One of the most frequent questions asked by clients and members at Lucille Roberts is, “How can I tone up the back of my arms?” I often hear some women tell me they have given up on firming this area, known as the triceps. All muscle groups of the upper body should be trained regularly for symmetry, strength, and safety, as well as for aesthetics. The triceps area, the underneath and back (posterior) part of the arm poses unique challenges for women, especially as we grow older or lose large amounts of weight.
But there is hope!
This three-part muscle group can be defined; however, it is not easy. It requires knowledge of how and when the different heads of the tricep muscle are fatigued. That knowledge of course must be put into practice 2 times per week for optimal results. Many studies have proven that more anabolic (cell-building, muscle-toning) hormones are released when a smaller muscle group, such as the triceps, are worked with a larger muscle group in the same workout. Often athletes will work “splits”, like chest and triceps, but any larger muscle group—such as the glutes, thighs, or back—worked on the same day will result in an increase in tricep-toning hormones. So, try these exercises after an exhaustive lower body workout. You can also do this routine following a class like Total Body Workout, which emphasizes all of the muscles groups of the body. If you choose to mix it up, these exercises will have spectacular results in the tricep area in a few weeks—or less, for some women. After a hard workout, you may see an immediate “pump” in the muscle right away due to blood flow to the area. Let’s get started!
The 3 areas of the tricep are the lateral, long, and medial heads. The lateral head is the part which literally “pops” when properly developed. This tricep “dent” can be seen in the middle part of the upper arm, toward the back, known as the posterior view.
The long head literally encompasses almost the entire back of the upper arm. Its development is crucial when sculpting this area of the body.
The medial head, which lies deep underneath the other two areas of the triceps, is equally important for the ultimate formation of the triceps. When all three heads are developed properly, the definition of this area looks spectacular!
The long head of the triceps will not fully engage until its other two heads have been fatigued. Therefore, the order in which you perform the exercises is essential to maximize your workouts and to see the definition you desire in the triceps. The following workout will achieve that for sure!
Lateral Tricep Rope
This is an attachment for any cable machine and hits all three heads of the triceps, with a special emphasis on the “dent” on the side and back of the upper arm, known as the lateral head. Stand in front of the cable machine with the knees slightly bent, hips tilted forward toward the wall or mirror in front of you, and the rope positioned toward the top of the cable machine. Place one hand on each side of the rope, just above the rope’s two end knobs. Place your elbows at your waistline and keep them tucked in to your body throughout the entire repetition and until you are finished with your set. Do not let your elbows lift toward the ceiling or sides of the body. This will ensure emphasis on the triceps.
As you lower the rope, extend your forearms out toward the sides of your body, in a diagonal pattern with the hands and ends of the rope. You should be exhaling as you lower the rope and tightening or consciously engaging your abdominals as you do so. The gluteals (buttocks) should also remain tight as you lower the rope and exhale.
Do not lock out your elbows!
When you have straightened your arm completely, just before locking the elbow, begin bringing the hands back to the start position as you inhale. The hands should stop upon elevation at about chest level. Exhale as you repeat the downward, diagonal and outward movement again.
Remember that your triceps are potentially stronger than your biceps when trained efficiently. Start at a light to moderate weight that will fatigue you by 15-25 reps. After a 30-60 second pause, repeat another set at a weight that will fatigue the muscle after 8-12 reps. This varied range in terms of weight and repetitions will completely fatigue the lateral head of the triceps. Not only will you see more definition in the “dent” of the tricep, you will also be able to fully engage the long head of the tricep by working in this fashion. The entire back of the arm will achieve definition this way. The triceps will not “bulk” on a woman; they are not designed that way. Go as heavy as you can in the second set without compromising form. For some, this may be 15 pounds, for others 20 or 30 lb. Choose your level. For your last set, don’t rest: do a drop set for superior results by dropping the weight back down by 5 lb. and work to fatigue. Do 15, 20, or 25 repetitions, depending on your level of strength. Fatigue the area completely; you will know it when your triceps start to burn. If you are intermediate to advanced, work through that burning sensation by 2-3 repetitions, and use your abs for help as you grow tired.
Tricep Bar Press-Downs
This is another great exercise for developing all three heads of the triceps. Change the attachment to a straight bar once you complete all 3 sets. Turn up the heat on the triceps by varying your exercises with the tricep bar. Remember to keep your elbows tucked in to your sides during the entire range of motion. Keep the cable high at the attachment site and begin at about chest level.
Press the bar down as you exhale and tighten your abdominals and glutes. Your form is the same as with the tricep rope: bent knees, pelvic tilt forward in the hips. Press the bar all the way down, stopping just before you lock out the arms. Aim for the same type of rep ranges, 15-25 in the first set at a moderate weight. Pause and recover for about 30-60 seconds, then increase the weight and do fewer repetitions in the second set—8-12 reps should do the job. Then do a “drop set” for your last set. Don’t pause or recover here. Just lower the weight by about 5 pounds and work to fatigue. You should be able to squeeze at least 15 repetitions out on this set. If not, you can drop the weight again by 5 more pounds and do another drop set. Remember don’t pause in between when performing this type of set. A “drop set” has no recovery in between each set of repetitions. It makes for a super fatigued muscle group and amazing results. Experiment the weight ranges. Each woman is unique. You will get stronger and more defined as you continue to train hard and with proper form.
Overhead Tricep Extensions
Now you are ready to blast through the long head of the triceps. In order to do so effectively, you must stretch the long head prior to executing the contraction. This can be done by choosing an exercise that emphasizes the stretch of the long head as part of the exercise. I love the overhead tricep extension for this!
Begin by choosing a weight that will fatigue the area after about 15-25 repetitions. For some this may be 3-5 lb., for others 8-10 lb. Start low; you can always increase the size of your dumbbell.
Place the hand and thumb gently around the top of the dumbbell, and lift your elbow close to your head. Do not let the elbow protrude as you fatigue. Stop or go lighter with the weight if your form begins to suffer. Stand with the hips tilted forward, knees bent, and elbow close to the ear. Lower the dumbbell down toward the back of your body until you feel a stretch through the back of the upper arm. This is the long head of the tricep stretching.
Exhale and raise the weight as you tighten the abs and glutes. Stop just before you lock the elbow. Continue until the triceps are fatigued. Do 15-25 reps in this first set. Now, do the same as you have done in the prior two exercises: pause for up to 1 minute and change to a slightly heavier weight; complete 8-12 reps. Then drop back down to your lighter dumbbell, without pausing, and get 1 more “drop set” out of the exercise. Go until you are fatigued. Then switch sides and repeat.
Remember to exhale as you lift the weight while you simultaneously tighten your abdominals and gluteal area. You will definitely feel soreness in the area within about 48 hours as your muscles heal and tighten during this protein synthesis stage.
Repeat 2 times per week and follow with a LiveRite whey protein shake for maximum results. Or, have a meal that includes carbs and protein within 45 minutes of your workout to assist in muscle recovery and sculpting.
Enjoy your workout!
Trainer Tip by Sandra Ferrerio, certified LiveRite weight loss coach, trainer, and class instructor at Lucille Roberts in Yonkers. Read her full bio here.