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When it comes to building bigger arms, training triceps is key: the triceps comprise about two-thirds of the muscle in your arm, and are the largest muscle on the back of your upper arm. Well-developed triceps will provide girth to the upper arm and give you bigger looking arms. Activation of the triceps muscle occurs during forearm extension (straightening the elbow joint). One of the best triceps exercises is rope extensions, which activate the entire triceps, and preferentially activates the outer (lateral) part of the triceps muscle. This exercise will provide constant tension and improve both the strength and stamina of the fibers of your posterior arm.

Structure and Function

As its name implies, the triceps brachii has three parts (tri = three), or heads (ceps = heads). The lateral head of the triceps brachii creates the lateral or outer part of the “U” horseshoe shape of the triceps. It originates from the posterior part of the humerus starting about two-thirds of the way toward the shoulder joint and stopping short of the shoulder joint. As you move from the proximal (closer to the mid-line of the body) part of the humerus toward the elbow, the muscle belly of the lateral head of the triceps gradually forms a tendon and joins the tendons from the other triceps heads to form a common triceps tendon.

Some people have a short triceps tendon and the triceps muscle belly appears to extend all the way to the elbow. Others have a relatively long triceps tendon that gives them a more “peaked” triceps, but a short muscle belly. The triceps tendon inserts into the olecranon (a large club-like end that forms the “point” of the ulna at the elbow). Thus, the only function of the lateral head of the triceps is to extend the forearm at the elbow joint (i.e., to straighten the forearm from a bent position). The lateral head of the triceps becomes activated at medium resistances. It’s not very active when resistances are low, but this muscle is recruited much earlier and at lower intensity levels than the long head of the triceps, so you do not need superhuman resistances to activate the lateral head of the triceps brachii.

The long head of the triceps brachii (often referred to as the “inner head”) begins on the scapula (shoulder blade), just inferior to (below) the head of the humerus at the shoulder joint. It attaches to the olecranon via the common triceps tendon. Because this muscle belly crosses the shoulder joint posteriorly, the arm should be moved posteriorly into shoulder extension (i.e., arms and elbows back) to fully activate this muscle head.

The medial head of the triceps brachii lies deeper than the other two heads of the triceps. It encompasses two-thirds of the upper and posterior part of the humerus bone. It’s thick further up the arm toward the shoulder and provides depth to the curved “U” part of the horseshoe. It has a shorter muscle belly than the other heads and this gives the hollowed-out center part of the horseshoe near the elbow. Similar to the other heads of the triceps, the medial head attaches to the olecranon by the common triceps tendon.

The triceps muscle also plays an important role in almost every sport and it’s critical to your success, aside from its central role in developing big arms. For example, if you have ever played the position of a football lineman even in a non-contact game, your triceps muscles, along with your chest and shoulders, provided you with the necessary thrust to push your defensive opponent away from the quarterback. The triceps is as important a factor in successfully throwing a football, cross-country skiing, making an overhead serve or a backhand stroke in tennis, as it is to making a throw to home plate. It’s not that your biceps are along only for moral support, but the triceps muscles are critically important for success. 

Rope Triceps Extensions

1. Attach a rope to a hook on the cable of a pull-down machine or upper pulley station. Place your hands on the rope so they’re semi-pronated and no more than three to four inches apart. Your little fingers will be close to the knots on the rope and angled down toward the floor (the angle should be about 45 degrees) and your palms and thumbs will be angled upward. Bring your arms forward (shoulder flexion) so the back part of your elbows makes a line that sits just in front of your lower ribs.

2. Your elbows will begin with a 90-degree (or less) bend. Keep your elbows pointing toward the floor and your upper arms close to the sides of your body.

3. Press the weight toward the floor (extending your elbow joint), but stop just before your elbow is fully straight. The press downward (extension) should be done in a controlled, but forceful manner (about two seconds from the starting position to the near lockout).

4. As you reach the position where your elbow is almost straight, twist the inside parts of your hand (thumb side) downward, then out, so your little fingers rotate upward and the backs of your hands move closer to each other. Your elbows will move away from your sides a few inches to permit you to get your little fingers as high as possible while your elbows straighten.

5. At the bottom position with your elbow joints almost straight, tense your triceps muscles isometrically for a three-second count. This will really start to burn if you are not accustomed to it, so you may want to start with two-second contractions. If your hands contact your thighs on the extension, your elbows and arms are positioned too far posteriorly and should be moved forward even more on your next repetition.

6. The eccentric phase of the exercise is when you are returning the weight to the starting position. During this phase, the muscle is lengthening under tension. The elbow joint will move from a near straight to a flexed position (the beginning point should be with elbows bent to less than 90 degrees) as you control the lowering of the weight toward the weight stack. The eccentric phase should be about twice as long as the upward (concentric, shortening) phase of the lift. Take a full three to four seconds to reach the starting position with your hands at eye level. As you are lowering the weight, reverse your hand movements so your little fingers move from a rotated upward to a semi-pronated position pointing downward.

7. The lateral head is under tension from start to finish, but you should not rest more than a second before starting the next repetition.

8. You might not be able to complete the full extension on the final repetitions of the last set without help of a partner. If you prefer to train alone, you can do three or four partial repetitions, which will continue to contract the muscle fibers well into the fatigue zone.

Important Tips

The deltoid, pectoralis and rotator cuff muscles will contract during rope triceps extensions, but primarily as stabilizers. However, if you “cheat” and lean into the pushdown, your shoulder and chest muscles will become much more active.

Rope triceps extensions are primarily designed to stress the lateral (outer) head of the triceps, but the long (inner) head and medial heads will be active as well. The thick, long head of the inner triceps will not be particularly stretched and although active, it will be unloaded and not contribute as strongly as the lateral head to the rope triceps extensions. If the long head of your triceps is particularly weak, you might wish to choose another exercise to preferentially improve it (e.g., dumbbell French presses or lying triceps extensions).

The rope is much more difficult than a V-bar or a straight bar for the extensions. This is because the rope will permit you to turn your little fingers upward toward the ceiling as you roll the index finger side of your hands together and down toward the floor during the last two-thirds of each extension. This change will elevate your elbows out from your sides and further activate the lateral fibers in the triceps muscle near the elbow. Talk about a major burn! For those who cannot stand the heat, it’s time to move back from the furnace and take a water break. However, for the athlete who is strong of heart, the formerly flat lateral aspect of the posterior arm will be slowly pounded into thick, imposing triceps. In addition, the rope triceps extensions will provide greater strength and stamina, so the push-offs or arm extensions accomplished in your favorite sport will knock your ball out of the park, and you into the winner’s circle.


Alway SE, WH Grumbt, J Stray-Gundersen and WJ Gonyea, Contrasts in muscle and myofibers of elite male and female bodybuilders. J Appl Physiol, 67:27-311, 1989.

Costantino C, Vaienti E and Pogliacomi F. Evaluation of the peak torque, total work, average power of flexor-estensor and prono-supinator muscles of the elbow in baseball players. Acta Biomed Ateneo Parmense, 74: 88-92, 2003.

Gribble PL and DJ Ostry. Independent co-activation of shoulder and elbow muscles. Exp Brain Res, 123:355-60, 1998.

Liu Y, Schlumberger A, Wirth K, Schmidtbleicher D and Steinacker JM. Different effects on human skeletal myosin heavy chain isoform expression: strength vs. combination training. J Appl Physio,l 94: 2282-2288, 2003.

Mayhew JL, JS Ware, RA Johns, MG Bemben. Changes in upper body power following heavy-resistance strength training in college men. Int J Sports Med, 18:516-20, 1997.

Page C, Backus SI and Lenhoff MW. Electromyographic activity in stiff and normal elbows during elbow flexion and extension. J Hand Ther, 16: 5-11, 2003.

Vincent KR, Braith RW, Feldman RA, Kallas HE and Lowenthal DT. Improved cardiorespiratory endurance following 6 months of resistance exercise in elderly men and women. Arch Intern Med, 162: 673-678, 2002.

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By: Stephen E. Alway, Ph.D., FACSM
Title: Want Big Arms? Blast Triceps
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Published Date: Fri, 18 Feb 2022 14:58:51 +0000

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Ripped Leg Blast for Carved Thighs



Powerful and thick thighs require gut-busting exercises like squats and leg presses. However, once you have acquired adequate thigh mass and strength, you should consider adding some balance and sharpness to the muscle bellies in your thighs. Although tough to accomplish, leg extensions provide a great way to carve the separations between the muscle bellies, and to accentuate the “teardrop” shape of the four quadriceps muscles of the anterior thigh.

Active Muscles in Leg Extensions

The three vasti muscles comprise most of the anterior thigh.1 The vastus medialis covers the medial (inner) part of the femur bone (thigh bone). When it is well developed, it forms a teardrop-like shape over the medial side of the knee joint. The vastus lateralis muscle attaches to the lateral (outer) part of the femur bone. The vastus intermedius connects to the femur bone between the vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis muscles. The fibers of all three vasti muscles come together at the quadriceps tendon, which crosses the patella (kneecap) to attach to the tibia bone just below the knee.1

Together, the three vasti muscles extend the leg at the knee joint, although the vastus intermedius may be more fatigue resistant than the vastus lateralis.2 The vastus medialis oblique (VMO), which is a small part of the vastus medialis muscle, attaches to the medial part of the patella. It is thought to help the patella track properly during movement of the knee. Improper tracking can increase the likelihood for knee injury.

The vastus medialis and especially the VMO part of this muscle are primarily responsible for tibial rotation (rotation of the tibia bone of the lower leg on the femur) during knee extension. This rotation or “twist” has been shown to increase the activation of the VMO portion of the vastus lateralis even more than doing knee extensions with the hip adducted (thigh rotated so that the medial portion of the knee is facing mostly upwards).3 Dorsiflexion of the foot (moving the ankles so the toes are pointing towards your head) also increases the activation of the VMO by more than 20 percent.4 Likely this is because the dorsiflexor muscles stabilize the tibia during knee flexion and resist rotation of the tibia on the femur as the knee straightens.

The fourth muscle of the quadriceps group is the rectus femoris muscle. It attaches to the anterior part of the hip bone just above the hip joint.1 The largest bulk of the muscle fibers are located on the upper three-quarters of the thigh, whereas the largest belly of the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis are more inferior (i.e., closer to the knee). The distal end of the rectus femoris muscle becomes tendinous and it creates a deep valley between the lateral and medial vastus muscles as it approaches the knee.1 It assists the other quadriceps muscles by extending the leg at the knee joint, although it is less effective when the hip is flexed than if it is straight.

Leg Extensions

The three vastus muscles of the anterior thigh are strongly activated by single-leg knee extensions. The rectus femoris is not activated as strongly, but it does undergo some overload when the anterior thigh is under contractile effort, about halfway up to the top of each repetition.

1. You should always warm up your knees with some stationary cycling prior to getting into leg extensions. Furthermore, the resistance on your first set should be fairly light to allow the joint to fully warm up before you get to the heavier stuff.

2. Adjust the knee extension machine so that the pivot point of the lifting arm is directly adjacent to the center of the side of your knee joint.

3. Position the ankle roller/leg pad over the lower part of the leg (above the ankle joint).

4. Take about three seconds to slowly extend (straighten) both leg so that the weight is lifted upward from the stack.

5. Continue upwards until the tibia and the femur bones form a straight line and the knee angle is straight. Hold this for two seconds at the top.

6. Slowly lower the weight (about four seconds down) towards the starting position. Once the knee has reached 90 degrees, start the upwards extension phase again. Continue for 12-15 repetitions for the first set. Lower the number of repetitions but increase the resistance for subsequent sets.

7. On the next sets, lift the weight upwards until the knee joint becomes almost straight, but just slightly short of a total knee lockout. Be careful that you do not “jam” the knee joint into a fully locked out position, because this could cause knee cartilage damage5, especially with heavy weights. Hold the top position for a count of three before lowering the weight.

8. Lower the weight slowly (four to five seconds) towards the starting position where your knee is flexed to 90 degrees. Just before the weight stack contacts the remaining plates at the bottom, start lifting it upward for the next repetition.

The downward movement should be slower than the upward phase because you are resisting the pull of gravity. The slow lowering of the weight stretches the muscle under a resistance and this is a great stimulus to improve muscle shape and size.6

Make sure that you do not hold your breath during the lift upwards.7 Rather take a breath at the bottom (start) of the lift, and exhale as you extend the knees/legs. Take another breath at the top and slowly exhale as the weight is lowered. Take another breath at the bottom and repeat the sequence.

This is a mechanically simply exercise, but it really can be very challenging and blood depriving8,9, especially if you try to control the weight as it is moving up and down. However, if you are willing to work through some discomfort, you will be soon enjoying your new shape and slabs of carved thighs.

GettyImages 674163248 600


1. Moore K.L. Clinically Orientated Anatomy. Third Edition. Williams & Willkins, Baltimore, 1995; pp 373-500.

2. Watanabe K, Akima H. Neuromuscular activation of vastus intermedius muscle during fatiguing exercise. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2010;20:661-666.

3. Stoutenberg M, Pluchino AP, Ma F et al. The impact of foot position on electromyographical activity of the superficial quadriceps muscles during leg extension. J Strength Cond Res 2005;19:931-938.

4. Coburn JW, Housh TJ, Cramer JT et al. Mechanomyographic and electromyographic responses of the vastus medialis muscle during isometric and concentric muscle actions. J Strength Cond Res 2005; 19:412-420.

5. Senter C, Hame SL. Biomechanical analysis of tibial torque and knee flexion angle: implications for understanding knee injury. Sports Med 2006;36:635-641.

6. Alway SE, Winchester PK, Davis ME et al. Regionalized adaptations and muscle fiber proliferation in stretch- induced enlargement. J Appl Physiol 1989;66:771-781.

7. Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2011;43:1334-1359.

8. Denis R, Bringard A, Perrey S. Vastus lateralis oxygenation dynamics during maximal fatiguing concentric and eccentric isokinetic muscle actions. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2011;21:276-282.

9. Ueda C, Kagaya A. Muscle reoxygenation difference between superficial and deep regions of the muscles during static knee extension. Adv Exp Med Biol 2010;662:329-334.

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By: Stephen E. Alway, Ph.D., FACSM
Title: Ripped Leg Blast for Carved Thighs
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PRIMAL Preworkout



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PRIMAL Preworkout

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†These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This product is not
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By: Team FitRx
Title: PRIMAL Preworkout
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