Strong arms are important for almost everyupper bodymovement you do each day and yourtricepsare often the heavy lifters. Anytime you push something—whether it be a door, a stroller, a lawnmower, or a barbell—you're using your triceps.
The triceps, as the name suggests, have three different heads. These include the long head, lateral head, and the medial head. All of these heads contract during triceps exercises, but some moves emphasize different parts of the triceps. The best way to build strong, firm triceps is to choose the exercises that hit all those muscle fibers from every angle.
How Should You Do Tricep Workouts?
Putting together a triceps workout can help you gain functional movement. Further, strong triceps are essential for training other muscle groups. Strong triceps are needed to do push-ups, for example, as well as chest presses. Here are a few things to consider as you plan a triceps workout.
Warming up is important before any strength-training workout, triceps included. It gets blood flowing to your muscles and increases the temperature of your muscles, which helps prevent injury. Start your workout with some brisk walking or jogging, jumping jacks, or calisthenics.
Train Multiple Muscle Groups
Tricep workouts are unique from other strength workouts because many of the exercises isolate the triceps very specifically so that you don't work other muscle groups at the same time. For this reason, people often like to work out other muscle groups during the same workout session. But what muscle groups should you train along with your triceps?
Many people train the shoulders and chest along with the triceps because they are all involved in many of the same functional movements. You should rest the muscle groups you train for at least two days before working them again.
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How Many Exercises Should You Do?
When you're exercising your triceps you want to make sure you are targeting each of the three heads of the triceps muscles. The more variety you can incorporate into your routine, the more balanced your strength will develop.
If you're starting out, aim to do three sets of 10-12 reps of each exercise. You might wonder how heavy your weights should be. Aim for about 70% of the maximum amount of weight you could possibly lift for each exercise. Add more weight and reps as your fitness level increases.
Best Triceps Workouts
Some triceps exercises are more effective than others, according to theAmerican Council on Exercise (ACE). In anACE-commissioned study, researchers took exercisers through eight of the most common triceps exercises and recorded muscle activity by attaching EMG electrodes to subjects' triceps. With this information, they were able to rank the eight best triceps exercises. The top four moves are as follows:
- Diamond push-ups: This exercise emphasizes all three heads of the triceps muscle and is the most effective move for that.
- Kickbacks: This move also targets all three heads of the triceps, but not quite as much as the diamond push-up. This exercise is also easier, so may be more user-friendly than push-ups.
- Triceps extensions: Including this exercise means you have a move that emphasizes the long head of the triceps muscle, a nice complement to the other exercises.
- Triceps pushdowns: This moveemphasizes the lateral head of your triceps, again a nice complement to the other exercises.
Rather than doing all of these moves in the same workout, focus on choosing a combination of exercises that emphasize all the different areas of the triceps.
The diamond push-up is probably the hardest triceps exercise in this list. It requires tremendous upper body strength, so you may need to try this move on your knees and slowly work your way up to the toes.
How to Do a Diamond Push-Up
- Begin the move by positioning the hands on the mat directly under the chest with the fingers spread and the thumbs and forefingers touching, making a diamond shape.
- Straighten the legs into a plank position, or keep the knees on the floor for a more accessible version.
- Make sure the back is flat and the abs are engaged as you bend the elbows, lowering until your chin or chest touches the mat. If you can't go that low, go as low as you can—then work to build enough strength to lower all the way down over time.
- At the bottom of the movement, your elbows should stay close to your sides.
- Press back to start,keeping the torso rigid, and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
Try These Exercises to Work Your Triceps
According to the ACE study, the triceps kickback is the second most effective triceps exercise and not far behind diamond push-ups, coming in at about 88% of muscle activation.
By bending forward, you really have to work against gravity to move the weight up and down. The key to this move is to use your shoulder to stabilize the upper arm, allowing the forearm to extend behind you. If your elbow drifts down, use a lighter weight to maintain good form.
Muscle activation is the ability to switch on your muscles so they can do work. Typically, activation occurs when you use short, isolation exercises that target specific muscles to wake them up and get them working.
How to Do Triceps Kickbacks
- Prop the right foot on a step or platform, resting the right forearm on the thigh to support the back, or allowing the arm to drop directly below the shoulder.
- Hold a weight in the left hand and pull the elbow up to torso level.
- Keeping the elbow in that position, extend the arm behind you, focusing on contracting the triceps muscle.
- Lower the forearm down to about 90 degrees and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
- Focus on keeping the upper arms stationary against the body throughout the exercise.
Triceps dips are the third most effective and challenging exercise, depending on how you position your feet. In this version, the knees are bent, making the movement easier. Extending your feet out will increase the intensity of the exercise.
The key to keeping this move safe is to keep your hips close to the chair or bench to avoid straining the shoulders. Make sure you keep the shoulders down and away from the ears, and if you feel any discomfort in the shoulders, skip this exercise.
How to Do a Triceps Dip
- Sit on a chair orbench with your hands just outside the hips, with the knees bent or the legs extended straight out (harder).
- Lift up onto the hands and, keeping the hips very close to the chair or bench, and bend your elbows, lowering down until they're at about 90 degrees.
- Keep the elbows pointing behind you, the shoulders down, and the abs engaged.
- Push back to start and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
- Avoid this exercise if you feel any pain in the shoulders.
How to Do Triceps Dips: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes
Overhead Triceps Extensions
The overhead triceps extension is the fourth most effective exercise, coming in at about 76% of muscle activation. The key is keeping the arms next to the ears as you lower the weight behind you. Make sure you can contract the abs to keep your back from arching.
You can do this exercise seated or standing.Believe it or not, this move feels more challenging when you're sitting, and sitting on an exercise ball adds an element of core strength.
How to Do an Overhead Triceps Extension
- Sit on a chair, bench, ball, or stand; keep back straight. Hold a weight in both hands, extending it up overhead.
- Keep your biceps close to your ears and elbows pointing forward as you lower the weight behind your head until the elbows are at about 90-degree angles.
- Straighten the arms, contracting the triceps, and then repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
- Keep the abs engaged throughout the exercise and avoid arching the back.
The rope pushdown, normally done on a cable machine with a rope attachment, comes in at number five, eliciting about 74% muscle activation. The idea is to spread the rope at the bottom of the movement to really fire up the triceps muscle.
If you don't have access to a cable machine, you can use a resistance band. Attach it to the top of a doorway and tie alooseknot in the band about halfway down.
How to Do a Rope Pushdown
- At a cable machine with a rope attachment, hold the rope near the knotted ends and begin the exercise with the elbows bent at about 90 degrees. Your elbows should be next to your torso.
- Extend the arms, taking the hands down towards the floor, spreading the rope slightly out on either side as you contract the triceps.
- Bring the forearms back to start and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
The bar pushdown is similar to the rope pushdownbut slightly less effective at about 67%. This exercise is usually done on a cable machine at the gym using a small bar attachment, although you can also do this exercise at home with an exercise band and a small pole or bar threaded through the handles.
The key to this move is to keep the elbows stationary as you push the weight down. If you lift the bar too high (say, higher than neck level), your elbows may come forward, making the exercise less effective.
How to Do a Bar Pushdown
- Stand in front of a cable machine, holding onto the bar with the elbows bent to about 90 degrees.
- Keeping the elbows stationary, push the bar down, contracting the triceps as you extend the arms.
- Bring the bar back up to about chest level without moving the elbows and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
Lying Triceps Extensions (Skull Crushers)
Triceps extensions performed lying down (also known as skull crushers) come in at a surprising number seven, eliciting about 62% muscle activation. Some exercisers will find this comparatively low activation rate surprising because this exercise is known for being challenging.
The muscle activation data doesn't mean you shouldn't do these anymore, but rather that you should work them into a program that includes some of the top exercises as well. Using a variety of exercises that tackle different muscles at different intensities will lead to better results and stronger triceps.
How to Do a Skull Crusher
- Lie on a bench, step, or floor and hold a barbell or dumbbells with your hands about shoulder distance apart.
- Begin the exercise by extending the weight up over the head with your palms facing out and thumbs next to the fingers.
- Bend the elbows and lower the weight until the elbows are at about 90-degree angles. This would be the part of the exercise where you wouldn't want to crush your skull by going too low.
- Squeeze the triceps to straighten the arms without locking the joints.
- Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
Close Grip Bench Presses
The close grip bench press comes in eighth as an effective triceps exercise, eliciting about 62% muscle activation. This move also involves quite a bit of the chest, which may be why the triceps don't work as much as in other exercises.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't do this exercise. In fact, this can be a great exercise if you're working both the chest and triceps in the same workout.
Doing this move at the end of your chest exercises can warm up the triceps before you move on to more targeted moves.
How to Do a Close Grip Bench Press
- Lie on a bench or step holding a barbell with hands about shoulder-width apart.
- Begin the exercise with the elbows bent and the barbell hovering just over the ribcage.
- Press the weight straight over the ribcage, focusing on contracting the triceps.
- Lower and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
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A Word From Verywell
Building tricep strength is essential for training other muscle groups, as well as for movements that involve elbow extension. It can be easy to overdo a tricep workout, so when you're starting out, use lighter weights and add intensity as you build fitness. Consult a healthcare professional before you begin a new workout routine to ensure it will be safe and effective for you.
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