Triceps often don't get the attention that biceps do, even though they have more muscle mass and require a more complex training approach. After all, three heads are better than two. But with triceps, you must tri and tri again to build this tricky muscle to its max. Too many bodybuilders make errors in exercise form or selection that keep them from reaching optimal development. In this month's troubleshooting tips, I'll address five of the most common mistakes made when training triceps and show you how to fix 'em. Now, let's get to it!
Not including a triceps exercise that places your upper arm in a raised position.
You really shortchange your triceps development if you always choose pressdowns, dips or kickbacks. The reason? Your triceps brachi is made up of three heads - long, medial and lateral - and the position of your upper-arm bone (humerus) dictates how the heads are recruited. Here's why: Your medial and lateral heads originate on your upper-arm bone and attach on the ulna, one of your forearm bones. This means these two heads are affected only by movements that take place at your elbow. Your long head, however, originates on your shoulder blade and travels down the back of your upper-arm bone to attach on your ulna. Therefore, the triceps long head is also recruited by movement taking place at your shoulder. Specifically, it assists in bringing your arm behind your body So what does that mean? Regardless of what's going on at your shoulder, your triceps medial and lateral heads will always contract whenever you actively extend your elbow, as does the long head. But the degree of emphasis your long head can contribute to extending your elbow ultimately depends on the position of your upper arm.
Because your long head is attached to your shoulder blade, the muscle is placed in a stretched position as you raise your arm above your head. Doing an exercise with your arm overhead, then, increases the long head's stretch. Conversely, the closer your upper arm is to your side, the less stretched the long head is and the less involved it becomes.
Whenever you train triceps, make sure to include an exercise that places additional stress on the long head of your triceps, such as an overhead rope extension, skullcrusher, seated dumbbell extension or incline french press.
Attempting to "isolate" the different heads of your triceps by varying your hand position.
Mechanically, no evidence supports the practice of varying your hand position to isolate the different heads of your triceps, such as during a rope or reverse-grip pressdown. In fact, supination (turning your palms up) is predominantly achieved by your supinator
Pushing down through your shoulders instead of extending your elbows.
The downward phase of a pressdown should more closely resemble an arcing motion, with your hands moving toward your thighs, than a pressing or pushing motion directly toward the floor. Here's why: The pressdown is intended to be a single-joint exercise, emphasizing your triceps. If you don't keep your elbows stationary you'll utilize other muscles to actively assist in the exercise, which can take away from your triceps involvement.
Specifically, as your elbows move forward, so do your shoulder blades. Your serratus anterior, the string of muscles that lie on the outside of your ribs, and your pec minor, the smaller and deeper pec muscle, are what accomplish this movement. Also, when your arms move away from your body, the exercise begins to resemble a press (think decline press). Sure, your triceps are working, but so are your front delts and pecs. Last, if you end a pressdown with your shoulders extremely depressed (total opposite of shrugged shoulders), your lower traps and, again, (located high on your forearm) and secondarily by your biceps brach and brachioradialis. Pronation (turning your palms down), on the other hand (no pun intended), is carried out by your pronator quadratus, pronator teres and brachioradialis.
Does this mean varying your hand position is wrong? Absolutely not! We all know that by focusing on contracting a specific muscle, you can, indeed, increase its involvement. Certain hand positions are more comfortable than others. When using heavy weight, however, mechanics almost certainly takes precedence and will ultimately dictate muscular involvement.
Since no direct mechanical link has been shown between hand position and triceps recruitment, your best bet is to use a grip that gives you the most wrist and hand comfort and stability when attempting to lift heavy loads. pec minor kick in to finish off the rep.
FIX IT AGAIN:
When performing a pressdown, begin by grasping a cable attachment with both hands, step back from the machine about 2 feet and lean slightly forward at your waist. Keeping your elbows at your sides, allow the weight to bend your elbows and draw your hands up. Don't try to stabilize your shoulders by tensing them in a shrugged position. Forcefully contract your triceps to extend your elbows and bring your hands down toward your thighs in an arc. Allow only minimal forward movement to occur at your elbows and don't attempt to press the weight farther down by pushing your hands toward the floor.
Not optimally emphasizing your triceps.
With the elbow below the body, three mistakes are occurring in the start and finish positions shown at left: 1) The range of motion in which your triceps have to lift the dumbbell against gravity is decreased. In other words, only toward the very end of the kickback will your triceps have to work really hard at extending your elbow. 2) What I said earlier about how the triceps long head assists in bringing your upper arm behind your body is relative here, too - keeping your upper arm far behind your body increases the work on your medial and lateral heads. Even though all three triceps heads contract when you actively extend your elbow, your long head can't contribute as much when it also works hard to keep your upper arm behind you. This exercise, then, emphasizes the medial and lateral heads. 3) During the negative (down) part of the exercise, when you bring your forearm from perpendicular to the floor to where it's depicted in the incorrect start, your biceps (not your triceps) does the work.
Holding a dumbbell at your side, maintain a straight back and lean forward at your waist until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Bring your upper arm behind your body as far as comfortably possible, keeping your forearm perpendicular to the floor. Forcefully contract your triceps to straighten your elbow and raise the weight. Make sure not to swing your upper arm or allow your torso to move during the exercise. Hold the weight at the top position momentarily, then slowly control the descent.
Positioning your hands too close together.
Says David Roskin, PT, clinical resource specialist at Duke University Medical Center Sports Medicine Clinic in Durham, North Carolina: "[With a close grip,] as you bend your wrist toward your little finger - called ulnar deviation - you're placing an overload on what's called the triangular fibrocartilage complex. This complex acts as a major shock absorber for two bones in your wrist - your triquetrum and lunate - and if you break down that complex, you're going to have some major problems." Roskin notes that the immediate type of injuries you can expect are tendon strains or possibly bone bruises. "Over time, you'll develop arthritic change because of the constant shearing forces and chronic inflammation," he warns.
The problems don't end at your wrists, however. Roskin adds: "By putting yourself so far out of alignment at your wrists, you're going to suffer [problems in other areas, too]. There's definitely compressive and shearing forces being placed on the ulna . . . and you'll probably get more stress on some of the tendons that cross your elbows, and more anterior stress at your shoulders [front of your shoulder joint]." FIX IT: When performing a close-grip bench press, position your hands about shoulder-width apart. Your wrists and forearms should be in alignment, which poses less threat of injury and offers you better stability to lift more weight.
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