Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bench Press Before Triceps Extensions: Conventional Wisdom or Conventional Bullshit?

It is set in stone that you first do your bench presses and then finish up with some sort of triceps exercise. A group of scientists from Brazil (Simao. 2010) wanted to check, whether doing it the other way around may not have its own, unique benefits and - you knew it - it has!

The 31 participants who had a military background were randomly assigned to one of three groups, the first of which began with large and progressed toward small muscle group exercises (LG-SM) while another started with small and advanced to large muscle group exercises (SM-LG). The exercise order for LG-SM was bench press (BP), lat pull-down (LPD), triceps extension (TE), and biceps curl (BC). The order for the SM-LG was BC, TE, LPD, and BP. The third group served as a control group (CG).
Figure 1: 1RM tests and muscle thickness effect sizes and magnitudes across 12 weeks of resistance training.
Although the overall effect size was relatively small, the results suggest that conventional wisdom is misleading at least if your intention is to build big guns:
After 12 weeks, all exercises for both training groups presented significant 1RM strength gains when compared to CG with exception of BC in LG-SM.
If you have a closer look at figure 1 you will notice that the biceps is not the only muscle that benefits from reversing the conventional order and "prioritizing" the smaller muscle groups. Noticeable gains in triceps size, for example, occurred exclusively in the participants who trained their triceps before they started bench pressing.

Bottom line: Decide on which muscle you want to benefit most and "prioritize" it, by training it first: Biceps first for big guns and triceps first for titanic triceps.