The Truth About Your Triceps Getting Tired From Rows

March 31st 2019

Do your arms and triceps get tired from doing rows?

Improper barbell rowing technique and/or weak arms are some causes to why your triceps are feeling tired from barbell rows. Practicing proper foam and understand which muscles the barbell row works on can dramatically help with your pulling.

Why does this happen?

  • Work on your form

There is a reason why many beginner strength programs, like Greyskull LP and Starting Strength, have you do barbell rows as instructed in the book. You need to be strict with form. As a beginner in strength training, you may not be familiar with many barbell compound exercises. So, coaches simplify exercises and recommend easy motor pattern movements so you can learn to build muscle and strength.

One way to do this is by doing barbell rows in the transverse plane (horizontal plane), where your arms should be aligned with the barbell and not tucked in on your sides (this would be in the sagittal plane).

There is a reason for this. Your upper traps are trained from the overhead press and the deadlift. Your lower traps are trained by your bench press. What is left? The medial part of your traps and your rhomboids, both of which are trained when you do a strict barbell row when your arms make a 90 degree in the transverse plane.

Here is a step by step guide on how to fix your barbell row form:

  1. Have the barbell in front of you with a reasonable weight.
  2. Get a shoulder width or slightly wider than shoulder width stance
  3. Keep your toes slightly flared out
  4. Grab the bar at around your bench press grip width. When the barbell is touching your chest, your lower arm should be perpendicular with the barbell. Your upper arms should be flared out and should form a 90 degree angle when the barbell touches your chest.
  5. Keep your shins vertical
  6. Keep the barbell as close to your shins
  7. Sit back and let your body get into position
  8. Your upper body should be parallel or near-parallel with the ground at this point
  9. Slightly hyperextend your back so that you can counter the weight as soon as it is elevated from the ground
  10. Do not push any force through your legs. This is a barbell row. So, we are trying to isolate the muscles on our backs
  11. Pull the bar to your chest in a controlled manner. Your entire upper body should be tense
  12. After a slight touch on your chest, slowly lower the weight for a controlled negative

And that is really it! For lifters that do not do any isolation exercises or general exercise, this can be a very challenging lift to finish.

As a result, focus more on learning how to properly activate your muscles and develop the mind-body connection first. Sure, it can be easier to just “muscle” the weight up and say that is a barbell row. But you are really only cheating yourself if you have not developed the proper back muscles from rowing.

  • You are new to lifting

Keep in mind that when you first started lifting weights, your entire body feels like it is being worked out. This is not an uncommon feeling. Many newer lifters will feel crippling levels of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), which occurs after lifting weights. For example, the bench press may feel like it is working out your entire chest, arms back and even your glutes after your first couple of workouts. The same could be said for the barbell rows.

But what if you are feeling sensations that you cannot explain why? For example, your triceps are tired from doing barbell rows?

The sensation of “tired triceps” may be confused with another muscle. In the barbell row, one of the major muscles lifters targets is the latissimus dorsi, lats for short.

One shoulder muscle, the teres major, inserts on the humerus (your upper arm bone) and helps the lats with moving your arm backward and downward. If you are not accustomed to lifting weights, these muscles will get really sore after the next few sessions of your workout.

Your arms do act as stabilizers for the barbell row. There is some use of your arms in that regard. However, the predominant muscles working during a barbell row should be your back muscles. Some of which are the latissimus dorsi, your posterior shoulder muscles (like the teres major), rhomboids, scapula stabilizers, medial traps, and spinal erectors.

Why are triceps so hard to build?

Triceps are difficult to build due to improper exercise selection and rest/recovery. For most lifters, triceps are one of the easier muscle groups to develop, due to the vast amount of popular upper body compound variations to the bench press and overhead press.

Eat and you shall grow

As you progress with strength training and muscle gains, you will know how vital it is to eat. Likewise, you will always realize how significant it is to rest. Look, if you are already doing 30-40 hard reps in the gym for triceps, go home. Have a nice fat and juicy steak. Sleep 10 hours and repeat. I will find it shocking if you have not gained any tricep size in a month with that amount of food and rest.

Improper Exercises For Growth

For a minority of lifters, they may be stuck on some exercises that do produce them no results for six months. Yet, they continue to do these exercises, hoping that their triceps will start growing. Their diet and sleep are okay but they will want to grow their triceps and are determined to do so. I have noticed that some lifters claim to only do pulldowns/pushdowns or just dips and have no results.

Once heavy dips, skullcrushers and more volume were added, they experienced more results instantly. If something is not working and you know for a fact this is abnormal results, change your strategy! Look at your problem from a different angle and come up with another solution. Everyone deals with different issues at different times.

Mentality will determine your faith

Ever see internet lifters claiming that “genetics” will rule them all? Small triceps? Genetics. You have 30” arms? Genetics. Trying you a long time to develop triceps? Must be your bad “genetics.”

Does genetics also affect your will to compete and get to your goals? Of course not. The more you blame other “circumstances” for your failures, the further away you get from reaching a solution. Take ownership of your issues. Make them your own. And then tackle the problem head on.

I can guarantee you that none of the greats developed amazing strength records and stunning physiques by telling themselves that “genetics” were a factor in them being great. One example of this Layne Norton, when he set a 303kg (668lbs) squat record for the 93kg (204.6lbs) weight class at the 2015 IPF Worlds Competition. Here is a man that could have blamed “genetics” for not having a great squat. He has long leg limbs, which takes him a long time for him to get into the hole and out of the hole for a squat. But did he take the “genetics” bait? His dedication to being great and to believing in one’s self is what lifting is all about.

So, let us stop all this “genetic” nonsense and focus on the bigger picture - to increase our strength and to change our lives.

Triceps Growth Tips

Implementing a mixture of barbell, dumbbell and cable exercises along with heavy tricep focused workouts once a week are two sound tactics in order to grow beefy triceps. Executing and following through with your plan is a lot more important than choosing sexy exercises for your “perfect” workout.

If you are trying to build triceps, doing barbell rows will not help significantly as other more effective exercises. Neither will nitpicking which are the best exercises to help grow big triceps.

You want to know the truth? Here it is. All triceps exercises work. It is what you do outside the gym that matters greatly. Who do you think will make more gains: an athlete who works out in the gym for 2-3 hours a day for 5 days and sleeps only 6 hours a day or the athlete who works out in the gym for 1 hour a day for 3 days and sleeping 9 hours in the gym. Both athletes eat the same amount of food for this thought experiment. I’m confident you know the answer to this…

Regardless, here are some of my favorite tricep exercises with the amount of sets/reps I like to do them with:

  • Close grip bench presses, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Cable pushdowns, 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Dips no weight, 2-3 sets to failure
  • Weighted dips, 2 sets of 5-8 reps
  • Skullcrushers, 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps

To be frank, you really only need 1-2 exercises to develop HUGE triceps. Obviously, there are some exercises that will stress your triceps more and if your body is more receptive to those exercises, who am I to say no, am I right?

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