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Triceps Hypertrophy Training Tips

by Dr. Mike Israetel, Co-founder and Chief Sport Scientist | Apr 19, 2017

Here are some helpful tips for your triceps training. Please note that these are averages based on my experience working with lots of clients and my own training. The recommendations here should be food for thought or places to start, not dogmatic scriptures to follow to the letter.

If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out the Training Volume Landmarks for Muscle Growth article. It discusses the theoretical and practical bases on which the upcoming recommendations are made. And if you love this info but want a bit of help in building your own workouts from the expert scientists at RP, check out the super popular Male Physique or Female Physique Templates.

MV:

If you’re doing plenty of compound pressing work, you might not need any direct triceps work to keep your gains. But 4 sets of direct work per week is a good insurance policy to cover most cases.

MEV:

Most intermediate-advanced lifters need at least 6 sets of direct triceps per week to make gains. However, you might be able to make gains in triceps size on even lower set numbers if your program has lots of pressing work for the chest and front delts.

MAV:

Most people respond best to between 10 and 14 weekly sets on average.

MRV:

Most people seem to encounter serious recovery problems above 18 sets per week. This is more likely to occur if and when your program also includes lots of compound pushing for the chest and front delts. So if your push training is minimal, you might comfortably be able to exceed 18 working sets of triceps per week, but if your push work is a big focus, even as few as 12 sets of triceps might be a challenge for some. ALWAYS use your own assessment of fatigue and never just assume you’re good to go for more volume no matter what.

Exercises:

The triceps are heavily involved in the chest and some front delt moves. Here we only list the very most triceps-dominant of those moves and the isolation moves. This heavy involvement of the triceps in pushing work is a big reason for why their volume requirements and tolerances are so much than those of say, chest or back training.

Skullcrusher
JM Press
Dips
Assisted Dips
Dumbbell Skullcrusher
Cable Tricep Pushdown
Cable Rope Pushdown
Bar Skull
EZ Bar Overhead Tricep Extension
Barbell Overhead Tricep Extension
Seated EZ Bar Overhead Tricep Extension
Seated Barbell Overhead Tricep Extension
Cable Overhead Tricep Extension

Frequency:

2-4 times per week.

The triceps are not a small muscle in relation to others, (they are much bigger than the biceps, for example), and are anatomically positioned to receive great mechanical stress from training. For likely these two reasons and some possible others, triceps can only be productively overloaded from 2 to 4 times per week, but not much more than that. VERY advanced (read: gigantic) lifters might only manage one triceps overload session per week and have their chest work to make up the other recovery session, but those individuals are VERY few and far between.

Intensity (Loading):

The triceps respond well to the full variety of rep ranges, but your chest and shoulder work should already be taking pretty good care of the high-force and lower rep ranges for triceps. Direct, isolation work for triceps should usually be 8 reps or more per set, and can go all the way up to 20 reps per set (and of course higher if metabolite training is the goal).

Variation:

Triceps can be stimulated from two (and possibly three) fundamentally different angles, which utilize and tax slightly different parts of the muscle. They can be trained in the horizontal direction (when standing) or the vertical. So for example, skull crushers would be horizontal and overhead EZ extensions would be vertical. Both kinds of movements need to be done in each mesocycle to get maximum growth, but of course not to the same extent. Just like with many other muscles, it’s possible to focus on one angle while working minimally on the other, and vice-versa.

If you’d like to throw another variant into the mix, vertical downward action can also be incorporated, typified by cable triceps standing extensions and dips. My view is that these movements can be rotated in with horizontal angle triceps work, but that’s by no means an open and shut case. If you want to rotate all three separately, by all means!

Range of Motion:

In almost every case in which someone complained to me that they couldn’t get a good triceps workout, their range of motion was the issue. Triceps looooove the stretch and because locking out the elbow is one of their primary functions in the human body, all of the reps you do should be locked out as well.

As you’ll see in the exercises videos above, skull maximum stretch at the bottom and a complete contraction are a BIG step in the right direction for triceps.

Special Metabolite Techniques:

Definitely a prime candidate for metabolite techniques, triceps can be supersetted, drop-setted and giant-setted. I’ve tried triceps occlusion training, but so far with nothing impressive to show for it. It might work for you, so feel free to give it a shot.

Supersets are a favorite of mine for triceps, and I’ve been using them for the better part of a decade. Just start with any triceps isolation move and do either a shoulder or chest press compound move (with a close grip) right after. Prepare to hurt!

Periodization:

Just like with most bodyparts, your first mesocycle should be moderate weights and reps. The next mesocycle can be more of the same with perhaps slightly different rep ranges and exercises, OR it can be a higher volume block that incorporates lighter weights (closer to the 60%1RM mark) and higher reps, as well as metabolite work. After that meso, a shorter (3-4 weeks) mesocycle of strength training (70-85%1RM) with lower volumes is likely a good idea to resensitize your muscles for more growth, at which point you repeat the process.

Sample Programming:

Special Notes:

A common mistake to avoid with triceps is the turning of isolation moves into compound presses. It’s something I’ve been guilty of myself, and it got me nowhere fast. When doing your triceps work, keep your elbows IN and don’t let them needlessly flare out to the sides so that the movement turns into a press. Yeah, you can’t use as much weight but your triceps will grow while your systemic fatigue will be lower than if you’d gone heavier for no added triceps benefit.