I was joking with someone at the gym the other week saying that by the time Friday rolls around, it feels like God has turned up the gravity ten percent. The weights seem heavier than they did on Monday. This probably means I’m actually exercising and my body is feeling it.
Friday is Triceps and Biceps day. These are muscle groups that have done a lot of work on Monday and Tuesday as they assisted the lifts necessary to exercise the chest and back. Now they get more focused attention.
Triceps are actually the triceps brachii muscle which, according to Wikipedia, is Latin for “three-headed arm muscle.” Since the triceps have three “heads”, the long head, lateral head, and medial head, no one weight training exercise will (probably) address all three sufficiently, so I perform multiple triceps routines. Admittedly, this is one of my weakest muscles and is very difficult for me to improve in terms of size and density.
Biceps or the biceps brachii is made up of two heads, the short head and the long head, so again, it takes more than one exercise to address this muscle group.
Here’s what I do.
- Close grip triceps dumbbell press (35 lbs)
- Dumbbell incline curl (25 lbs)
- Dumbbell one-arm triceps extension (17.5 lbs)
- Concentration curls (30 lbs)
- Triceps cable pushdown with rope (130 lbs)
- Standing dumbbell reverse grip reverse curl (35lbs)
- Preacher curls (50 lbs)
I perform some variations on the above-listed exercises which I’ll outline in detail subsequently. As with my other weight training day workouts, I typically do three sets of 8 to 15 reps resting approximately 60 seconds (or a little less) between sets.
Close Grip Triceps Dumbbell Press
While the example you’ll see if you click the link above shows this move being performed with one dumbbell, I prefer to use two, (a 35 pound dumbbell in each hand). I position the dumbbells so the part I’m gripping is parallel to the length of my body, keeping them close together. The starting position is low to my chest, then I press upwards quickly, lower more slowly, then repeat.
I really feel this one in my triceps, especially since this is the first lift in my routine and my muscles are complaining about the sudden activity.
Advantages: Good strength move for the triceps heads. Works the chest and front delts as well.
Pitfalls: Since I really worked my delts yesterday, this move can feel somewhat compromised by my delts being fatigued, so I really have to push to make sure I get the full range of motion and force necessary to work my triceps.
Dumbbell Incline Curl
For this move, I start by adjusting the bench to an incline position. Then, reclining onto the bench, I take a dumbbell in each hand, let my arms fall straight down which places my hands behind me, and alternating left and right, perform the lift, pulling each arm as close to my shoulders as possible. Make sure you don’t cheat. After each lift, return your arm to the starting position behind you and on the lift, pull as close to your shoulder as possible. Otherwise, you won’t get the full benefit of this exercise.
Advantages: This is a great workout for the long head on the outside of the bicep. This provides the “peak” of the bicep, which is usually the part many weight trainers want to develop.
Pitfalls: Since you start with your arms behind you and pull to your shoulders, the arc of your movement is over 180 degrees, so your elbows may feel the stress. Also, if your wrists are weak or you suffer from a repetitive motion injury, this move (or any move that involves the wrists) could be difficult.
Dumbbell One-Arm Triceps Extension
I used to perform a seated triceps extension using one dumbbell gripped by both my hands. I’d hold the weight right above my head and extend my forearms backwards. But I got tired of risking a blow to the back of my head with a 50 pound dumbbell, so I switched to this exercise.
I use one, much lighter dumbbell and alternate the workout for the left and right arm. I start with the weight in one hand lifted over my head, then I extend my forearm over my head, bending at the elbow, until my forearm is parallel to the floor. Then I lift my arm up until it’s vertical and then repeat the move. After I’ve finished my reps with the left arm, I switch to my right and repeat. Once I’m done with both arms, that counts as one set.
Believe it or not, this is a very challenging move and the particular triceps head I’m hitting needs a lot of work. Reps vary from the left to right arm since they don’t possess equal triceps strength.
Advantages: Isolation moves involving working one arm at a time helps to better strengthen the weak arm, as opposed to a workout using both arms at the same time where the stronger arm can carry more of the lift. This variant move extends the triceps without risking a head injury.
Pitfalls: You still have a weight over your head and as the triceps tire, it’s harder to return your arm to the starting position, so watch your form and control. Also, this move engages the delt and since they are tired from yesterday, that may affect your performance.
This is another exercise designed to work on the height of the bicep. It’s considered something of a mainstay move in terms of working the bicep. The exercise is performed seated on a flat bench, alternating the left and right arm. I set my feet set apart and put the weight between them. Picking up the dumbbell in my left hand, I place my left elbow against the inside of my left thigh toward the knee. With my arm extended to the floor, I pull the weight as close to my shoulder as possible, lower my arm to the starting position, and then repeat. After I’ve completed the reps for the left arm, I switch the dumbbell to my right hand and repeat. When I’m finished with both arms, that counts as one set.
Like the one-arm triceps extensions, this is a concentration exercise that lets you work your left and right arm independently, so you can address the weaker arm (which is typically my right arm since I’m left-handed).
At the top of the lift, I bend the wrist, pulling the weight further toward me. This works the brachioradialis or what you probably think of as the inner forearm.
Advantages: This isolation move lets you work on each arm independently, strengthening the weaker arm. It also works more than the bicep, adding size and strength to a portion of the forearm.
Pitfalls: Make sure your elbow is firmly placed against your inner thigh or knee. Especially if you are perspiring, if your elbow slips during the lift, you’re in for an unpleasant time as you lose control of the dumbbell.
Triceps Cable Pushdown with Rope
You can perform this move with either the t-bar or rope attachments, but the rope attachment allows you to curl your wrists outward at the bottom of the move, further working your triceps as well as your forearms.
I set my weight and connect the rope attachment at the end of the machine’s cable. I adjust the cable pulley assembly position to the top of the machine. I face the weights and position my feet with the left foot forward and my right behind it a few feet behind it. Then I perform the pushdown starting with my forearms parallel to the floor and ending with them nearly vertical. Then I return to the starting position and repeat.
Advantages: Third and final triceps move and combined with the other two triceps exercises, ensures that I hit all three heads in this muscle.
Pitfalls: Since I use a relatively heavy weight for this one, as I tire, there’s a tendency to lose control of the weight while returning to the start position, and I have to resist letting the stack drop too fast. Also the forearms are engaged, and they’re already tired since this move is performed right after concentration curls.
Dumbbell Standing Reverse Grip Reverse Curls
This is another forearm workout but it targets the top of the forearm between the wrist and the inner elbow which can be a little difficult to reach. The reverse grip involves putting your thumb on top of the dumbbell handle alongside your fingers. This feels a little awkward at first but allows for greater effort to be exerted by the targeted part of the forearm.
I stand with each dumbbell in my hand and my arms at my side and then lift so that at the top of the lift, my forearms are parallel to the floor and my thumbs are facing the ceiling. I lift both arms at the same time, but you can alternate lifting left and right arms if you desire.
Advantages: Works a difficult to hit part of the forearm.
Pitfalls: There’s a tendency to let the bicep do too much of the work as you bend at the elbow or to lift past a 90 degree angle. Watch your form.
I can lift more weight if I use the machine in the general area of the gym, but I find it more satisfying to load the preacher curl machine in the weight room with large metal plates. You can also perform this move with a barbell or an E-Z Curl Bar using a preacher curl platform without weight stack.
I adjust the seat so that when I place my arms on the preacher platform, they are fully extended parallel to the platform without hyperextending or underextending my forearms. I load the desired number of plates on the machine, sit down, take hold of the grips, and pull toward me until my hands are at or near my chest. Then I lower the grips until the weight is very near but not at the starting position and repeat.
Advantages: This move works the short head of the bicep for that rounder or wider appearance. I also use this move as the last bicep exercise of the day to make sure my biceps are fully exhausted.
Pitfalls: Be careful about your seat adjustment. If you’re too high, you won’t get the full range of motion. If you’re too low, you’ll overextend your arms and risk injury.
Ideally at this point, I’ll hit abs/core and then cardio, but sometimes I spend too much time in weight training and either have to skip the core work and go right to cardio, or skip cardio at the end and make up for it on Saturday.
The exercises and specific weights I’ve mentioned throughout the week aren’t necessarily static. Last Wednesday, I changed my leg workout routine to emphasize the equipment in the free weight room as opposed to machines. I also adjust weights, sets, and reps on my standard exercises up and down depending on how I feel and how much time I have for a workout. I’ll talk later about concepts like slow and fast twitch muscles which are impacted by those changes. If you’re a beginning at weight training, it’s not something you’ll immediately have to be concerned about, but eventually, it’ll make a difference.
On my next blog post, we’ll discuss aerobic vs. anaerobic work. Saturday is Cardio Day.
To be prepared is half the victory.
–Miguel de Cervantes