Athlean-X founder Jeff Cavaliere C.S.C.S. is back with another video from his recent popular series where he ranks exercises for specific body parts from worst to best. He’s previously ranked butt exercises, chest exercises, calf exercises and ab exercises.
Next up: triceps. He breaks down the 16 exercises from least effective to most effective, categorizing them as Worst, Better, Better Still, Almost Best, and Best. The moves are ranked according to three criteria: ability to create overload, if it hits the functions of the muscle in question, and if it’s safe.
You’ll want to take some notes—and consider excising some movements from your typical workout routine.
1. Standing DB Powerbombs
“Not only does it place your shoulder joint at increased risk of injury due to the weighted internal rotation that you must assume to get in position to do the move, but it also doesn’t give the triceps the best stretch possible,” says Cavaliere. “You literally have to get into internal rotation at the shoulder in order to place the dumbbell behind your head… and good luck not hitting your head on the way up and down on every single repetition.”
2. Lying Crossface Extensions
While this move comes from Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, Cavaliere is not a fan.
“The position of the arm during the movement is the starting position for the Hawkins Kennedy impingement test…too much internal rotation,” says Cavaliere. “Even though it’s not weighting the internal rotation, there are simply better ways to load elbow extension.”
3. Bench Dips
“It’s simply the fact that while the exercise may be of good intention, execution is often bad,” says Cavaliere. “When you place your hands forward on the bench, as many of us do (including myself many years ago), this places your shoulder into a vulnerable position. You’re literally throwing the head of the humerus into the anterior shoulder capsule on descent of every rep. (However, if you make the modification of turning your hands outward and getting your chest back, you will get the external rotation you’re after.) But the fact is, many of us don’t perform it this way.”
He also notes that this move is also referred to as the ‘rotator cuff ripper’. (Yikes.)
4. Rope Pushaways
“The rope pushaway fails to be as effective as a triceps exercise as possible due to an issue with the physics of the movement,” says Cavaliere. “In order to maximize the force applied to the muscle you are working you want to maintain a perpendicular line of force to the forearm. This move however forces the forearm and the cable into a parallel position, meaning not a lot of resistance on tricep in peak contraction state.”
He also notes it’s a move based on momentum, which take away from the tricep exercise.
5. Basic Triceps Pushdowns
“The basic pushdown has some of the same limitations with the physics of the movement,” says Cavaliere. “While the tension is high at the start of every rep, it declines as you approach the fully contracted triceps position at the bottom.”
And this move also may start to incorporate the chest due to the position your elbows are in (flaring), which will take effort away from the triceps.
6. Diamond Cutter Pushups
“Diamond Cutter pushups are often times too remedial to provide a growth stimulus (unless they are being done as a high rep metabolic exercise at the end of a hard chest or push workout),” says Cavaliere.
For a lot of guys, there is a lack of stimulus if you can do too many of these.
“If you can bang out 30 or 40 diamond cutter pushups, or even 25, you’re simply not being challenged enough to get the gains,” says Cavaliere. “The hand position is also going to keep your elbows out in front of your body, which is going to limit the activation of the tricep long head. The hand placement can also be an issue for those with wrist mobility issues.”
7. Cobra Pushups
“Cobra pushups are a harder version of the basic diamond cutter pushup and give you that long head engagement that makes their ability to stimulate triceps growth even better,” says Cavaliere. “You can see that we place ourselves a little bit more forward, and we’re finishing in a position with the arms tightly tucked to our sides and more into extension relative to our torso.”
This also takes the chest out of the equation, so the brunt of the exercise hits the triceps. Plus, the hand placement is better for any wrist mobility issues.
8. Reverse Grip Triceps Pushdowns
“The reverse grip pushdown sets up the long head for better stimulation making it a preferred option, even though you have to potentially use less weight, ” says Cavaliere. “Any time we extend the elbow, we’re going to hit the medial lateral head of the triceps. If we can get more adduction, more tightly tucked to our sides and more extension, the more long head activation.”
9. Overhead Rope Extensions
“The overhead rope extension fixes the physics limitations of the triceps pushaway,” says Cavaliere. “Instead of targeting some point out in front of you, you should be targeting some point up above you in terms of the finished position. We finish as perpendicular to our forearm with that cable. “
10. JM Press
“The JM Press (named after JM Blakely) utilizes some momentum and a moving arm during the exercise to make it one you are able to load up on better. “It’s a cross between a skull crusher and a closed-grip bench press,” says Cavaliere.
But with this move, you target your shoulders rather than your forehead, allowing the arm to float in space to accommodate the dumbbell path, creating momentum which allows you to push a little more weight.
If you feel any discomfort in the elbow or wrist during this move simply switch to a dumbbell for a neutral hand position,” says Cavaliere.
11. Triceps Kickbacks
“This move allows the triceps to reach a completely contracted state, meaning all three heads (medial, lateral and long head) are engaged to get the elbow back behind the body,” says Cavaliere.
12. DB Incline Power Bombs
The incline makes this move a winner, according to Cavaliere.
“The dumbbell no longer even comes close to hitting the back of our head or neck on the way down, and the elbow position is key… we can get them out in front of our body, alleviating any concerns I had about position of the shoulders. We’re getting externally rotated now rather than internally, which makes a big difference,” he says.
13. Rocking Pushdowns
“With the rocking pushdown, we can actually come as close to the line of resistance remaining perpendicular,” says Cavaliere. “We start with it perpendicular to our forearms, and as we lean back we pull back with the arms, which maintains the same relationship with the cable to the forearm. A traditional pushdown gets a little easier as the arms reach full extension, which is the exact moment you don’t want it to get easier.”
14. Weighted Upright Dips
This is one of the better ways to overload the triceps, according to Cavaliere.
“If you lean too far forward, you’ll place too much of the work on the chest. You want to maintain as upright and tall of a torso as possible, so that as you go down and stop at that important 90-degree position which maintains the safety of the shoulders, you’re going to be pushing back up with force primarily from the triceps,” says Cavaliere.
He notes it’s a great exercise to strap weight around your waist to keep load coming.
15. Close Grip Bench Press
Cavaliere likes this move because of its overload options.
“Yes, the chest and shoulders will certainly be contributing to the movement, but the closer hand positioning certainly shifts the load in favor of the triceps, and the chance to push them to their limits,” says Cavaliere.
16. Lying Triceps Extensions
“The starting position of this exercise allows us to recruit the long head of the triceps that the closed grip bench press simply does not do as good of a job on,” says Cavaliere. “And because we finish in the same position, the medial and the lateral head are still getting a heavy workload.”
He notes if you do with with an EZ bar or a set of dumbbells, you’re going to be able to reap the benefits of the exercise without having to worry about any strain on your wrist.
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