WSBB Blog: Tricep Focused M.E. Upper for Strength Athletes

WSBB Education
Fri Jan 07, 2022

Building upper body strength is essential for any strength athlete, no matter which strength sport you participate in. To be competitive in your sport, you will inevitably have to be able to press heavy weights, both in the bench press and the overhead press. At Westside Barbell, we have developed many great bench and overhead presses over the years through max effort and dynamic effort upper workouts.

If you understand the Conjugate Method, you know that we use max effort workouts to develop absolute strength and dynamic effort workouts to speed-strength and explosive power. The combination of these two methods creates lifters that can press heavy weights and do it explosively. Pressing a heavy barbell requires a few specific muscle groups to be adequately trained, such as the triceps.

No matter if you are a powerlifter focused on adding pounds to your bench press, or a strongman looking to improve your overhead press, you’re going to need to have a strong set of triceps. To accomplish this goal, you will need to have the necessary knowledge to construct Conjugate programming that targets the triceps. Below, we will go over what a basic triceps-focused max effort upper workout includes.

Main Exercise

When focusing on the triceps, there are many exercise options. A few of our go-to exercises at Westside Barbell include the close grip bench press, football bar press, axle bar press, and close-grip incline press. To enhance the tricep-focused training effect, athletes can add bands and chains to the barbell. By adding bands and chains, you will expose the triceps to an extended optimal contraction time when locking out the weight.

Sets and reps will typically follow the normal max effort parameters, meaning you should be working up to a max effort single to beat your previous exercise-specific PR. If an athlete needs to increase muscle mass or further develop strength endurance, athletes can utilize multiple sets or top sets of three to five reps. However, more often than not, you should be pressing for max effort single reps.

Accessory Exercises

Ultimately, your accessory exercises will have the most significant impact on your ability to develop top-tier tricep strength. This is due to the tricep-focused accessory exercises laying the groundwork and building the muscle mass needed to increase the triceps’ absolute strength capacity. It’s simple, bigger triceps aren’t always stronger triceps, but bigger triceps always can become even stronger triceps. Mass moves mass, so you need to grow big arms if you want to develop a big press.

To accomplish this goal, we use a few different exercises regularly. The first exercise we like to use is the JM press. These are typically used as a main accessory exercise, meaning the first accessory exercise that is performed after the main exercise. The typical rep range for JM presses is five to eight reps, working up to or performing multiple sets using the heaviest weight we can while completing all sets and reps.

The second tricep-focused accessory exercise we utilize regularly is rolling dumbbell tricep extensions. This exercise is similar to performing a skullcrusher with dumbbells, the difference being we allow an increased ROM for the dumbbells allowing the weight to “roll” to the ears extending the overall stretch experienced by the triceps at the elbow. The typical rep range for this exercise is twelve to fifteen; however, you can occasionally perform AMRAP sets. This exercise develops powerful triceps while also helping prepare the distal triceps tendons for heavy barbell pressing.

The third and final tricep exercise we use to train the triceps is the tricep floor press. This exercise is performed by lying on the floor, placing a loaded barbell above your head at arm reach so you can move the barbell into a position that allows the triceps to move the barbell. From there, you will perform tricep extensions starting from a “dead” position. Starting the barbell in motion from a dead stop position requires a powerful triceps contraction, simultaneously increasing tricep strength and explosiveness. This exercise is typically performed for eight to ten reps, with each rep being brought back to a dead stop before beginning the next rep.

By focusing on strengthening the triceps, you will prioritize the development of what may be the most important muscle group when it comes to barbell pressing. It’s simple, without strong triceps, you will struggle to move and lockout heavy barbell weight. We recommend programming one or two max effort upper exercises per month, focusing on tricep strength development. For more information regarding how we program max effort upper exercises, please visit the Conjugate Club.

Works Sourced:

Supertraining; by Dr. Mel Siff

Science and Practice of Strength Training; by Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky and Dr. William Kraemer

Westside Barbell Book of Methods; by Louie Simmons



Tags: Powerlifting, Accessory Exercises, Triceps