It’s strange that many trainees who desperately want big arms focus a lot of time on building the biceps and pay little mind to the triceps, not knowing about the lying triceps extension for big arms.
For those wanting huge arms, don’t forget about what you can’t see: the triceps! The triceps compose two-thirds of one’s arm.
If you’ve ever seen a guy with huge arms and thought, “I want arms like that!” recall exactly what it was you saw, and you’ll realize that most of the mass was behind the arm, not in front.
To grow big arms, consider the lying triceps extension. Even the weakest person can do these, unlike dips in which beginners will often struggle with just bodyweight only.
The lying triceps extension is the same exercise as the “skull crusher.”
Place an EZ bar behind a bench where your head will be once you lie on the bench.
Start out with a weight that you think won’t really challenge your triceps, but will be heavy enough to give you a firm idea of what this exercise is all about.
This is an introduction set; you can always use heavier weight in subsequent sets.
Lie on the bench. Feet may be on the floor or on the bench. Grab the bar where you find it most comfortable, as EZ bars provide a choice in hand placement.
Raise the bar out in front, arms straight and vertical. The grip should be overhand, palms facing away from you.
Do not let the elbows splay outward; they should be tucked in. This is the start position.
Lower the bar using elbow flexion only: The forearms bend while the upper arms remain vertical. The elbows stay in one place. This is crucial to isolate the triceps.
Bring the bar so that it barely makes contact with your forehead; don’t rest it there.
Now, return to the starting position. This can be thought of as a triceps press-down, except that your body is angled back 90 degrees.
You are pressing the weight back up, keeping upper arms vertical, moving only the lower arms: elbow extension. This is one repetition. Do as many reps as necessary to get the feel for this exercise.
As you begin using heavier weights, it may be better to have a partner hand you the bar, though it’s also possible to self-load heavy weight. If it feels like a hassle to do this, though, use a partner.
A common mistake is to shift the upper arms towards the face as one lowers the bar.
The upper arms must always stay vertical. Have a partner watch for this if you’re not sure you’re keeping the upper arms perpendicular to the bench.
By allowing them to drift towards your head, this de-isolates the triceps and gets more of the shoulders involved. Remember, this is essentially a “triceps push-down” angled back by 90 degrees.
Another potential error is letting the wrists flop as the bar is lowered. The hands should always be aligned with the forearms. For greatest recruitment of the triceps, use the narrowest grip possible.
Regular bar and cable. The lying triceps extension for big arms can also be done with a regular bar and with a cable machine, though with a cable machine it may be somewhat of a hassle to get in the right position.
Single dumbbell. This exercise can also be done with a dumbbell, hands clasped one on top of the other on the underside of the top portion of the dumbbell as it hangs length-wise over you.
Don’t let this version lure you into letting the upper arms drift forward; the shoulder joint does not move in any version of this exercise. Only the elbow joint moves.
Double dumbbell. Yet another variation is with a dumbbell in each hand. The dumbbells can be held horizontally parallel to each other in their start position, so that their tops meet up with the trainee’s forehead at the bottom of the movement.
The other way is to hold them end to end, so that at the bottom of the movement, the back of the trainee’s hands come towards the forehead.
Stability ball. Instead of a bench, use a stability ball. This will require some core engagement (lower back and a little ab work). Lighter weight than what one normally uses with a bench will be required as well.
45 degree angle placement of upper arms. This is perfectly acceptable, as long as this angle is maintained throughout the entire set. The trainee should then lower the weight to behind the head, below face level.
Alternate grip on the EZ bar for a superset. A superset is an intensity technique. The EZ bar has two choices for where to place hands: One is narrow width and one is medium.
A superset can be done by doing a set with first the narrow hand placement, and then immediately switching to the medium hand placement.
With this second set, do as many reps as possible to muscle failure. A superset can also be done by using the wider hand placement for the first set, and then finishing off to failure with the narrow grip.
Remember the lying triceps extension for big arms. Once a person can perform this exercise confidently without breaking form, it’s time to increase the weights and figure out how much resistance is needed for the desired rep range maxes.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.