No upper body training day is complete without a muscle-burning, life-affirming tricep workout. Not only do these muscles round out your arms for balanced, muscular pipes, but they also play a significant role in supporting complex lifts like the bench press and protecting the shoulder joint from injury.
Here’s everything you should know about training the triceps and six awesome tricep workouts for bigger, stronger arms.
About the Triceps
While we tend to focus on the biceps for arm definition, the triceps make up 2/3 of the upper arm. In other words, repping out bicep curls while neglecting your tricep dips is a colossal mistake.
Your triceps are comprised of three heads: the lateral head and the long head, which run from the elbow to the shoulder joint, and the medial head, which is tucked below the long head. Overhead exercises (like the overhead triceps extension) primarily target the long head, while push exercises (like triceps pushdowns) hit the lateral head.
The medial head is smaller and more nuanced. While all components of this muscle group work to complete a movement, the medial head plays a more supportive role. You can increase medial head engagement with underhand and close-grip variations of some exercises.
The Best Tricep Workouts
Since your triceps play an integral role in elbow extension and connect with the complex shoulder joint, form is paramount when doing tricep exercises. Drop the weight, lose your ego, and build massive arms with six of the best tricep exercises listed below.
Incline Tate Press
This lesser-known dumbbell press is an effective alternative to the close grip bench press. This advanced exercise targets all three heads of the triceps, with extra focus on the medial head. Many people with shoulder issues struggle with the close grip bench press due to the internal rotation of the shoulder. With this alternative, you can use lighter weights and focus on quality movements.
- Lay on a bench inclined at a 45-degree angle. Hold two dumbbells in an overhand grip at full extension.
- With a tight core, plant your feet and take a deep breath. Dip the extended dumbbells toward your chest, bending your elbows while maintaining a static upper arm and movement control.
- Rotate as you lower the dumbbells until the tops touch your chest, maintaining a gap between the dumbbells. Pause, squeeze your triceps, then reverse the motion until fully extended with your arms above you. That’s one rep.
Choose a weight, then go lighter; this movement is more challenging than you might think. Control and quality of movement are essential for success with the incline Tate press.
This energizing exercise isn’t as good as a gourmet cup of coffee, but it’s still worth adding to your training repertoire. This hybrid of exercise overhead tricep extensions and EZ bar skull crushers makes for a great superset finishing move with kickbacks and offset dumbbell skull crushers. While this movement targets all three heads of the tricep, the long head is the primary mover.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding an EZ bar in a narrow overhand grip. Extend the bar overhead.
- Tuck your elbows and squeeze to engage your triceps. Without shifting your upper arms, slowly lower the EZ bar behind your head as you would for a tricep extension.
- When you feel the stretch in your triceps, pause, then reverse the movement until you reach full extension. That’s one rep.
Push your range of motion without moving your upper arms from an upright position. Don’t fully extend your elbows, allowing a slight bend at the top of the eccentric phase. Good form is essential for preventing injury with this movement, so start with a light weight and prioritize high-quality movement.
Medicine Ball Diamond Push-Ups
This challenging workout combines two of the most effective tricep exercises: diamond push-ups and medicine ball push-ups. One ACE-sponsored study showed that diamond push-ups variation resulted in the most effective muscle energy usage over other tricep exercises. Similarly, a Strength and Conditioning Journal study revealed that medicine ball push-ups are more effective for increasing tricep activity.
The key takeaway? This one is going to burn.
- Get into the push-up position with both hands on the medicine ball in a diamond shape, thumbs almost touching.
- Tighten your core and maintain a flat back as you lower your body. Keep your elbows tucked throughout the movement.
- When your chest touches the ball, pause for a second, then extend back to the starting position.
For an extra challenge, consider using a Bosu ball or sandbags. Alternatively, you can take a staggered approach by placing one hand on the med ball and one on the floor in a close grip formation or create deficit push-ups with two med balls.
Isometric Alternate Arm Tricep Kickback
When done properly, tricep kickbacks effectively target the long head of the tricep. This is a nice alternative if you have shoulder issues that prevent you from performing an overhead triceps extension.
This combination isometric and unilateral approach to tricep kickbacks is a powerful finisher for any upper body workout.
- Stand in a bent over row position, with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hips hinged back. Your torso should be parallel to the floor.
- Grab two light dumbbells and extend your arms until they are parallel with the floor and aligned with your body. Pause and squeeze.
- Hold your left arm in this position. With your right arm, perform full tricep kickbacks, bending your elbow until you reach a 90-degree angle while keeping the dumbbell close to your body and extending back to full extension. Repeat five times while keeping your left arm in an isometric hold.
- When you’ve completed five reps on the right side, hold the right arm fully extended in an isometric hold. Repeat the kickbacks on the left.
Try to complete all the sets of this exercise without releasing the other arm. This is a great movement for a descending latter, dropping one rep per side each time. Proper form is everything with this exercise, and light weights are best.
Offset Grip Dumbbell Skull Crusher
Like the other overhead tricep exercises, skull crushers effectively target the long head tricep while actively engaging the lateral head. Dumbbell skull crushers— as opposed to EZ bar or barbell variations— help you prevent elbow flaring to protect your shoulders. The offset grip helps make the concentric (upward) phase more challenging.
- Lie on a bench with two dumbbells held in an overhand grip with palms facing each other. Your pinkies should be touching the inside of the upper dumbbell cap. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart.
- Stretch your arms overhead with a soft elbow. Keep your elbows tucked and upper arms static as you lower the dumbbells toward your head until you reach a 90-degree bend. At this point, the dumbbells should be slightly past the top of your head (don’t aim for your forehead!)
- Pause and squeeze the triceps before reversing the movement back to the starting position.
You’ll notice that the upward motion feels harder with your hands closer to the top rather than centered. This small shift makes a big difference, so start lighter than you typically would with traditional skull crushers.
Overhead Tricep Rope Extensions
You’ll need a high pulley cable machine for this effective tricep workout. If you can’t access gym equipment, you can also recreate the exercise with a well-placed resistance band and superset the exercise with a resistance band pushdown for optimal results.
- Position the high pulley so that you can reach overhead while facing away from the cable machine. Stand in a split stance with feet approximately hip-width for stability.
- Reach backward overhead and grip the rope with palms facing each other. The index finger of your leading hand should be touching the pinky finger of your back hand.
- Lean forward slightly, keeping your elbows upright. Brace your core, extend your arms, and pull the rope overhead.
- When your elbows are fully extended, pause and squeeze, then reverse the movement to return to your starting position.
You may need to adjust your stance for stability, as arm length and body type will play a role in how this exercise feels.
Tricep Programming Considerations
Most athletes and bodybuilders prefer to work the triceps after targeting the major muscle groups on their upper body days. Think of it this way: you’ll be able to tire out your triceps after an intense benching session, but if you wear them out beforehand, your bench will suffer.
It’s also common practice to pair biceps and triceps together for accessory training. As your triceps are supporting muscles, you can hit them more than once per week as long as you allow adequate rest in between.
They may seem like an afterthought, but target tricep exercises can help improve your muscle mass, overall strength, and the quality of your complex lifts. Add these six tricep workouts to your training plan, keep your elbows tucked, and prepare to be amazed.