Saturday, December 5, 2015

Prime and Pump for Back and Triceps

Grow Dragon-like Wings and Torch the Three-headed Monster

by Jared Smith

The Massive Back and Triceps of Dorian Yates

I recall the first time I ever stepped foot in a gym. I saw a man—who would later become one of my mentors—standing in front of the mirror sporting a stringer tank, with a back that looked wide enough to project a movie upon, and thick enough to cushion a fall from a ten-story building.  From that point on, I knew that in order to really look powerful and “swole”, I had to pack on plenty of back beef!
      In addition to having an impressive back, his triceps were monstrous. I had never seen someone standing relaxed that looked so impressive. I remember seeing the veins snaking up the long head of his triceps, and being in awe of the density they displayed. That image stuck with me—and has inspired me ever since: from the first set of barbell rows to the last set of skull crushers. Inspiration is great, but how do we sculpt such gnarly-looking muscle ourselves? A combination of gut busting intensity and laser-like focus! 
If you’ve read the previous installments of Prime and Pump, you know that I am a huge advocate of using the pump from one muscle to enhance the "hammering" of another without wear and tear on the joints. You might, however, be wondering why I choose to pair triceps with back. For starters, training the triceps with the chest or shoulders can sometimes tax the elbows too much. That is not to say that it can’t be done, but, rather, that one must minimize the amount of pounding the joint takes in a given workout. Another reason is getting more "bang for your buck". The pullover actually activates the long head of the triceps more than any other movement. If you take a look at pics of Mike Mentzer and Dorian Yates in their heydays, you’ll notice that they had tremendous triceps, and both were advocates of the pullover. The third reason for pairing these groups together is due to the position one must get into for the triceps to be fully contracted. Until the arm is behind the torso, it is not in the fully contracted position. With that said, many movements that will put thickness on the mid-back require that the arms travel in that direction, and that the elbows come as far back as possible. Finally, the last reason will appeal to all those who love lifting heavy: You will NEVER have a big bench if your triceps, lats, and traps are small or weak! Without a dense upper back, to support the weight, how would one expect to squat a ton? The back is the foundation from which the beast is built! 
The Nuts and Bolts
We will start this torture session with a superset of straight arm pulldowns with tricep pushdowns. Keep the reps here between fifteen and twenty for both. At the top of the straight arm pulldowns, "depress" your shoulders by attempting to pull your scapula to your waist. This won’t happen, obviously, but it will cause you to initiate the exercise with your lats. Squeeze these at the bottom for a two-count before ascending. For tricep pushdowns, keep your elbows crammed into your sides as tight as you can get them, and, if at all possible, use a rope attachment and spread it apart at the bottom. If you are lucky enough to have two ropes available, then pull both of them to the end, letting the rubber ends catch at the base of the handle and attach them both to the same cable station. This will allow you to extend past your torso and thighs, allowing your triceps to be in a fully-contracted position. Make sure that you are standing far enough away from the cable station that the cable itself creates a 90 degree angle. This will keep optimal tension on the cable, making the contracted position even harder. After cranking out three rounds of this superset, it is time to move on. 
Next up, we have another superset. This time we pair up straight-arm dumbbell pullovers with skull crushers. When performing pullovers, make sure to depress the shoulders before starting the positive portion of the lift. We ALWAYS want to initiate an exercise with the target muscle. Keep the tempo consistent and "piston-like", only pausing long enough in the stretch position to depress your shoulders and squeeze the lats. When you dive into the skull crushers, do not come down to the forehead. Lower the bar to the crown of the skull, and press back as if you’re trying to touch the wall behind you. This will keep the tension on the triceps! Keep the reps here between twelve and fifteen. After three rounds, it is once again time to move on to the next round of brutality.
For this round, we will go with a “meat and potatoes” combination. Good, old-fashioned barbell rows and close-grip bench presses. You should be pumped to hell and back at this point, so we will drop the reps. Shoot for six to eight on both, with a slow tempo of 3/0/1. By this point, there should be so much blood in your triceps that you have to put on some serious weight to even get the weight down to your chest.  Your lats should be swollen to the point that getting your elbows back far enough will be a task! After three rounds, it will be time to polish the entire workout off.
Here comes the hard part. This will test your mettle and call upon any remaining fibers that haven’t already been thoroughly activated and "fried". We will superset dips with deadlifts. Yes, you read that correctly! By now, you shouldn’t have to add weight to the dips, just crank them out until you fail! Keep as upright as possible, and initiate with the triceps. You can’t eliminate chest involvement, but make sure that your triceps take the brunt of the load. The deadlifts should be initiated by engaging the lats. Grab hold of the bar, and shove your elbows in and back, squeezing your lats. Lower the bar slowly, and come to a complete stop at the end of each rep, and reset. Shoot for six to eight reps on deads. After three rounds, it is time to call it a day! 
At the end of this session, your back should feel thrashed from top to bottom. All three heads of the triceps should be begging for mercy! Is it rough? Of course! Nothing worth having comes easy. Perform this workout once a week, and make sure you are eating enough to feed a small nation!

C.S.'s note: For a good "basic" article on triceps training - for those of you who need it - here's one from "Mass Gain Source" which is pretty good:


  1. Damn......another home run. Great article and approach that makes sense. This pairing (back & triceps) makes sense from both a functional and aesthetic sense.

    As a competitive bodybuilder I always had a great back and poor triceps development. Reading thru this it made me realize how much my back development was mimimized every time I turned around on stage. ....good stuff brother!


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