The Best Triceps Workouts for Muscle, Strength, and More

Whether you want a bigger bench or it’s arm day, make sure your triceps get plenty of attention. Here’s how.

Ask 10 lifters to name the body part they’re training on any random day, and you’ll probably hear some familiar answers — chest, back, arms, biceps, maybe even legs. But very few will say they’re working triceps. There’s generic “arm day,” which includes the triceps. But they rarely get a spotlight, and that’s a mistake.

bodybuilder in gym performing rope pressdown triceps exercise
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The tris are a powerhouse muscle, responsible for moving heavy loads during the more popular bench press and overhead press. They also cover more surface area on the upper arm, making them more responsible for increasing arm size than the more popular biceps. It’s time to put the triceps centerstage and give them the attention they deserve.

Best Triceps Workouts

Best Triceps Workout With Dumbbells

Training with dumbbells is an effective way to reduce joint stress because the arms are able to move freely without being locked into a strict range of motion. Because many triceps exercises can aggravate the elbow joint due to leverage, using dumbbells is one common alternative.

The Dumbbell-Only Triceps Workout

This all-dumbbell plan builds size and strength in the triceps without the need for a fully equipped gym, versatile cable stations, or a wide array of equipment.

Man lying down performing triceps exercise with dumbbells
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With a good set of dumbbells and a bench, you can work all three heads of the triceps with minimal joint strain.

Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press

  • How to Do it: As you lie on a flat bench, “kick” a pair of dumbbells into a locked out position above your chest. Face your palms toward each other and plant your feet flat on the floor. Keep your head and tailbone on the bench as you lower the weights to your chest. Point your elbows toward your feet and let them slide past your ribs as you lower the weight. The dumbbells should end up touching the outside of your chest with your elbows near the bottom of the bench. Reverse direction to press the weights up.
  • Sets and Reps: 4 x 6-8
  • Rest time: Two minutes between sets

Dumbbell Skull Crusher

  • How to Do it: Lie on a flat bench with a pair of dumbbells locked out overhead with your palms facing each other. Keep your head and glutes on the bench. Bend only at the elbows and lower the weights to the bench behind your head. In the bottom position, your elbows should point to the ceiling and your hands should be facing your ears.
  • Sets and Reps: 4 x 10-12
  • Rest time: One minute between sets.

Single-Arm Overhead Extension

  • How to Do it: Sit upright on a bench with a dumbbell locked overhead in one hand. Use your free hand to touch the triceps of the working arm. This maintains its position and reinforces muscle recruitment. (1) Bend your elbow to lower the weight in an arc without moving your upper arm. In the bottom position, the weight should be behind your opposite shoulder. Raise the weight while keeping your elbow pointed to the ceiling. Perform all reps with one arm before switching sides.
  • Sets and Reps: 3 x 10-15
  • Rest time: No rest between arms. 30 seconds between sets.

Best Bodyweight Triceps Workout 

Bodyweight exercises typically target larger muscle groups like the chest, back, and legs because the majority of bodyweight movements involve multi-joint exercises primarily emphasizing those larger body parts.

However, certain exercise variations or specific exercises can emphasize the triceps while associated muscles, like the chest and shoulders, work in a supportive role.

Triceps Size and Strength Without Weights

This bodyweight-only triceps workout uses push-up variations to adjust the body’s leverage, which makes the triceps the primary muscle recruited.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Choose any one of these exercises to plug into a more complete upper body or full-body workout, or perform the entire workout as part of a triceps-focused training day.

Tiger Bend Push-Up

  • How to Do it: Begin in a kneeling position with your forearms, elbows, knees, and shins on the ground. Set your elbows directly under your shoulders, your knees under your hips, and your palms down. Press through your hands until your arms are locked straight. Don’t allow your back to sag or round. To make the exercise more challenging, move your feet and knees farther back. Performing the exercise with straight legs and only your toes on the ground is the most difficult progression.
  • Sets and Reps: 4 x 4-6
  • Rest time: Two minutes between sets.

Dip with One-and-a-Half Reps

  • How to Do it: Begin at a dip station or set up between two sturdy chairs or high benches. Jump to the top position with locked arms. Keep your torso upright and your head back as you lower your body by bending your elbows. As you descend, keep your elbows pointed straight back, not flared to the sides. Pause after several inches and press back to lockout. Lower yourself again as far as your shoulder mobility allows before pressing up to full lockout. That’s one complete rep.
  • Sets and Reps: 4 x 6-8
  • Rest time: 60 seconds between sets.

Close-Grip Push-Up

  • How to Do it: Begin with your hands on the ground slightly closer than shoulder-width and your feet on the ground, slightly wider than shoulder-width. Maintain a straight line from your neck to your feet. Lower your entire body until your chest nearly touches the ground. Keep your elbows aimed towards your feet, not flared to the walls.
  • Sets and Reps: 3 x 12-15
  • Rest time: 30 seconds between sets.

Best Triceps Workout for Muscle Mass

Big arms are a popular goal for many, if not most, lifters in the gym. However, over-focusing on building the biceps is an inefficient and ineffective plan for arm size.

Muscular person lying on bench performing barbell triceps exercise
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One common anecdote shared in gym locker rooms is, “triceps account for 66% of your arm size.” This well-meaning statistic is as arbitrary as it is widespread. However, the moral behind it is solid. The triceps muscle does have the potential for a greater impact on overall arm size compared to the biceps because it’s anatomically larger, even before weight training’s muscle-building stimulus.

More Size for Your Tris

For maximum muscle growth, the triceps need to be worked with the upper arm in a variety of positions relative to the torso. (2) Due to the varied attachment points of the three heads of the triceps muscle, complete development is achieved by working with the upper arm alongside the torso (pointed down), perpendicular to the torso (pointed forward), and above the torso (pointed up).

Rope Pressdown

  • How to Do it: Attach a rope handle to a high-cable pulley. Take the rope with both hands and pull your elbows to your sides with your hands roughly chest-level. Keep your knees slightly bent and your torso upright. Press your hands toward the ground for a complete contraction. Pause for one second in the bottom position. Don’t allow your elbows to move forward when lowering the weight.
  • Sets and Reps: 4 x 8-12
  • Rest time: 30 seconds between sets.

Dumbbell Overhead Extension

  • How to Do it: Sit upright on a bench holding one dumbbell with both hands above your head. Keep your core tight while lowering the weight behind your head toward the bench. Your elbows should point forward, not flare out to the sides. In the bottom position, your triceps should be stretched and your hands should be near the back of your neck. Raise the weight slowly, maintaining a forward-elbow position.
  • Sets and Reps: 4 x 10-12
  • Rest time: 60 seconds between sets.

EZ-Bar Skull Crusher

  • How to Do it: Hold an EZ-curl bar with a moderate-width (neither close nor wide) overhand grip. Sit on a flat bench. As you lie back, “kick” the weight into a locked out position above your face. Lower the weight towards the bench behind your head and allow your elbows to move slightly as you bend your arms. Rest the weight briefly in the bottom position before returning to the starting position.
  • Sets and Reps: 3 x 10-12
  • Rest time: No rest before moving to the next exercise.

EZ-Bar Close-Grip Bench Press

  • How to Do it: Remain lying on the bench while holding the same weight in the same hand position as the previous exercise. Begin with your arms locked straight above your chest. Lower the weight until it touches your lower chest. Keep your elbows close to your sides, not pointed away from your body.
  • Sets and Reps: 3 x AMRAP (As many repetitions as possible until muscular failure.)
  • Rest time: 90 seconds rest before returning to the previous exercise.

Best Triceps Workout For Strength

Triceps strength is essential for all pressing exercises, as well as providing stability during pulling exercises. Building stronger triceps will carry over to total-body strength, so time spent focused on stronger tris is time spent focused on a stronger body.

Triceps-Focused Strength Workout

While some lifters approach triceps training as assistance exercises performed with lighter weights and higher reps, training the tris specifically for strength using more traditional strength and power-focused sets, reps, and loads can yield more direct improvements in overall strength.

Person in gym performing weighted exercise on dip bars
Credit: Bojan Milinkov / Shutterstock

It is important to note that training priorities should always be respected. Recovery and progress may be compromised if you try to focus on bench and/or overhead strength as well as triceps-specific strength simultaneously. Taking several weeks to prioritize the triceps before re-prioritizing chest or shoulder pressing is a more efficient long-term plan. 

Close-Grip Bench Press

  • How to Do it: Lie down at a flat bench press station. Take an overhand grip on the barbell with your hands slightly closer than shoulder-width for increased triceps stress and decreased chest recruitment. (3) Keep your feet flat on the ground as you unrack the bar and lower it to touch your chest. Your elbows should point towards your feet. Press back to full lockout and pause at the top before beginning the next rep.
  • Sets and Reps: 5 x 3-5
  • Rest time: Three minutes between sets.

Weighted Dip

  • How to Do it: At a dip station, jump into the top position with locked arms. Keep your head up and your torso upright. Lower yourself under control as far as your shoulder mobility allows. To emphasize triceps recruitment, keep your elbows pointed backwards, not flared to the sides. Use a dip belt or weighted vest for added resistance.
  • Sets and Reps: 4 x 6-8
  • Rest time: Three minutes between sets.

Partial Overhead Press

  • How to Do it: In a power rack, begin in a shoulder press position holding a barbell with an overhand grip at roughly collarbone-height. Keep your knees slightly bent and your core tense as you press the weight overhead to full lockout. Lower the weight to eye-level before pressing to full lockout again. On each repetition, bring the weight no lower than your eyes to increase triceps recruitment and decrease shoulder activation. 
  • Sets and Reps: 4 x 8-10
  • Rest time: Two minutes between sets.

The Triceps Muscles

The triceps muscles may not be one of the most popular body parts, but they play an active role in countless upper body exercises and a more supportive role in many lower body exercises.

Here’s a more in-depth look at how the triceps function and how they can be most effectively trained.

Triceps Brachii

The triceps brachii, or triceps, are composed of three separate muscle heads working in unison to extend the elbow, or straighten the arm. The long head, medial head, and lateral head all attach just below the elbow.

muscular person in gym flexing triceps
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The medial head and lateral heads originate on the upper arm, while the long head connects to the scapula (shoulder blade). (4) Because the long head crosses the shoulder joint, it serves an added function in helping to control movement of the arm at the shoulder.

This shoulder function allows the long head to be more highly activated when the arm is brought overhead during triceps exercises, as in overhead extensions.

Triceps Warm-Up

A thorough warm-up is essential for optimizing performance and minimizing joint strain. A triceps warm-up should involve the surrounding musculature (chest, back, shoulders, and biceps) as well as the triceps directly. 

person outdoors exercising with resistance band
Credit: Miljan Zivkovic / Shutterstock

Here’s a simple and effective resistance band warm-up to begin any triceps workout.

Triceps Band Warm-up

  • Band Pull-Apart: Take a palms-down grip on a resistance band. Begin with your arms extended in front of your chest. Keep your arms nearly locked while pulling your hands in line with your shoulders. The band should touch your chest before returning to the starting position. Perform 15 reps before moving to the next exercise.
  • Band Chest Press: Secure the band to a stable point roughly chest-height. Face away from the anchorpoint. Take one end of the band in each hand. Press straight ahead until your arms are locked out in front of your shoulders. Perform 15 reps before moving to the next exercise.
  • Band Curl: With the band still anchored at chest-height, turn around and grab one end of the band in each hand. Step back and extend your arms straight. Curl your hands towards your face with a thumbs-up grip while keeping your elbows at shoulder-height. Perform 15 reps before moving to the next exercise.
  • Band Pressdown: Keep one end of the band in each hand and step forward. Pin your elbows to your ribs. Straighten your arms to full lockout with your hands near your waist. Return your hands to chest-level. Perform 15 reps before returning to the first exercise. Do a total of two sets of the complete circuit.

Tri to Focus

Don’t let your triceps be overshadowed, figuratively, by other body parts. They’re overlooked, quietly working alongside their more attention-grabbing counterpart, the biceps.

The tris only step into the spotlight when it matters most, whether it’s helping you lock out a bench press PR or fill out your shirtsleeves. It’s time to bring them front and center, choose a targeted training plan, and spend time giving them the attention they’ve been missing.

References

  1. Oshita, Kazushige. (2021). Effect of internal focus of attention with touching cue on the agonist muscle activity during exercise. 10.14198/jhse.2021.16.Proc2.04.
  2. Kholinne E, Zulkarnain RF, Sun YC, Lim S, Chun JM, Jeon IH. The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta Orthop Traumatol Turc. 2018;52(3):201-205. doi:10.1016/j.aott.2018.02.005
  3. Lehman G. J. (2005). The influence of grip width and forearm pronation/supination on upper-body myoelectric activity during the flat bench press. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 19(3), 587–591. https://doi.org/10.1519/R-15024.1
  4. Tiwana MS, Sinkler MA, Bordoni B. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Triceps Muscle. [Updated 2021 Aug 6]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536996/

Featured Image: MDV Edwards / Shutterstock

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