The 6 Best Triceps Workouts for Bigger, Stronger Arms

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Key Takeaways

  1. The triceps is a horseshoe-shaped muscle on the back of the upper arm, and it contributes significantly more to your upper arm size than the biceps.
  2. The best triceps exercises are pushing movements that allow you to safely move heavy loads through a full range of motion like the close-grip bench press, dip, and overhead triceps extension.
  3. Keep reading to learn more about the best triceps exercises and how to combine them into effective triceps workouts to build bigger, stronger arms.

When it comes to building big arms, the triceps don’t get their just deserts.

For most people, it’s all about the biceps.

Well, ironically, the biceps constitute much less of your upper arm size than the larger triceps.

This is why building big triceps is one of the little-known “secrets” to building big arms.

Case in point:



tricep workouts at home



If that’s a bit dramatic for you, here’s a shot of me that illustrates a more achievable look:



tricep workouts with dumbbells



I didn’t always have big triceps, though, and they didn’t reach a satisfactory size until I started implementing the steps in this article. 

So, let’s start with a quick overview of the triceps muscles and then dive into how to train them effectively.

The Anatomy of the Triceps Muscles

The triceps, or more technically, the triceps brachii, is a three-headed muscle on the back of your arm. 

You’ll also hear it referred to as the tricep.

A muscle head is a point where a tendon attaches to the skeleton. The triceps attaches to the upper arm and shoulder joint in three places, so it has three heads, hence the name tri-ceps.

The triceps’ job is to extend the elbow (move the forearm away from the bicep), and help stabilize the shoulder and scapula during most upper body exercises like lat pulldowns, flyes, and push-ups. It also helps extend the shoulder (move the arm behind the body).

Here’s how it looks:



best tricep workout for size



And here’s another shot of the three heads of the triceps: 



Triceps Brachii



As you can see, when each of the three heads become pronounced, they form the distinctive “horseshoe” shape.

Here’s another example: 



triceps-horseshoe-muscle



You can also see that the long head on the back of your arm is the largest of the three and thus is the one that most determines the overall look of your triceps.

In short, when people think of “big triceps,” they’re thinking of big long heads.

That said, if you want the full, “3D” look, you want to make sure all three heads—the long, lateral, and medial heads—are well developed. 

As you’ll learn, different triceps exercises emphasize different heads of the triceps muscle, which is why they respond best to a variety of different exercises.

Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to program your workouts to adequately train each of the three heads.

Summary: The triceps is a three-headed, horseshoe-shaped muscle on the back of your arm whose primary function is to extend the elbow. 















The Simple Science of Effective Tricep Training

There are a lot of theories out there about how to best train your triceps.

Some people say you have to focus on high-rep training and really feel the burn.

Others say you should be training them several times per week.

Others still say you don’t have to do triceps exercises at all and should focus exclusively on compound pushing movements instead like the bench press and overhead press.

What does science and experience have to tell us, though? Let’s find out.

1. Most people need to train their triceps directly to get the size and definition they want.

Many people say you don’t have to directly train your arms if you’re doing a lot of compound exercises like the bench press, overhead press, and barbell row.

Well, I’ve worked with thousands of men and women of all ages and circumstances, and I can confidently say that’s rarely the case.

Yes, heavy pushing and pulling is going to help develop your arms, but for most of us, it just isn’t enough to get the triceps development we really want.

For most of us, it’s going to require that we include exercises in our workout routines specifically for the triceps.

This is why my programs for men and women include a combination of compound exercises that heavily involve the arms as well as isolation exercises that target them.

2. Heavy compound exercises are best for adding strength and size.


tricep workouts for mass


I used to think that heavy, lower-rep lifting was for building strength, not gaining size, and that this was especially true for the arms, which generally responded best to “pump training,” not strength training.

Well, I was wrong.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the last decade of researching, training, and coaching is this:

As a natural weightlifter, your number one long-term goal should be increasing your whole-body strength.

So long as you make that your primary focus in your training, you’ll have no trouble gaining the size you want in your triceps or elsewhere.

The reason for this is while you can gain a fair amount of muscle in the beginning without gaining much strength, once you graduate to an intermediate lifter, strength and size become closely correlated.

In other words, once your “honeymoon phase” is over and your body is no longer hyper-responsive to resistance training, you’re going to have to get a lot stronger if you want to continue growing bigger triceps.

How do you best do that?

Well, while exercise science is complex and there are many more questions than answers, the evidence is clear on this one: Heavy, compound resistance training is the most effective way to get stronger.

And that’s why us natural weightlifters need to do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting if we want to gain significant amounts of muscle and strength.

This isn’t a special rule just for the triceps, either. It applies equally to every major muscle group in the body. It’s true for the smaller, more stubborn ones like the biceps, calves, and shoulders, as well as the bigger, more responsive ones like the legs, chest, and back.

Therefore, if you want to get big, defined, or even just “toned” arms as quickly as possible, then you want to get strong arms as quickly as possible, and that means doing a lot of heavy arm training.

In the case of the triceps, that means a lot of vertical and horizontal pushing and pressing.

And by “heavy,” I mean working primarily with weights in the range of 75 to 85% of your one-rep max (1RM), or in the range of 8 to 10 (75%) to 4 to 6 (85%) reps. 

Typically, this means you’ll be taking each set to about one to two reps shy of technical failure (the point at which you can’t complete another rep without a breakdown in form). In other words, you’ll finish each set with one to two “reps in reserve,” as researchers call it.

By “compound,” I mean focusing on exercises that involve multiple joints and muscles, as opposed to isolation exercises that focus on a single joint and limited number of muscles.

If you’re new to proper weightlifting (less than one year of training under your belt), you could focus exclusively on the 4-to-6 rep range and just one or two compound exercises and do fantastically.

Once you’re an intermediate weightlifter, though, you can benefit from adding some higher-rep isolation work into your routines. (There are several reasons for this, but they go a bit beyond the scope of this article. If you want to dive into the physiology, though, check out this article to learn more.)

“But wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “[SHREDDED FITNESS MODEL] does a billion reps in his arm workouts and has titanic triceps . . . What gives?”

Unfortunately, steroid use is rampant in this space, and especially among fitness competitors, models, and social media influencers, and these drugs change everything.

With the right drugs, you can just sit in the gym for a few hours every day doing set after set, exercise after exercise, and your muscles will just get bigger and bigger. (A bit of reductive, I know, but more accurate than inaccurate.)

For example, one study conducted by scientists at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science gave a relatively small dosage of testosterone (600 mg per week) to one group of weightlifters and a placebo to another group for 10 weeks.

In the end, the natty group gained 4.4 pounds of muscle and added 22 pounds to their bench, which is good progress for intermediate lifters.

Those taking the extra #dedication, however, gained a whopping 13.4 pounds of muscle and added 50 pounds to their bench and eight times as much size in their triceps. In 10 freaking weeks. That borders on witchcraft.

Don’t worry, though.

You don’t need drugs to earn your tickets to the gun show. You just need a bit of know-how, hard work, and patience.

3. Ten to twenty heavy triceps sets per week is generally enough.


best tricep workout for size


A crucial part of your triceps training that you have to get right is volume, or the total amount of sets you do each week.

This is especially important when you’re doing a lot of heavy weightlifting in general because the overarching rule is this:

The heavier your reps are, the fewer you can do each week without risking overtraining.

This is especially true of compound movements like the bench and overhead press, because the heavier you train, the more time your body needs to recover from the workouts.

Now, I’ve tried many different workout splits and frequency schemes and what I’ve found works best is in line three extensive reviews on the subject.

When your training emphasizes heavy weights—80 to 85%+ of one-rep max (1RM)—optimal volume seems to be about 10 to 20 sets performed every week or so.

This not only applies to the triceps but to every other major muscle group as well.

Now, in the case of the triceps, we have to take into account the fact that they’re heavily involved in your pushing and pressing.

For example, let’s say you’re following the 5-day routine of my Bigger Leaner Stronger program. In this case, you’re doing 12 sets of heavy chest pressing per week and 3 sets of heavy overhead pressing (15 sets total), all of which involves your triceps to a certain degree. 

Thus, you wouldn’t want to tack on another 10 to 20 sets just for your triceps. In fact, you don’t necessarily have to add any triceps sets, since you’re already in the sweet spot in terms of volume. 

That said, I’ve learned through experience that most guys (and many gals) can generally benefit from doing a slightly higher volume of triceps sets per week. I’ve also found that doing a few sets of direct triceps work tends to produce better results than relying on compound exercises alone to build the triceps.

That’s why in my Bigger Leaner Stronger program, I have you do another 9 sets of triceps exercises in the form of close-grip bench pressing and triceps pressdowns.

This is slightly more volume than I recommend for most muscle groups, but the triceps tend to be stubborn little buggers that need a lot of stimulus to grow.

Alright, now that we have basic training theory under our belts, let’s look at the 10 best triceps exercises.

The 10 Best Triceps Exercises


tricep exercises


Ignore the muscle mags.

You don’t need to do fifty types of triceps exercises to build great arms.

In fact, out of the scores and scores of triceps exercises you could do, only a small handful are really necessary.

Despite what you might read in books, blogs, and magazines, this is true for both men and women. 

Although men and women are different in some important ways, the mechanisms that govern muscle growth are more or less the same for both sexes, and the exercises that work for one sex work just as well for the other. In other words, the best triceps exercises and arm workouts for women are more or less the same as the best ones for men.

And here they are . . . 

1. Close-Grip Bench Press

If I were to do just one triceps exercise, it would be the close-grip bench press.

It’s one of the best ways to overload the triceps and it also works your shoulders and chest as well. 

A good example of this comes from a study conducted by scientists at the University of Queensland that looked at muscle activation during the overhead press and flat, incline, and decline bench press using both a wide and close grip. 

To quantify muscle activation, the researchers used electromyography (EMG), which is a method of measuring electrical activity within a muscle to determine how hard it’s working.

EMG activation isn’t a perfect proxy for muscle growth, but if a muscle is heavily activated during an exercise, it’s reasonable to conclude that exercise will be fairly effective for muscle building.

The researchers had six men complete all of the above exercises with 80% of their 1RM while attached to a device that measured the activation of their pecs, deltoids, triceps, and latissimus dorsi. 

They found that triceps activation was highest during the flat bench press, and that it was about 25% higher using a close rather than wide grip.

In this case, the “close-grip” width was about shoulder width apart, so not quite as narrow as what most people would consider a close-grip bench press.  

More evidence of the benefits of close-grip bench pressing comes from a study conducted by Greg Lehman at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College. 

In this case, Lehman found that a grip with both hands about a hand apart caused the most triceps activation, while a grip with both hands about shoulder-width apart resulted in slightly less triceps activation, and a grip wider than shoulder-width apart produced the least triceps activation.

Personally, I like to keep my hands about 10 to 12 inches apart when doing close-grip bench press. That’s enough to place most of the load on my triceps without forcing my wrists into an uncomfortable position.

Here’s how to do it: 

2. Dip

There are two types of dips you can do: the upright dip and the bench dip.

Here’s what the upright dip looks like: 

And here’s what the bench dip looks like: 

One analysis conducted by found that you can make this exercise even more effective for training the triceps by using a narrow grip. 

According to an EMG analysis conducted by Brittany Boehler at the University of Wisconsin, bench dips are one of the best exercises for activating your triceps. 

A bench dip is performed with your palms resting on a bench behind you (with your back to the bench) and your feet on the ground in front of you. Then, you lower your hips towards the ground by bending your elbows and press back up to the starting position. 

It can also be performed with a chair, making it one of the best triceps exercises you can do at home. 

All that said, I prefer the upright dip because it’s easier to load with weight and involves the shoulders and chest more.

As a general rule, a narrower grip focuses more on the triceps, and a wider grip involves your chest more. To start, though, just use whatever grip you find most comfortable. 

One of the things that makes the dip unique among bodyweight exercises is that it’s easy to overload if you use a dip belt or hold a dumbbell between your legs. 

Once you can do at least 10 reps of bodyweight dips, start adding weight in 5- or 10-pound increments just like you would on any other exercise.

Here’s a video of how to do the bench dip:

And here’s a video of how to do the upright dip:

3. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension

The dumbbell overhead triceps extension is one of my favorite triceps exercises.

It’s particularly good for targeting the medial head of the triceps and allows you to safely press heavy weight and overload the muscles.

Dumbbell overhead extensions can be done standing or seated. I prefer a seated position using a chair with a back that doesn’t come up higher than the base of my neck. This helps support my torso and prevents my lower body or core stability from limiting my performance, allowing me to use more weight.

There are two additional versions of this exercise you can do: 

  1. The two-handed triceps press
  2. The one-handed triceps press

The pro of the two-handed triceps press is that it allows you to move more weight. The pro of the one-handed triceps press is that it allows you to make sure one arm isn’t getting trained more than the other (which helps prevent muscle imbalances).

Personally, I recommend you stick with the two-handed version unless you’re trying to correct a muscle imbalance, as it allows you to overload your muscles more than the one-handed version.

Here’s the two-handed version: 

And here’s the one-handed version: 

4. Cable Overhead Triceps Extension

This exercise is identical to the dumbbell overhead triceps extension, except it’s done with a cable machine and typically performed standing instead of seated.

Although I generally prefer free weights over machines, this exercise is a worthy exception. 

The advantage of cables is that they keep constant tension on your triceps throughout the full range of motion. The overhead dumbbell extension, on the other hand, is significantly easier at the top of the movement and more difficult at the bottom.

Some people also find that using cables is easier on their joints, especially when using heavier weights and training smaller muscle groups. 

You can use different attachments for the cable triceps overhead extension including a rope, a straight bar, a V-bar, and an EZ bar. I usually prefer a rope because it allows you to use a longer range of motion, but all are fine options.

Here’s how to do it: 

5. Lying Triceps Extension (Skull Crusher)

The lying triceps extension has been a bodybuilding staple for decades now because it’s simple and effective.

There’s just one thing you need to keep in mind: try not to let your elbows flare out to the sides too much, as this tends to make the exercise easier on your triceps and harder on your chest.

Most people prefer to use an EZ bar for this exercise, but you can also use a straight pre-loaded barbell or dumbbell as well. 

Here’s how to do it: 

6. Cable Triceps Extension 

This is the most common triceps exercise that people do and, surprisingly, it’s quite good.

It also goes by many names, including triceps pushdown and triceps press down. 

It’s particularly good for emphasizing the long head of the triceps, as your arms are kept by your sides during the movement. 

One of the reasons I like it is it’s more comfortable for most people than overhead or lying triceps extensions, which makes it easier to progress on.

That said, I like to save it for later in my workouts after I’ve done heavier work on the compound movements given in this list.

I also like the V-bar and straight bar attachments more than the rope because they allow you to push more weight. 

Here’s how to do it:

7. Cable Triceps Kickback

I’m not a fan of the triceps kickback in general because there are so many better exercise options.

Most people do kickbacks with dumbbells, which causes two problems: 

  1. It’s awkward and makes it hard to maintain good form.
  2. It means your triceps are only under full tension when your arm is almost perfectly straight, and the more you lower the dumbbell, the easier the exercise gets. In other words, your triceps are only working hard for a small portion of the full range of motion, which isn’t optimal for muscle growth.

A way to “fix” this, however, is to use a cable instead of a dumbbell. This forces your triceps to contract against a heavy weight throughout the entire range of motion, and it makes it harder to cheat and easier to maintain good form.

So, if you’ve stalled on some of the other triceps exercises on this list and are looking to mix things up, the triceps kickback isn’t a bad choice.

Here’s how to do it: 

8. Close-Grip Pushup 

Most people think of the push-up as only a chest exercise, but it’s also quite effective for training the triceps. 

The same analysis mentioned a moment ago from the University of Wisconsin found that you can make this exercise even more effective for training the triceps by using a narrow grip. 

Specifically, they found that push-ups with the thumbs touching (known as a triangle or diamond pushup) produced more activation of the triceps than the overhead triceps extension, cable pushdown, lying triceps extension and close-grip bench press.

Another nice thing about close-grip pushups is they can be done at home as part of a bodyweight routine without the need for any equipment.

The main downside of the close-grip pushup is that it’s hard to add weight once you become reasonably strong at it. 

This is why it’s typically used by beginners who don’t have the strength to do heavy close-grip bench press or by more advanced lifters as a way to squeeze in some extra triceps work at the end of a workout.

Once you can do at least 20 close-grip pushups, then you’ll get more bang for your buck by focusing on the other exercises on this list. If you still want to give it a whirl, then make sure it’s at the end of your workouts.

9. Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press

The barbell bench press is usually considered a chest exercise, but research shows it’s also quite effective for building your triceps. 

A good example of this comes from a study conducted by scientists at Sogn og Fjordane University College that looked at muscle activation during the barbell, dumbbell, and Smith machine press. 

The researchers had 12 resistance-trained men do a one-rep max for all of the exercises while attached to a device that measured the activation of their pecs, deltoids, triceps, and biceps. 

They found that triceps activation was highest during the flat bench press, then the Smith machine bench press, and then the dumbbell press. Triceps activation was also significantly higher during the bench press than what you generally see in other studies using triceps-specific isolation exercises. 

The bottom line is this: the barbell bench press is one of the best triceps exercises you can do. It’s also one of the most fatiguing, though, which is why I recommend that you do it at the beginning of your workouts and then finish with the other triceps exercises on this list.

If you don’t have access to a barbell, then dumbbell press is a fine alternative. Smith machine press can work just as well for triceps development, but research shows that it’s less effective for training your shoulders.

And if you’re working out at home without access to a bench, you can try the floor press. 

Floor pressing is just like a flat dumbbell bench press except it involves laying on the floor instead of a bench. This reduces the range of motion of the exercise, but it also allows you to lift heavier weight, which also makes it a nice accessory exercise to your regular bench pressing. 

Here’s what it looks like: 

10. Barbell Overhead Press

The barbell overhead press is usually considered a shoulder exercise, but research shows it’s also quite effective for building your triceps (and your chest!)

Although it isn’t quite as effective as the flat barbell bench press for activating the triceps, it still qualifies as a bonafide triceps builder. It’s also a fantastic shoulder exercise, which by itself is enough of a reason to include it in your workout routine.

If you don’t have access to a barbell, then dumbbell overhead press is a fine alternative.

Can You Emphasize Different Heads of the Triceps with Different Exercises?

You may have heard you can target and “sculpt” certain portions of your triceps by using different exercises.

And this is kind of true. 

For example, in one study, scientists St. Carolus Hospital measured the involvement of different heads of the triceps in extending the elbow (pushing the forearm away from the bicep) at different degrees of shoulder flexion.

I know these anatomic descriptions can sound confusing, but 0 degrees of shoulder flexion means your arms are at your sides, and 180 degrees of shoulder flexion means you’re holding your arms straight up toward the sky.

For example, a triceps pressdown is an exercise that involves very little shoulder flexion, whereas a cable overhead triceps extension is an exercise that involves a lot of shoulder flexion. 

The researchers found that the long head of the triceps was activated most at 0 degrees of shoulder flexion (arms by the sides) while the lateral and medial heads were activated most when the shoulders were at greater degrees of shoulder flexion.

With the arms fully overhead (180 degrees of shoulder flexion), the medial head is the greatest contributor to elbow extension, followed by the lateral head, then the long head.

The results look like this:

 



Triceps Muscle Activation



This is particularly interesting because it flies in the face of what many bodybuilders believe, which is that overhead triceps exercises are better for building the long head and tricep exercises with your arms at your sides are better for building the medial and lateral heads. In reality, though, the opposite seems to be true.

So, why did I say the idea that you can preferentially target different portions of your triceps is “kind of” true? 

Well, on the one hand it’s true that some exercises do emphasize certain parts of the triceps more than others.

On the other hand, if you’re following a half-decent strength training program, you’re already going to be hammering your triceps with a lot of heavy, compound pressing exercises, which are going to do a good job of training all three heads of the muscle group. 

Although doing a few sets of triceps isolation exercises on top of this will produce slightly more muscle growth, you’re going to be hard-pressed to notice a difference at all, much less in particular parts of your triceps.

Think of it this way: if you’re getting 80% of your potential triceps growth from a handful of heavy, compound exercises, you probably aren’t going to notice if you squeeze 5 or even 10% more growth out of the long head of your triceps by doing lots of triceps pressdowns. 

So, my advice? 

Don’t worry about trying to develop specific parts of your triceps. Just focus on the bigger picture and you’ll do great.

One for one, the people I hear asking about this are a long way away from their genetic potential, and the solution is almost always just getting stronger on a variety of triceps exercises. 

In other words, if you can push and press heavy weights in a variety of directions (vertical and horizontal, arms at your sides and overhead, etc.) using several different exercises, all three heads of your triceps are going to be well developed. 

Summary: Although some exercises emphasize one head of the triceps more than another, you don’t need to pay too much attention to this in your workout programming so long as you use a variety of different triceps exercises. Focus on getting as strong as possible on the best of these exercises and you’ll get big triceps. 

The 6 Best Tricep Workouts

I have two simple criteria for what makes a good triceps workout:

1. It includes exercises that emphasize each of the muscles’ three heads.

You’re going to get the most mass out of triceps exercises that emphasize the long head.

These are exercises that have your arms at your side with an overhand grip, like the close-grip bench press, dip, and pushdown.

You don’t want to neglect exercises that emphasize the other two heads, though.

Exercises that have your arms overhead, like overhead triceps extensions and skull crushers, emphasize the medial and lateral heads.

That’s why it’s a good idea to include a variety of exercises that work your triceps, including both overhead movements and ones with your arms by your side. 

2. It emphasizes heavy weightlifting.

There are three ways to stimulate muscle growth, and progressive tension overload is the most important for building muscle.

This is why your primary goal as a natural weightlifter is to get stronger, and especially on key compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, and bench and overhead press.

You can learn more about programming workouts in my books Bigger Leaner Stronger (men) and Thinner Leaner Stronger (women), but I want to give you a few different triceps workouts depending on your schedule and preferences. 

Do the following triceps workout routines for the next eight weeks and get your diet right and your triceps will respond.

3 Chest and Triceps Workouts


chest and tricep workout


As you learned a moment ago, the triceps are heavily involved in every upper body pressing exercise, which is why chest and triceps are often trained on the same day.

All of the following workouts involve two compound exercises that emphasize the chest and triceps, followed by one isolation exercise for the triceps. 

Depending on how often you want to train your chest and triceps, you can also choose a one, two, or three day per week workout routine. 

If you choose either the two or three day workout routine, make sure you put at least one or two days between the workouts (either by taking rest days or training other muscle groups).

Here are the workouts:

1-Day Per Week Triceps Workout for Men/Experienced Weightlifters
Exercise Close-Grip Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell or Cable Overhead Triceps Extension
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 4 to 6  8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

 

1-Day Per Week Triceps Workout for Women/New Weightlifters
Exercise Close-Grip Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell or Cable Overhead Triceps Extension
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to 10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

 

2-Day Per Week Triceps Workout for Men/Experienced Weightlifters
Day 1
Exercise Close-Grip Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell or Cable Overhead Triceps Extension
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 4 to 6 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 2
Exercise Barbell Bench Press Close-Grip Bench Press Cable Triceps Extension or Cable Triceps Kickback
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 4 to 6 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

 

2-Day Per Week Triceps Workout for Women/New Weightlifters
Day 1
Exercise Close-Grip Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell or Cable Overhead Triceps Extension
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to 10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 2
Exercise Barbell Bench Press Close-Grip Bench Press Cable Triceps Extension or Cable Triceps Kickback
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to 10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

 

3-Day Per Week Triceps Workout for Men/Experienced Weightlifters
Day 1
Exercise Barbell Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Cable Triceps Extension or Cable Triceps Kickback
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 4 to 6 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 0 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 2
Exercise Barbell Overhead Press Close-Grip Bench Press Lying Triceps Extension (Skull Crusher) or Close-Grip Pushup
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 4 to 6 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 3
Exercise Barbell Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell or Cable Overhead Triceps Extension
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 4 to 6 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

 

3-Day Per Week Triceps Workout for Women/New Weightlifters
Day 1
Exercise Barbell Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Cable Triceps Extension or Cable Triceps Kickback
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to 10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 2
Exercise Barbell Overhead Press Close-Grip Bench Press Lying Triceps Extension (Skull Crusher) or Close-Grip Pushup
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to 10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 3
Exercise Barbell Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell or Cable Overhead Triceps Extension
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to 10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

3 Triceps Workouts with Dumbbells

Barbell exercises generally allow you to lift heavier weights, which means more progressive overload and strength and muscle gain over time.

That said, if you don’t have access to a gym with barbells or you aren’t comfortable using them yet, then there are plenty of dumbbell exercises you can use to effectively train your triceps.

These are also a great choice if you have a home gym without much equipment or just want to squeeze in a quick arm workout at home. 

As with barbell exercises, you choose a one, two, or three day per week workout routine.

If you choose either the two or three day workout routine, make sure you put at least one or two days between the workouts (either by taking rest days or training other muscle groups).

Here are the workouts: 

1-Day Per Week Dumbbell Triceps Workout for Men/Experienced Weightlifters
Exercise Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell Bench Press Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension or Dumbbell Skull Crusher
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 4 to 6 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

 

1-Day Per Week Dumbbell Triceps Workout for Women/New Weightlifters
Exercise Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell Bench Press Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension or Dumbbell Skull Crusher
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to 10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

 

2-Day Per Week Dumbbell Triceps Workout for Men/Experienced Weightlifters
Day 1
Exercise Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell Bench Press Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension or Dumbbell Skull Crusher
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 4 to 6 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 2
Exercise Dumbbell Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension or Dumbbell Triceps Kickback
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 4 to 6 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

 

2-Day Per Week Dumbbell Triceps Workout for Women/New Weightlifters
Day 1
Exercise Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell Bench Press Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension or Dumbbell Skull Crusher
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to 10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 2
Exercise Dumbbell Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension or Dumbbell Triceps Kickback
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

 

3-Day Per Week Dumbbell Triceps Workout for Men/Experienced Weightlifters
Day 1
Exercise Dumbbell Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension or Dumbbell Skull Crusher
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 4 to 6 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 2
Exercise Dumbbell Overhead Press Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension Close-Grip Pushup
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 8 to 10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 3
Exercise Dumbbell Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension or Dumbbell Skull Crusher
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 4 to 6 4 to 6 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

 

3-Day Per Week Dumbbell Triceps Workout for Women/New Weightlifters
Day 1
Exercise Dumbbell Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension or Dumbbell Skull Crusher
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to 10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 2
Exercise Dumbbell Overhead Press Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension Close-Grip Pushup
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to 10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR
Day 3
Exercise Dumbbell Bench Press Dip (Weighted if Possible) Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension or Dumbbell Skull Crusher
Sets 3 3 3
Reps 8 to 10 8 to10 8 to 10
Intensity 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR 1 to 2 RIR

And a few odds and ends on how to do these workouts:

Warm up before each workout.

Before your first set of your first exercise of each workout, make sure you do a thorough warm-up.

A warm-up accomplishes several things: 

  1. It helps you troubleshoot your form and “groove in” proper technique (which is particularly important when you’re learning a new exercise). 
  2. It can significantly boost your performance, which can translate into more muscle and strength gain over time. 

In weightlifting, a warm-up consists of doing one or two light sets of an exercise, followed by one or two heavier sets until you’re using a weight that’s about 70% as heavy as the heaviest weight you’ll use that day for that particular exercise. 

Here’s how to warm up properly: 

Do several warm-up sets with the first exercises for each of the muscle groups you’re training in that day’s workout.

For example, in the pushing/triceps workouts outlined in this article, your first exercise is often the barbell bench press, which primarily trains your chest, triceps, and shoulders. 

Thus, warming up for the barbell bench press will also warm up all of the muscle groups trained by the other exercises in your workout. So, in this case, you can do a few warm-up sets for your bench press and then just carry on with the rest of your workout without any additional warm-up sets.

If you were doing a workout that involved training different muscle groups, though, such as the squat or lat pulldown, then you’d want to do several warm-up sets for each of these exercises. 

Here’s the protocol you’re going to follow for the workouts in this article:

  1. Estimate roughly what weight you’re going to use for your three sets of bench press (this is your “hard set” weight).
  2. Do 10 reps with about 50 percent of your hard set weight, and rest for a minute.
  3. Do 10 reps with the same weight at a slightly faster pace, and rest for a minute.
  4. Do 4 reps with about 70 percent of your hard set weight, and rest for a minute.

Then, do all three of your hard sets for your first exercise, and then the hard sets for your second exercise, and so on.

If you want to learn more about the importance of a proper warm-up and how to warm up for different workouts, check out this article: 

The Best Way to Warm Up For Your Workouts

You shouldn’t go to absolute muscle failure every set.

Absolute muscle failure is the point where you can no longer keep the weight moving and have to end the set.

We should take most of our sets to a point close to technical failure (one or two reps shy of the point where our form breaks down), and we should rarely take sets to the point of absolute failure.

This Is the Best Guide to the RPE Scale on the Internet

Personally, I never train to failure for more than two to three sets per workout, and never on the squat, deadlift, bench press, or military press, as it can be dangerous.

Instead, I reserve my failure sets for isolation exercises like triceps extensions, kickbacks, close-grip pushups and the like, and it’s usually a natural consequence of pushing for progressive overload as opposed to deliberate programming.

Rest 3 to 4 minutes in between each set.

This will give your muscles enough time to fully recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each set.

If you want to learn more about how long you should rest between sets, check out this article:

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets to Gain Muscle and Strength?

Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, you move up in weight.

For instance, if you bench press 135 pounds for 6 reps on your first set, you add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set.

If, on the next set, you can get at least 4 reps with 145 pounds, that’s the new weight you work with until you can barbell row it for 6 reps, move up, and so forth.

If you get 3 or fewer reps, though, reduce the weight added by 5 pounds (140 pounds) and see how the next set goes. If you still get 3 reps or fewer, reduce the weight to the original 6-rep load and work with that until you can do two 6-rep sets with it, and then increase the weight on the bar.

This method is known as double progression, which you can learn about in this podcast:

How to Use Double Progression to Get More From Your Workouts

Make sure you’re eating enough food.

You probably know that you’re supposed to eat a fair amount of protein to build muscle, but total calorie intake also plays a major role as well.

Read this article to learn more:

How Many Calories You Should Eat (with a Calculator)

Oh and one last point . . .

Whether you want toned, lean arms or big bulging guns, you want to pair these triceps workouts with the best biceps workouts. You can learn more about the best exercises and workouts for building your biceps in this article:

The Absolute Best Biceps Workout: 5 Biceps Exercises That Build Big Guns

What About Supplements?


triceps workout at the gym


I saved this for last because, quite frankly, it’s far less important than proper diet and training.

You see, supplements don’t build great physiques–dedication to proper training and nutrition does.

Unfortunately, the workout supplement industry is plagued by pseudoscience, ridiculous hype, misleading advertising and endorsements, products full of junk ingredients, underdosing key ingredients, and many other shenanigans.

Most supplement companies produce cheap, junk products and try to dazzle you with ridiculous marketing claims, high-profile (and very expensive) endorsements, pseudo-scientific babble, fancy-sounding proprietary blends, and flashy packaging.

So, while workout supplements don’t play a vital role in building muscle and losing fat, and many are a complete waste of money…the right ones can help.

The truth of the matter is there are safe, natural substances that have been scientifically proven to deliver benefits such as increased strength, muscle endurance and growth, fat loss, and more.

As a part of my work, it’s been my job to know what these substances are, and find products with them that I can use myself and recommend to others.

Finding high-quality, effective, and fairly priced products has always been a struggle, though.

That’s why I took matters into my own hands and decided to create my own supplements. And not just another line of “me too” supplements–the exact formulations I myself have always wanted and wished others would create.

I won’t go into a whole spiel here though. If you want to learn more about my supplement line, check this out.

For the purpose of this article, let’s just quickly review the supplements that are going to help you get the most out of your arms (and other) workouts.

Creatine

Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It’s perhaps the most researched molecule in the world of sport supplements–the subject of hundreds of studies–and the consensus is very clear:

Supplementation with creatine helps…

You may have heard that creatine is bad for your kidneys, but these claims have been categorically and repeatedly disproven. In healthy subjects, creatine has been shown to have no harmful side effects, in both short- or long-term usage. People with kidney disease are not advised to supplement with creatine, however.

If you have healthy kidneys, I highly recommend that you supplement with creatine. It’s safe, cheap, and effective.

In terms of specific products, I use my own, of course, which is called Recharge.

Recharge is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored and each serving contains:

  • 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
  • 2100 milligrams of L-carnitine L-tartrate
  • 10.8 milligrams of corosolic acid

This gives you the proven strength, size, and recovery benefits of creatine monohydrate plus the muscle repair and insulin sensitivity benefits of L-carnitine L-tartrate and corosolic acid.

So if you want to gain muscle and strength faster and recover better from your workouts, then you want to try Recharge today.

Protein Powder

You don’t need protein supplements to gain muscle, but, considering how much protein you need to eat every day to maximize muscle growth, getting all your protein from whole food can be impractical.

That’s the main reason I created (and use) a whey protein supplement. (There’s also evidence that whey protein is particularly good for your post-workout nutrition.)

Whey+ is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate that is made from milk sourced from small dairy farms in Ireland, which are known for their exceptionally high-quality dairy.

I can confidently say that this is the creamiest, tastiest, healthiest all-natural whey protein powder you can find.

So if you want to try a 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate protein powder made from exceptionally high-quality milk that tastes and mixes great, then you want to try Whey+ today.

Pre-Workout Drink

There’s no question that a pre-workout supplement can get you fired up to get to work in the gym. There are downsides and potential risks, however.

Many pre-workout drinks are stuffed full of ineffective ingredients and/or minuscule dosages of otherwise good ingredients, making them little more than a few cheap stimulants with some “pixie dust” sprinkled in to make for a pretty label and convincing ad copy.

Many others don’t even have stimulants going for them and are just complete duds.

Others still are downright dangerous, like USPLabs’ popular pre-workout “Jack3d,”which contained a powerful (and now banned) stimulant known as DMAA.

Even worse was the popular pre-workout supplement “Craze,” which contained a chemical similar to methamphetamine.

The reality is it’s very hard to find a pre-workout supplement that’s light on stimulants but heavy on natural, safe, performance-enhancing ingredients like beta-alanine, betaine, and citrulline.

And that’s why I made my own pre-workout supplement. It’s called Pulse and it contains six of the most effective performance-enhancing ingredients available:

And what you won’t find in Pulse is equally special:

  • No artificial sweeteners or flavors.
  • No artificial food dyes.
  • No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.

The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like, if you want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver, then you want to try Pulse.

The Bottom Line on the Best Tricep Workouts

Many people (mostly guys) assume that building bigger biceps is the key to getting big arms.

The truth, though, is that developing your triceps is going to have a much greater impact on the size and appearance of your arms, as they’re a much larger muscle group than the biceps.

There are many different theories on the best ways to train the triceps, but the following principles are what I’ve learned from reading scientific research and working with thousands of people:

  1. Most people need to train their triceps directly to get the size and definition they want. 
  2. Heavy compound movements are best for adding strength and size.  
  3. Ten to twenty heavy triceps sets per week is generally enough (though more is probably a little better).

Out of the scores and scores of triceps exercises you could do, only a small handful are really necessary. The following 10 are the best: 

  1. Close-Grip Bench Press
  2. Dip
  3. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension
  4. Cable Triceps Overhead Extension
  5. Lying Triceps Extension (Skull Crusher)
  6. Cable Triceps Extension
  7. Cable Triceps Kickback
  8. Close-Grip Pushup
  9. Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press
  10. Barbell Overhead Press

And the key to organizing these exercises into effective triceps workouts is simple:

  1. Include exercises that emphasize each of the triceps’ three heads.
  2. Emphasize heavy weightlifting in a low to moderate rep range, using weights that are about 80 to 85% of your 1RM for most sets.

Happy triceps training!

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