After we covered the front and rear part of our upper body, it’s now time to deal with one of the most targeted muscles – of course, our arms;)
If you’re not yet familiar with what volume is, how it affects muscle growth and what you should know about it, check out our complete guide about the optimal volume for hypertrophy.
What can you expect from this article series about volume applied to each muscle? Based on Dr Mike Israetel’s knowledge and experience, as well as our own, we want to clarify which volume works best for each muscle.
So, guys, let’s get started!
Who does not want to have big arms? When I think back, this was one of the reasons why I started working out in the first place. I mean it can look a bit silly when only 1/3 of your t-shirt’s sleeves are filled.
Actually, it is of the most common stereotypes against bodybuilding. Folks only go to the gym doing some chest and biceps workout before going out later in the night.
But does a big biceps make your arm look that much bigger? You might already predict the answer, no not necessarily.
But again as it applies to most things, this varies individually because everyone’s arms are composed differently by their genetic.
In general, we can say that the triceps take up 2/3 of our arms and accordingly the highly praised biceps contributes only 1/3 to your arm size.
On that note, the next two articles will cover everything you need to know about the appropriate volume for biceps and triceps.
Because of the fact that the triceps take up twice as much size as the biceps, this article will take a closer look at the optimal triceps volume, to give you all the required knowledge to size up your arms;)
MV – Maintenance Volume
Why is it important to know your MV?
This is important because just in case if you have to fall back or reduce your workouts for some time, you don’t want to lose your hard acquired gains, do you?
Moreover, after a period of heavy workouts in between your MAV and MRV or even above your MRV, it is for sure a good thing to lower your volume every so often. This help to desensitize your body again and leads to proper rest.
For that reason, it is crucial to know where your MV lies to ensure muscle maintenance as well as sticking to the designated volume in the “deload phase”.
How much volume do you need to maintain your current triceps size?
MV: 0-4 sets / week
Some of you might be confused right now, how can 0 sets/week maintain the triceps?
This is because we’re talking about direct working sets for your triceps (e.g. isolation exercises). Most programmes include heavy pressing exercises like bench press or military press which demand your triceps quite heavy.
Therefore, the triceps need a relatively small volume to maintain its current size. But don’t forget that these are only benchmarks and not fixed values!
Some of you don’t need any isolation work for your triceps per week because your programme includes a lot of heavy pressing exercises but others might need up to 4 sets of additional isolation work.
This applies to every other muscle, it is very individual how much volume you need for your certain goals. Everybody is unique and has differences as well as most programmes.
MEV – Minimum Effective Volume
Why is it important to know your MEV?
To put it simply, as well as it is important to know how much volume your triceps need to keep its current size, it is at least of similar importance to know how much volume is required to grow your triceps.
So, where lies the MEV for the optimal triceps volume?
MEV: 2-6 sets / week
For most folks, 2-6 sets/week seems to be sufficient to stimulate some growth.
Again, here applies the same as for the MV value. If your programme includes a lot of heavy pressing exercises (bench press, military press…) accordingly you don’t need to do infinite isolation work for your triceps.
Therefore, the heavier pressing exercises you do the less additional isolation work is required for your triceps to grow.
MAV – Maximum Adaptive Volume
Why is it important to know your MAV?
Do you want to train all your time with the least effective volume? Exactly, I doubt that!
In order to get the best possible gains, we need to put more effort into our workout and increase the volume consistently.
For that reason, it is important to know where your MAV lies to maximize your muscle growth.
MAV: 10-14 sets / week
For most folks, a volume of 10-14 sets/week tends to be appropriate.
Like I already mentioned earlier, it correlates with how much compound pressing exercises your current programme includes.
But, in general, it is very likely that you’ll make progress with around 10-14 sets/week of direct triceps work.
MRV – Maximum Recoverable Volume
Sooner or later in your mesocycle programme, you’ll get to a point where your performance starts to stagnate or even decrease. This is an indication that you possibly overreached your MRV.
What does that mean?
The MRV refers to the maximum volume from which your body can recover properly.
In other words, the maximum amount of work that you can sustain until your strength and performance might suffer.
Why is it important to know your MRV?
Pretty obviously, nobody wants to take a forced break due to volume exceedance. Therefore, it is very essential to know where your MRV lies to always keep your body recovered and avoid redundant breaks.
Thus, what is a good volume that is still recoverable?
12 – 18 sets / week
The MRV benchmark lies somewhere between 12-18 sets/week. Such a volume should be recoverable for most individuals.
If you’re training 2-3 times per week, this would result in around 6-9 sets of additional triceps work, which is quite a lot!
The triceps is a relatively small muscle that does not need tons of isolation work.
Therefore, I can recommend to start your mesocycle with a moderate volume and increase it over the ongoing weeks. This is as well a good way for you to figure out where your MAV, MRV and so on, lies.
How often should we exercise for the optimal triceps volume?
Basically, we would recommend staying somewhere between 2-4 workouts/week which exercise your triceps.
Because the triceps is a relatively small muscle but still takes a lot of damage, it probably cannot fully recover from 5-6 triceps workouts each week.
To sum up, 2-4 workouts/week is for most individuals adequate.
A lower frequency is appropriate for people who have a big triceps which needs a longer period of time to fully recover.
The triceps is composed of a high percentage of fast-twitching muscle fibres.
Therefore, training triceps heavily works well, BUT because that is in most cases already done by heavy pressing exercises, you don’t need heavy isolation work.
Accordingly, a rep range between 8-20 is most likely to result in efficient growth for most folks.
But as always, the optimal triceps volume varies individually. Some benefit from a lower rep range with 8+ and others even need 15-20 reps.
Whereby 20 reps is probably too light to stimulate any growth in your triceps at all in the long run.
Of course, can you implement higher rep ranges every so often to increase variety but for the majority of your workouts, you should stay around 8-12 reps.
Summing up, I would recommend you to stay somewhere around 8-12 reps on average because this tends to be the area where most of the growth happens.
Tricep workout – Exercises
Now, we’ll take a look at the triceps and the way how we can and should train it.
The triceps consists of three different ‘heads’; the long head, the medial head, and the lateral head.
- The long head particularly works well with exercises where the elbows are positioned in front of the body or above the head. Exercises like that would be french press or any variation of overhead extensions.
- The lateral head benefits from exercises where the arms are positioned close to the body. For example, pushdowns with a V grip pole.
- The medial head is the smallest. Especially exercises with underhand grip trigger the medial head to grow!
In general, variations of the following exercises are great to exercise your triceps:
- OH (overhead) Extensions
- Pushdowns (underhand/overhand grip)
Range of motion
The triceps really benefits from a maximum range of motion. When you go all the way down to reach for maximum stretch, you a) get a crazy pump and b) activate as much muscles fibres as possible.
As a rule of thumb, in almost every exercise it is advisable to use the full range of motion.
In fact, it gets more exhausting and you cannot use as much weight as before, but trust me, its worth it!
Your muscles will benefit from higher muscle activation and a better pump.
When it comes to compiling the optimal triceps volume, you shouldn’t implement more than 2-4 exercises for your current mesocycle.
Because, if you switch your triceps exercises every workout or week, you will run out of variation quickly.
Therefore, I recommend to choose 2-4 exercises and stick with for 1-3 month. Every 2-3 mesocycles you then replace some exercises to increase variety and get new incentives for your muscles to grow.
This will benefit you in two ways. On the hand, you can focus on a limited number of exercises and maximize your improvement. On the other hand, you still have a lot of variation left to implement in your next programme.
Furthermore, another interesting thing to do would be emphasizing the different triceps heads cyclically.
What do I mean with that?
For example, spend a couple of mesocycles prioritizing one of the three heads (e.g. the long head with mainly overhead extensions) and keep the other ones on a relatively low volume.
After a certain period of time, you switch to another head and so on.
As a result, every “tricep head” will get prioritized to get the best possible growth.
Take home keynotes for the optimal triceps volume!
MV: 0-4 sets / week
MEV: 2-6 sets / week
MAV: 10-14 sets / week
MRV: 12 – 18 sets / week
Frequency: 2-4 workouts/week is a good benchmark for most folks.
We would not recommend going higher than 4 times a week because the triceps is a relatively small muscle that still takes a lot of damage and probably cannot fully recover from such a high frequency.
Therefore, 2-4 workouts per week is a good point of reference for the optimal triceps volume.
Intensity: generally, a rep range between 8-20 seems to be appropriate for most folks.
Because most programmes already include a lot of heavy pressing exercises (e.g. bench & military press) you don’t need to do additional heavy isolation work.
Thus, for the optimal triceps volume, we would recommend staying somewhere between 8-12, this is probably the area where most of the growth happens.
Exercises: the triceps consists of three different heads; the long, medial and lateral head.
You should definitely exercise every single head in order to fully develop your triceps!
Basically, we can identify three main motions: overhead extensions, pushdowns, and pressing movements. Your triceps will benefit from a good balance.
Range of motion: Same as always, leave your ego in front of the gym and use the full range of motion! This will a) activate as much muscles fibres as possible and b) maximizes your pump.
In this section, we will give you some impressions on how to increase the variety and fun for the optimal triceps volume.
- Supersets: heavy compound exercise + isolation exercise or vice versa
A good technique to save time during your workout and for a great pump.
Means, any isolation exercise combined with a compound movement.
You first do a set of a compound movement and directly afterwards go to a preloaded/set up isolation exercise (or vice versa).
Some really common supersets combos are; skull crushers and close grip bench press, overhead extensions and shoulder presses, cable push down and close grip push ups.
- Drop sets: You choose a certain weight and go until failure, then you reduce the weight and again go until failure. Reduce another time and so on until your done.
This is a great way to finish your workout.
For example, if you’re training in a push/pull/leg split, on push day after you already did chest and shoulders, as your last triceps exercise you could do pushdowns and reduce the weights until complete failure.
- Giant sets: You set yourself a certain number of total reps, then you do as many sets to reach this certain number of reps.
For example, you want to do 100 pushdowns. In the first set, you do 20 reps, second 17, third 15 and so on. Now you do as many sets as required to get to that 100 reps.
Special shout-out to Dr Mike Israetel, we really value his knowledge and the content that he shares with you guys on his YT channel and his blog.
Definitely check out his video about triceps volume!
I hope you enjoyed this article about the optimal triceps volume. If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.
We’re pleased to answer your questions!
You can also reach us through our social media channels which are linked at the bottom, definitely check it out!
After I talked for quite a long time, now it’s your turn!
What is your favourite triceps exercise and how often do you train your triceps?