The triceps are the unsung heroes of the upper body, and they don’t nearly get the level of credit they deserve!
This muscle is named for its three distinct heads that each perform a specific function. We use our triceps to extend our arms out, press with downward force, and push straight out in front. We wouldn’t make it far in our daily routines without the tricep, that’s for sure.
In terms of aesthetics, the tricep makes up almost two-thirds of the arm’s total mass, eclipsing the biceps in a big way.
For guys who want that classic bodybuilder look, it may be time to lay off the barbell curls and give your triceps more attention. For the ladies out there, the triceps must be toned to keep those arms looking tight and lean. Whoever you are, don’t neglect your tris!
Now that we know why the triceps are so important, it’s time to talk about exercises. Here are seven of the best triceps movements in the game. Some require gym equipment, while others can be done anywhere, anytime. Let’s dive in.
The king of all upper-body exercises has always been the pushup, despite countless advances in exercise science and technology. For comprehensive chest and tricep development, the pushup is a rock-solid foundation on which to build your physique.
While the classic shoulder-width push up position will mainly target your pectorals, the close-grip pushup will really blast the back of the arm and work all three heads of the tricep.
Everyone handles pushups a bit differently due to unique body dynamics, so try a few different configurations and see which one activates your triceps the most.
Just starting out on your fitness journey? You can easily perform push ups of any kind on your knees, or at a slight incline on a couch, bench, or countertop. Work your way up slowly and graduate to tougher push up variations as you get stronger.
Ready to isolate the triceps and give them a direct workout like no other? Dips are a classic movement that old-school fitness experts have advocated for ages. They target the medial head of the tricep and activate the chest muscles as well.
The dip is a movement you don’t want to miss out on, no matter your experience level. They can be done at home with a simple dining chair, lowering yourself to the ground and pushing back up.
When it comes time to ramp things up, jump on a dip bar at the park or the gym. Some gyms have an assisted pull up and dip machine that lets you build strength without risking injury, so take advantage of that if you can.
Eventually, you’ll be able to dip unassisted, then add even more weight to the equation!
It’s also worth trying out a few different angles with your dips and positioning your hands in new ways to work new parts of the tricep. Remember to embrace experimentation when it comes to any type of bodyweight exercise since everyone is built (and tends to work their muscles) differently.
3. Close-Grip Bench Press
Recall those narrow push ups we talked about earlier? The close-grip bench press mimics that basic movement, but this time, it’s all about heavy weights and fewer repetitions. If you want to overload the triceps and pack on mass, this will be your go-to exercise.
If you’ve already mastered the classic barbell flat bench press, you’ll have no trouble transitioning to this close-grip variation.
The movement is explained in the name — just bring your hands closer to the center of the barbell and proceed with the normal pressing motion, focusing on activating the triceps and minimizing the use of your pectorals.
4. French Press
Ever used a French Press coffee maker? This tricep blaster mimics the up-and-down movement of that classic machine, and activates the long head of the muscle like nothing else. The long head gives the tricep that big, swooping look, so this exercise can’t be missed.
Take a single dumbbell (start light) and take a seat on a bench or chair. Sit up straight with your head high, then with both hands bring the dumbbell up over your head and balance it directly above, arms fully extended.
From there, slowly lower the weight down behind your head, feeling the full stretch of the triceps until you reach the bottom of the movement. Fire those muscles deep in your triceps to press the weight back over your head into the starting position. Rinse and repeat with multiple repetitions and sets to get a truly awesome tricep workout.
The key to this exercise is a steady pace and a full stretch of the muscle. If you can’t bring that weight down all the way down and back up with relative ease, bump it down a few pounds and aim to achieve a full range of motion.
Also, watch those elbows as you perform the French Press, since not everyone’s physiology is perfectly attuned to this movement. Try different angles with a light weight to get it right.
5. Skull Crusher
Some folks call this exercise the overhead tricep extension, but what’s the point of using that boring name when you can say skull crusher? It’s way more fun and gets you fired up to shred those triceps with this amazing isolation movement.
Despite the name, you won’t be crushing any skulls, provided you follow the basic safety protocols. Grab an EZ bar off the rack and recline on a flat or incline bench with the weight raised directly over your head. Lower the weight down to the top of your forehead while fully contracting the triceps and keeping the core tight.
You should really feel the tension on the long head of the tricep during this movement, and grip the bar hard as you push the weight back up with explosive force. This is not a relaxed, easy-going lift by any means. Embrace your inner animal and let it rip!
It helps if you have a spotter during this exercise when moving heavier weights, so recruit a friend or a nearby gym-goer to give you a hand. Have fun with this one, but be safe.
6. Pulley Pushdowns
At the center of every weight room is a set of pulley systems moving stacks of weights with ropes and various attachments. At first glance, the contraption can seem overwhelming, but you’ll quickly find that ropes are fun, easy, and super effective to use.
For tricep workouts, this is where the magic happens. There are so many exercises you can do with these pulleys, you’ll never run out of ways to shock the muscle.
Starting with the basic tricep pushdown, this is a must-have movement in your playbook. Set the pulley at its highest position on the rack, clip on a straight bar or a split-rope attachment, and set the weight to something manageable. Bring that pulley down and send that stack of weights up. Bang out sets of 10 or more, since you’re shooting for a higher repetition range over increasing weight.
You’ll quickly feel the strain directly on the triceps and experience a big rush of blood to the muscles. Get ready to feel that shirt tighten up and enjoy the pump! Test out a few different attachments and angles to hit various heads of the tricep. You can spend an entire workout at the pulleys, just make sure to share the weights!
7. Dynamic Aerobics
All this talk of weights making you dizzy? Maybe you need to start with something more fun and dynamic, like a martial arts aerobics session or a group dance workout. You can still bring the heat and train the triceps effectively by punching and pumping with the music!
In fact, it’s smart to switch things up from the gym every once in a while and give the triceps some fast-paced action. This will keep the muscles loose and limber, and protect you from injury in the long run.
Join up with a 30-day challenge, take some before and after pics, and see how your triceps transform in just a few short weeks.
The triceps are a ton of fun to train once you get the hang of it. Many of us are used to blasting the biceps and forget that most of our arm is meant to push, press, and extend. Cycling through these movements will build that mind-muscle connection with your triceps, and you’ll quickly see your lifts improve if you stick with it.
Depending on your unique fitness goals, you’ll want to focus more on either building bulk or toning up. No matter where you’re at in the journey, training triceps is one of the great joys of the gym, so learn to love the process and enjoy the results.