The triceps represent ⅔ of the upper arm’s mass, which means that if you want to build an impressive pair of arms (the kind the turn heads of anyone you walk past), you must prioritize tricep training.
The problem is that most people only think of pushdowns, kickbacks, and skull crushers with the EZ bar as viable options to build the triceps.
Here, we present 5 of the best exercises you can use to hit all three heads of the triceps and build a meaty pair of horseshoes.
Decline Close-Grip Bench Press
The close-grip bench press is a staple mass building exercise for the triceps, but many people find it irritates their shoulders when performing it on a flat bench.
Using a decline bench helps eliminate some of the undue stress placed on the shoulder joint during close grip presses. Additionally, make sure your grip width isn’t too close. Your hands don’t need to be touching on a close-grip bench press to target the triceps. Simply keep them shoulder width apart or maybe just inside of shoulder width. Using this grip will allow you to effectively stimulate the triceps while avoiding unwanted shoulder irritation.
As you work your way through this list, you’ll be surprised to learn that the way to build the biggest, beefiest triceps isn’t with a bunch of complicated machines, but with bodyweight exercises.
The first of which is the weighted dip.
Dips are really a complete upper body builder as they hit all the major pushing muscles, but can be modified to emphasize the triceps with some minor form adjustments. To hit more of the triceps and less of the chest and shoulders when performing dips, keep the elbows pinned close to the body and maintain an upright torso. Allowing the elbows to flare and hinging forward shifts more emphasis to the chest and shoulders.
To prevent unwanted joint stress, make sure to stop the movement when your upper and lower arms form a 90 degree angle.
If you are able to rep out multiple sets of x15-20 bodyweight dips, add some external loading in the form of weight plates hanging from your waist. The added weight will drop you down into the classic 8-12 rep muscle-building range.
Diamond Push Ups
There’s no exercise more synonymous with a strong upper body than the push up, yet so many lifters carelessly cast aside the age-old muscle building exercise in favor of bench presses, pushdowns, and cable flyes.
But, the push up can (and should be) a part of any triceps workout, specifically the diamond (close-grip) push up variation.
Set up in a normal push up position, but bring your hands close together and form a diamond with your index fingers and thumbs. From here, lower your torso to the ground while keeping your elbows close to the sides of your body. Pause for a count of one, and then powerfully contract your triceps to return to the top.
You can up the intensity by performing diamond push ups on a medicine ball which adds an additional element of core training to your workout.
Bodyweight Tricep Extension
The bodyweight tricep extension is an excellent way to train all three heads of the triceps as well as train the core. Bodyweight tricep extensions are typically performed using rings, TRX, or suspension training, but if you don't have suspension straps, you can just as easily use a barbell set up in a power rack or Smith machine.
The benefit to using suspension straps though is that it allows for greater range of motion, particularly on the long head of the triceps which many of the classic tricep mass-building exercises don’t emphasize heavily enough.
To perform the bodyweight triceps extension, grasp the handles of the TRX straps and face away from the anchor point. Set up your body so it’s roughly 45 degrees to the ground with the handles overhead and your arms straight.
Keeping your whole body tight, bend at the elbows so that the handles move in an arch along the sides and back behind your head. Pause for a second and reverse the movement.
Give this exercise a try and be ready for your triceps to be screaming at the end due to the intense stretch placed on them.
Skullcrushers are typically performed with barbells or EZ bars, not some stone age looking piece of equipment like the kettlebell. Yet, once you perform this staple arm building exercise with kettlebells, you’ll wonder why didn’t use them sooner!
The benefit to using kettlebells is that it allows for a range of motion since you don’t have to worry about the bar smashing into your face. Additionally, you can also achieve a greater stretch on the long head of the triceps at the bottom of each rep.
You can even increase the stretch (safely) by reaching your arms back at the bottom (mimicking a pullover-type motion), which activates the stretch reflex and can lead to a more robust contraction of the triceps. Remember, peak contractions follow peak tension, which means if you want to get as powerful a contraction as possible, you want to maximize the stretch placed on all three heads of the triceps.
You can achieve exactly that with kettlebell skullcrushers.