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Tricep Training For Bodybuilders

The triceps make up two-thirds of the upper arm mass and are visible 90 percent of the time you are stage. The quintessential and much sought after striated horse shoe is a sight to behold, whether you are on stage or out and about in a tight t-shirt. Let’s take a quick look at the anatomy and physiology of this three headed muscle, then discuss the best exercises for its development.

Basic Anatomy & Physiology of the Triceps

The triceps has three heads: a long head, a medial head and a lateral head. The long head begins on the shoulder blade and inserts onto the ulna bone. The medial head begins on the rear of the upper arm (humerus) and has the same insertion point as the long head. The lateral head begins on the rear of the humerus (below the medial head) and has the same insertion point as the long and medial heads. The function of the triceps is to straighten out (extend) the elbow. In addition, it assists in bringing the arm back toward the body when it is held out in front, and moves the arm sideways away from the body.

Advanced Anatomy & Physiology of the Triceps

The triceps brachii (triceps = three heads & brachii = arm) has three heads:

  • Long head – origin is the infraglenoid tubercle of the humerus and inserts onto the posterior part of the olecranon process of the ulna,
  • Medial head – posterior surface of the lower two-thirds of the shaft of the humerus with the same insertion point as the long head, and
  • Lateral head – origin is the upper half of the posterior surface of the humerus with the same insertion point as the long and medial head.

It is responsible for the following muscle actions:

  • Elbow joint extension,
  • Shoulder joint extension (helping), and
  • Shoulder joint adduction (helping).

Ok, enough of the technical stuff. You now know the three heads of the triceps, their origin and insertions, and the muscle actions the triceps perform. The following table identifies exercises for the lateral head of the triceps and the percent (out of 100) emg activity:

Exercise

% EMG

Decline triceps extension (Olympic bar)

92

Triceps press down (angled bar)

90

Bench dips (feet elevated)

87

One arm cable triceps extension (supinated grip)

85

Overhead rope triceps extension

84

Seated one arm dumbbell triceps extension (neutral grip)

82

Close grip bench press

72

 

No EMG data for the long or medial head was available; however, mri has also been used to determine how the three heads of the triceps respond to various exercises. The results are as follows: In a supine (lying on your back) french press with an ez curl bar, the long head contracts maximally, whilst the medial and lateral heads contract moderately. In a supine french press with an ez curl bar on a decline bench, all three heads contract maximally. In a supine triceps extension with dumbbells held in a neutral grip, the lateral head is emphasised while the medial and long heads contract moderately. In an overhead triceps extension with dumbbells held in a neutral grip, all three heads contract maximally. If the grip changes to a reverse grip, the long head contracts maximally whilst the medial and lateral heads contract moderately. In a standing french press with a straight bar, the lateral and medial heads contract maximally whilst the long head contracts moderately. In a triceps pushdown with an angled bar, all three heads are recruited maximally. If a straight bar is used with a narrow grip, the lateral and long heads are more dominant and the medial head contracts minimally. In a unilateral triceps pushdown with a pronated (over grasp) grip, the medial and lateral heads are targets, whilst the long head is a helper. If a supinated (under grasp) grip is used, all three heads are recruited maximally. In a narrow grip bench press the lateral and medial heads are the major contributors whilst the long head is recruited moderately. In dip exercises all three heads are recruited maximally. In a triceps kickback the lateral and medial heads perform maximally whilst the long head is used only moderately. In a pullover with an ez curl bar and a narrow grip, the long head is most heavily used whilst the lateral and medial heads are used moderately.

The Final Word on Tricep Training

The medial head of the triceps is regarded as the primary extensor of the elbow joint, and is accompanied by the lateral head. Due to the close proximity of the triceps insertion to the elbow joint, the triceps is principally used in speed rather than power movements. The data extrapolated from mri analysis is particularly useful in allowing you to determine exactly what exercises to use in order to stimulate a maximal contraction in all three heads of the triceps. In contrast, you can now choose exercises to target any particular weak points that have arisen from your current triceps training practices.

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