By Sara Stevens
While going to a Spears Strong workout guarantees that you’ll hear the phrase “squeeze your glutes," it’s also not uncommon to hear “squeeze your triceps!" Whenever we’re trying to build range of motion in our shoulders with some active clock, arm circles, or backstroke presses, one of the muscles we’re trying to get longer and stronger is our triceps.
But where is that exactly? While Arnold Schwarzenegger and the world of body building made sure we all know where the bicep is, fewer of us can point to it’s equally important antagonist, the triceps.
Triceps start at the top of the shoulder blade (scapula) and the arm bone (humerus). It runs down the back of the arm bone, crosses the elbow and inserts into the back of one of our forearm bones, the ulna.
What do they do?
Triceps straightens out (extends) the elbow, pulls the arm backward (extends the shoulder), and adducts the shoulders, or pulls the arm closer to the body.
When do we use our triceps?
Triceps are often used in conjunction with our upper back muscles. We use triceps when we do push ups and pull ups. We also use them doing arm circles, active clocks, backstroke presses, or any other time we straighten or lock out our elbows. Outside of workouts, we use triceps to close the trunk of our car, climb trees, throw or dribble a ball, move a broom or vacuum back and forth, or pull things out or put them back in a cupboard.
What happens when we don’t use them enough?
Triceps are an important player in our day to day life, but for many of us they become weak because we are not climbing trees and throwing spears to survive from day to day. Triceps are key players in our upper body strength when it comes to holding, pushing or pulling our own body weight around, and wielding tools. As with any other muscle, triceps that don’t kick in when they’re supposed to will cause other muscles to pick up the slack. Compensating muscles for triceps can include pec major and trapezius, two muscles which are often already tight and overstimulated.
How do we strengthen and relieve tight triceps?
Weak triceps are typically also tight triceps, and tight triceps can interfere with movement patterns at the shoulder or shoulder blade. The best way to ensure your triceps are strong, limber and happy is to use them in compound movements that integrate multiple shoulder movements, as we do in Spears Strong workouts.
To get your triceps activated and moving through their full range of motion, some good movements can be elevated or kneeling tricep push ups, tricep bridges, roller coasters, active clock, reverse pullovers, and overhead extension pullovers.
Try this movement sequence you can do anywhere!
10 Elevated Tricep Push-ups
Place palms on the edge of an elevated surface, such as your kitchen counter, desk top, hood of the car or back of the couch. Keep elbows tucked in close to your sides, and glutes and abs tight. Keep shoulders low, away from your ears as you lower yourself slowly and steadily until your chest is level with your hands. Return to your starting position at the same pace.
Airbench Overhead Extension Pullovers
With fingers interlaced, turn your palms out so they face away from you. Keeping elbows locked out and shoulders low, bring your hands as far overhead as you can with your elbows straight, then back down in front of you. Do this while in an Air Bench.
Spreadfoot Reverse Pullovers
Interlace fingers behind your back and keep palms facing in. Roll your shoulders down and back and pull your arms as far away from your back as you can, keeping head up and elbows straight.
Sara Stevens is a Spears Strong Massage Therapist and Trainer. Learn more about your muscles, how they function, how to relieve them and how to get them stronger at Sara's group workouts, including Strength & Flexibility and Relax & Restore. Or book an individual training session and massage with Sara!