Help me work my triceps
January 16, 2014 5:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm having a hard time finding a routine that works my triceps as much as I'd like, so I'm turning to the hivemind for some input. I've looked through other questions on the site, but as always, have some special snowflake needs.

The specifics - female, late-30s, 5'9", 150lbs. I work out exclusively at home with either dumbbells or bodyweight and do not see that changing in the future. (So "go to a gym and use this machine" is not an option for me - however, if there is some sort of 'exercise band' option I'm not thinking of, I would be willing to try that.)

I have some wrist issues that allow me to do standard pushups (with pushup handles), but not triangle pushups. The issues also prevent me from doing chair dips.

Currently I'm doing the following upper body routine twice a week (Mon/Thu):
front raises (8lb dumbbells)
side raises (8lb dumbbells)
back extensions

I know that the triceps are difficult to work, and that my inability to do triangle pushups or chair squats is a limiting factor, but there has to be something that will help me build tricep strength.

I've tried various tricep exercises, but I never feel like I'm actually making progress. With everything else, I can feel the muscles working and feel it the next couple days. With the tricep work I've tried, it seems like I must be using other muscles or something, because I don't seem to feel anything either during or after.

Exercises I have tried and been unsatisfied with:
tricep kickbacks
seated tricep press
standing tricep extension

Please note: I am interested in strength building, not endurance, so I do low rep/high weight training. (I know 8lbs might not sound high, but for this delicate flower, it is.)
posted by dotgirl to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You might be able to isolate the triceps a little better by doing a lying tricep extension aka dumbbell skull crusher.

However, I would also point out the very real possibility that despite your delicate floralness, 8 lb is not heavy enough to work your triceps.

If you can obtain a barbell for use at home, another great tricep workout is a close grip bench press.
posted by telegraph at 5:49 PM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Soreness is not a particularly good measure of how effective an exercise is. Are you able to go up in weight consistently? Then it's working! I find with the little muscles, like biceps and triceps, any soreness I get is only right after I start a new routine and even then it's minor and goes away fast.

I like skullcrushers, but then I like kickbacks just fine, too. I'd try to attempt more weight and crank it up over a month or so until you plateau.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:57 PM on January 16, 2014

You really need to do triceps extensions (either standing or seated) but with much bigger weights. Based on your age and size, try starting with a single 20-pound dumbbell. Also, when you're doing the exercise, make sure your elbows are pointed forward, not flared out to the side.
posted by infinitywaltz at 6:07 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could also try doing pushups, but using your dumbbells as raised things you can grip. Here's a picture. This position may help with your wrist pain. You can hit the triceps harder by moving your hands closer together under the center of your chest, which is what triangle/diamond pushups do.
posted by kavasa at 6:48 PM on January 16, 2014

Do you have a bench you can lay across? do something like a skullcrusher with your shoulders supported - but with a twist. Do them overhead. So your calves are perpendicular to the floor your feet are on, your thighs and torso are horizontal, your upper arms are horizontal "over your head", and your forearms are pointed to the ground. Then straighten your arms so everthing except your shins is horizontal.
When you're done with a set of that, while you're still laying down, rotate your shoulders so your upper arms are tucked at your side and your fists are at shoulder level (so you're in somthing like a prone boxer pose). Keeping your palms away from your face as much as possible, push the weights *down* your torso - pretty much the same motion if you had a cable set up and were doing press downs, only on your back. Your elbows will raise some to support the weight, but that's ok. This exercise ties in your shoulders some, but the mental idea of pressing *down* really makes the triceps work.

The two of these - combined with feet-elevated chair dips, if you could figure out a way to not hurt your wrists - are pretty much all you need.
posted by notsnot at 7:14 PM on January 16, 2014

(basically the first exercise is the standing triceps press, only with your body rotated back 90 degrees. what this does is put the greatest tension at full contraction of the muscle, not at full extension.)
posted by notsnot at 7:17 PM on January 16, 2014

ExRx page for upper arm exercises, including the ever-popular DB kickback, which is different than the one you linked.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:32 PM on January 16, 2014

Tricep pushups. You'll be sore the next day, I promise. I'm not sure if the wrists will be an issue, but I don't think they're worse for that than regular pushups. You can also buy little plastic grips/stands for pushups that help for wrist pain.
posted by randomnity at 9:05 PM on January 16, 2014

You might be able to do chair dips with less wrist stress by putting your pushup handles on two chairs (with your body between the chairs).
posted by Aquinas at 10:07 PM on January 16, 2014

There's nothing quite like swimming for triceps. If you can't make it to a pool, you can mimic the motion at home with a resistance band. It looks something like this.
posted by susiswimmer at 11:20 PM on January 16, 2014

For decent bodyweight exercises, doing push-ups with your hands closer together (fingers touching) is very good for triceps and surrounding muscles. EDIT: Just realised randomnity said the same, I'll just second it here then :)
posted by bumcivilian at 3:20 AM on January 17, 2014

Also because I can't read about the wrist issues either (I'm having an off day), another good tip is to 'make' the weights you're using heavier. So if you're doing a tricep kickback, treat whatever dumbbell you're using as a heavy weight. Perform the exercise slowly, at least 5 seconds for each part of the move (more important to make the 'putting down' part slow, at least) and wait at least 1 second between each part, so momentum isn't involved. Keep the relevant muscles tense throughout the exercise, though don't tense them up so you'll strain yourself.
posted by bumcivilian at 4:41 AM on January 17, 2014

If you're training for strength, you need to use heavier weights. 8 lb isn't going to significantly disrupt homeostasis, which means it's not going to make your body build expensive muscle. This is what bench press is for, ideally with a bar. Yes, you'll work your chest muscles as well, but the much larger amount of muscle mass used is going to tell your body that adding muscle is warranted.

Bodybuilders do isolation exercises after spending a lot of time doing full-body lifts. Just whipping out set after set of tri kickbacks, single-arm lat pulldowns, etc. won't accomplish anything.
posted by disconnect at 6:48 AM on January 17, 2014

In my kickboxing dojo, we do overhead tricep extensions with a medicine ball.
posted by matildaben at 8:34 AM on January 17, 2014

why don't you like the kick backs ? Are you sure you're doing them correctly ?

At the kick-back (full extension, finish) your arm should be parallel to the floor, with the weight pointing up/down in your hand. Try to hold that for a second or two (one-one-thousand..), slowly bend elbow back down.

It's a great exercise, but I see plenty of folks do it incorrectly at the gym.
posted by k5.user at 8:54 AM on January 17, 2014

Is it possible that because of the wrist issues you have developed unusual ways of using your arms?

Any time you have an injury, you are at risk of doing things that appear normal and correct to the casual observer but are actually engaging your muscles in entirely different ways.

And unless you started this week, 8 pound sounds light to me. Either go up or dramatically increase reps.

Also also also - what are you going for? It's possible your triceps look great for your triceps, even if the don't look like Kate Bosworth's.

My most fit and lean thighs are still troll-like.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:56 AM on January 17, 2014

Best answer: My tricep workout is very much like the dumbell skullcrusher, except that I hold for a count of 10 at three different positions before I finish the rep. If you think of holding the dumbells striaght up as being 0 degrees, I lower them to about 10 degrees, count to ten, then lower them to 90 degrees, count to ten, then lower them to about my ears, and count to ten before raising back up to straight (0 degrees). That's one rep. I do four sets of 12 reps for this exercise.

My husband and I each have a copy of the Men's/Women's Health Big Book of Exercises, and the tricep exercise they recommend for men is the straight up skullcrusher move. When he saw what I had to do he was mightily impressed. ;)
posted by blurker at 11:17 AM on January 17, 2014

Response by poster: I just wanted to pop back in and thank everyone for the great input!

I wound up going with telegraphs "skull crushers", using an 8lb weight in each hand.

I definitely felt it activating my triceps in the way I was looking for, and when I next do my routine, I'm going to add blurker's suggestion of holding it at 3 different positions.

Once again, MeFi saves the day!
posted by dotgirl at 10:08 PM on January 17, 2014

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