Goal: Size, Strength
What is the best mass-builder out there for triceps? Some might argue that it's the skullcrusher because it targets the meaty, long head of the triceps. Some might be quick to say that it's the cable pressdown because it effectively isolates the tri's. Those people wouldn't be wrong but keep in mind that big muscle is built through progressive overload. While it's true that the long head of the triceps is most responsible for triceps size, it's one of only three heads and each must be targeted to ensure the most growth. And the pressdown? Well, intensity trumps isolation every time. So the answer lies somewhere between balance and big weight.
"The greatest exercise for size and strength of the triceps is without question the dip," says Phil Gephart, MS, CSCS, a Newport Beach-based (Calif.) trainer (www.newportfit4life.com) and exercise science professor. The dip hits all three heads of the triceps effectively but, he cautions, there are ways to get it right. And there are definitely ways to get it wrong.
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Go deep. One of the main goals on every lift should be to always use a complete range of motion. Still, Gephart says, many lifters naively choose to stop the dip at a point where their upper arms are parallel to the floor. "The old concept of going to parallel is just that -- old and antiquated," he says. "You want to go all the way down using a full range of motion. A healthy shoulder should be able to accomplish this task. So if there is pain or you're unable to go to the point where your biceps touch your forearm get your shoulder checked out."
Grip right. Some gyms have bars that taper to accommodate shoulder girdles of all shapes and sizes. This is a good thing. "While doing dips, your arms should be perpendicular to the ground which means your hand will be directly under your shoulder not narrower and not wider." Choose a width that allows for this hand placement. Going wider than shoulder width will unnecessarily strain your shoulders.
"Next time you work out your triceps, start with three to four sets of 8-12 reps with a four second negative followed by the quickest contraction you can perform," Gephart says. "If this isn't that intense, attach a weight plate to a belt for added resistance."
Adding resistance on the dip from week to week, while staying in those muscle-building ranges, will provide all the stimulus your triceps need to bellow out for summer. Follow the dip with your usual assortment of pressdowns, skullcrushers and kickbacks for a total-package routine. Sorry about your sleeves, by the way.