There’s no feeling like walking out of the gym after a killer upper body workout. A combination of compound movements and targeted muscle work makes for a great flex.
However, there’s often some confusion about upper body training for new lifters— particularly regarding training biceps and triceps on the same day. Here’s what you need to know about the pros and cons of working triceps and biceps together.
- Understanding the Biceps
- Understanding the Triceps
- How the Triceps and Biceps Work Together
- Pros of Working Biceps and Triceps on Same Day
- Cons of Working Biceps and Triceps on Same Day
- Tips for Training Biceps and Triceps Together
Understanding the Biceps
Your biceps brachii is comprised of two heads: the long head and the short head. The two heads are attached at the shoulder and elbow by your proximal biceps tendons and distal biceps tendons. When you flex, your short head bicep is responsible for the upward bump, whereas the long head adds breadth to your upper arm.
In addition to looking great in a muscle shirt, your biceps play a vital role in elbow flexion and pull exercises— when you do a chin-up, your biceps are one of the key muscles for getting your chin over the bar.
Understanding the Triceps
Three heads make up the musculature known as your triceps: the long head, medial head, and lateral head. The tricep muscles are responsible for elbow extension, working side-by-side with your biceps to move your lower arm.
Triceps play an integral role in push exercises. As many powerlifters know, having strong triceps can be the difference between a good bench press total and a great one.
How the Triceps and Biceps Work Together
Triceps and biceps are an antagonistic pair. This relationship means the muscles work together to create movement as an agonist (primary mover) and antagonist (secondary mover). The roles can change depending on whether you’re in the concentric or eccentric part of the movement.
When you do a bicep curl and raise the dumbbell toward your chest in the concentric phase of the exercise, your bicep contracts and fulfills the role of agonist. Conversely, your tricep is lengthening and acting as the antagonist. When you reverse the motion during the eccentric phase, the tricep takes over as agonist, and your bicep becomes the antagonist.
This is where the confusion lies surrounding whether it’s ok to work triceps and biceps together. It’s important to note that while the muscles always work in tandem, that doesn’t mean they’re getting the same targeted workout. Using the bicep curl example, your biceps are waging war on gravity; your triceps are just back up.
As your biceps and triceps have separate functions, you can work them on the same day. However, there are pros and cons to consider based on your training goals and unique challenges.
Pros of Working Biceps and Triceps on Same Day
Great Bodybuilding Superset
Working your triceps and biceps together makes for a great finisher during an upper-body workout. You can combine exercises to create an arm-blasting superset that will leave you feeling jacked. Pair sets of bicep curls with tricep extensions or reverse cable curls with cable tricep push-downs to end your arm workout on a high note.
Different Primary Functions
As mentioned before, your biceps are primarily utilized in pull movements while triceps are engaged during push movements. Working your biceps and triceps on the same day allows you to train both movements without scheduling a second workout.
Small Muscles Mean Less Exhaustion
As your triceps and biceps are relatively small muscles in the grand scheme of things, you aren’t likely to exhaust yourself by doing both. In most training programs, these muscles are secondary movers during big lifts. Incorporating a targeted bis and tris workout is unlikely to thwart your overall training.
Incorporate More Training Each Week
By working your triceps and biceps together, you can recover and follow a muscle-group split during your weekly training regimen. This allows you to train your arms more than one day a week with ample recovery time, which is helpful if your goal is to build muscle mass.
Cons of Working Biceps and Triceps on Same Day
Doesn’t Always Support Powerlifting Training
If you have a dedicated powerlifting program, you may follow a push/pull split. If that’s the case, it might not be feasible to work your biceps and triceps together.
Many powerlifters who follow this format have numerous tricep-focused workouts on one day to help with benching. Biceps tend to be an accessory lift after rows or scheduled as an optional accessory training day.
If you plan on adding some bis and tris at the end of your regular workout, you could be spending longer in the gym. You’ll need to allow proper recovery time for your supersets or individual movements.
Can be Counterproductive
If your form is not perfect, doing triceps and biceps together could be counterproductive. Sometimes the slightest shift in wrist positioning can alter the targeted muscles. If you feel burnt out by the time you’re getting to the other muscle group, it could be a sign that you’re shifting to the triceps during a bicep workout and vice versa.
Tips for Training Biceps and Triceps Together
If you decide to train your biceps and triceps on the same day, keep these helpful tips in mind.
Target Different Heads on Different Days
While it’s impossible to isolate your biceps’ or triceps’ individual heads, you can target them with specific movements. For example, overhead extensions tend to hit the triceps’ long head while dips target the lateral head. The same applies to the biceps— preacher curls effectively engage the short head while concentration curls are better for hitting the long head.
When planning your bicep and tricep training, target different heads on different days. This approach can help ensure proper recovery and massive growth.
Use Seated and Standing Exercises
In addition to changing up the focus, it’s also helpful to alter your stance when training. Sitting helps prevent you from cheating the movement by using swinging motions or momentum. Incorporate lying tricep exercises like skull crushers on one day and standing cable push-downs on another.
Don’t Work to Failure
Working to failure is a common practice among bodybuilders. If you plan on working triceps and biceps on the same day, don’t go to failure until you’re on the last exercise of the session. This will prevent compensations that put the onus on the supporting arm muscle.
Change the Order
Another common question that lifters ask when training arms is whether they should do biceps or triceps first. Generally speaking, bodybuilders will tell you to do biceps first, while powerlifters will tell you to do triceps— it really depends on what muscle you want at its best.
To even the scoreboard, you can always change the order with each workout.
So, should you do biceps and triceps on the same day? For most people, the answer is yes. If training both muscle groups on the same day is better for your schedule and training goals, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. If you find yourself struggling to recover or maintain form, then consider splitting them up.