Thanks to Michael Murphy and Joe Roark's Iron History forum
One day I was amused in watching a group of young men practicing a series of impromptu feats of strength among themselves in a Turner's gym. One young fellow with an imposing development, particularly of the arms, had them all stopped in chinning the bar, and curling dumbbells and barbells to the shoulders from the full arm hang position, but what puzzled all his comrades was the fact that he was no better, and not as good as one of the boys in slowly raising a barbell or dumbbell to arms' length overhead.
They just could not figure it out. None of them could compare with this particular young chap in arm development, but there it was. He could do so many feats of arm strength the others could not, but he was sunk when it came to feats of overhead lifting.
The answer, while puzzling to them, is very simple. This young chap only excelled in feats where the forearm was bent on the upper arm in such movements as curling, chinning and dipping. In other words he was all biceps, and only where the biceps muscles were involved did he excel. He failed at all movements, that is in proportion to his other stunts, simply because he had no worthwhile triceps development, and all feats that require the straightening of the arms overhead, and even when pressing down, with straight arms, are controlled by the action of the triceps muscles.
This again brings out the fact which I have so often stressed upon -- that the size of the upper arm is not a true criterion of upper arm strength as much as is balanced upper arm development. The upper arm girth may measure much less than that of another, yet to the surprise of the larger armed chap, the other fellow will excel in more feats of strength. Some explain this as being better in performing the tricks, or knowing the knack of doing a thing, whereas, others claim the big armed fellow has more beef than strength. This is rarely true, yet most people believe it, especially when they see an untrained man equal or beat as most arm building enthusiasts center all their efforts on biceps development and pay little or no attention to the triceps, with the result that they are only able to excel on particular feats of strength such as curling, dipping and chinning the bar. The body builder travels further who pays more attention to balanced development than the one who sticks to isolated development of one particular group of muscle. Vanity, and the craze for large girthed muscles is the cause of this isolated development fad.
One must always remember that the biceps act antagonistic to the triceps, and vice versa. The word antagonistic, while commonly used to explain the point is not wholly true, I would prefer to say that each support the other, except in such movements where one acts independently of the other. In this case one muscle is relaxed while the other performs, but in many movements and the majority of movements of the upper arms, the triceps and the biceps act together. As one muscle fulfills its duty the other takes up its appointed duty and carries on.
You see this properly demonstrated when a person picks a barbell or dumbbell from off the floor to the shoulders, and then raises the weight overhead. In the first movement the biceps function to the point of just beginning to raise the weight overhead at which point the triceps take up and perform most of the work. This clearly shows that the more balanced the development of these two muscular groups re, the more perfect will be the completion of the lift overhead.
The triceps form the bulk of the back of the upper arm. As the word triceps implies it is in a three-fold muscle finally inserted into one common tendon. This muscle originates from beneath the deltoid of shoulder cap muscles. They are divided into an inner head, an outer head and a long head. The first two heads are attached onto the extremity of the bone of the upper arm. The long head is attached to the end of the clavicle, or collar bone, and onto the tip of the shoulder blade. The bulk of these three muscles quickly merge into a broad tendon at a point easily visible to the eye when this muscle is contracted forcibly be straightening the arm. The tendon forms the flat part of the upper arm down to the elbow and is flanked on each side by the muscles as they flow down to insertion about the elbow joint. The triceps have powerful control over the forearm. Their chief function is in straightening the forearm with the upper arm.
In former articles in this series when explaining the muscles of the forearm and of the upper arm, I have shown how strongly certain forearm muscles aid the triceps in operation. Chief among these are the supinator longus and the anconeus. Particularly the latter though partly visible on an anatomical chart, the major part of it is hidden under the supinator longus and under the triceps as this muscle travels from the forearm up onto the upper arm. These two accessory muscles act as the arm just begins to straighten and when the arm is completely straightened, making the arm lock more definite. The start aids the triceps to get under way and again comes into action at the point just before the arm straightens known to lifters as the weak point. This point is only weak because the muscles are not as fully developed as should be in order to fully cooperate. Perhaps this fact will also make clear to my readers why I have advocated to lifters raising a dumbbell from the shoulders only about six inches from the shoulders, also, while holding a weight overhead, merely lowering the weight a few inches and then slowly straightening the arm. These two exercise movements develop and strengthen these muscles at the point that is most important to a weight lifting enthusiast.
The triceps are very powerful muscles, in fact, much more powerful in proportion to size than are the biceps. This is because the biceps are more shorter ranged in operation. Judging arm strength by results, it would pay every bodybuilders and weightlifter to pay greater attention to the development of the triceps than is usually done for the biceps.
Most bodybuilders when taking their upper arm measurement do so with the bicep flexed, for this reason we are more familiar with arm size when measured from this position, but, if all would make a point to give the measurement of the upper arm when held relaxed and straight by the sides, one could readily judge by comparison whether the biceps were more developed than that triceps. In other words, there would not be so great a difference between the flexed upper arm girth and the relaxed measurement. Incidentally, many do not take the measurement of the upper arm correctly. If they did, some upper arms would measure more than is ordinarily shown. Many flex the biceps, bending the forearm as much as possible upon the upper arm. When this is done, the triceps become completely stretched, and where there should be a full curve on the underside of the upper arm, there is a flat line. The forearm should be held at almost right angles with the upper arm which permits biceps and triceps alike to supply their bulk to measurement. Of course if the arm lacks triceps development, holding the forearm at any angle when the biceps are flexed will mean nothing additional.
Men who have reached the summit of arm development always as blest with a pair of powerful triceps. Among heavyweights, the stronger and larger the triceps become the less definition will be shown. They bulk very heavily. In such cases the only proof of powerful triceps development is the crest of the horseshoe formation of muscle that rises from the fascia midway on the back of the upper arm. In a few cases this condition is exceptional, such as with Hackenschmidt, whose triceps formation was as clear and as clean cut as that of a lightweight. Of course Sandow showed finely molded triceps, but he was not a heavyweight in the sense of the word as we nowadays accept the term. At his best he weighed about 186 pounds, and around this bodyweight I can mention many who display triceps even more perfectly molded than most biceps. Nevertheless, the real heavyweights have real triceps power, otherwise their arm power, particularly in the slow overhead lifts and jerks, would never have achieved the records credited to these men of might. One can always tell powerful triceps the moment they see a bare arm. The width across the arm just below the deltoid gives the story. Of course, we know that big strongmen always run to massiveness. Their muscles become so densified with muscular fiber hardly any separation is visible, but do not this this deceive you as to the existence of muscle and power. Of course it all depends on what one is after. If the purpose is purely bodybuilding with a desire to develop the muscles so that they display separation, this can be done by omitting the practice of heavyweight lifting. Heavyweight lifting brings out the fullest in muscular size, but also densified the structure in the process. One could not become extraordinarily strong without this happening, and to many, this development is a desirable conquest. Now do not get me wrong by thinking weight lifting does not produce mean with a clear muscular separation -- it certainly does in numerous cases, but what I mean is you will find more real strong men with smooth, silky muscles and less separation than you will among those who strive purely for development for the purpose of muscular display.
After reading this you may be a little confused and wonder what is the difference in the exercise process to acquire one or the other. It is very simple. The practice of heavyweight lifting involves a less number of exercises in one period and over a shorter length of time per exercise period, and less practice nights per week. Weight lifting exercises involve whole groups of muscles in each exercise, whereas, for the purpose of separation, less weight is involved, but more repetitions per exercise, and more exercises to be practiced at each period, and these every night. Repeated repetitions of an exercise directly imposed upon one single muscle group will cause greater fiber construction. Constant contraction causes separation and shapeliness more than it does increase size. While size will culminate, yet it does not show its gains as much as it shows separation and shaping of the muscles, and the more exercises that can be performed to stimulate a muscle, or the least muscle group from all points of operating angle, the greater contraction of the muscle and allied muscles, which is the reason why more repetitions an more exercises per period, and every night weekly, will create finer muscular separation. While this explains a point that perhaps is important to you, and which is important in explaining the difference to those who are not aware of the facts and wish to know them -- what has it got to do with the development of the triceps in size, shape, separation and strength. It has a great deal to do with it for no other reason than because barbell or dumbbell exercise alone will not give one the fullest in triceps development. Barbells and dumbbells give a very limited form of exercise for the triceps. Therefore, other factors must be considered that will function the triceps from all the varied angles they are capable of functioning.
Many body builders get a set notion that weights are the only thing even to the exclusion of all other methods and other apparatus. It is a wrong attitude. While I agree on the greater efficiency of progressive weights, yet I never met a man who had reached the peak of success in development and strength, who had not recognized the fact that his training periods must be mixed exercise in order to get the best out of all the muscles.
There is a saying that a good workman always is plentifully supplied with the best tools. It is the same with the good body builder. He will recognize the necessity of employing other tools and methods for obvious reasons, other than weights, and will use them in the right place. I have used all forms of apparatus while not yielding first place to them in preference to progressive weights. I have used cable pulls for certain muscles. I have used spring grips, dumbbell grips, chest weights and what have you, and enjoyed them. One of the finest forms of exercise I ever indulged in was that of swinging heavy weighted clubs, something one never hears tell of these days. I used to have a pair knocking around up to a short time ago, and have often been quite watching the helpless antics of many who stand high in strength terms today trying to swing them. They are the equal of kettlebell juggling for the arms and shoulders, and provide a far more strenuous training routine. Then we had the single club, one that weighed from 80 pounds as to whatever you desire, which was swung in all directions while gripped with both hands. They made you realize you had a pair of triceps, and if they were below par in strength and development they quickly improved. Iron shoes afforded fine triceps work, and many years ago I used the iron shoe exercise purely for triceps and arm purposes, along with my other weight training exercises. Cable pulls can be used to give fine triceps exercises, as also can the gymnastic exercise, dipping between the parallel bars. Just try standing between a pair of parallel bars, pressing with the hands on the bars as you raise the legs up backward while held straight, until you are in a planche. Yu will soon find out if your triceps are strong or not as this is purely a triceps feat that cannot be equaled with weights. Hold the chest cable expander at arms' length behind the back, and with straight arms raise the arms out and up until they are in a line level with the shoulders. This is a pure triceps exercise, providing you do not bend the body while performing the movement. Raising a dumbbell backwards, and twisting the arm when the full back arm raise has been made will give the triceps a fine workout, but the trouble is it is so easy to swing the body with the arm raise, that the best value in the exercise for the triceps becomes lost. Yes, you can lift a barbell from this position where it hangs are arms' length across the back of the thighs, and then with straight arms, lift up backwards as high as possible. This is fine -- if you do it right, but too many bend too far forward as they raise the arms, with the result that they hardly raise the arms at all. They only bend forward, and think they are doing it right, but this kind of mental telepathy will not help a little bit. The exercises I have mentioned with either apparatus give you less chance to mislead yourself, with the results being better triceps action gained, and muscular action is what brings results.
Be broadminded with your training. Study the things that will give you the development benefits you desire, and use those methods. It is no travesty from a principle to use a chest cable pull for one exercise in your weight lifting exercise training. Chest cable pulls, as well as other things mentioned herein, are tools of the trade so to speak. I never came across a truly successful body builder who could say that in all his life he had never used any but one type apparatus to secure his strength, size and development. Thomas Inch, the great English strength athlete, was very fond of chest cable exercise mingled with his barbell and dumbbell routine. If you think it is only weaklings of sissies that use this type of apparatus, you ought to try stretching the cables Inch could stretch. Few strong men could budge them let alone completely stretch them. It helped to make their muscles more versatile and supple. It allowed the weight training program to secure better results. On the whole, weights cannot be surpassed, but for some muscles where weights are restricted in their adaptability to function the muscles completely, use other means and apparatus if they will do the work.
Results are what you are after so do not turn down a point that will help you secure the results, particularly does this advice hold good in the consideration of triceps development. The point to remember is that all movements that straighten the arms, and permit the arms to be turned while the arms are held in the straight arm position, and also permit a turn or twist while the arm is evolving into the straight arm position. Therefore, bearing this in mind, you will not find it difficult to form a triceps exercise routine.
The archer movement with cables is an excellent exercise for building up the triceps muscles. From the position shown straighten the arm from the elbow only to shoulder level. Be sure to thoroughly straighten the arm, slowly and smoothly. Practice with both arms.
The alternate press with dumbbells is another good arm and shoulder exercise. Bring both dumbbells to the shoulders and alternately press them overhead as high as possible. Practice with kettlebells if possible, as they give a greater extension and longer pull to the muscles, and this is what brings results.
Hold the dumbbells as shown, with the upper arm in line with the back, and slowly straighten the bent arms. Use a pair of light dumbbells and make sure that only the lower part of the arms is straightened out. Keep the elbows in at the sides without moving them while performing the exercise.
Take a dumbbell to full stretch overhead, the arm should be straight and vertical and the upper arm should accordingly be against the side of your head. Without moving the upper arm and body, bend the elbow fully and bring the arm down to the position shown resting dumbbell against shoulder, behind the neck. Then straighten the arm back to its original position overhead. A light dumbbell should be used in this exercise.
With arms at the sides, raise dumbbells backwards as shown, following dotted lines. When you reach the limit of the backward raise as shown, raise the knuckles upwards bending towards the forearm. It is very important that the body does not move forward from the waist when performing this exercise. Use the strength of the triceps only to perform this movement.
Raise the left arm backwards resisting with the right as shown. See that you move the arm backward from the shoulder only and keep the body erect. Practice with both arms.
The press behind the neck. With the barbell resting on the shoulders behind the neck, slowly and steadily press it overhead as shown. Be sure to keep the barbell behind the head throughout the exercise. It is important that you press it back away from the head and finish off the exercise with the barbell behind your head instead of in front. You may not be able to handle as much weight but the results are what you want, so try the right way and see for yourself.
Stretching cables across the back or in front of the chest is an excellent exercise for the triceps muscles. Many good arm exercises can be done with a chest expander. It is one of the finest pieces of apparatus in developing the triceps.
Take the above position, grasping the barbell as shown by the dotted lines, and straighten the arms. Don't swing the barbell but use the strength of the triceps to bring it to arms length overhead. Other good exercises that can be done from this position are the prone press, shoulder press and belly toss. All are good triceps exercises, and plenty of weight can be used.
The side press is another good exercise. In this exercise a heavier dumbbell could be used but be sure to do the exercise correctly. Bring a dumbbell to the shoulder and take the position as shown, feet no more than 15 inches apart, bend slowly to the left side and straighten the right arm overhead. When this is done bring the body back to its original position and then lower the dumbbell to the shoulder and repeat.
Enjoy Your Lifting!