It’s been a while since I’ve written a Vs post. I kind went off on a much longer than anticipated look into the factors of muscle growth in my latest ABC’s of muscle growth series. I learned a lot more than I thought I would and have since employed the strategies I suggested into my own training. It still amazes me that after all of the years of research I’ve personally undertaken that there is still so much more to learn. If you are interested in building your muscles to their maximum then that series will go a long way into getting your training headed in the right direction, regardless of how you feel about your current progress.
Today I’d like to look at the muscles of the triceps and see what can be concluded when it comes to choosing the ideal muscle stimulating exercise or exercises. I chose dips, close grip bench and skullcrushers as those three make up the most often used mass builders for the area that makes up a full two thirds of our upper arm mass. The ‘proof’ of the exercises effectiveness I took from an MRI study called Target Bodybuilding by Per A. Tesch, Ph. D. Tesch looked at a variety triceps exercises and through magnetic resonance imaging was able to see which muscles were activated. According to Tesch, the MRI is more reliable than the typical EMG testing as an EMG measures the electrical activity within the muscles whereas an MRI allows for an almost literal look at what the muscles are actually doing during each exercise. Although no one has been able to explain why the muscles that are heavily relied upon during an exercise appear lighter and muscles that are less activated appear darker, this makes an MRI an ideal measuring tool for any given exercise upon the muscles that are used.
Seeing as every guy and probably most women want to possess a formidable set of arms (right after asking how much you bench, the next measure of your gym prowess is in the size of your guns) I thought the triceps exercises best suited to building muscle need further investigation. Seeing as the triceps are made up of three heads, hence ‘tri’, not all triceps exercises will be equal. There always has to be a ‘best’ one. The three exercises in today’s Vs battle will hit all three of your triceps heads, and if you did all three each and every triceps workout you really wouldn’t need to do much more. Of course training with cables will always be a favorite of any arm trainer so that needs a smaller place in your program, but we aren’t talking about cable training or building a pump today.
Because the triceps muscles are three separate heads, it can be of benefit to learn which exercise hits which head best. The three heads are the lateral head (the one that you notice most on your outer arm), the medial head (located under the long head), and the long head (the largest of the three that is on the inner part of your arm). Now that we’re all caught up with the anatomy, let’s look at what Tesch saw in those MRI results.
First, let’s start with skullcrushers. Performed lying on a flat bench with and EZ Curl Bar, the muscle that was targeted most effectively was the long head, and much less so the lateral and medial head. When it comes to the close grip bench press, the opposite was true in that the medial and lateral head were effectively activated and the long head was not, meaning that pairing these two exercises together will work all three heads very well. Or…you can just do parallel dips. All three heads were maximally activated during this exercise. Bench dips were also found to have the same results. In this Vs battle, the clear winner is the dip of either variety.
Now, if I can go completely in another direction in the interests of your training, I found another study when researching for this article and it had some, well, surprising results. Many, many triceps exercises were performed to determine which best activates the triceps and the clear winner was…triangle push-ups. Yes, really. Second? Dumbbell kickbacks. What does this mean for you? It means keep doing the big muscle builders, like close grip bench, skullcrushers and of course dips of either variety and instead of going straight to the cables when you’re ready to move on, try including some triangle push-ups as a finisher and add in some kick backs as well. After all variety is never a bad thing and why not try something new next time you train? Doing what you’ve always done will yield the same results you’ve already gotten. It’s time to make some new gains. Until next time my friends,