Triceps: Tricks and Treats!

While it may not yet be Halloween, I want to throw a bunch of new goodies into your training bag that while free of sugar, are definitely loaded with tasty growth potential!

I remember like it was yesterday – sitting in my room, reading and re-reading such books (more like Bibles to me at the time) as The Weider System of Bodybuilding, Bill Pearl’s Keys to the Inner Universe, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Education of a Bodybuilder with laser-like focus, perpetual joy, and the intent to memorize every word and photograph.

After carefully soaking in the description and pictures of each exercise, I would then mimic the movement, with no BB or DBs in hand, attempting to perfect the technique, master body positioning, and understand the precise function of each muscle involved. To me, this stuff was serious science, and every book, text, and article I completed brought me one step closer to earning my “PhD” in bodybuilding.

I must admit, this did provide me with an excellent foundation for my early days in the gym since I was already well versed in all of the basic exercises, proper form, and how to design an effective workout. As the years went by, however, and my interest in lifting went from simply “getting big” to building a competition-level physique, I began to ponder whether or not I was missing something.

I would find myself looking around the gym – at the barbells, dumbbells, machines, cables, and benches – and conceptualizing entirely new movements, or mentally creating unique tweaks on the basics that myself, and everyone else, were performing daily.

The more profound my mind/muscle connection became, the more I began to understand the need to expand upon my exercise vocabulary, so as to be able to more completely exhaust every fiber within a muscle.

At this point, I was not only training myself for higher levels of bodybuilding competition but had also begun coaching dozens of others.

The gym had become my laboratory, and every day was spent experimenting with novel ways to train each muscle. I would invent new exercises, try varying angles of push/pull, and often use machines to hit body parts they were not even intended for!

This practice (or more like obsession) has continued to this very day, and eventually led up to one of my best clients giving me the nickname “Merlin,” for what he claims is my near “magical ability” to transform physiques and lagging muscles.

As I walk around “The Dragon’s Lair” in Las Vegas (owned by 7x 212 Mr. Olympia, Flex Lewis), I am proud to see members utilizing exercises that I pioneered and introduced via my articles or videos.

As a coach, there are few things more satisfying than having a fellow lifter come up to me and say, “Thank you for showing me those ‘Merlin’ triceps push-outs! My arms have never been this sore!”

Did someone mention triceps?

Well, I did promise to provide some unique “goodies” to add to your training arsenal! Let’s unwrap a few that’ll be sure to add some major thickness to the back of your arms!

Treat: The Smith Elbows Out CG Bench Press – This has become my favorite mass-building movement for the triceps. It removes much of the chest and deltoid activation because of the unique pressing angle and hits the inner, long head of the tris particularly hard.

How To Do It: Place a flat bench in a Smith Machine and lie down so that your clavicles are under the bar. Take a grip that is just inside shoulder width. Rotate your hands so that the thumbs move further away from each other and the pointer fingers move toward each other. This should force your elbows outward so that the upper arms are perpendicular to the torso.

Let the bar rest in your palms, as you will be unable to use a traditional (fingers wrapped around) grip. Carefully lower the bar straight down, toward the upper chest, allowing the elbows to flare out wide. At the bottom of the movement, the brachioradialis of the forearm should be pressed up against the biceps. Using triceps power only, press through the palms until you reach a position just short of lockout.

Trick: When attempting this exercise begin with only about half the poundage you would normally utilize for standard Smith CG bench presses.

Treat: The Incline High Cable Triceps Push-out – This exercise is kind of a hybrid between a pushdown and an extension, offering the best aspects of each!

How To Do It: Set an incline bench to about 45 degrees and place it facing away from an upper pulley with a short straight bar attached. While standing, lie back on the bench, reach up, and grab hold of the bar. Then, allow your body to slide down until you are in a seated position.

Tuck your elbows into your sides and keep them there throughout the set. At the starting point, the bar should be about even with your chin, and your upper forearms pressed against your biceps. Push the bar both down and outward until your elbows are fully locked out. Squeeze hard at the contraction point and then control the negative portion of the rep until you once again reach the starting position.

Trick: You can vary this movement by taking a wider or closer grip, substituting a rope attachment, and/or altering the angle of the bench to create a slightly different arc of motion.

Treat: The Concentration Pushdown – The reason I named this exercise as such is that it reminds me of (and feels similar to, in terms of the strong isolation effect) the standing concentration curl that Arnold made famous. However, this one is for smashing the triceps!

How To Do It: Stand sideways in front of an upper pulley - with your left shoulder closer to the weight stack when working the right arm, and vice-versa. There should be no bar attached to the cable, as you will simply grab the end, and hold tightly, in order to perform this movement (Note: some pulley cables have a small rubber ball attached toward the bottom, which makes gripping the cable far easier).

Bend over at the waist to 90 degrees with your upper arm in the same position it would be if performing a concentration curl. If beginning with your right arm, your right fist should be pressed against your left pec at the starting point. Rest the left elbow on your left knee to increase stability.

While keeping your hand/wrist in a “hammer-grip” position, straighten the arm to full lockout using only the power of your triceps. There should be no movement at the shoulder, upper torso or lower back. Squeeze and flex the triceps hard at the bottom of the range of motion to get the best effect from this exercise.

Trick: This is one movement where utilizing lighter weight and higher reps (10-15) will be the most effective for muscle growth. This is an excellent exercise to finish up a triceps workout, as it manifests a powerful pump and isolates the triceps like no other movement.

Treat: The Standing Single Arm, Shoulder High Triceps Extension – The name of this exercise is long and arduous, but the results it produces are nothing short of spectacular!

How To Do It: In order to perform this movement, you will need to have access to an adjustable pulley that can be lowered to a position that is even with the top of your shoulders. Grab the cable (that once again has no bar attached) with a “hammer-grip” and rotate your torso so that your back is to the weight stack.

The working arm should begin in a position where the hand is near the opposite shoulder and the elbow is in line with your chin. With movement only taking place at the elbow, flex the triceps to straighten the arm until it is fully locked out. Do not allow your torso to rotate in either direction or allow the shoulder to move out of position. Take full advantage of the cable by holding the contraction hard for 1-2 seconds before returning to the start.

Trick: Use the resting hand to hold the working triceps so you can feel it stretch and contract in its entirety throughout the range of motion. This will increase the mind/muscle connection and force a greater number of fibers to fire.

Before I go I have one last treat to give…

Merlin’s “POWER-REP RANGE-SHOCK” Hybrid Triceps Thrashing

1. Incline High Cable Triceps Push-out…3 x 6-8 (3/1/X/1 tempo)
2. Smith Elbows Out CG Bench Press…1 x 16-20, 1 x 13-15, 1 x 10-12 (3/0/1 tempo)
3. Superset: Standing Single Arm Shoulder High Triceps Extension/ Concentration Pushdown…2 x 10-12 each (2/1/X/2 tempo)