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Early one morning, in a gym far, far away, this personal trainer was sitting behind the personal training desk, minding my business desk and carefully sipping my hot coffee. In the corner of my eye, I saw a gym member making a beeline for the desk.

“What do I do about these chicken wings?” they asked, pointing to the underside of the arm.

To which I replied, “Good morning; my name is Shane. How can I help you?” 

Since then, the triceps has been a point of focus for me, and because of this mild obsession with the back of the arms, here are the best tricep workouts for your flexing pleasure.

9 Best Triceps Exercises

  • Close Grip Bench Press
  • Parallel Bar Triceps Dips
  • Skullcrushers
  • Band Overhead Triceps Extension
  • Triceps Kickback
  • Diamond Push-Up
  • Cable Machine Triceps Pushdown
  • JM Press
  • Standing Landmine Press

Close Grip Bench Press

Why Do Them: The close grip bench press has you lift with your hands set about shoulder-width apart. This shifts the load more to your triceps and less to the chest, and it’s easier on the shoulders. This bench press variation targets your triceps for more muscle-building and helps improve your lockout strength. 

How to Do Them:

  1. Set up like you would for a flat bench press. 
  2. Get your hands inside shoulder-width and your elbows tucked close to your body. 
  3. Pull the barbell out of the rack with arms locked out, the bar over your chest.
  4. Slowly lower towards your chest by pulling your elbows inwards.
  5. Once you have reached your desired depth, press up until lockout, reset, and repeat.  

RELATED: The Best Weight Benches For Your Home Gym

Woman doing close grip bench press

Parallel Bar Tricep Dips

Why Do Them: When you perform parallel bar dips with a more upright torso, you’ll seriously recruit your triceps for sexier triceps. This is a great bodyweight exercise because almost all your body weight is involved. And when bodyweight variation is mastered, you can add load for extra size and strength. 

How to Do Them: 

  1. Grip the parallel bars firmly and get to the top of the dip position.
  2. Get your upper back tight and shoulder blades squeezed together. 
  3. Angle your upper body forward and tuck your elbows inward slightly forward as you lower yourself down.
  4. Lower down until your elbows are bent to about a 90-degree angle. 
  5. Then press your hands through the handles, lock out your elbows, and reset and repeat. 

Skullcrushers

Why Do Them: This lying triceps extension exercise has you lower a barbell to your forehead (hence the name skullcrusher) to isolate and stretch the triceps. The position of the skullcrusher allows you to move more weight than a triceps pushdown to strengthen the triceps further.  The beauty of this exercise is you can use multiple tools (dumbbells, kettlebells, and EZ bar) if the barbell is unfriendly to your elbows.  

How to Do Them: 

  1. Lie face-up on a bench, with the hands supporting your instrument of choice (EZ bar, barbell, or dumbbells) at the top of the pressing position. 
  2. You should be set up identically like the bench press, with hands shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Pull your elbows back slightly and tuck them in so they point behind you.
  4. Then bend the elbows, lowering the weight towards your forehead. 
  5. You will feel a stretch on the triceps and lats when done correctly.
  6.  Push the weight until your elbows are locked out, reset, and repeat. 
Woman doing skullcrushers

Band Overhead Tricep Extension

Why Do Them: The overhead triceps extension performed with a band or cable machine starts in the stretched position. Starting there allows a bigger range of motion for added size and strength potential. Plus, this triceps variation targets the long triceps head, the biggest of the three triceps muscles, for improved lockout strength with most pressing exercises.

How to Do Them: 

  1. Place the band underneath the middle of one foot and step forward with the other. 
  2. Bring the band up behind your head with both hands.
  3. Standing tall with good posture and keeping your elbows tucked in, extend your elbows until lockout.
  4. Slowly lower down behind your head and reset and repeat. 
banded overhead tricep extension

Tricep Kickback

Why Do Them: The triceps kickback is a versatile exercise performed with a dumbbell, cable machine, or resistance band. This a pure triceps isolation exercise, so you cannot use a lot of weight, but you can do them for a ton of volume for an excellent triceps muscle pump. 

How to Do Them:

  1. With your equipment of choice in your hand(s), get into a hinge position with your torso leaning forward.
  2. Then with your elbows flexed, extend your elbows to lockout and squeeze at the end of the rep
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat for reps. 
Woman doing tricep kickbacks

Diamond Push-up

Why Do Them: Similar to the close-grip bench press, the diamond push-up shifts the load to your triceps due to the close-hand placement. Because of the reduced support base compared to the regular push-up, you’ll improve triceps lockout and core strength simultaneously.  

How to Do Them: 

  1. Get into a solid front plank position, with your hands close together, neutral spine, and feet wider than hip-width apart. 
  2. Screw your palms into the floor to create tension in your chest. 
  3. Slowly lower your chest about an inch from the ground, keeping your elbows tucked into your sides.  
  4. Push your hands through the floor until your elbows lock out.
  5. Reset and repeat for reps. 
Woman doing close grip pushups

Cable Machine Tricep Pushdown 

Why Do Them: The cable machine tricep pushdown is a great exercise that is performed with various tools (like a rope or D-Handles) and hand positions (underhand, neutral, or overhand grip). The cable machine’s constant tension gives you great muscle-building tension on your lateral and medial tricep heads to provide you with the horseshoe look the triceps is known for. 

How to Do Them:

  1. Set the cable machine on its highest setting with your handle of choice.
  2. Grip the handle with both hands and walk away from the cable machines until the weight stack separates 
  3. With your elbows flexed, lean your torso forward slightly and extend your elbows to lockout.
  4. Slowly lower back to the starting position and reset and repeat.   
woman doing cable machine tricep pushdowns

JM Press

Why Do Them: The JM press is named after legendary lifter JM Blakely, who came up with this hybrid lift. It is part close grip bench press, part skull crusher, and total triceps builder. Because the chest is involved, the reduced range of motion and the elbows being close enables you to use more load on the triceps than most of the exercises on this list. 

How to Do Them: 

  1. Start the JM Press the same way as the close grip bench press. The only difference being the barbell is above the upper pecs. 
  2. Set up with a narrow false or regular grip of 16 inches apart. 
  3. Set the elbows 45 degrees from the body and as you’re bringing the barbell towards your head.
  4. Cock the wrist to hold the bar in place. 
  5. Lower the barbell until your forearm touches your bicep.  
  6. Let the barbell roll back about 1 inch to keep the elbows pointed forward and up. 
  7. Press until lockout and reset and repeat.
Woman doing a JM press

Standing Landmine Press

Why Do Them: Training the triceps is tough on the elbow joint; not everyone can train pain-free. The standing landmine presses combination of being unilateral, the arc of the press with gripping the fat end of the barbell increases stability allowing some to train pain-free. With the neutral grip and elbow close to the body, you can train around discomfort while training the triceps, and it is an excellent exercise for beginners because there is less risk involved. 

How to Do Them: 

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your shoulders down and chest up.
  2. Hold the end of the barbell, elbows bent and just in front of your anterior shoulder.
  3. Engage your core, glutes, and lats, and grip the barbell tight. 
  4. Then perform an elbow extension to lockout and reach forward at the end of the movement. 
  5. Slowly lower back down and reset and repeat.

RELATED: The Most Underrated Dumbbell Exercises

Woman doing standing landmine press

Tricep Focused Workout

It’s no good giving you all these great triceps exercises and no way to use them. You can use two workouts to improve your triceps’ look, size, and strength when you need better flex time.

Best Triceps Workout graphic

Upper Body Triceps Workout

Here you’ll do a chest exercise that trains the triceps because you’ll use the most weight at the start of each tri-set. Then do each tri-set two to four times, resting little between exercises and 90 to 120 seconds rest after each tri-set.

1A. Close-Grip Bench Press 6-12 reps

1B. TRX Row 15-20 reps

1C. Cable Machine Triceps Pushdown 12-15 reps

2A. Standing Landmine Press 12 reps on each side

2B. Band Pull Aparts 15-20 reps

2C. Band Overhead Triceps Extension 15-20 reps

Triceps Triset 

Tricep triset workouts

Use this tri-set as an add-on for your upper or lower body training or as a finisher for better muscle growth at the end of your workout. Perform two to four times with 2 minutes rest after each tri-set.

1A. Skullcrushers Or JM Press 6-12 reps

1B. Close-Grip Push-Up AMRAP

1C. Overhead Triceps Extension 12-15 reps

Anatomy of Triceps

triceps highlighted on muscular system

Your triceps muscle actually makes up about 70 percent of your upper arm, meaning it’s an important one to target if you’re looking to add arm mass. Its full name is triceps brachii, and it runs the entire length of the back of your arm from the shoulder to the elbow joint.

Its main function is to support elbow extension and stabilization.

The three heads of the the triceps brachii muscle are:

  • The long head, on the arm’s inside
  • The lateral head, on the arm’s outside
  • The medial head, in the middle of the arm

A great triceps workout should consist of moves targeting all three heads. How do you do that? Focus on your shoulders, according to a 2018 study published in Acta Orthopaedica et Traumatologica Turcica.1

“Each head of the triceps brachii has a different pattern of force and activity during different shoulder elevations,” the study states. “The long head contributes to elbow extension more at shoulder elevation and the medial head takes over at 90° and above of shoulder elevation.”

References

  1. Kholinne E, Zulkarnain RF, Sun YC, Lim S, Chun JM, Jeon IH. The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta Orthop Traumatol Turc. 2018 May;52(3):201-205. doi: 10.1016/j.aott.2018.02.005. Epub 2018 Mar 2. PMID: 29503079; PMCID: PMC6136322.

Best Tricep Workouts: Q&A

How do you hit all three heads of the triceps?

All tricep exercises train all three muscles (lateral head, medial head, and long head of the triceps) to a certain degree, but some exercises better focus on all three heads. Exercises on this list, such as skullcrushers, close-grip bench presses, and parallel bar dips, must be your triceps go-to to build muscle and strength.  

What is the number one tricep workout?

That depends. If you want to build muscle, the number one tricep workout is one where you can use the most weight because more load equals more size and strength. Tricep activation exercises where you can do more volume to create maximum pump is the same for most muscle groups, not only the triceps. If you were to do one triceps workout, it needs to include exercises like the JM Press, dips, and close-grip bench press for load and overhead triceps extension, and pushdowns for the pump. 

Are three exercises for the triceps enough?

If you’re looking at improving your triceps’ look, size, and strength, lifting more weight for more reps is always king. That being said, performing three exercises for the triceps in one workout or one training week is enough if you’re hitting the triceps with a mix of compound and isolation exercises for improved strength and muscle.  

Further reading

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