Blow Up Your Arms With These 15 Triceps Exercises

Blow up your arms with these 15 triceps exercises

Try these moves to give your arms' three-headed monster some extra attention.

YOU CAN’T BUILD big arms with a narrow focus on just one type of movement. To be more specific, you’ll need more than just dumbbell curls to sculpt the type of fully-formed, 3D muscles you’re aiming to achieve. The issue is that most guys just fall back on the classic curl (which is a great exercise for one specific purpose). When you do that, you’ll be targeting your biceps alone. That will only get you so far on your path to gains, especially since those muscles aren’t even the biggest show in town. That title goes to the triceps. Like the biceps, you’ll have the most success when you dial in with isolation moves—so you’ll need to know about the best exercises you can do to target your triceps.

The triceps are so consequential for two main reasons. First, they’re the largest muscle of the arm, so you’re working with a ton of real estate when you target your triceps. This might surprise you, since most people get caught up on the biceps. The difference here is in the positioning—the triceps are posteriorly positioned, on the backside of your arm, while the biceps are on the anterior, or front.

Secondly, the triceps are responsible for elbow extension, making them essential for movements like pressing. Whenever you straighten your arm, the triceps are working. Whether you’re training to build mass, gain strength, or just to be generally healthy, you’ll need to train your triceps.

What You Need to Know About Your Triceps Muscles

 

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Think of your triceps as the three-headed monster that will make your arms pop. The muscle takes its name from those three heads—the long head, the medial head, and the lateral head—and is essential for elbow extension.

That means just about any time you straighten your arms, whether you’re pressing or doing extensions, your triceps are going to be involved. All three heads connect to your elbow and humerus (your upper arm bone), while long head alone connects to your shoulder blade, which makes the muscle involved in overhead pressing movements.

 

Benefits of Triceps Training

 

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Your triceps muscles are integral for arm function. Benefits of triceps training include:

●Healthy elbow joint function

●Increased pressing strength

●Increased arm muscle mass

 

How to Train Your Triceps

 

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There are plenty of ways to train your tris, too, although finding just the right muscle contraction isn’t always easy. Remember that locking out your elbow and straightening your elbow are two different things; focus on keeping tension on your triceps and actively flexing them when you’re in the straight-arm position. Any movement that has you straightening your arm at the elbow will train your triceps, but there are plenty of ways to vary up that arm-straightening motion.

Changing the angle of your arm relative to your torso can place different levels of stretch on the triceps muscle, and adding pauses, both at the top of reps and halfway through reps, can emphasize different phases of the contraction.

For the best results, start with these triceps stretches before jumping into your workouts.

 

Best Triceps Exercises to Increase Arm Strength

 

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Triceps Pressdown

 

preview for Eb and Swole: Triceps Pushdown

Why: Pressdowns are one of the most popular triceps exercises, for good reason. The move is all about isolating the muscle as it performs its main function (elbow extension), and using a cable machine or resistance bands allows you to load up to challenge yourself.

How to Do It:

  • For the most common version of the exercise, stand in front of the cable machine/resistance band setup holding the rope attachment or handle at your upper chest.
  • Keep your core engaged and your shoulder blades tight, then push down to extend your arms, moving only at the elbows.
  • To reinforce your form and eliminate any chance at cheating, add a bench into the equation.
  • Lie with your back on a bench set to a 45-degree incline, abs and glutes tight. Your shoulder blades should be off the bench.
  • Grasp either a handle or rope in your hands. Keep your elbows tight to your torso.
  • Bending only at the elbows, straighten the rope or handle.
  • Pause and squeeze your triceps.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps

 

Close-Grip Pushup

 

 

Why: Few bodyweight moves are as effective as the close-grip pushup. First off, this is a move you can take anywhere, a bonus triceps pump whenever you can drop and do a quick set. Secondly, you’re also loading with your bodyweight—and sure, other muscles are assisting you in pressing up, but you’re still getting plenty of triceps activation under load. And remember: diamonds are not your friend.

How to Do It:

  • Set up in pushup position, with your hands just slightly narrower than shoulder-width (don’t fall into the trap of thinking your hands must touch each other), hands directly below your shoulders, core tight and glutes squeezed.
  • Lower yourself down to the floor, bending your elbows at a 45-degree angle. Make sure your elbows don’t flare out to the sides; keep them locked in place.
  • Pause, maintaining the squeeze in your core and glutes, then push back up to the original position by straightening your arms.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps

 

Bench Dips

Why: This bodyweight movement will look familiar to just about anyone who has tried their hand at training—after all, it appears to be as basic as finding a bench or platform and pumping yourself up and down. But if you’re looking to train your triceps effectively while also protecting your shoulders, there’s more that you need to know.

How to Do It: Firstly, don’t even approach the bench if you have any shoulder pain or mobility issues. If your shoulders are in good shape, follow this form exactly:

  • Sit on the bench and place your hands down with your knuckles facing outwards, to force as much external rotation as possible.
  • Extend your legs straight out and squeeze your glutes, so you’re supporting your bodyweight on your hands. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, then push your torso up high.
  • Lower yourself down to a depth that’s comfortable for you, then squeeze your triceps to extend your arms and lift yourself up.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps

 

Close-Grip Bench Press

 

preview for How To Improve Your Close Grip Bench Press | Form Check

Why: The bench press is a great exercise to work your chest and core. But a change in grip can help expand your arms.“Placing your hands closer together makes it so your triceps have to work harder,” says Craig Ballantyne, Owner of Turbulence Training. “That can lead to new growth and more strength.” (It’s also one of the 3 Secrets to a Bigger Bench Press.)

How to Do It:

  • Grasp a barbell with an overhand grip that’s shoulder-width apart, and hold it above your sternum with arms completely straight.
  • Lower the bar straight down, pause, and then press the bar back up to the starting position.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps

 

EZ Bar Skull Crushers

 

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Why: The skull crusher is a go-to tricep move because it gives you a chance to isolate the muscle. The lying position allows you to kill any momentum you use to cheat in other moves.

How to Do It:

  • Put your feet flat on the floor, squeezing your glutes and keeping your core active on the bench.
  • After you lift the bar above your chest, drive your shoulders aggressively into the bench and maintain a little bit of tension in your mid-back to prep for the exercise.
  • Lower the bar to your head for reps, making sure to only move at the elbow joint. Keep your shoulders and upper arms stable.
  • Extend your elbows to lift the weight back up, keeping your upper arm angle.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps

 

Rocker Bodyweight Skull Crusher

Why: You don’t need any weights for this skull crusher variation, which takes you off the bench and uses the ground to isolate your triceps. This particular version has one specific advantage to the standard bodyweight skull crusher: the rocking motion allows you to get a better stretch than just extending your arms would.

How to Do It:

  • Start in plank position, elbows directly below your shoulders, core and glutes tight.
  • Shift your entire torso forward, bringing shoulders in front of elbows and lowering your torso to the ground as far as you can while keeping your forearms on the ground.
  • Keeping your elbows and core tight, straighten your arms, pressing your torso upwards.
  • Then, return to the plank position.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps

 

Bench Overhead Triceps Extension

preview for Try This Dumbbell Triceps Extension Variation | Men’s Health Muscle

Why: The overhead triceps extension is one of the most common exercises you’ll find in a workout program, and people usually do it from a standing or seated position. Unfortunately, you might be putting your shoulders and low back in a bad spot with this approach. You’ll get more out of the movement if you add a bench, according to MH fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

How to Do It:

  • Lie back on the bench, holding a dumbbell with both hands.
  • Extend your arms over your head as far as your can, holding the weight. Tighten your abs to drive your ribcage closed and create tension.
  • Extend your elbows to raise the weight up, pausing at the top. Make sure that you’re only moving your elbows; this will isolate the triceps.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps

 

JM Press

 

Why: The JM press is a hybrid movement combining two of the best triceps builders in the game, the skull crusher and the close-grip bench press. You’ll put yourself in a great position to kickstart growth using whichever implement you want, but dumbbells are a great place to start.

How to Do It:

  • Get in a solid position on the bench (squeezing your shoulder blades, abs, and glutes, with your feet on the floor).
  • Raise the weight straight above your chest, as you would for a press—then shift your arm angle to about 92 degrees.
  • Lower the weight so that your elbows are at your ribs, and the top heads of the weights are at your shoulders. Make sure to take your time to make sure that you stay in the proper movement path for every single rep.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps

 

Bodyweight Triceps Extension

Why: This simple movement gives you a gentler variation of an overhead extension, which usually uses some form of free weight and might be difficult for those with shoulder issues. You’ll need a straight bar set below eye-level—and you can scale the difficulty by changing the angle—so you’ll need a rack and bar, a Smith machine, or some other stable straight bar that can bear your weight.

How to Do It:

  • Grab the bar with both hands in an overhand grip.
  • Extend your arms to lock out your elbows in a tight standing plank position, squeezing your glutes and abs.
  • Next, bend your elbows to lower your torso forward, keeping your feet planted on the floor.
  • Allow your head to dip below the bar. Move only as far as you’re comfortable to avoid shoulder pain and injury.
  • After a beat, extend your elbows and squeeze your triceps to raise back to the start, keeping your elbows in line with each other.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps

 

Dumbbell Bench Press

 

preview for How to Properly Bench Press | Form Check

Why: While you might not be targeting the tris as directly as with the close-grip variation above, the standard bench press absolutely uses the triceps to help your chest move the weight from point A to B.

Using dumbbells allows for you to have a larger range of motion, since the weights aren’t fixed on a barbell.

How to Do It:

  • Lie on a bench, holding a pair of dumbbells at chest level with your elbows at a 45-degree angle relative to torso. Don’t arch your back, especially if you want to emphasize triceps recruitment.
  • Squeeze your pecs to press the weight directly above your torso. Control the weight as you lower it back to an inch above your chest, then press up again.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps

 

Tall Kneeling Triceps Pressdowns

Why: One of the most basic ways to train your triceps is the pressdown, which has you keeping your elbows in line with your torso and driving your hands down while holding a band or cable. Level that move up by kneeling on the ground, engaging your abs and glutes.

How to Do It:

  • Kneel on the ground, thighs in line with your torso, glutes and abs tight, shoulder blades back, grasping two ends of a resistance band.
  • Keeping your core tight and not leaning forward, straighten your right elbow, flexing your triceps, then straighten your left elbow.
  • Keep your left elbow straight as you do 2 reps with your right arm; reverse the movement.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps per arm

 

Half-Bench Skull Crusher

Why: What if you could train your abs and triceps at once? You get to do that on the half-bench skull crusher, thanks to the fact that half your torso is off the bench (and thus must stay contracted to keep you level and in control).

How to Do It:

  • Lie on a bench holding a dumbbell in your right hand directly above your shoulder.
  • Shift over to the right side so your right glute, shoulder blade, and half your spine, and half your head are off the bench. Tighten your core.
  • Bend at the elbow, lowering the dumbbell toward your forehead; press back up.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps per arm

 

Triceps Kickback

Why: The triceps kickback is one of the most basic exercises for triceps development, when done correctly, forcing you to straight your arm so it’s parallel with the ground.

How to Do It:

  • Stand holding a dumbbell in your right arm, then hinge forward, holding something with your left arm for support.
  • Raise your elbow so your upper arm is parallel to the ground. Keeping your upper arm parallel to the ground and without tilting your hips or shoulders, straighten your right arm, squeezing your triceps.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps

 

Cable Triceps Kickback

Why: As noted above, there are some shortcomings with the dumbbell triceps kickback. Namely, your muscles aren’t under tension for most of the exercise’s range of motion. Use a cable machine to address those issues and finish off your triceps.

How to Do It:

  • Start by taking a staggered stance. Do whatever you need to find a stable position here: use the track on the cable machine if yours has one, or grab onto the upper portion of the handle track, or keep your elbow on your thigh. Whichever you choose, ensure that your shoulders stay higher then your hips to protect the lower back.
  • Grab onto the handle, and pull your elbow up and back slightly above your torso. Keep your upper arm to be parallel to the ground for the duration of the set.
  • Straighten out the elbow without rocking or moving the upper arm. Squeeze at the top.
  • Slowly lower the weight down, preferably for a two count negative, to complete the rep.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps

 

 

TRX Tricep Extension

Why: Suspension training allows you to work against your own body weight, which can be a novel way to use resistance for upper body exercises. If you’re stuck in a small space without room for weights, a set of straps is all you need to get your triceps burning.

How to Do It:

  • Grip the handles with each hand, holding your palms facing out. Extend your arms straight out and lean slightly forward into your toes, so the lines are taut.
  • Hinge at the elbows and bend your arms, leaning forward until your head is between your hands. Squeeze your core and glutes to maintain good posture — don’t bend your knees.
  • Squeeze your triceps and press forward, pushing yourself back up into the starting position as you straighten your arms.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

By Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is the fitness director of Men's Health and a certified trainer with more than 10 years of training experience. He's logged training time with NFL athletes and track athletes and his current training regimen includes weight training, HIIT conditioning, and yoga. Before joining Men's Health in 2017, he served as a sports columnist and tech columnist for the New York Daily News.

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