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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

Less Workout Time, Greater Benefits

In addition to at home workouts simply saving time from preparing for and driving to and from the gym, you can further cut time in those exercise sessions done in your comfy confines.

It’s called supersetting, and it’s also a very sensible approach to training, because it helps ensure much better body balance, which not only looks good and provides greater functional fitness, but even more importantly acts to prevent injuries.

You do, however, need to be highly familiar with the home exercises you’ll be using, since you will be moving more rapidly and switching movements frequently. This will require concentration, familiarity, and decent cardio capabilities, especially the faster your pace.

The basic concept is to work a particular muscle group for a set, for instance, the chest press (eg, dumbbell bench press or pressing laying back on an exercise ball–more on chest exercises here). Since your chest needs a little time to rest in order to effectively handle another set, shift to the opposite side and work that, in this case your back.

First stage of push-pull superset

You can do dumbbell rows, for example, or use exercise bands, creating a pulling movement; the exact opposite from the pushing done with the chest exercise.

After doing one “round,” (a set of chest followed by a set for the back), do a second and then a third round of this same combo before going to two totally different body parts.

Another superset example would be doing an exercise that works predominantly your quadriceps (front muscles of your upper legs) followed by a hamstring exercise for the back of your upper legs.

great exercise for your lower backside, an area often neglected

great exercise for your lower backside (hamstrings and glutes), an area often neglected

For the front, you can do squats, either bodyweight or holding dumbbells (or even adding a weight belt if desired). These do hit the back of the leg some, but still work the quads more. Follow that up with doing something like a glute-hip raise (see pic immediately above), as the movement has various names), where you start off lying on the floor, elevate your feet on something like a bench or exercise ball, and then raise your hips off the ground by utilizing those hamstrings.

After doing one round of squats followed by glute-hip raises, you should then be ready to do another set of squats, followed by the glute-hip, etc, for a total of three rounds.

This front-back concept also would apply for the arms, where you can do a set of dumbbell curls, followed by tricep extensions or kickbacks.

front-back concept diagram for biceps and triceps

front-back concept diagram for biceps and triceps

Another superset can be shoulder presses matched up with pull ups or a lat pulldown (if you have a home machine; if not, you can use exercise bands for the same effect).

Yet one more superset would include your all-important core, where you’d do a set of crunches followed by a set of hyperextensions (note pic below). I’ve found personally the most readily available way to do this is with the ever portable exercise ball.

Here’s an example superset workout for the whole body, albeit a fairly abbreviated one. Remember, in this article, we’re here to save time!

3 rounds of each superset

Superset #1:

Dumbbell bench press (or pushups) followed by dumbbell rows

Superset #2:

Shoulder press followed pull ups or lat pulldown with bands

Superset #3:

Bicep curl followed by tricep extension or kickback

Superset #4

Bodyweight squat (or holding dumbbells for added resistance) followed by Glute-hip raises.

Superset #5

Exercise ball crunches followed by Hyperextensions

excellent instruction on hyperextensions

excellent instruction on hyperextensions

*If you have done three rounds of each of these supersets with minimal rest between rounds and supersets, you should be reasonably tired. However, if you still have something left in the tank and feel the desire, re-do Superset #4 (legs), since the first three supersets were upper body.

Hopefully, you’ll find this type of home workout both challenging and refreshing, especially considering the amount of physical activity and resulting health benefits you can achieve in a relatively short amount of time. Home exercises allow for many possible superset combos, so you can obviously modify based on what you have available or simply what you feel like performing at the moment.

I have plans for a new article soon that lists many at home exercises to choose from, virtually all of which can be used in some combo with another to create any number of possibilities for superset based home workouts.

Bert

Simple home workout

As an in home personal trainer, this is a very basic, fairly abbreviated workout that I prescribe for some of my clients, especially if I’m unable to be there at the time while he still desires to do home exercises in between sessions with me.

Ideally, you would do this home workout at least twice, maybe three times a week, with at least a full day rest in between any two workouts (eg would be Mon-Wed-Fri, or at least Mon-Thurs).

Since this is for an overall workout, I’ll keep instruction to a necessary minimum. Other articles will be a good bit more detailed for specific at home exercises.

Warm-up the whole body first, as always, for at least five minutes–longer if feel need to loosen up a little more and/or get body further warmed.

Lower body: 3 sets of each of these

Glute-hip raises: lie on your back on the floor, elevating your feet on something (ball, bench, or table, for eg) and raising your hips up while focusing on using the the hamstrings (muscles in the back of the upper leg) to do so. Contract at the top to help maximize muscle stimulation in hamstrings and glutes. (We are starting with these since so many people neglect the backside in their development)

finish stage of glute-hip raise

finish stage of glute-hip raise

Bodyweight squats: stick your tail out enough to ensure curve in lower back (as opposed to rounding your back), dropping down your upper body via the hips and not from your knees. As you start back up, try to drive more from your heels than the front of your feet. (if not used to these, start off by testing your abilities with a chair or couch behind you just in case you lose balance). Click here for in-depth info on how to get the most out of these.

Calf raises: do as many on two legs as you can do with good form (where not using body to jerk self up). If these become too easy over time, you can hold onto dumbbells to increase intensity, or you can do on one leg at a time (can lightly hold onto a rail or put hand against wall for balance). *doing elevated calf raises (placing ball of foot on, say, a stair step while allowing heel to hang) naturally increases the effectiveness.

for calf raises, find surface you can lower your heel from for greater development

for calf raises, find surface you can lower your heel from for greater development

Upper body: 3 sets of each of these

Chest press
with dumbbells (If you have a bench or exercise ball: if not, see pushups shortly below),  focusing on stretch at bottom while ensuring chest muscle activation as much as possible (not dropping too far down though, just to where you get a stretch, under control as you bring weights down). See this article for much greater detail on the most powerful way to benefit from chest work.
*Push Offs: If you want to change things up or have no bench, you can do this highly flexible movement, a sort of “push up-lite” (push-ups can be considered a granddaddy among home exercises). The same principle applies of focusing on form over numbers, getting some stretch as you go to the lowered position.

Dumbbell rows, one arm at a time. Find a bench or about knee-high table (or other reasonably stable and flat surface) to put your non-working side’s hand and knee on. Your leg on the working arm side acts as a part of a tripod with the other two limbs. Focus on form over numbers, just like always, by using your back muscles to pull the weight up instead of your arms. Keep the torso stationary and reasonably close to parallel with the ground.

Shoulder press (standing or seated) with dumbbells: remember to keep elbows pointed straight out to sides (as long as can do so comfortably) to help work more of the overall shoulder. No need to lock out totally at the top, just go up as high as comfortable, then come down under control. (see article for thorough instruction of seated version)

client using exercise ball in this instance, with spotting behind him for safety

client using exercise ball for seated press, with spotting behind him for safety

Pull ups/chin ups/exercise bands pulldown–you can use either a pronated grip (hands away) or supinated (hands toward you), depending on preference. As always, focus on form and feel, like you’re using your back muscles to pull you up and the arms are more or less secondary in the movement. Focusing on staying under control and not being as concerned about numbers will help go a long way toward both safety and getting the most out of the exercise for muscle building. An example of this is not bouncing out of the bottom. Rather, descend under control and without free-hanging at the very bottom.

(If you don’t have a chin up bar, you can use exercise bands, placing the anchor as high up on the door as possible, crouching on knees, grasping handles and pulling them downward just past your chin)

Bicep dumbbell curl (optional): the upper arm and elbow should remain in the same place, with the forearm being all that moves. This ensures the most activation of your biceps. Supinate the hand (palm of hand out/up from the outset if comfortable enough, as this gives you the most stimulation of the bicep. See this article for more info. For bit of variety, use a “hammer grip,” which will work biceps less but forearms more (see pic below)

for bicep variety, do hammer curls (palm of hand toward body) to hit the forearm more

for bicep variety, do hammer curls (palm of hand toward body) to hit the forearm more

Crunches: Finish with some of these for the core. There are many midsection exercises we will soon discuss, but at least that way you’re doing something for the core in the meantime.

In order to maximize your home workouts, always feel free to ask any questions or have something clarified

Bert