When the majority of people look to build bigger arms the focus tends to be on training the biceps 95% of the time. I may have just made that statistic up for in all seriousness most people touching weight for the first time will perform a bicep curl, there is something about bigger biceps and arm size that is ingrained in society.
What many don’t realise however is that if you want bigger arms, then targeting the triceps offers you the quickest route to get there. The triceps make up ⅔ of your upper arm size in comparison to the ⅓ that the bicep takes up.
Therefore if you really want bigger arms than what most people should really want is bigger triceps. It’s less glamorous than the biceps sure but the results will speak for themselves if you go from just wearing a t-shirt to filling out the sleeves of a t-shirt (big difference).
How long does It take to get bigger triceps? To get bigger and stronger triceps could take as little as 30 days to start to see results in terms of arm size however to add 1-2 inches to your upper arm and ultimately triceps will take 6 – 8 months of dedicated training.
This article will not only focus on how long it takes to get bigger triceps but also what you can do to speed up your tricep growth. Unless you are at an advanced training level with 3-5+ years of dedicated training then you best believe you have a lot of room to progress in the short term.
Anatomy of the Triceps
This section is going to be incredibly brief yet informative, if you’re reading this then you obviously want to grow your arms and are therefore more concerned with techniques and exercises and not an anatomy lesson.
It is important however, to have a very basic understanding of the anatomy of each muscle group so that you can choose exercises to specifically target them. A bench press with a narrow grip will place more tension on your triceps, this is good if you want to grow your triceps but not if you want to grow your chest!
As with most things in human anatomy there is nothing that is ever straightforward. Doing endless sets of tricep pushdowns will mean that you will only ever really get good at doing pushdowns.
The triceps, as the name suggests is made of up three heads, the lateral head, medial head and long head as demonstrated on the diagrams above. Each one has different insertion points and is therefore worked best through different ranges of motion.
The arms overhead will place more emphasis on the long head of the triceps while the arms by the sides will place more emphasis on the lateral head of the triceps. This is why I made the point that only doing pushdowns will mean that you only get good at pushdowns.
As promised that is all you need to know when it comes to tricep anatomy on a basic level, I’ll reference these heads with specific exercises so that when it comes to exercise selection you’ll have an awareness of what heads you might (and might not) be targeting for full tricep development.
How Long Does It Take to Get Bigger Triceps
When it comes to improving body composition and building muscle the key thing to note is that everyone has different genetics and will therefore respond differently to a stimulus. What works for one person will not necessarily work for you.
This is why I made the point of understanding anatomy, if you follow the program of a professional bodybuilder blessed in the top 0.1% of genetics on the planet (whilst also taking performance enhancing substances to boost results) then chances are this won’t work for you and you will waste quite a bit of time in the gym.
Following this approach could mean that you spend years getting bigger triceps. I’m also not knocking any programs out there, it’s more the point that you should understand the reasoning behind a program before following it.
Therefore if you follow specific advice that is well suited to your body type and individual characteristics then you can speed up your progress and start to see bigger triceps in 6 – 8 months.
Are Triceps Hard to Build
Triceps are a very active muscle group and whilst they are not considered to be a large muscle group the certainly have a lot of room for growth. As far as stubborn muscle groups go, triceps are relatively easy to build up.
The reason for this is that they have three heads that you can target and develop but also because they act as a secondary muscle group for heavy pressing on chest and shoulder based exercises. This means you can stimulate them not only directly but also indirectly.
My favourite statement to make is that a weighted dip (your body weight plus some plates on a weight belt) could easily see you training with 200lb+ of weight for this exercise. While triceps might not be the primary muscle group in this exercise a 200lb dip will do more for tricep growth than some direct training with a 25lb overhead dumbbell extension ever will.
That’s a bit of an extreme example but you can see my point, triceps will definitely be difficult to build if you avoid heavy and focus too much on isolation exercise. Heavy weight and progressive overload is pretty much the one key thing to building muscle.
How Fast Can You Build Your Triceps
As mentioned, the rate at which you can grow you triceps will depend on a large range of factors which include:
- Training level and experience
- Muscle insertion points (the higher up a muscle attaches to a joint the more room for growth there is)
- Training program
In fact the list is quite endless when you look at all the factors than can contribute to muscle growth. For most people however you can expect to see some initial growth in the triceps within 1 – 3 months of direct and dedicated arm training and then more noticeable growth within 6 – 12 months.
The reason for this is that the initial direct training will be a shock to the muscle, you’ll fill the muscle with glycogen and water retention giving the appearance of a larger muscle and the initial shock to the triceps will create inflammation.
Therefore you can see noticeable growth in as little as 4 weeks but it’s important to note these results are not directly a result of muscle specific growth. This is also why you see programs claiming to put 1 inch on your arm in a short period of time.
It’s not that these programs are a lie but more to do with the fact that these rapid results are actually caused by inflammation and increased muscle glycogen stores.
Tricep Exercises to Target All Heads of the Tricep
This is the main part of this article and that is the exercises that will help you build up your triceps at a quicker rate.
There are no groundbreaking exercises here, the basics will have the most significant impact on tricep growth but I’ll also make sure to provide some exercises to ensure that you work all three heads of the tricep.
Two of these exercises are compound exercises and three are isolation exercises, focusing on getting stronger in the compound exercises and focusing on creating as much tension and metabolic stress on the isolation exercises will reap results.
A combination of these things will add 1-2 inches to your upper arms within a year of training, it may not be the 30 day magic fix but real and long term results can rarely be done overnight!
Close Grip Bench Press
A close grip bench press is perhaps the ultimate tricep mass builder and it’s because of the amount of weight you can handle and the closest to a compound movement that you can get for the triceps.
Single joint exercises are isolation exercises, therefore a bench press regardless of hand placement will see movement at the elbow and shoulder joint meaning the pecs, anterior delt and tricep will be engaged to some degree during the movement.
The wider a grip and grip the less bench at the elbow meaning a higher chest activation and lower tricep activation. A narrow grip however at around 6 inches apart will place a greater load on the triceps and reduce the chest activation.
With this in mind, a close grip bench press is a compound exercise variant for the upper arms and should therefore be your number one exercise. You focus on this should be to get incredibly strong over time.
You will of course hit plateaus but I’d recommend that once you are struggling to lift more weight that you then go on to modify the exercise rather than changing it. The addition of chains and bands will mean that you can work back up to the same weight but challenging a different section of the strength curve.
Chains and bands will make the exercise more difficult towards the top of a rep which is usually where people find it the least challenging and have the least amount of resistance or muscle tension.
Another technique is to use a reverse banded approach in a power rack, here, the band will have more tension at the bottom of the rep which is a sticking point for a lot of people meaning you can have support where you are weakest and then press the heavier weight through your strongest section of the lift.
Finally it’s important to point out that the close grip bench will target all three heads of the tricep to some degree so if you only ever did one tricep exercise then I would choose either this or the dip for that reason.
The second exercise that you could class as a compound lift for the triceps is the dip and it’s for the exact same reason I gave for the close grip bench press. A dip works the multiple joints (shoulder and elbow) and multiple muscle groups (chest, anterior delt and tricep).
Again, as with the close grip bench you can modify the grip width of a dip to target a specific muscle group more than others, in this case an upright position with your arms shoulder width apart or narrower will target the triceps more.
You will also want to keep your knees behind you, the key here is to shift more of the weight distribution to the back of the body in order to make the triceps work harder. The only point to note is that you need to make sure you don’t lean too far back as this will place the shoulder joint under more pressure which we do not want for safety reasons.
Therefore upright or a very slight lean forward should be your positioning.
It’s also worth noting that I don’t think the dip is particularly game changing, after all it is just a bodyweight exercise and you would expect to build more muscle focusing on push ups over a bench press variation so why would you expect the same from a dip.
The difference of course being that you can add more weight to this exercise with a dipping belt, weighted vest or even just holding a dumbbell between your legs if you are limited with equipment.
The dipping belt means that you can take a body weight exercise and start to load it until you are adding 2,3, 4 or even 5 45lb plates to it. This is an extreme example but you’ll see people do this and my point earlier of a 200lb individual then adding some 45lb plates will mean an opportunity to load the tricep like no other exercise could.
Cable Rope Pushdowns
Cable rope pushdowns are great for targeting the lateral head of the tricep, the rope attachment is much better than straight bar attachment because it allows you to go through a greater range of motion. For more info on this you can check out my article on tricep pushdown attachments here.
The tricep is fully contracted with your elbows behind your body and therefore a rope will allow you to bring your arms further back whilst the cable provides constant tension.
Even the rope on it’s own is quite restrictive and therefore I’d suggest using an XL rope attachment or using two ropes in the same attachment to basically create your own XL rope.
You are of course limited in the weight you can use with the rope attachment and should therefore focus on increasing the time under tension with slow eccentrics and higher reps. Again nothing fancy here and a great follow up exercise after your heavy compound lifts.
Cable Overhead Tricep Extensions
An overhead extension is where many people fall short in their tricep training. The overhead variation places greater stress on the long head of the tricep which also happens to be the largest of the three heads.
Therefore neglecting this muscle group will mean that you are leaving plenty of gains on the table when it comes to getting bigger triceps and therefore you will also have the most growth potential once you start to focus on this.
While many feel a skull crusher or french press are better exercises for the long head of the tricep I prefer to take a more cautious approach because it’s also these exercises that tend to cause people the most elbow pain when training triceps.
Place this exercise towards the end of your training as this will mean your elbow joint is warmed up and will be better prepared for the exercise. As with the rope pushdown, a focus should be on creating tension here rather than on weight so try to follow the similar principles for progression.
While the cable is my preferred option you could also use a dumbbell or barbell for your overhead extensions but the added tension throughout the exercise provided by a cable is what makes it my preferred option.
Underhand (Reverse Grip) Cable Pushdowns
Finally, and underhand cable pushdown will place more emphasis on the medial head of the triceps. This is the smallest head of the tricep but that is not a good reason to ignore it completely in your training.
A reverse grip will of course mean that you are severely limited in the total weight you can use for this exercise and when targeting such a small muscle group it would make the most sense to finish with this exercise in a tricep workout.
I’d be cautious of using this exercise alongside a rope pushdown due to the similarity of the two exercises and therefore it would be best to rotate these exercises and do one on your first workout and the other on your second workout as a form of rotation.
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