Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Architecture of Big Arms, Part Three - Todd/Anderson




Sugar Ray Robinson




The Architecture of Big Arms, Part Three
The Triceps
by Terry Todd & Paul Anderson


Those who read our last installment will recall that we made note of the fact that the biceps is the most popular and best known of the external muscles of the body and that weight trainers spend a disproportionate amount of time in attempting to develop this particular part of the anatomy. In this regard, it is an interesting paradox that most people who want big arms concentrate their efforts on the relatively difficult biceps yet neglect the more easily developed (usually) triceps. And the paradox is compounded by the fact that the triceps constitutes the greater muscle mass of the upper arm. If should also be pointed out that the upper arm, when relaxed and hanging at the side of the body, owes whatever massiveness it possesses mainly to the development of the triceps muscle rather than the biceps. It would then follow that unless you are so dedicated to the development and display of the biceps that you are willing to maintain a constant, arms-up, full-flex posture, you would do well to spend a little time on some triceps work. Not only will the latter course be easier and more productive, but fewer people will tend to laugh as you walk by.

The full anatomical designation for what we in the game call the “triceps” is Triceps Brachii. As the name implies, the muscle has three distinct heads. The three heads are known as the long head, the medial head, and the lateral head. The long head takes its origin in the scapula or shoulder blade and the other two heads arise from the upper arm bone, known (though it isn’t) as the humerus. The three heads join each other near the elbow and share a common tendon insertion.

As the muscular function of the triceps is to extend the forearm, both pressing movements and “triceps extensions” of various sorts are indicated for any developmental program. We have divided the exercises into “pressing” movements and “extension” movements in order to facilitate discussion. Pressing movements, which we will discuss first, are primarily responsible for developing the lateral head of the tricep, and for developing the lower section of triceps mass. Triceps extension movements are beneficial mainly to the long head and medial head of the triceps. This is due in part to the scapular origin of the long head.


Pressing Movements

1.) Standing Olympic press – barbell or dumbell. With the weight at your shoulders, allow the body to sag. Bend back at the waist and slightly flex the knees. Then, in an explosive movement, drive the weight up over your head.

2.) Standing military press – barbell or dumbell. With the weight at your shoulders, maintain a rigid, upright position. Lift the weight overhead using only the muscles of the shoulder girdle and the arms.

3.) Seated press – barbell or dumbell. Same as # 2 above.

4.) Push-press – barbell or dumbell. With the weight at your shoulders, bend your legs in a rapid yet controlled fashion and then drive up fiercely, locking the legs and finishing the lift with the arms and shoulders. Although Anderson’s 560 is the best on record in this lift, Jack Woodson has done pioneering work in demonstrating that this exercise can serve as a cornerstone in a body and strength building routine. His accomplishments speak for themselves.

5.) Bradford exercise. With the barbell at your shoulders, drive it vigorously up and back so that it clears the top of your head and comes to rest across the back of your neck, from which position you drive it back up and forward, once again clearing the head so that the weight lands once again across your deltoids, then back and over again and so on. This exercise, used by and named for big Jim Bradford, former national heavyweight champion, is primarily a deltoid movement yet it also works the triceps in an intense way. Use light weights until mastering the technique.

6.) Lock-out press. This exercise can be done while standing or lying on a bench (inclined, flat, or declined). The barbell should either rest on a rack of some sort or be suspended by chains from above. Generally, the weight should be either at or above the “sticking point” (point during the exercise at which the poorest leverage occurs) when lifting begins. The weight is pressed to arms’ length from its point of support.

7.) Bench press – barbell or dumbell. Place yourself in a supine position on a flat bench. Begin the lift with the weight at arms’ length and lower it to the chest. Stop the weight at the chest before pressing it back up to straight arms. With a barbell, use the hand spacing which seems most comfortable, keeping in mind that a closer grip allows the arms to bend more fully, thereby increasing the range of motion over which the triceps work.

8.) Incline bench press – barbell or dumbell. Same as above.

9.) Decline bench press – barbell or dumbell. Same as above.

10.) Parallel bar dip. Begin by holding yourself on straight arms for a set of “dipping” on parallel bars. Lower your body as far as it will comfortably go, then drive it back up with the strength of your shoulders, chest and arms. As soon as your strength allows, add weight in some way so that your muscles receive maximum benefit. Pat Casey, the first man to officially bench press 600 pounds, was a man with extraordinarily thick and massive triceps, deltoids and pectorals. In his opinion, the dip is the greatest single upper body exercise in the world. Although he weighed over 300 pounds, he was nevertheless able to perform repetitions in the dip with an additional 300 pounds strapped around his waist.

11.) Handstand press-up. Place your hands 12-18 inches from a wall with your fingers pointing toward the wall and kick yourself up into a handstand as that your heels are resting on the wall. Then, lower your body until some part of your head touches the ground before pushing back up to straight arms’ length. Have someone stand near you until you are confident of being able to perform the lift on your own.

12.) Push-up. Lie face down and place your palms on the floor so that they are quite near your armpits. Press yourself up keeping your body rigid. To make the exercise more difficult, either perform it between boxes so that you can go lower, place your feet on a higher level than your hands so that the leverage is increased, put your hands together, or have someone either sit or place weights across your back or both. See accompanying photos.

13.) Press behind neck. Same as #2 above except that the barbell moves up and down behind the head rather than in front of it. Steve Merjanian of California was unusually gifted in this lift and his shoulders and triceps attested to his gift. He is said to have lifted 385 pounds in the seated press-behind-neck with a straight back brace.

14.) Wide grip press. Same as either #1 or #2 above, depending on your reason for doing the lift.



Extension Movements

1.) Upright triceps press – barbell or dumbell, pronated or supinated (overhand or underhand) grip. Begin with the weight overhead; then allow it to descend in a controlled fashion until it is behind the head and the triceps are fully extended or stretched. Extend the arms to complete the movement. Some trainers feel that although more weight can be handled with a pronated grip, the supinated grip is less likely to produce elbow trouble because of the more natural articulation of the elbow joint with the underhand grip.

2.) Triceps extension on inclined, flat or declined bench – barbell or dumbell, pronated or supinated grip. Same as #1 above.

3.) Triceps extension with towel. Same as #1 or #2 above, except that an advantage is gained because a good training partner can vary the resistance so that you must exert maximum effort throughout the entire range of movement. If you train alone, a one hand overhead/one hand behind the back variation can be performed.

4.) Nautilus triceps machine. If you have access to such a machine, or something similar, give it a try. It works on the theory described in #3 above.

5.) Triceps press-down on lat machine. Grasp the lat machine bar with a pronated grip and, keeping the upper arms as motionless as possible, extend the forearms until the arms are “locked out” or completely straight.

6.) Triceps kickback. This exercise can be done in either a one or two-handed way. Assuming you will use one hand, begin by leaning forward at the waist and then slowly extend your hand backward and upward so that when the arm is straight, there is severe tension on the triceps as a result of the unfavorable leverage. Lower and repeat. This exercise is of benefit primarily as a shaper rather than a builder of the triceps.

7.) Pullover and press. Begin by placing the bar across your chest as in a bench press and then lower it (or raise it, depending on the relative heights of your chest and nose) behind your head. Pull it back over the face, taking care to avoid the nose, and press it overhead before beginning the sequence again. Several decades ago, this exercise was used by quite a few of the big arm boys. John McWilliams used it a great deal as did York’s Steve Stanko. Doug Hepburn, according to Charles A. Smith, performed a pullover and press with 480 pounds. All of these men had huge arms and extraordinary strength.


Although we realize we haven’t mentioned every variation of every exercise or, for that matter, even every exercise, most of the waterfront has been covered. As for sets and reps, it would be impossible for us to make a reasonable suggestion to a readership which runs the gamut from beginners to physique contestants to champion lifters. As we said in our last article, perhaps the best rule of thumb to use is to work the muscle until it’s fully “pumped,” and then quit and got to another body part.

Although we have no scientific data to support us, we feel that a shortcut to gains in size and strength can be achieved by beginning your pressing and extension work with at least one set of an exercise in which the are below the main trunk of the body. Such exercises as the handstand press-ups or the decline bench triceps press are examples of this type of movement. Our contention is that warm-up, blood-flow and “pump” are all enhanced by beginning your exercises “upside down.” Exercising in this way ensures that the blood will tend to flow into the lowest extremities – in this case the arms.

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