Triceps are one of the most important muscle groups for both bodybuilders and powerlifters. For bodybuilders, the triceps make up the majority of arm size; for powerlifters, triceps are a major mover in the bench press. Therefore, if your triceps are lagging, so are your results!
Unfortunately, triceps can be pretty difficult to train correctly. They’re a relatively small muscle group compared to the back and chest, and for many lifters – myself included – those larger muscles will tend to perform the majority of work on compound movements for triceps, like the close grip bench press. On the other hand, it’s hard to load up isolation movements with enough weight to really stimulate super triceps size and strength.
Fortunately, there is a solution: the JM Press.
Performing the JM Press
The JM Press – named for legendary lifter JM Blakely – solves our dilemma.
If you’re not already familiar with it, the JM Press is sort of like a cross between a barbell skull crusher and a close-grip bench press.
Essentially, you’re getting set in a close-grip bench position, and then lowering the barbell in a straight line towards your face. But make sure to watch this video to get a full explanation and demonstration of proper technique:
Now, the JM Press is a brilliant exercise, but it’s not exactly easy to perform. In my experience, when you load up this movement with heavy weight (as you should), it’s very, very difficult to keep that perfectly straight bar path. And the bar path is crucial, because letting the bar drift behind your head puts a lot of stress on the elbows, and letting it drift down shifts emphasis to the shoulders and pecs.
Here’s where it’s time to get creative! Using these three tweaks, you can turn the barbell JM Press into a true triceps killer.
1. Use a Smith Machine
The Smith machine is typically frowned upon for strength work, because it forces you into a straight bar path, which is virtually impossible to reproduce with free weights and in most cases makes movements easier. While I agree that the Smith Machine is not a good choice for competition movements, the JM press is an exception. That’s because the straight bar path is exactly what we want to load the triceps as heavily and safely as possible.
2. Add Bands
Namely, reverse bands, where one end of the band is around the barbell and the other around the top posts of a power rack or the Smith machine. The reverse bands make the movement easier when the barbell is near your face – where you tend to be the weakest – and harder at the top.
This allows you to “overload” the movement, using more weight than you typically would, while keeping most of the load on the triceps (which have to contribute a lot to the lockout)!
3. Try a (small) Incline Or Decline
You can elevate one end of a flat barbell bench using a 45-pound or 100-pound plate to create a low incline or decline bench. While we often think of varying inclines as changing the emphasis placed on the pecs, I find that a slight incline or decline position also puts much less strain on my shoulders. Again, this may help you to perform the movement more safely.
You’ll notice I really emphasize safety in the above points. That’s because the triceps are connected to two relatively smaller joints – the shoulder and elbow – and when you load triceps movements heavily, it’s easy to aggravate either or both of those areas. Remember, nothing will derail your progress as much as injury, so always be careful!
A Sample Triceps Workout with the JM Press
This is an absolutely killer triceps workout to be performed after your heavy pressing days (or heavy chest/shoulder days if you’re training for a better physique).
- (Warm-Up) Overhead rope extension. This is just a warm-up, so make sure to keep them light and use a slow, controlled tempo. I want two light sets of 20 here, and you might also try doing some very light dumbbell flyes and lat pulldowns to loosen up the rest of the upper body.
- Reverse-band Smith JM Press. I want you to warm-up more, using sets of 5-8 reps, until you reach a weight you think you can do for a hard 8-12 reps. Do an all-out set at that weight, shooting for the top end of the range. Then add just a little bit of weight (about 5% is a good bet) and do another set of 5-8 reps. This second set shouldn’t be all-out; save a rep in the tank. Finally, drop the weight 25-33% and do one set of max reps, shooting for 20!
- (Superset) Close grip pushup & band pushdown. Use a pretty light band for the pushdowns, as this will be pretty brutal. Here’s what you’re doing:
- One set of 33 close-grip pushups, followed immediately by one set of 11 pushdowns. Rest sixty seconds, then do
- One set of 22 close-grip pushups, followed immediately by one set of 22 pushdowns. Rest thirty seconds, then do
- One set of 11 close-grip pushups, followed immediately by one set of 33 pushdowns
If you made it this far, you shouldn’t be able to move your arms – so make sure to get some good rest the next day!
Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page.