Tag Archives: bodyweight exercises

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

The “Push Off”—A Nice Alternative to the Push Up

The “Push Off,” so deemed by this guy one day when toying around with bodyweight exercises as part of a home workout, is—at the least—a welcome alternative to the sometimes grudging, standard push up, an old basic that sometimes elicits images of physical torment!

the agony of it all

the agony of it all

But the push off might even be considered the ultimate of at home exercises, as you’re not just using your bodyweight, but you’re also using a doorway (see instructional pics, noted by caption, further below) of your home.

Many Advantages

This “little brother” to the push up can be used for warm-ups, for those not ready to do a set of several regular push ups, or simply to toy around with some variation.

No matter where you’re at in that pecking order, push offs can make you more aware of how your muscles function than any form of chest or pushing exercise. That’s because without having to exert a ton of force, you can focus a lot more on your body’s response to various tensions and angles when doing these. There’s no large weight (bench press) or deep and difficult angle (elevated push ups) demanding your main attention, distracting you from really feeling the chest muscles working with the movement.

Another benefit, potentially a huge one, is that you can adjust mid-exercise a whole lot easier and safer than you ever could doing, say, a heavy bench press. For example, if you feel some kind of discomfort, it’s easy to stop anywhere in your range of motion during the repetition. If, on the other hand, you’re on your back with a heavy barbell on your chest, you have no choice but to try and push the weight all the way up, or hope you have someone spotting you. If neither of these are available, pray!

Prepare to Push

Prepare by, as always, warming up your joints, especially your upper body, but even  some for your legs, as you’ll be on your feet the whole time.

similar muscles are used for the push off as the push up

similar muscles are used for the push off as the push up

Place your hands while standing against both sides of a door frame (see instructional pic #2, as shown by caption) about the level of the bottom of your chest. Experiment with what’s best for you, or you can adjust that height for variation of how you’re hitting your chest. Placing your hands flush with the door frame sides will help your wrists compared to the more acute (bent back) angles they’re at when doing push-ups with palms flat on the floor.

The lower you place your hands, the more it works the chest and less the shoulders and lats and vice-versa. As noted in  the more general, thorough chest article, many people tend to push somewhat higher up their bodies, which brings in their shoulders and lats but not enough for their chest muscles. It’s critical to get a great mind-muscle connection to get the most out of these.

Stand back at a distance where your hands are still in position to both sides of the door frame (like for instructional pic #2 below) while arms are fully extended and where you’re still standing almost upright.

(You can of course make this exercise easier by moving your feet up closer to the door frame. This not only decreases the distance you travel, but also the angle from gravity, as you are closer to a standing position the whole time)

Beginning path

With your arms extended, use them to move under control toward the door frame. Keep your core (midsection area) tight, not allowing it to sag forward (same with a push-up). As you start approaching the door frame, move your head to the side to allow your body closer to the frame and make the movement more challenging (see pic immediately below).

note head slightly to side of the door frame, allowing for more depth in the movement

Instructional pic #1-note head slightly to side of the door frame, allowing for more depth in the movement

Push away from the frame slowly, under control and focusing on feeling those chest muscles engaging as your body continues to move away from the frame. Proceed until your chest is totally contracted while your arms are fully extended (see next pic below).

Try and maintain that mind-muscle connection with your chest as you allow yourself to slowly drift back toward the door frame. You won’t feel it the same way as you do moving away from it, but it will help you keep the focus that provides you a great benefit even from a very basic exercise like this.

full extension of the movement (or repetition)

Instructional pic #2-full extension of the movement (or repetition)

As you gain confidence and comfort with this movement, you can do several things for variety, including changing the speed, where you explode off the door frame instead of moving deliberately. You may get a better muscle pump due to the variation. Further, it can increase your ability to move explosively in real life situations, where you never really know what may be required.

Variety the Spice

You may also challenge yourself by doing push offs with one arm instead of two. Just adjust whatever slight amount needed to ensure balance as you perform the exercise; it’s a far easier change than trying to go from two-arm to one-arm with the standard push-up!

A less considered option that increases difficulty is standing on one leg to do them. Doing so causes some core tightening to maintain body stability, since you don’t have the benefit of planting two feet on the ground to stabilize yourself. Further, since you’re on just one leg, physics causes your upper body now to exert more force, since the other leg’s force is taken away from you.

any pushing exercise on one leg changes the dynamic

any pushing exercise on one leg changes the dynamic

I mentioned above that shortening the distance (placing your feet closer to the door frame) makes it easier, partly because you’re more upright the whole time and not contending with gravity as much as a result.

But if you want to make gravity more of a factor instead, you can maintain your regular, full distance with your feet and make your main focus be at the hardest part of the rep (upper body closer to the door frame, as in instructional pic #1, where gravity is strongest since you’re leaning forward more). You’re also in a naturally tougher spot from a leverage standpoint (it’s harder the furthest you are away from full arm extension, generally).

You ask “how do you focus on that portion of the exercise; don’t you have to do a full repetition (where you go from start to finish (arms extended)?” No, you don’t.

Partial Reps

You can do what’s known as “partials” (or zone training, or J-reps, depending on the degree of specifics and application). Focus totally in the first half of the range of motion (from start to middle, or the distance from instructional pic #1 to pic #3 (below), then dropping back to the starting position, then back to the middle position, etc, until you start to get fatigued.

middle portion of the movement

Instructional pic #3-middle portion of the movement, one which epitomizes a home exercise

You can then do the second half/extended arms portion for several partial repetitions to finish your set. This portion of the movement (pic #3 as starting point, pic #2 as end point) is normally much easier due to leverage and gravity factors. But since you have already fatigued some from battling the more challenging portion for several partial reps, this “easier” part now will actually become more challenging than normal.

I’ve detailed the push off done with a door frame, but the reality is you can easily adjust this for just about any surface, making the exercise more challenging the lower the surface you place your hands on.

Your Home Is Your Gym

My first client, who had experienced broken forearms in previous years, didn’t want to perform regular push-ups but needed to strengthen her upper body. So I had her use her fairly high kitchen counter top, using the same form essentially as I’ve described and photographed above. In time, she began doing these “pseudo one-armed” (more weight shifted to one side of her body, then the other), with one-armed being the next logical option.

You can also use a sturdy table, a chair, your bed, or anything else that has some stability for you. The possibilities are practically endless as to what home prop you can use to push off from.

any reasonably stable surface in your home will work for push-offs

any reasonably stable surface in your home will work for push-offs

The doorway is a great way to begin though, and it sets the stage for each level, eventually leading you back to the good ol’ push-up if you choose. Most importantly, it helps give you independence from gyms and total flexibility in your home workouts.

Bert