I can’t tell you how many times I see people at the gym machining through skullcrushers, only to stand up between sets and rub their elbows. Other dudes can’t do any pressing exercises because their elbows are too banged-up to do anything.
It goes without saying that your triceps make up a large portion of your overall arm mass. Unfortunately, many lifters treat their triceps like an afterthought. Some guys only train triceps at the end of their workouts. Other guys stick to exercises that wreck their elbows and then wonder why they can’t bench press anything.
See, here’s the thing: Lots of guys train hard, but not every guy trains smart. Training smart means you’re picking the right exercises for YOU—not restricting yourself to what everyone else is doing. Smart training is especially important when you’re working around an injury, or avoiding a spot that has been giving you trouble. The goal is to get stronger and stay healthy, not beat your body up and force your joints past their limits. If an exercise feels like it’s stressing a joint too much, change things up—there’s always an alternative that can reduce pain while still challenging your muscular development.
Ready to change things up? Try these four triceps exercises. They’ll put less stress on your joints, but still tax your muscles plenty.
Close-grip barbell bench
The close-grip bench press is always a beast exercise, especially if you have shoulder issues. Moving your hands closer together on the bar—typically with the middle finger on the line between the knurling and smooth spot on the bar—will distribute the load more on your triceps and help you dial in your bench press form.
This exercise is money. It will keep you in a good shoulder position, target your triceps, and create tension across your entire upper torso (which is known as irradiation). The focus during every rep should be to drive the dumbbells together as hard as you can. Also, more time under tension should be utilized by making sure you lower slower than you press, i.e., lower under control and drive as hard as you can.
How to do it: Sit on the end of a flat bench holding a pair of dumbbells. Lie back and hold the dumbbells over your chest, arms extended, with the insides of the dumbbells touching. As you lower the weights toward your chest, press them together as hard as possible. When they reach your chest, lift the weights back up, still pressing them together. Keep the rep speed slow.
Crush-grip incline bench
Here’s the same crush grip exercise, but now we’re on an incline bench. Increasing the height on the bench will hammer your triceps and recruit your front deltoid muscles, without taxing your elbow joints. Keep your chest high, especially in the bottom of the lift, to ensure you don’t lose tension in the upper back.
Dips with chains
Very few exercises will pack mass on your triceps like dips. But here’s the problem: Dips can be very problematic for many lifters who have had a previous shoulder injury or a shoulder that isn’t working quite right. Solution: Use heavy chains. Chains for dips offers a unique solution for beat-up shoulders.
At the weakest part of the lift—the bottom—more of the chains are on the ground, meaning there’s less total weight on your body. As you drive to lockout, the chains come off the floor, increasing the total load. (Remember: The chain has weight.) This is the essence of accommodating resistance.