When Conan the Barbarian was released in 1982, every man and boy wanted muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He had thick legs, a flat stomach, a barrel chest and massive arms. The look of massive arms comes from large triceps.
When the camera zoomed in on Arnold’s arms in the movie, his triceps had the coveted “horseshoe” definition, which comes from the different heads of the triceps muscles. These three heads are the long head, the lateral head and the medial head. The medial head of the triceps is not part of the “horseshoe” definition.
The long head of the triceps (on the inside of the arm) extends from the shoulder to the elbow. It moves the arm towards the body, which is why the long head may burn during pull-ups or pull-downs.
The lateral head of the triceps is the one that “pops out” on the outside of the arm. It straightens the arm. The lateral head is short. It begins at the shoulder and extends a little less than halfway down the arm. A tendon runs from the lateral head to the elbow.
This triceps tendon is the reason the “horseshoe” can be seen. No matter how much weight is lifted, this tendon stays flat. The lateral and long head of the triceps grow on either side of it, with a strict defining line between the two.
How does one achieve this definition? This occurs from presses and arm extensions with seemingly infinite variations. The elbows should be tucked in close to the body during nearly all triceps exercises.
A popular triceps exercise is the cable pushdown. This exercise can be completed with a short or long bar with palms facing the floor. Pushdowns can be completed with an underhand grip or with a neutral (palms facing each other) grip. The neutral grip pushdowns are usually completed with a rope. If one arm is stronger than the other, grab a single handle and perform pushdowns one arm at a time.
The “skullcrusher” is another popular triceps exercise. Skullcrushers can be completed with a straight barbell, an E-Z curl bar or dumbbells. These arm-extending exercises can be done seated, lying or standing. Seated arm extensions put the most stress on the lower back, while standing is the most effective way to get the core involved.
Dips are perhaps the most popular triceps exercise. Again, dips have many variations, depending on fitness level. The easiest way to complete a dip is to sit on the edge of a bench. Place your hands on the bench (behind back) with feet on the floor and knees at a 90-degree angle. As fitness level increases, the legs can straighten or even be elevated with weights placed on the thighs. A person with a high fitness level can perform dips on a dip stand with parallel bars. The advancement would be to add weight while wearing a dip/pull-up belt.
If triceps are a weak point and need size, perform all pressing movements with a close grip. Do not use a wide grip when performing bench press or military (overhead/shoulder) presses. This ensures the arms must straighten, using the triceps.
Whether the exercises are pushdowns, skullcrushers, dips or even kickbacks, make sure they remain anaerobic. This means that tension should be on the muscles at all times. Do not “lock out” the elbows. Do not rest between repetitions.
Work hard. Eat right. Perform these exercises once every week to five days, and the “horseshoe” definition will be there in no time.
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