Tag Archives: biceps

Triceps–Forgotten Arm Muscles

Many LOVE working biceps, as this article instructs, but what about that other side of your arms, the somewhat forgotten triceps? Just as you really need to work your back roughly as much as your chest to avoid dangerous imbalances (along with aiding in symmetry), so too do you need to ensure proper balance between the front and back of the arm.

Sure, the bicep is the thing people generally see coming to them, but you want to look good walking away also! Most importantly, as cited, it helps prevent the imbalances that often lead to injury. We’re wired to be holistically healthy, definitely including a well-rounded body.

this poor guy from childhood ads had no biceps OR triceps!

this poor guy from childhood ads had no biceps OR triceps!

Many of us need some kind of triceps work

If you’re inclined toward doing a lot of close-grip pressing exercises (narrow grip push-ups for eg) and also do a lot of overhead pressing with a shoulder-width (or closer) grip, then you may be getting enough triceps work already.

Many, however, don’t do all of this, and as such could use some direct work on the backside of the humerus (upper arm). Women especially seem inclined toward wanting to “tone their arms,” usually meaning those triceps.

Tone, or muscle?

On that note, diet comes into play in a significant way, but for sure you can aid that process by the exercise you do. I don’t believe in spot fat-burning as legit science, but there’s no debate that working your triceps will enhance the muscle in that area, giving you a firmer, stronger look, and without becoming a full-scale bodybuilder in the process!

At the same time, for those who want to build appreciable muscle, significant volume combined with moderately heavy weight can be a boon to that. The intensity can give you some muscle in the back of your arms that nicely complements the bicep obsession.

What to do specifically for triceps? Oh, there are many exercises available as part of a home workout—no shortage, and that includes solely using your body weight, or even just some of it. There is nothing like visual to describe some of your options, which you’ll note in several ensuing pics, along with clear verbal descriptions.triceps-anatomyThe obligatory—but brief!—science

The triceps are a series of muscles which run along the back side of the humerus, or upper arm. These muscles are termed “elbow extensors,” because the elbow is the hinge that allows your wrist to move away from your shoulder, extending (or straightening) the arm.

Triceps are involved in various pushing exercises, for instance, when you press something away from your chest area, or when you’re trying to hold someone from barreling through a door, or simply when you’re trying to get up off the floor. They’re also heavily utilized in sports, whenever you’re throwing something, for instance.

As noted, you obviously utilize the triceps muscles a good bit whether you’re aware of them or not. But to ensure you create balance both aesthetically and functionally, some direct triceps work may be in order.

You can make it as easy or difficult as you want, including utilizing different versions of the same exercise. For instance, there’s the triceps extension. You can do this one of a number of ways, according to availability or preference.

You can do these (described immediately below) on the floor

You can do these (described immediately below) on the floor

Different Strokes, Same Triceps

Lying Triceps Extensions—For example, if you have a set of dumbbells, you can lie on your back, using one arm at a time or both. Hold the dumbbell(s) with arm(s) straight up in the air (as in Fig C above), perpendicular with your body (technically, you can start like Fig A shows, but in my opinion it’s clearer to explain the other way). Maintain the position of your upper arm and elbow as much as possible, while allowing (under control) the forearm to come back toward you as the weight in your hand starts to make an arc toward your head, though just to the side of it. No bonking! (Fig A)

Begin contracting those triceps muscles to generate the energy for moving the weight back up to the starting position (Fig B shows middle of the movement). You should feel it in the back of your arms if you’re doing it right.

Bodyweight Triceps Extensions—Or, you can do these without any weights at all. If you want to use full bodyweight, find a higher surface than what I’ve shown in the pics below, so that you’ll be on your feet, leaning over while standing. If you don’t have a good, higher surface (as was the case in said below photos), you can do these from the kneeling position. This makes the movement easier, but you can make up for that by building up to doing these one arm at a time.  You may also choose to do this kneeling version simply because you’re not quite ready to do the standing one.

Start with your feet (or knees, if not standing) in a position back far enough from the surface you’re holding onto so that you’ll get a good lean into the movement, making sure you’re working those triceps. If your body is too close to your hands to start off, there’s little effort needed in moving you away from the surface your hands are clinging to.

starting point for bodyweight tricep extension

starting point for bodyweight triceps extension

Contract your triceps in order to start pushing yourself away from the surface, eventually extending out completely, where arms are straightened.

midway point

midway point

finish

finish

The key here, as noted, is the freedom from even needing weights with you. Anywhere you happen to be where there’s some kind of stable edge to grab onto can become a home exercise (or one you can do if you’re staying in a motel, for that matter).

 

Triceps pressdown with bands—You hear about triceps pressdowns on a cable machine at the gym; why not create the same basic movement at home with simple workout bands? Use the “anchor” (that is made to safely attach in the crack of the door—not all brands are as safe) to firm the position of the bands, allowing them to dangle down to hand position (in this case, had to do them from a kneeling position, which is fine)

P1000346

elbows at side, wrists straight

Start with your hands grabbing the ends of the band, palms face down, wrists locked (don’t allow them to bend back, as you can incur injury). Elbows should be essentially to your side, and they—along with your upper arm—should remain stable through the movement to ensure you utilize your triceps muscles.

Once in that position, press downward, allowing your elbow to act like a stationary hinge while your forearms move in a downward arc toward the ground. You’ll notice that since the bands are stretching, the resistance increases. But that’s actually perfect for this exercise, because you tend to gain leverage (a form of strength) as you start locking out at the bottom.

finishing point

finishing point for bands triceps pressdown

Triceps Kickback—Another triceps focused movement you can do with dumbbells is known as the triceps kickback. But, as well, you can even use a jug and fill it with water (for a true home exercise!) if you don’t have any dumbbells laying around. Instead of requiring a bunch of different weights in order to increase the resistance, you can simply pour in a little extra water.

You’ll first want to find a stationary surface to set your body up on (as shown in pic below). The foot of your working arm will be on the floor, while the off-arm knee and hand will be on the object, creating a tripod of stability while the arm of your hand holding the weight (or jug) remains free.

Form Critical

You want to ensure your back position is sound, so stick your tail out just a bit to allow for a slight curve (opposite of rounding!) in your back. As well, keep your torso relatively parallel with the ground.

Now, move your humerus (upper arm) back to where it’s parallel with the ground. This will ensure you get the most out of the exercise for your triceps. (if you only move your arm back to less than parallel, you won’t work the triceps nearly as much). Attempt to keep your wrist relatively locked, stable, while allowing your forearm to remain perpendicular to the ground. This will create an ‘L’ between your upper and lower arm as you hold the weight in your hand, ready to begin the lift.

starting point--torso and upper arm parallel with ground

starting point for triceps kickback–torso and upper arm parallel with ground

Start engaging your triceps muscles to lift the weight further behind you, making sure your upper arm and elbow remain as fixed as possible. For one thing, if you swing your upper arm further behind you, you’re using your shoulder to help lift the weight, taking a lot of the effort away from your triceps muscles. You’re also jeopardizing your shoulder health as well, since some folks are tight in that area to begin with.

Once that upper arm and elbow start moving around, halt the set at that point. You may either have simply reached your good repetition limit (let’s say you did this movement at least eight times before your form breaks down) or you may need to lessen the weight used. It’s far better to go with a lighter weight and do the exercise properly than hoist a heavier weight up with sloppy form.

arm extended back, upper arm remains parallel with ground

arm extended back, upper arm remains parallel with ground

There are even more options available for tricep activation, but these will provide you a number of choices for hitting the back of those arms as part of your home exercises.

Bert

Bicep Health—The Dumbbell Curl

Most anyone loves to have “big guns”–biceps that grab attention, that make you look good in a short sleeve shirt. The bicep is definitely a “show muscle” and truly shines in the summer sun!

even Popeye--the "forearm god"--loved to flex those biceps!

even Popeye–the “forearm god”–loved to flex those biceps!

 

But it’s a lot more than that, as it’s highly functional for daily living as well. You use your biceps to varying degrees in a wide variety of activities, many you don’t consciously think about. Basic examples include picking up household items from the floor and setting them at higher places, opening canned goods, and even simply bringing a drink up to your lips to guzzle. Any movement, light or heavy, that requires your forearm to be elevated or brought in toward your body will bring those beloved biceps into play to one degree or the other.

Biceps are an easy reminder to ensure you keep and even improve your muscularity as you age. There is nothing like a good pair of biceps to help give you an indication you’re doing some right things in maintaining your independence and vigor and even using them to help others. It’s a good feeling when you’re middle aged (or beyond) and being asked to lift something heavy for someone else who may be a good bit younger than you are!

John_bicep_curl

Regarding the dumbbell curl (pictured), this is a standard exercise, yet many—perhaps most
—folks don’t get anywhere near the benefits they can out of it. In the gym (or as part of a home workout), you see someone doing curls for months on end with no or minimal improvement. Why is that?

I’ve even seen a couple of folks use their backs so much, that it’s almost not even an arm exercise in any sense! It’s more like going for a ride or something, rocking so recklessly that they need a seat belt. Strap yourself in! It’s no wonder those folks don’t get any arm growth.

Most of us don’t go to such an exaggerated movement, but there’s still a fair amount of swaying with the body or other cheating methods that require less of the biceps.

Smart to use dumbbells:

note my neutral grip--palms facing inward (more comfortable for some trainees)

note my neutral grip to start–palms facing inward (more comfortable for some trainees) before turning them upward during the lift; elbows to the side from start to finish

You can also use a barbell, but I (and most people) find that dumbbells are an overall safer, sounder path to take, because it doesn’t lock your arms into a precise movement that the barbell does. In short, dumbbells provide a lot more flexibility and variety. They also are much more home workout friendly, allowing you to store them in the confines of your place with relatively little space needed.

In preparing to curl, stance is foundational. Note John’s stance (in the first pic above) and how he’s staggered his feet, rather than keeping them in the same plane. This helps lessen stress on the back/spine area. It’s not a significant concern for most when using light weight, but matters more if you already have back issues and/or are using heavier weight.

Form Is King:

You want to generally keep your hands supinated (palms facing up) for maximal bicep effect, but it’s important that if your flexibility is limited, you can invert your grip some (i.e. use a more neutral grip throughout the movement, palm tilted in some instead of up). Also, many folks may feel more comfortable and natural beginning with a neutral grip (when arm down at your sides, hands are facing your legs/body) and then supinating (turning palms upward) as they start the lift. Just be sure to keep the wrist steady, not rolling it upward while you perform the lift regardless of whether you rotate the hand while the weight comes up.

One significant clue–keep the elbow in close to your side. It’s a simple reminder for you at any time. If you notice your elbow moving beyond the smallest amount, then you are not hitting your bicep as much; rather, you’re getting your shoulder involved more as it’s lifting up the humerus (upper arm) instead of your bicep moving your forearm to get the weight up.

note my elbow remains to my side, wrist stays locked, only moving forearm, making bicep do all the work

note my elbow remains to my side, wrist stays locked, only moving forearm, making bicep do all the work

If that’s the case, concentrate a little more on keeping the elbow in close to your side. If you’re still unable to keep from lifting the elbow up, just end the set or use less weight next time. If you’re unable to get, say, at least six to eight repetitions with that weight before losing form, then you probably should drop to a lesser weight. It’s not so much about how much you can lift, but the stimulus the muscle gets from the movement.

Again, let the forearm and it only do the moving. Your biceps will greatly appreciate it.

Lowering the Weight–More Important Than You May Think:

When you lower the weight, do so controlled, modestly slowly, to prevent bouncing out of the bottom. Bouncing puts a lot of extra stress on the bicep and can create injury, especially over time and/or if you’re using a heavy weight.

More on that note: each person’s bottom position may be a little different, depending on various factors, flexibility being the primary one. If you cannot straighten your arm out totally at the bottom, that’s OK. Don’t force it. And the more weight you’re using, the less you should put any extra pressure on your muscles to straighten your arm out.

The general rule is you can descend to a lower (arm more straight) position the slower you take it down and the more flexible you are. The faster you allow the weight to fall, the earlier you need to put on the brakes and avoid hitting the bottom of the rep range.

Obviously, there are significant safety advantages to taking the descent slower, and the extra time the muscle remains tense increases the muscle’s growth, as studies frequently show.

Take the eccentric (downward) portion of the movement. slowly, controlled for best results

Take the eccentric (downward) portion of the movement. slowly, controlled for best results

We spoke earlier about the tendency to sway coming up, which brings your back into the lift and creates body momentum that puts far less emphasis on the biceps to perform the lift. Don’t do that! Your focus should be on building the muscle, not so much on how many reps or how much weight you’re lifting. Sure, those things obviously have their place, but let them be the end result of your training, not the means! Like noted, if you over-focus on these things, you will far more likely cheat to get them and rob yourself of the enjoyment and rewards of the bicep blitz.

Here’s to your ageless vigor and happy home workouts!

Bert