries, dips may be a good alternative to heavy presses.
Make sure to keep an upright posture to keep a brunt of the load on the triceps.
- Hold your body at arm’s length above the bars.
- Under control, lower yourself downward. Your torso should remain upright and your elbows should stay close to your body. This helps to better focus on triceps involvement. Lower yourself until there is a 90 degree angle formed between the upper arm and forearm.
- From the bottom position push your torso back up using your triceps to bring your body back to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement for the prescribed amount of repetitions.
Do this exercise for three sets of five to eight reps, using as much additional resistance as possible. Do a final set with bodyweight to failure, rest 20 seconds and go to failure again, and finally rest 20 seconds and go to failure again, one final time.
Barbell Floor Paused Triceps Extension with Chains
The deadlift is an effective test of strength because it calls for you to defeat gravity from a dead stop – no bouncing, no elasticity, just dead weight. Similarly, the triceps floor paused extension forces your muscles to do all of the work because the eccentric/concentric chain is broken up by pausing the barbell on the floor.
For this exercise you can use an EZ curl bar or a straight bar, many lifters report less elbow and wrist pain with an EZ Curl bar, although a case could be made for specificity to press strength with a straight bar.
To make this exercise more difficult, throw on chains!
Use an additional 25 percent resistance; so if you have 100 pounds of weight on the barbell throw on 25 pounds of chain.
As the barbell comes off the floor your leverage improves and it is easy to coast to the finish line; with chains as the barbell come the floor, link by link resistance increases! So, as strength capabilities increase so does resistance, overloading the entire movement.
- Lie on the floor grasping the barbell slightly behind your head.
- Keeping your elbows in and fixed, extend the barbell to arm’s length using the triceps.
- Lower the barbell to the floor. Allow the barbell to rest on the floor for one second.
- Repeat this sequence for the desired number of reps.
Start with a weight you are capable of performing eight reps with, do four sets, stopping one shy of failure on each, with a 60 second rest interval.
If strength is your game try this exercise for singles. Using a weight you are capable of doing five reps with, do a single repetition, then rest 10 seconds; do this for as many singles as possible.
Below, my client, Tom Haviland, is giving us a demonstration. At 6’8” Tom has bench pressed over 500 pounds.
Words From Us
Everybody that trains wants big arms but many folks underestimate the role of the triceps in the arm size equation!
Veteran lifters know that the triceps constitute approximately two thirds of the upper arm but still spend the majority of their training time in their comfort zone doing light, high rep kickbacks and other Planet Fitness favorites.
If you have the desire, you now have gasoline to ignite the fire of triceps growth.
Time to hit the pig iron!