THE ULTIMATE TRICEP WORKOUT GUIDE
A lot of people have trouble building their triceps, even if they think they’re doing exercises that hit each of the three heads.
If your triceps aren’t growing, it’s likely your tricep workouts are missing something…
In this complete guide to triceps workouts, I’ll show you the three heads of the triceps, why training them properly is so important, and the best tricep exercises and training tips whether you’ve got a complete gym at your disposal, or just a set of dumbbells.
I’ve broken this step-by-step guide into sections to help you find what you’re looking for quickly and easily. I’ll also answer all of the most commonly asked questions relating to triceps and tricep workouts.
Below are the topics I’ll be covering in this exercise guide:
Before we get more in depth on effective triceps exercises and workouts, let’s take a look at the anatomy of the triceps muscle so you’ll be familiarized as we discuss a variety of challenging exercises for its three heads.
1) TRICEPS BRACHII MUSCLE ANATOMY
The triceps muscle is one of the major muscles in the arm and it’s made up of three heads: the long head, the lateral head and the medial head.
I’ll show you the location of each head of the triceps brachii muscle fibers with my Muscle Markers.
You can always refer back to this section if needed, because I’ll be discussing each of these areas in the upcoming sections of this guide.
WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF THE TRICEPS BRACHII MUSCLE?
The three heads of the triceps brachii muscle have separate functions.
The lateral and medial heads influence elbow flexion and extension, and they don’t cross the shoulder joint.
However, the long head does cross the shoulder joint, with an insertion point coming off the scapula.
This makes the long head very important in triceps training when it comes to muscle growth. We’ll discuss why and how to maximize this in the section on How To Get Bigger Triceps.
2) WHY ARE TRICEP WORKOUTS IMPORTANT?
The biggest reasons why most people want to build their triceps is to have stronger arms, and from an aesthetic perspective, the triceps really help fill out the shirt sleeves!
In fact, it’s said that the triceps occupy 2/3 of the size of the arm.
But not only are tricep workouts important, it’s very important to train them the right way.
Most people think that if they hit all three heads of the triceps, they’re getting a complete triceps workout routine. But that’s one of the most common mistakes… there are missing elements.
In fact, the most common triceps exercises like the classic tricep kickback and skull crusher typically attempt to hit one or more heads of the triceps, but they are lacking when it comes to other important factors for triceps muscle growth:
- We need to take into account the triceps’ entire larger range of motion; not the partial range of motion on each exercise but that of the triceps muscle itself.
- We also need to ensure that we’re utilizing arm exercises that put the long head of the triceps on stretch, because it makes up most of the volume of the triceps.
Let’s move on and take an in depth look at what is needed for triceps growth.
3) HOW TO GET BIGGER TRICEPS
Developing the long head and the medial head of the triceps is the key to getting bigger triceps and bigger arms overall.
The long head makes up most of the overall size of the triceps, so we’ll be looking to arm exercises that put it on stretch to grow it quickly.
It’s important not to ignore the medial head in your training. While it’s much smaller than the long head, a better developed medial head will mean wider arms.
TRICEPS EXERCISES FOR THE LONG HEAD OF THE TRICEPS
You may have heard that to hit the long head of the triceps, you need to get the arm up over the head.
Yes, that’s one way to put the long head on stretch but it’s not the complete picture.
We want to hit the long head’s complete range of motion, so we also need to get it back behind the body and into extension.
That means we need a combination of exercises. We’ll start with one of the best compound lifts for triceps, the Lying Triceps Extension and then increase the triceps muscle activation with the cable push-downs variation, the Drag Pushdown.
LYING TRICEPS EXTENSION
HOW TO DO THE LYING TRICEPS EXTENSION:
- Starting position for this practical triceps exercise is lying on a standard bench holding a barbell in both hands with an overhand grip, hands at shoulder width apart.
- Begin with arms over your upper chest and elbows bent back at about a 45-degree angle.
- First bend at the elbows and then allow the upper arm to drop back, bringing the barbell behind your head and down toward the floor. In terms of upper arm position, the barbell should never be fully above your head, but instead behind it, to ensure that you’re targeting the triceps.
- Keep the shoulder blades tucked under, the elbows tight in toward your head and your core active during this entire movement.
- Rest a couple of minutes between sets.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The overhead triceps extension puts the long head of the triceps on stretch, which causes rapid growth in the long head.
HOW TO DO THE DRAG PUSHDOWN:
- Starting position for this rope pushdown is standing facing a cable machine with the handles of a rope attachment in both hands and feet shoulder width apart.
- Hinge forward slightly at the hips maintaining an upright chest and bring the shoulders and elbows behind the body so that when you push down on the cable attachments, you can get a fully contracted triceps long head.
- Drag the cable machine rope attachment as close to the body as possible and straighten your elbows until lockout.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This rope pushdown allows you to fully squeeze and shorten the long head of the triceps, ensuring that you’ve covered the triceps’ full range of motion.
TRICEPS EXERCISES FOR THE MEDIAL HEAD OF THE TRICEPS
The medial head of the triceps is a smaller area, but it provides stability to the elbow, mostly when the elbow is in an extended position.
That means that if you want to create muscle activity in the medial head, you need to use exercises that put the elbow in full extension.
Here are two exercises that fit the bill!
HOW TO DO THE TRICEPS PUSHDOWN:
- Starting position for this versatile triceps exercise is standing feet flat with feet shoulder width apart facing a cable pulley machine with a short straight bar attachment.
- Begin to pull the bar attachment down toward your legs and ensure that you straighten your elbows until lockout before returning to the original position at chest level.
- Keep the core tight throughout the movement and rest 1-2 minutes between sets.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This effective exercise allows us to fully extend the elbow position which helps get muscle activation in the medial head of the triceps.
HOW TO DO THE DIAMOND PUSH-UP:
- For this body weight Diamond Push-Up, starting position is in high plank position with hands on the floor in a perfect diamond shape toward midline of the chest with thumbs touching each other.
- Lower down completely before pushing back up to the starting position of the Diamond Push-Up.
- Maintain core strength throughout the exercise. The elbow position remains close to the body.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: Lowering down the extra couple inches in this practical triceps exercise will make the medial head of the triceps work much harder, which is what we want. If you are doing bodyweight-only training, this calisthenics exercise is a crucial addition to your workout.
Employ these effective exercises and techniques into your triceps training plan, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you see results.
4) WHAT IS THE BEST TRICEPS WORKOUT?
The best triceps workouts will focus not only on hitting all three heads of the triceps, but that’s not enough to make the arm workout program complete.
To see real growth in the triceps, we also need to make sure that we’re utilizing progressive overload with heavy weights, putting the long head of the triceps on stretch (as mentioned above), and making sure overlapping strength curves are taken into account.
Let’s look at one movement selection or combo for each of these, to be sure our triceps workout is as effective as possible. Below is a list of triceps exercises for different goals.
TRICEPS EXERCISES FOR PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD
I recommend you start your triceps workouts with heavier compound exercises. It’s better to start with the harder exercises first because you’ll have the most energy to be able to hit them hard with heavier weight.
One of my favorite compound lifts for the triceps is the Close Grip Pin Press.
CLOSE GRIP PIN PRESS
HOW TO DO THE CLOSE GRIP PIN PRESS:
- Start position for this close-grip variation is lying on a bench with the barbell positioned across the pins in rack position, hands shoulder width apart and palms facing away from you gripping the bar.
- Slowly lower the weight load, keeping elbows tucked in close to your side until the pins stop you, and then return to the starting position.
- Rest a couple minutes between sets.
- Keep the shoulder blades tucked under and maintain core strength throughout the exercise.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: Pressing off the pins ensures that most of the work is being done by our triceps, because we are only using the midpoint to the top portion of the range of motion of the pressing movement. If we trained all the way off our chest like in a close grip bench press, we’d be working more on the delts instead of our triceps. When we work in this shorter range of motion, we’re making this a triceps isolation exercise.
TRICEPS EXERCISES FOR LONG HEAD STRETCH
To take the long head of the triceps through both of the extremes of maximum stretch and maximum contraction, we’ll do a superset of some of my favorite cable machine exercises: the Cable Triceps Pushaways and the Drag Pushdown (previously mentioned above).
CABLE TRICEPS PUSHAWAY
HOW TO DO THE CABLE TRICEPS PUSHAWAY:
- Start with feet in a staggered stance facing away from a cable station with upper arm position above the head, elbows bent, and hands gripping both handles of a rope attachment.
- With your upper body angled slightly toward the floor, begin to push the cable attachments outward, extending the elbows completely.
- On the way back, allow the arms to stretch backward behind the head before returning to neutral position.
- Maintain core stability throughout the movement.
- Transition immediately into the Drag Pushdown.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The overhead extension in this cable machine exercise creates a stretched position of the long head of the triceps. You can accentuate this even more by allowing the arms to draft a little bit higher on every rep.
HOW TO DO THE DRAG PUSHDOWN:
- Start position is standing facing a cable pulley machine with the handles of a rope attachment in both hands and feet shoulder width apart.
- Hinge forward slightly at the hips maintaining an upright chest and bring the shoulders and elbows behind the body so that when you push down, you can get a fully contracted triceps long head.
- Drag the rope attachment as close to the body as possible to the bottom and then return to neutral position.
- Maintain core strength throughout the exercise.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: These cable machine exercises allow you to fully squeeze and shorten the long head of triceps, ensuring that you’ve covered the triceps’ full range of motion.
TRICEPS EXERCISES FOR ADDRESSING THE STRENGTH CURVES
Often times when working the triceps we max out the strength curve in the middle of a movement, and we lose the tension when we reach the top of the movement.
We can utilize resistance bands along with the dumbbells to keep the tension all the way through that complete range of motion.
The best triceps exercise for addressing the strength curves is the Rocking Triceps Pushdown, another of my favorite cable machine exercises.
ROCKING TRICEPS PUSHDOWN
HOW TO DO THE ROCKING TRICEPS PUSHDOWN:
- For this versatile triceps exercise, start in a staggered stance facing a cable station.
- Placing your weight on the forward foot, grab the two handles of the rope attachment and pull downward while you rock backward shifting weight to the back foot.
- Return to the start. Maintain core strength throughout the exercise.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: With this triceps exercise variation, we maximize the tension at very point in the exercise’s range of motion by changing the line of resistance as we move backward.
5) WHAT IS THE BEST TRICEPS EXERCISE?
If you could only choose one best exercise for triceps to include in your arm workout, which one should it be?
That’s certainly a tough call, because as you can see, there are a lot of effective triceps exercises that address different goals when it comes to triceps, whether that be wider triceps, building mass or hitting one of the three heads preferentially.
But if I could only choose one, what would be my vote for the best triceps exercise?
The winner in my book is a killer triceps exercise you’ve already seen show up in this Triceps Guide, and that’s the Lying Triceps Extension. When you use the EZ Curl Bar for this exercise, it minimizes wrist and elbow discomfort.
TRICEPS EXTENSION WITH EZ CURL BAR
HOW TO DO THE TRICEPS EXTENSION WITH EZ CURL BAR:
- For this popular bodybuilding movement, start lying on a flat bench holding the EZ curl bar with hands shoulder width apart with an overhand grip and arms angled back.
- Bend the elbows to a 90-degree angle to lower the weight and then straighten them to return to the starting position.
- Make sure to keep your arms angled back about 20 or 30 degrees in the end portion of the exercise.
- Rest a couple minutes between sets. Maintain core strength throughout the exercise.
WHY IT WORKS: This killer triceps exercise variation is a great exercise to employ heavy weights for progressive overload to the triceps, and is safe for wrists and elbows when using the EZ curl bar and keeping arms angled back about 20 to 30 degrees in the end portion of the exercise.
In my Best Triceps Exercise for Mass article, I pitted this exercise against two other great and commonly performed tricep exercises, the Triceps Pushdown and the Close-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press.
While both of these are great triceps exercises for building mass, the Triceps Extension beat them out as the clear winner.
That’s because the Triceps Extension can be done with either dumbbells or a barbell, and allows for progressive overload directly to the triceps using heavier weight load.
Also, if we use an EZ curl bar on this exercise, we are able to make it much safer for the wrists and elbows if we angle the arms back about 20 to 30 degrees in the end portion of the exercise.
This keeps tension on the triceps instead of exerting a compressive force on the elbow joint.
6) WHAT IS THE BEST DUMBBELL TRICEPS WORKOUT?
If you don’t have access to a full gym, you can still get a really great tricep workouts with dumbbells!
As a matter of fact, if you only have access to a dumbbell rack you can train the triceps for a wide variety of goals including strength, power, hypertrophy, metabolic and total body.
Let’s look at an example dumbbell triceps exercise for each of these goals that you can use to create a triceps dumbbell workout.
DUMBBELL UPRIGHT DIP – STRENGTH
HOW TO DO THE DUMBBELL UPRIGHT DIP:
- Use a dog leash to secure a dumbbell around your waist.
- Bend the elbows to slowly lower down with a straight body, head and neck in line with your torso.
- Then straighten the elbows until your arms are completely straight at the top of the movement.
- Maintain core strength throughout the exercise.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: In this triceps dip, when your body is upright instead of leaning forward as in a regular dip, you place more demand on the elbows and target the triceps much better.
DUMBBELL JM PRESS – POWER
HOW TO DO THE DUMBBELL JM PRESS:
- Start lying face up on a bench or other elevated surface, holding a pair of dumbbells with hands positioned directly above your chest muscles, palms facing each other.
- Bend at the elbows to lower them toward the bench and close in to your side.
- Lower the weight toward your ears and then explosively extend your arms back upward.
- Stop 3-4 reps short of failure.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: Because you are able to initiate the movement with your elbows driving your triceps into position, the triceps don’t overcome inertia and are forced to work harder on every rep.
LYING DUMBBELL TRICEP EXTENSION – HYPERTROPHY
HOW TO DO THE LYING DUMBBELL TRICEP EXTENSION:
- For this dumbbell overhead triceps extension variation, start lying on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand, keeping your arms slightly angled backwards with a slight bend in the elbows.
- Lower the dumbbells above your head and extend your arms by squeezing the triceps up to the top of the movement.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This dumbbell overhead triceps extension is a great exercise for eccentric overload of the triceps because we can get a really great stretch on the long head of the triceps thanks to the overhead position of the arms.
FLOOR DIP INTO CLOSE GRIP DUMBBELL PUSHUP – metabolic
HOW TO DO THE FLOOR DIP INTO CLOSE GRIP DUMBBELL PUSHUP:
- For this calisthenics exercise, start in a floor tricep dips position with hands gripping the the pair of dumbbells on the floor behind the body and feet stretched out in front of you.
- Perform 10 reps of dips by lifting your butt off the ground and lowering your body toward the ground.
- Then walk your feet back into push-up position.
- Holding onto the dumbbells with each hand, perform 10-12 reps of close-grip push-up, keeping core tight.
- Alternate between 10 reps of the floor dip and the triceps pushup for a great burn.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: Using a metabolic training effec like this one you can make gains using lighter weights. In this particular upper body movement, the close-grip pushup, the dumbbells are used as props for these bodyweight exercises.
OVERHEAD EXTENSION THRUSTER – TOTAL BODY
HOW TO DO THE OVERHEAD EXTENSION THRUSTER:
- Stand with feet hip width apart in a squat position, hands holding onto a pair of dumbbells resting on the shoulders.
- Push explosively out of the squat and then keep the overhead extension portion of the exercise smooth and controlled.
- Maintain core stability throughout the movement.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The Thruster is a great total body exercise that we can adapt to work the triceps by extending the arms up overhead with our elbows out in front of the body.
As you can see, doing triceps exercises that hit each head of the triceps still doesn’t make for a complete triceps workout. With this complete guide to triceps, I’ve shown you what you need to do to make your tricep workouts more effective and I’ve given you some great options for doing so, whether you’ve got a full gym to work with, or just a set of dumbbells.
Give the tricep exercises and techniques in this exercise guide a try, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll see your triceps grow.
If you’re looking for a complete exercise program to build lean muscle and strength in every muscle group in the body, see which of our ATHLEAN-X programs best suits your goals, fitness level and equipment possibilities.
TRICEP WORKOUTS FAQ
The best tricep workout will contain an array of exercises that hit all 3 heads of the triceps, put the long head on stretch and making sure to hit overlapping strength curves. Most common movements like the traditional tricep kickback and standard skull crusher are missing important factors for tricep muscle growth. Here is the best tricep movement selection to accomplish this:
- Close Grip Pin Press
- Cable Triceps Pushaway
- Drag Pushdown
- Rocking Triceps Pushdown
- Lying Triceps Extension with EZ Curl Bar
This tricep workout will help you build stronger triceps.
No, 2 triceps exercises are not enough to build muscle and stronger triceps. Most common movements like the classic triceps kickback or the standard skull crusher might hit one or more heads of the triceps but are missing other important factors for tricep muscle growth like ensuring we are hitting the triceps entire range of motion and putting the long head of the triceps on stretch. To build big triceps and increase triceps strength you need to employ an array of exercises that hit all 3 tricep heads and work the triceps through their complete range of motion.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.