It may seem simple and almost too good to be true, but as you flex and extend your elbow during triceps exercises, each repetition gets you closer to acquiring the ever so sought-after horseshoe. Whether you’re a physique competitor, want to get brutally strong and rep two plates on the bench press, or chisel your arms as part of a fat-burning plan, triceps training deserves a place in your routine.
Below is a collection of five fantastic workouts that can help you pursue your triceps goals. Pick the one that best suits your needs and work consistently, and you’ll have your sleeves filled out in no time.
Best Triceps Workouts
Best Triceps Workout for Beginners
As a beginner, targeted arm training may not be necessary to reap some gains in the gym. That said, if you’re looking to add triceps mass specifically, remember as a beginner that it is important to prioritize frequency and mindful practice over lifting the heaviest weights possible. Strength training is a long road, so set yourself up for success by building good habits early.
Perform this workout with higher frequency and less intensity (meaning weight on the bar) for at least three to four weeks of consistent training. You can do this workout two to three times per week with the rest of your training split.
Coach’s Tip: The close-grip bench press can be tricky to execute, especially if you’re a beginner. Ultimately, what feels comfortable and correct to you will vary, but a general rule of thumb is to place your hands shoulder-width apart. If you grip the barbell with your hands any close, you’ll place undue stress on your elbow joints.
Best Triceps Workout for Muscle
If you’re looking to take your physique to the next level, packing on some extra size to your arms can do a lot for your appearance in the office or on the competition stage. Big triceps are essential whether you want to look bigger in a shirt or are lacing up your board shorts for a physique show.
To elicit muscle growth, you want to perform this workout with relatively high intensities and at a frequency of up to three times per week. That said, you’re only able to train as hard as you can recover, so prioritize your nutrition and rest so you can properly recover between this kind of intense training.
- Skull Crushers: 3 x 12-15, followed by 2 x 8 – 10 at a slightly heavier weight
- Weighted Dip: 3 sets at an RPE 8 with a moderate weight
- Cable Overhead Extension: 3 x 15
- Cable Single-arm Kickback: 3 x 15
- Push-Up: 3 sets of as many repetitions as possible
Coach’s Tip: To elicit the most growth possible, stop each repetition just short of fully locking out the elbow to ensure the tension remains on the muscle tissue and is not transferred to the joint.
Best Triceps Workout for Strength
Your triceps extend your elbow, which means they’re vital in movements like the push-up and bench press. They’re so essential to bench press strength that powerlifters isolate them frequently to ensure their lockout is on point. As you initiate the bench press, your chest muscles are the primary movers. However, as the barbell gets close to the top, it’s your triceps that complete the exercise. Below are two workouts to strengthen your triceps — through a combination of intensity and more volume (compared to other workouts on this list).
You’ll hit two strength-focused workouts per week. In total, you’ll accumulate 29 sets for your triceps. You’ll also be lifting in a combination of rep ranges — six to 10 so you’re handling larger weights, and then 12 and up to ensure you build a fatigue resistance. Assuming you want stronger triceps for a bigger bench press, the first two movements of each day are a bench press variation. Specificity is king, so if you want a stronger bench press, you need to bench press.
|Big Bench Press Accessory Day 1
||Big Bench Press Accessory Day 2
Best Triceps Workout for Power
Power can be simply defined as moving weight at high velocities. More powerful triceps means more intense and volatile elbow flexion. If you think having “explosive triceps” sounds like a gimmick or unnecessary, consider two examples: Olympic weightlifters need to speedily lift a barbell from the floor to overhead, and powerful triceps help them more quickly lock the bar out. Secondly, professional fighters must rapidly flex and extend their elbows to throw fight-ending elbow strikes. UFC Light Heavyweight contender Johnny Walker utilizes his explosive arms consistently.
The sweet spot for selecting weights for power training is a broad range — between 30 and 70 percent. You want to stick with lighter loads so you can move the weight on the bar quickly. Do this workout two times per week alongside your regular training. You shouldn’t come close to failure on any set listed below. You want to move the bar with speed to stay high and the weights to move fast.
|Olympic Weightlifter-Style Workout
Best Bodyweight Triceps Workout
You’ve got options when it comes to building your triceps sans any free weights. You’ll mainly utilize push-up and dip variations, but there are plenty of options to ensure you’re stressing the three-headed muscle from a variety of angles. In addition to a less robust exercise selection, you’ll rely on high reps to near-failure since you adding more weight to the bar isn’t an option.
Pick one workout and perform it a few times per week — minimum two times, maximum four times. “RIR” stands for reps in reserve and seeing “2 RIR” means you should stop two reps short of mechanical failure. As you progress, aim to add reps to your sets. Ideally, you can do more reps while still feeling as though you’re two reps from failure.
|For Beginner Calisthenics Athletes
*Bring chin or neck to bar or stair upon descent allowing elbows to brush the sides of one’s ribs
|For Advanced Calisthenics Athletes
Anatomy of the Triceps
The triceps brachii gets its name due to being composed of three distinct sections. The long head of the triceps makes up the meat and the size of the arm. The lateral head is the coveted horseshoe, the carved look on the side of the arm. The medial head of the triceps is deeper relative to the other two compartments and contributes size as well.
All three triceps heads perform the same function of elbow extension. However, by altering the posture of your upper arm, you can bias certain aspects of the triceps over others. For instance, the long head is primarily involved when the arm is extended overhead.
Remember that all muscles are slaves to the setup, and adjusting your positioning or posture can affect your training outcome. Hit the triceps from various arm angles to take your training to the next level and unlock further results.
Benefits of Triceps Training
The triceps muscle is small, but the benefits of training it is significant.
A Bigger Bench
Do you want a bigger bench press? Get in line. One reason your bench may be lacking is that you’re following the wrong program. (If you think this may be the case, fear not, there are solutions.) Another issue with your bench may be that your triceps are lacking. After all, this small muscle extends your elbow. Take a second to envision the top portion of a bench press, and you’ll realize that elbow extension is what brings it home.
Look at most elite-level powerlifting programs, and you’ll notice that the push/bench press days are chock full of triceps movements. And you can be sure the abundance of tri movements aren’t programmed for aesthetics — stronger triceps equal a stronger bench press. So much so that famed powerlifter JM Blakely went as far as to invent his namesake JM Press, which is a triceps-focused bench press variation.
More Impressive Looking Arms
Train any muscle long and hard enough and gains are imminent. Strong arms in particular are a body part envied by all lifters — powerlifters want them for bigger lifts and bodybuilders need them to complete their side triceps and back double biceps pose. If you’re neither a strength athlete nor a powerlifter, then bigger triceps also look good in a t-shirt or a tank top.
Whether you are at your cousin’s bar mitzvah or you are Lasha Talakhadze looking the set another world record in the clean & jerk, the triceps is active and heavily relied upon. The triceps not only contributes to locking out the elbow overhead but also provide stability to the shoulder joint as the long head of the triceps attaches to the scapula.
How to Warm Up Your Triceps
When it comes to muscular development, the training session is only as good as the warm-up. Since the elbow sees a lot of action both in the gym and during day-to-day activities, getting the joints warmed up and the muscle primed for power is critical.
Luckily, the elbow joint isn’t as structurally complex as the hip or shoulder. If you have pinching or pain when performing your extension or press exercises, you might be able to get some relief from bringing your elbow flexors online — namely the biceps brachii and brachialis.
Modern literature suggests that exercises focused on resisting elbow extension — the eccentric portion of most curls — are effective at both modulating pain responses and increasing triceps potentiation. (1) To make sure your mechanics are buttery smooth and your triceps are ready to train, give this warm-up circuit a shot, but don’t be afraid to tune or tweak it for feel:
- Dumbbell Hammer Curl: 10 repetitions with a five-second eccentric
- Resistance Band Overhead Extension: 20 repetitions
- Barbell Drag Curl: 10 repetitions with a five-second eccentric
- Cable Reverse-grip Pressdown: 15 – 20 repetitions
- Bisset L. M., Vincenzino B. (2015) Physiotherapy management of lateral epicondyalgia. Journal of Physiotherapy 61(4); 174-181.
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