Before the days of the internet and even steroids, training secrets were passed from one lifter to the next. Nowadays, we often look to modern research for guidance and lifting advice.
And while we shouldn’t discount this research. We also shouldn’t forget our lifting heritage and the knowledge of those who came before us. People like Steve Reeves, Bill Pearl and Rick Drasin have done a great job of passing on their knowledge and sharing the history of lifting and bodybuilding.
Today we’re focusing on the triceps, which make up about 2/3rds of our upper arm. So if we want arms like Bill Pearl, we gotta train’em
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This first exercise is one I’m not fond of, but Bill Pearl did them, and it was common among old-school lifters, and that’s Bench dips.
In the picture I have of Bill doing them, his feet are elevated quite high. This increases the resistance on the triceps compared to having them on the floor.
The reason I don’t like this exercise is it bugs my shoulders even with my hands turned outward which reduces the internal rotation of the shoulder.
One thing about the old-school guys is if it built muscle, they didn’t care how uncomfortable it was.
Steve Reeves had a better exercise to hit the triceps in its fully contracted position, and how he did this is unique to how we do it today. He’d rest his head on a high bench to do dumbbell triceps kickbacks. This increases the range of motion.
I’m demonstrating this on my bench with it set at a 15-degree incline to stimulate a higher bench. The way I do these in my program is I set the bench at 30 degrees and rest my chest on it. This way, I still get a greater range of motion than kneeling on a flat bench without the potential neck strain of Steve’s method.
The reason we train our triceps this way is because the long head attaches to the scapula, and one of its jobs is to bring our arm behind our body.
There’s a side benefit to this exercise as the rear delts get a good workout, too, helping to hold your arm in place during the movement.
Those with access to resistance bands or cables can get a similar result by extending their arm fully behind them when doing tricep extensions.
Another exercise Steve liked to do, was a crossbody triceps extension. I find this move to be the absolute best for isolating the triceps.
You do this by lying on a bench holding a dumbbell in one hand straight up in the air, then lower it down to the opposite shoulder, with your free hand against your bicep, ensuring there’s no movement in the upper arm.
With skull crushers, we often cheat the move when we get tired by dropping our upper arm out of the vertical position allowing us to use shoulders and chest to push the weights up, taking the load off the triceps.
Bill Pearl did the following combination of exercises for the triceps. I found it in an article written by Rick Drasin, again illustrating how lifting knowledge got passed down from one lifter to the next. This combination of exercises works much like a drop set and is a fantastic tricep finisher giving you a massive pump and fully burning out your triceps.
You start with 8 reps of French presses while lying on a bench. This is where you lower the weight behind your head. I’m using dumbbells here, but Bill would have used a barbell. Then, without rest, you go to skull crushers and do 8 more repetitions. I switch to a neutral grip and let the dumbbells drop down by my ears.
After this, the final 8 repetitions are done like a close grip bench press. If you’re doing this on your last set, there is no reason to stop at 8 just keep going until you hit failure.
We can find some surprising gems in the training of these old-school masters. But how do they measure up to modern-day science? Watch this video next to learn how effective Steve Reeve’s workout was based on science, and keep working out while having fun.