1. Flaring Your Elbows
There’s a reason you’re told repeatedly to keep your elbows tight to your sides on such exercises as close-grip bench presses, machine and parallel-bar dips, overhead dumbbell extensions and skullcrushers: When your elbows flare out, your pecs become more active at the expense of your triceps. The solution is easy: Press your elbows in as much as possible as you raise and lower the weight.
2. Positioning Your Hands Too Close
Close-grip bench presses require you to position your hands fairly close together to put greater emphasis on the triceps and reduce the stimulus on the pecs, but many lifters take that thinking to the extreme. Besides losing stability to balance the bar, especially when heavy weights are involved, a very close grip can cause tendon strain or bone bruises to the wrists (bending your wrist toward your little finger is called ulnar deviation), as well as the elbows. What’s more, research shows you don’t get any extra muscle fiber recruitment when taking a very close grip. The solution, then, is to use a grip just inside shoulder width so that your hands are about 8–10 inches apart.
3. Neglecting Underhand Moves
You can’t forget about the oft-neglected medial head of the triceps. Nine times out of 10, bodybuilders forget or ignore exercises that specifically call the medial head into play. It’s the smallest of the three triceps heads, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less important to the overall look of the back of the arm. Besides that, the medial head helps stabilize the elbow joint. Anytime you do moves with a reverse grip, you automatically call upon the medial head to a greater degree. So when you do pressdowns, try a few sets with your palms facing up for a different feel and balanced approach.
4. Neglecting Overhead Exercises
Exercises are typically divided into two classes of moves — single-joint and multijoint — but in triceps training there’s another consideration: arm angle. Essentially your arms can be by your sides (pressdowns), perpendicular to your body (skullcrushers) or overhead (overhead dumbbell extensions). But since the bulky long head of the triceps attaches above the shoulder joint, the only way it can be stretched is when your arms are overhead. Given that a muscle must be stretched before it can contract strongly, you should always include at least one arms-overhead exercise in your routine to ensure the long head gets fully targeted.
5. Starting Off With Isolation Moves
You start legs with squats, chest with bench presses and shoulders with overhead presses, all multijoint exercises, so why would you begin your triceps workout with a single-joint exercise like pressdowns? Think of it this way: You can probably push 80–90 pounds on pressdowns, but with close-grip bench presses or machine dips you can probably lift double that. It’s fine to warm your elbows up with a couple light sets of pressdowns, but attack those multijoint exercises early in your workout when your strength levels are high so that you can really overload the tri’s. Keep the isolation moves in which your weights drop for the end of your session.