Usually when people are looking to add mass to their arms, they would typically work on their biceps and do any and every curl exercise they can think of. This can be effective to a point, but if you’re looking to really add size and functional strength to your arms, training your triceps is the way to go.
To reiterate this point, take a look at how your arms are structured from a muscular standpoint. The triceps are a bigger muscle group than the biceps, so there’s more potential for growth and strength. Also, from a functional perspective, your triceps offer more usage in athletic and strength performance since they aid so much in fundamental mechanics like pressing, throwing, stabilization, and more.
As with any muscle group, there are endless amounts of exercises you can use to attack them to make them grow bigger and stronger. But as in most training scenarios, it’s usually most efficient to master the basics with small tweaks and variations adding icing to the cake.
To train your triceps, you can do extension work, horizontal pressing, overhead pressing, overhead extension, cable work, dumbbell variations, band/chain work, barbell exercises, and many, many more training techniques.
These are exercises that require you to hinge at the elbow joint, and create resistance as your arms reach full extension, causing tension in the long head muscles of the triceps surrounding the elbows. These exercises include the likes of skull crushers and kickbacks to name a couple. When used effectively, extension work greatly improves your overall pressing strength in the bench and overhead variations. When over utilized, extension exercises can start to put a toll on the elbows so tread carefully. Personally, I would train heavy extension exercises like skull crushers or overhead dumbbell extensions every couple of weeks with light extension work in between to keep the elbows strong and healthy. Light exercises would include cable or band extensions (20+ reps for 4-6 sets), which not only aid in joint health, but also promote hypertrophy.
Adding bands and/or chains to classic triceps exercises make feel like you’re using a cheat code in a video game. When you slap chains to the end of barbell skull crushers, you’re like, “how the hell did I not do this before?”. And if you don’t have access to chains at your gym, bands are just as good, if not better. They’re easy to carry in your bag and offer so much benefit to your training.
When you lockout and your arms reach full extension during exercises like dips, benching, and overhead pressing, your strength output relies on your triceps. With bands or chains, that lockout tension becomes greater and makes them work even harder. This translates directly to strength development and muscle hypertrophy. Period.
Dips are one of those exercises that people neglect because they don’t know how to do them properly and don’t want to look stupid, which is fair. But if you took the time to learn how to do them properly and felt how much stronger you get and how much muscle you can pack on, you’ll be laughing. As said earlier, there’s so many ways you can use dips in your training to target different areas of the arms and create a different stimulus for muscle growth. Russian dips and banded dips (seen below) are a couple of my favourite variations to use for myself and some of my more advanced clients.
As too much extension work can be harsh on the elbows, overuse of dips can be a toll on the shoulders so be wary and be sure to implement these exercises strategically into your programming. I would recommend no more than once per week (if that) when training for mass or strength.