Anyone worth their salt in the gym, or versed in any sort of Greek/Latin based languages, knows and understands the importance of triceps training when it comes to getting sleeve splitting arms. We all remember exactly where we were the first time we heard “triceps are two thirds of your arm” and since that moment we’ve been hell bent on slabbing on as much horseshoe shaped mass as we can. But for the majority of us it’s a classic case of the blind leading the blind.
Before we get started I want to break down the anatomy of the triceps. The triceps brachii has three heads, two of which (medial and lateral heads) originate from the posterior aspect of the humerus on the radial sulcus, and allows these two to act solely as elbow extenders. The long head of the triceps however, originates from the infraglenoid tubercle of the scapula, and it’s this origination point that allows for a lot of diversity when it comes to training the triceps effectively. All heads of the triceps converge to attach to the olecranon process of the Ulna… And what a great segway for my main triceps talking point…
Q: DOES HAND POSITION WHEN PERFORMING TRICEP EXTENSIONS MATTER???
Like all things in life there is no absolute, no superlative. With that in mind I’m going to answer this the way I answer 99.99% of questions that I get asked.
A: That depends…and here’s why…
You often see a back and forth in the gym when it comes to hand position and tricep extensions. One big dude swears by a pronated extension while the other will tell you that supination is the way to go (if these anatomical terms have lost you- please just Google them so we can all move forward).
So who’s right?
Technically they’re both right, hand position is merely an expression of the radius’s juxtaposition with the ulna, the ulna’s proximal prominence aka the olecranon process is unaffected by the radius position so in that sense it doesn’t matter if we are talking in reference to the motion of pure elbow extension.
But… we must remember that the triceps are a biarticulate muscle- meaning it is responsible for movement at both the elbow and the shoulder. Now this is where some nuanced anatomy comes into play.
The triceps extends the elbow and also extends the shoulder; this is more or less common knowledge. But what many people don’t know is when the shoulder is externally rotated the long head of the triceps acts in the motion of shoulder adduction. Let that sink in for a moment.
Now how does that relate to hand position? Well, if we think of the two options of hand positions when performing a triceps extension, we have pronated and supinated grip. Pronation is in essence a fancy term for internal rotation at the wrist (palms facing back in anatomical position). Where as supination is a fancy way of saying external rotation at the wrist (palms facing forward in anatomical position) now even though neither of these positions can effect the insertion point on the Ulna, it can however, effect the ease in which the shoulder can externally rotate.
In a supinated position the shoulder can move into external rotation with greater ease due to the fact that supination is already suggestive of external rotation. Therefore allowing the long head of the triceps to act as an adductor while it extends both the shoulder and the elbow, hence maximally shortening the long head of the muscle.
This explains the “reverse grip bench press”. A common exercise used by powerlifters and bodybuilders alike- the reverse grip which they are referring to is actually a supinated grip, again: suggestive of external rotation which allows for the long head of the triceps to fill its tertiary role as a shoulder adductor.
Admittedly, the details of long head triceps training are intricate and for many beginning lifters the nuance changes wont manifest itself in any noticeable increase of tension. But for advanced lifters looking to expedite both size in strength in their Clydesdale hoof triceps, be sure to try these subtle variations in your next workout.