When people think of having strong, toned arms, they tend to focus mainly on building biceps—the meatier part of your arms. But the triceps—the three-headed muscles in the back of your arms—are just as important. FYI: Your triceps run from your shoulder along the back of your arm down to your elbow joint. So while your biceps take up the most real estate on your arms, these supporting muscles act as the bridge between your arms and the rest of your upper body.
“The stronger your triceps become, the more strength and stability you’ll gain in your upper body. Stronger triceps means improved range of motion, too,” says Nicole Blades, a NASM-certified personal trainer based in Connecticut.”These smaller muscles are working behind the scenes and a little undercover. Stronger triceps help make functional movement in everyday life, such as lifting, pulling, pushing, and carrying, easier,” Blades explains.
But because your triceps have more fast-twitch muscle fibers, they fatigue faster, Blades says. What are fast-twitch muscle fibers, exactly? Every muscle has slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers. Slow-twitch muscle fibers don’t tire out quickly and great for endurance activities, so they respond best to high reps. Think eight or more reps per exercise. On the other hand, fast-twitch muscles provide short-term power and force.
“You want to go for lower-rep ranges—no more than eight—when you’re working your triceps. Use heavier weights since the rep ranges are low, but go lighter if your form starts to break down. The key is to get quality reps,” Blades says. Another great way to work your triceps is through supersets because you can alternate between strengthening your biceps. This way your triceps won’t get tired fast.
Ready to kick those back-arm muscles into gear? Check out the triceps exercises workout designed by Blades below. We guarantee you’ll feel the burn!
Time: 20 to 30 minutes
Reps: 8 reps per exercise
Equipment: 1 set of dumbbells between 8 and 10 pounds
Apparel: Athleta Contender Side Stripe Capri in Powerlift in Beach Plum, Athleta Shanti Tank In Powervita in Hibiscus Red, and APL Techloom Phantom in Navy/Bleached Pink
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Overhead Triceps Extension
If you want to isolate your triceps, this single-joint exercise is the way to do it. You want these reps to be slow and controlled to get the most out of the move and to avoid fatiguing fast.
How to do overhead triceps extensions: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Extend both arms fully overhead. Keeping your arms close to your head, slowly bend your elbows and lower the dumbbells behind your head until your arms are lower than 90 degrees. Remember to keep your elbows pointing forward and not moving out to the sides.
This exercise primarily targets the triceps long head, which is the big muscle that runs along the back of your upper arms, Blades says.
How to do triceps kickbacks: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart with your knees slightly bent and your hips hinging forward. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at the sides by your chest so your elbows are bent at about 90 degrees. Engaging your triceps, straighten your arms behind you with your palms facing in. Your arms should be fully extended in a straight line parallel to your torso.
Triceps Underhand Kickbacks
By simply changing the grip of the traditional triceps kickback, you target the medial triceps—the part of the muscle that provides stability.
How to do triceps underhand kickbacks: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart with your knees slightly bent and your hips hinging forward. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing in front of you, so your arms are bent at about 90 degrees. This is called a supinated grip. Squeezing your triceps, straighten your arms behind you with your arms fully extended in a straight line parallel to your torso.
Standing Eccentric Triceps Extensions
This exercise might look simple, but it can tire your triceps out quickly if you move at a faster pace and use a heavier weight, so choose dumbbells wisely.
How to do standing eccentric triceps extensions: Standing with your feet hip-distance apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms in front of you. Squeezing your triceps, bend your elbows until your arm forms a 90-degree angle and then extend them back out.
Also known as French presses, Blades says this exercise works the entire triceps muscle group through the concentric phase of the movement.
How to do skull crushers: Lie flat on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your chest and extend your straight arms up to the ceiling. Slowly lower both arms toward your head down by your sides, bending your elbows at 90 degrees.
Close-Grip Dumbbell Press
While this move is similar to a chest press, the closed grip focuses on targeting the triceps instead of the chest.
How to do a close-grip dumbbell press: Lie flat on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your chest. Squeezing your triceps, push the dumbbells straight up towards the ceiling, pressing them together to lock out at the top. Continue to press them together as you lower them back down with control. This is one rep.
The Tate press is usually done on a bench at an incline, but you can still reap the benefits of this exercise at home, using a mat. This advanced move isolates the triceps without recruiting your shoulders or back.
How to do a Tate press: Lie flat on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward and extend them shoulder-width apart with your elbows pointing out. Without moving your arms, slowly bend your elbows in towards your chest so the dumbbells move in and down until they touch your upper chest—but don’t let them rest on your chest. Then, engaging your triceps, press the dumbbells up to the starting position. This is one rep.
Changing the position of your hands in a standard push-up can help you further target the triceps. You’re still doing full-body work, but you’re zeroing in on your triceps to do the heavy lifting.
How to do diamond push-ups: Get into a high plank position with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your body in a straight line. Place your hands together directly under your shoulders with your index fingers and thumbs touching to form a diamond. Slowly lower your body to the mat with your elbows widening out to the sides. Using your triceps, press your arms back up to straighten. This is one rep.
Yes, yoga is about building strength, too. This classic pose is a great way to build upper-body and core strength, while improving your flexibility and range of motion in your shoulders.
How to do Chaturanga push-ups: Get into a high plank position with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your body in a straight line. Lower your body towards the mat while keeping your knees and thighs lifted like you would in a standard push-up. Roll your body forward to the top of your feet with your chest forward and your back arched. Then, roll your body back to a high plank. This is one rep.
Up-down planks, aka plank walks, are basically what happens when you combine a plank and push-up. As you move from high to forearm plank, your core will get some action, in addition to your triceps. The key to getting the most out of this exercise is to move slowly to avoid rocking your hips.
How to do up-down planks: Get into a high plank position with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your body in a straight line. Keeping your hips as still as possible, bring your right arm down to a forearm plank and then your left arm. Then, put your right hand on the mat and press back up to a high plank, followed by your left arm. This is one rep.
Your deltoids, pecs, and lats also get some action in this exercise, strengthening your upper body while also increasing your body’s range of motion. As you progress and get stronger, you can extend your legs all the way out.
How to do chair dips: Sit on a chair and place your hands on it with your fingers facing the front. Extend your legs out in front of you at hip-distance apart with only your heels touching the floor. Bending at the elbows, lower your body towards the floor until your elbows form a 90-degree angle. Then, press your body back up, using your triceps to straighten your arms.
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