The biceps get too much credit. Don’t get us wrong; training your biceps is a must for bigger and stronger arms. But your triceps — you know, that three-headed horseshoe-shaped muscle that sits on the back of your arm — deserve more attention. You’ll be stronger for it, too.
Your triceps make up two-thirds of your upper arm mass and cover the entirety of the back of your arm. That’s a chunk of prime real estate. It’s not all show and no go, either. Whenever you’re bench-pressing, performing an overhead press, or doing dips, it’s your triceps helping move that weight.
When powerlifters can’t lock out a heavy bench press, they shift their attention to the triceps. We outline a dozen of the best triceps exercises and provide knowledge on how to train the muscle to help you improve your bench press strength and build a meatier pair of arms.
Best Triceps Exercises
- Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
- Parallel Bar Dip
- Triceps Pushdown
- Skull Crusher
- Bodyweight Skull Crusher
- Floor Press
- Decline Bench Cable Extension
- JM Press
- Overhead Triceps Extension
- Standing Landmine Press
- Diamond Push-Up
- Unilateral Dumbbell Floor Press
- Push Press
- Cross-Body Cable Extension
- Cable Kickback
This bench press variation has you lift a bar with your hands set shoulder-width apart. This hand placement shifts the load more to your triceps. You won’t be able to lift as much weight with the close-grip bench press, but you’ll strengthen your triceps.
The arms-in form you need to target your triceps will take the onus off of your shoulder joint. More muscle mass on the back of your arms will directly carry over to the lockout, or top portion, of your standard bench press.
How to Do the Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
- Set yourself up similar to a flat bench press, with your hands set inside shoulder-width and your elbows tucked into the body.
- Pull the bar out of the rack and stabilize it over your chest.
- Pull the elbows inwards as the bar descends to the chest.
- Once you have touched the chest, press through the palms, feel the triceps engage, and lift the weight back up.
Coach’s Tip: The barbell will make contact with your chest lower down than if you used a standard wide grip.
Benefits of the Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
- The move is more comfortable for your shoulders.
- It directly targets your triceps for more growth and strength.
- You’ll develop more pressing power at the top of the exercise.
Performing regular dips on a set of parallel bars instead of angled bars or rings will recruit your triceps more as arms will be tucked in, not flared out. Your shoulders should feel better, too, since they’re in a more neutral position throughout the exercise.
How to Do the Parallel Bar Dip
- Grab the parallel bars with your torso upright (with a slight lean forward) as you are suspended.
- Have your elbows almost fully extended to support this position.
- With the chest up and shoulder blades squeezed together, bend at the elbows as you lower yourself downward until the elbows reach 90 degrees.
- Press yourself upwards until you fully extend the elbows and repeat.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your shoulders depressed and away from your ears the entire time.
Benefits of the Parallel Bar Dip
- You can load your triceps with just your bodyweight.
- Having your arms closer together will better activate your triceps.
You can really isolate your triceps with the pushdown. To perform the pushdown, you either grab a resistance band or cable pulley, step back, so the band or cable is taut, and then push it downward by flexing your triceps. Since just your triceps are moving the weight, you can better hone in on them.
This is a popular bodybuilding movement as the isolation lets the lifter really feel the muscle contract, which leads to great pumps and more activation.
How to Do the Triceps Pushdown
- Set the cables or band at a high anchor point. With your body facing the band, place your feet together and elbows to your sides (by your ribs).
- The chest should be up, and the back flat, with the hips angled slightly forward.
- Grab the handles or band and fully extend the elbows to push the handles or band down, making sure to keep the elbows slightly in front of the shoulders.
Coach’s Tip: Press the band both down and into your thighs as well.
Benefits of the Triceps Pushdown
- You’ll be able to isolate the triceps completely.
- The ability to feel the muscle contract and get a nice pump.
This triceps exercise variation has you lower (or dumbbells or cable pulley or kettlebells) to your forehead to stretch the triceps muscle.
You’ll be able to isolate the triceps with the skull crusher, but in a position that also allows you to move heavier weight than you could with a pushdown. As a result, this is a great move to strengthen the triceps with free weights.
How to Do the Skull Crusher
- Start by lying back down on a bench, with the hands supporting a weight (a barbell, dumbbells, or various cable attachments) at the top of the bench pressing position. The back and hips should be set up identical to a bench press.
- Pull the elbows back slightly so that they are pointing behind you (rather than directly vertical) as you bend the elbow joint, lowering the bar handle or loads towards your head.
- The bar should nearly make contact with the forehead. Feel the stretch on the triceps and partially on the lats. Push the bar back up.
Coach’s Tip: Keep the insides of your upper arms pointing inwards at your head.
Benefits of the Skull Crusher
- This is a versatile triceps exercise as you can use a barbell, kettlebells, or dumbbells, to name a few tools.
- You’re stronger in this position compared to most other triceps exercises, and so you’ll gain triceps strength.
This move is technically a skull crusher, but it hits differently. Your body has to stabilize itself big time as you lower your body, using your triceps primarily, towards a stationary barbell. This lack of balance makes the move very hard but grants you more core strength if you’re able to do it.
Note that this is not a beginner’s calisthenics exercise. You may find the bodyweight skull crusher too difficult if you aren’t used to advanced bodyweight-only training. Start slow and work your way up.
How to Do the Bodyweight Skull Crusher
- Start with your hands on a barbell that is set at hip height.
- With an overhand grip at shoulder width, allow the elbows to bend as you let your torso fall forward towards the bar, feeling the stretch on the triceps.
- The elbows should remain pulled close to the sides of the head.
- Once your head is under the bar, and your elbows are fully flexed, extend your elbows, pushing your body back into the original position.
Coach’s Tip: Instead of performing additional reps, you can make the exercise harder by slowing your tempo.
Benefits of the Bodyweight Skull Crusher
- This advanced skull crusher variation adds an extra degree of difficulty.
- Your body will have to stabilize itself, bolstering your core strength.
This is a popular bench press variation among powerlifters who need to strengthen the top portion of the lift. By pressing a barbell from the floor, you’re limiting your arms’ range of motion.
This means you can typically press more weight, which equates to a stronger bench press and stronger triceps. The floor press is also a suitable workaround if you can’t bench with a full range of motion due to an injury or, even, because all the benches are taken in a busy gym.
How to Do the Floor Press
- Lay down in front of a power rack and extend your arms. Take note of where they end and adjust the hooks so that the barbell sits where your hands reach.
- Get back under the now-loaded barbell and plant your feet firmly on the floor.
- Grab the bar with your typical bench press grip. Lift the bar out of the rack, and lower the barbell to your sternum. Keep your elbows tucked in at 45 degrees. Press back up.
Coach’s Tip: Think about gently brushing your elbows against the floor.
Benefits of the Floor Press
- The decreased range of motion allows you to lift more weight.
- You can overload your triceps for more strength and a heavier bench press.
This isn’t the most practical triceps exercise — since you need to use a bench and a cable machine — but it really isolates the triceps. The cable pulley, compared to a barbell or dumbbell, creates more tension on the muscle.
Also, by angling your body at a decline, you’re increasing the exercise’s range of motion. Your arms have to travel further to complete the exercise, and this will create a greater stretch on the muscle.
How to Do the Decline Bench Cable Extension
- Set a decline workout bench about a foot in front of a cable pulley machine.
- Set the cable pulley to low and attach a straight or EZ-bar handle.
- Lay back on the bench and grab the handle with both hands. (It may be easier to have someone hand you the bar.) Now, perform a standard skull crusher.
Coach’s Tip: This exercise also works well on a flat bench if you don’t have access to a decline bench station.
Benefits of the Decline Bench Cable Extension
- The cable creates consistent tension on the muscle.
- The decline angle will increase the stretch of the triceps muscle.
When legendary lifter JM Blakey trained at Westside Barbell and was crushing bench press records, his training partners noticed he was doing this unusual lift as part of his accessory routine. The JM press is part close-grip bench press, part skull crusher.
Since the chest comes into play, you can load up more weight than in a standard triceps isolation movement. The elbow position makes the JM press a real triceps killer.
How to Do the JM Press
- Set up exactly as you would for a close-grip bench press, but make sure the bar is fixated above your upper chest.
- Lower the barbell downwards while slowly flaring the elbows out to a 45-degree angle.
- As you lower, allow the bar to drift back towards your face.
- At the bottom of the repetition, your forearms should be somewhat parallel to the floor.
- Once your elbows are pointed forwards (instead of downwards), revere the motion and press back up.
Coach’s Tip: This one serves as a great follow-up exercise after bench pressing.
Benefits of the JM Press
- The JM Press improves lockout strength on the bench and overhead press.
- The shorter range of motion allows you to load more weight.
Triceps extensions are performed with a variety of tools and in a variety of postures. When performing overhead extensions with a resistance band, the extra stretch on the band provides ample tension from the get-go and only gets harder as you extend the elbows.
This movement is great for both muscular hypertrophy and lockout strength. It’s also one of the only ways to emphasize the long head of your triceps.
How to Do the Overhead Triceps Extension
- With the band underneath the middle of both feet, step forward with one foot and bring the handles of the band up behind your ears.
- Standing tall and keeping your elbows tucked in, extend the elbows until lockout, and pause for a second.
- Slowly lower down to the starting position and then repeat.
Coach’s Tip: Try to get your upper arms exactly perpendicular to the floor for max triceps engagement.
Benefits of the Overhead Triceps Extension
- Increased tension throughout a larger range of motion.
- Helps improve overhead lockout strength which is important for overhead pressing.
The grip and upper arm position will also likely allow you to train around elbow or shoulder discomfort and still get a good session in.
How to Do the Standing Landmine Press
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the end of the barbell just in front of your shoulder. Brace your core and lats and grip the barbell tight.
- Then, press to lockout by extending the elbow and reaching forward at the end of the movement. Slowly lower back down and repeat.
Coach’s Tip: Resist any twisting at the torso while you perform your reps.
Benefits of the Standing Landmine Press
- The neutral grip and the arc of the press train the triceps while helping to limit shoulder or elbow discomfort.
- Increased scapular stability and control because of the pressing angle and loading of the barbell.
Like the close-grip bench press, the hand placement of the diamond push-up shifts more of the emphasis on the triceps. Due to the narrower base of support, you’ll get increased core stability while training the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Because of this, you may not be able to do as many reps as in your usual push-up, but your triceps will love it.
How to Do the Diamond Push-Up
- Making a perfect diamond with your hands is not necessary, but the idea is to keep your hands close to focus on the triceps. Adjust your hand position to see what works for you.
- Perform a push-up with control while keeping your core and glutes tight to keep your spine neutral.
- Keep your elbows tucked alongside your ribcage, without flaring, during the entire movement.
Coach’s Tip: If this movement is tough on your wrists, consider a pair of wrist wraps.
Benefits of the Diamond Push-Up
- It focuses more on the triceps while still training your shoulders and chest.
- The narrower base of support improves your core strength.
Using dumbbells instead of the barbell allows you to change your pressing angle, which is great if you have shoulder issues when pressing with the barbell. The barbell locks your wrists and shoulders into one position, which some lifters may find limiting.
The reduced range of motion, combined with pressing one side at a time, will iron out imbalances while focusing on the triceps. Plus, the dumbbells are harder to stabilize, which slows the lift down and thus provides more time under tension.
How to Do the Unilateral Dumbbell Floor Press
- Roll to one side and grab a dumbbell with both hands. Press it up to extension, and then place your free hand on the floor out to the side.
- Bend your knees or leave your legs flat on the floor. Slowly lower the weight until your upper arm grazes the ground, and then press back up to lockout.
Coach’s Tip: You can hold another dumbbell at arm’s length for some extra isometric tension on your non-working triceps.
Benefits of the Unilateral Dumbbell Floor Press
- Strengthens imbalances between sides.
- The reduced range of motion and the neutral grip are easy on the wrists and shoulders.
- Helps improve lockout strength for bench and overhead pressing.
With enough weight on the barbell, just about any pressing movement can be considered a triceps exercise as well. Overhead pressing is fantastic for overall upper-body strength, but your performance may not be limited by your triceps specifically.
By using some leg drive to make the first half of the lift — where your shoulders do the most work — inconsequential, the push press helps you apply tons of mechanical tension to your triceps. Sets of five reps have never felt so hard.
How to Do the Push Press
- Unrack a barbell from a squat rack and hold it in the front rack position with a loose grip and your feet planted under your hips or slightly wider.
- Dip into a high partial squat; sink down until your knees come in line with your toes, but not much deeper.
- Aggressively reverse the motion and push into the floor hard as if you were going to jump.
- Your entire lower body should extend, at which point tilt your head back and allow the bar to fly off your shoulders.
- As the bar passes your head, press with your arms to lock it out firmly overhead.
Coach’s Tip: Avoid pressing with your arms early. Allow your legs to do the work of getting the bar past eye level before you use your arms.
Benefits of the Push Press
- Provides an unparalleled stimulus to your triceps via heavy weights.
- Teaches you the athletic motion of a dip-and-drive.
- You only need a bar and a squat rack to perform the push press.
When it comes to triceps training, cables are your best friend. While free weights are in no way inherently dangerous, plenty of folks find it easier and more comfortable on the elbows to perform high-intensity arm work with exercises like the cable cross-body extension.
Bodybuilders in particular adore this movement for its hypertrophic potential; few exercises will allow you to apply so much stress to your triceps with such little weight. You also get the benefits of working each triceps separately during a simultaneous double-armed set. This saves time while not allowing one arm to pick up the slack of the other.
How to Do the Cross-Body Cable Extension
- Stand between two cable trees with each shoulder-height attachment in your opposite hand; your right hand should hold the left attachment, and vice versa.
- Take a step or two backward to pull the plate stack up and apply some tension to the cable. Your forearms should be crossed in front of your body forming an “X” shape.
- From here, extend your elbows while keeping your upper arms tucked to your sides or slightly behind your body.
Coach’s Tip: You can play around with torso angle or arm position to find the posture that does the most damage to your triceps.
Benefits of the Cross-Body Cable Extension
- Provides a high amount of tension for your triceps.
- Lets you work each arm individually without having to do so one arm at a time.
- Easily customizable to suit your body.
The dumbbell triceps kick is a less-than-ideal triceps exercise. Its biggest hindrance is the inconsistent resistance curve; your reps are very easy at the beginning and inordinately difficult at the end of the range of motion.
Working with cables instead of a dumbbell resolves this issue and transforms an otherwise mediocre movement into a killer triceps exercise. Use this one to cap off your next arm workout and see for yourself.
How to Do the Dumbbell Kickback
- Set a cable fixture at around waist height and grab the attachment in your palm. Use your non-working arm to brace yourself against the cable tree itself.
- Tip over so your torso is roughly parallel to the floor and stagger your feet.
- Tuck your upper arm back and against your torso.
- Use your triceps to extend your elbow.
Benefits of the Dumbbell Kickback
- Easy to perform on a cable station without requiring much setup.
- Provides much more consistent tension than dumbbells.
Triceps Training Tips
There isn’t much mysticism to arm training, but that doesn’t mean you can sleep your way through your triceps workouts, either. If you want to maximize your results, utilize these training tips.
Choose Your Volume Carefully
It’s easy to overdo it in the weight room, especially when it comes to training smaller muscles like your triceps. The right amount of volume — that is, how many difficult sets you perform on a session-by-session, or week-to-week basis — can make or break your gains.
Most evidence-based recommendations regarding optimal training volume fall between 10 and 20 “working” sets per muscle, per week. (1) If you’re used to hitting it hard in the gym, this may seem like a light load.
However, the good news is that you can probably get the same, or better, arm gains without committing to multi-hour workouts. Mind also that compound lifts do factor into this benchmark; if you perform plenty of heavy bench or overhead presses twice a week, you probably don’t need 15 sets of triceps extensions on top of it all.
Find the Right Angle
It pays to be flexible in your pursuit of eye-popping, shirt-busting triceps. Yes, you need good mobility in your elbows and shoulders for some arm exercises, but you should really open yourself up to a wide array of exercises and angles during your workouts if you want to maximize your gains.
As a three-headed muscle, certain sections of your triceps will work harder than others on certain exercises based on your posture and leverages at any given moment. (2) For example, the long head of the muscle gets the most love when your arm is extended behind your head. Look beyond standard free-weight extensions like the skull crusher and diversify your movement selection.
Go Overhead, Often
The long head of your triceps is actually the largest of the muscle’s three compartments; emphasizing it will give you the most bang for your buck, appearance-wise. However, it is also more difficult to isolate than the other two heads.
Some compelling research has shown that overhead extensions, when your arm is raised up behind your head, can be more effective at both long head emphasis and overall triceps growth — even more than traditional pressdowns. (3)
Mix in at least one overhead-based triceps exercise every time you train your arms and the results will likely speak for themselves.
Anatomy of the Triceps
The triceps are made up of three muscles (hence the name, tri-ceps): The lateral head, the long head, and the medial head. All three of these muscles attach to your elbow and are responsible for extending your arm.
The triceps are involved in the back half of most pressing exercises. Think about how you bench press. Your pecs work hard at first to get the barbell off of your chest, but once your arms break 90 degrees, your triceps flex to extend your forearms and fully extend your arms. The same is true for an overhead press.
Notably and due to how it attaches to your scapula, the long head of your triceps also assists with shoulder extension; the action of bringing your arm down and in line with your torso. This is why you need to do overhead triceps extensions for complete muscular development, or why you might feel your triceps working on exercises like the straight-arm pulldown.
Benefits of Triceps Training
Bigger, stronger triceps make you, well, bigger and stronger. You aren’t going to win and bodybuilding shows if your guns are only loaded in the front. Your triceps may also be the limiting factor the next time you try to test your 1-rep max on the bench press. There are plenty of good reasons to prioritize your triceps in the gym.
Better Pressing Strength
Your triceps fight half the battle on all pressing movements, whether you’re on the barbell bench press or working with dumbbells. If your elbow extensors are underdeveloped or weak, don’t expect to lock out any of your max-effort reps. Some extra triceps work is a great way to safeguard yourself against missing a max attempt.
Balanced Physique Development
Well-developed arms may not win bodybuilding shows on their own, but if your triceps are lacking on the physique stage, it can bring down your entire physique. Even if you don’t have competitive aspirations, doing nothing but biceps curls and neglecting your tris is no way to build an impressive physique.
Your triceps make up the majority of overall muscle in your upper arm, and that’s before training. That means plenty of untapped hypertrophic potential. If you want to look symmetrical and proportional, carving out those horseshoes is an absolute must.
More Triceps Training Tips
Here are some more articles that can help you add size and strength to your triceps and improve your pressing strength.
- 8 Great Triceps Exercises You Probably Aren’t Doing
- 14 Triceps Exercises to Improve Your Bench Press
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sports sciences, 35(11), 1073–1082.
- Kholinne, E., Zulkarnain, R. F., Sun, Y. C., Lim, S., Chun, J. M., & Jeon, I. H. (2018). The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta orthopaedica et traumatologica turcica, 52(3), 201–205.
- Maeo, S., Wu, Y., Huang, M., Sakurai, H., Kusagawa, Y., Sugiyama, T., Kanehisa, H., & Isaka, T. (2022). Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position. European journal of sport science, 1–11. Advance online publication.
Featured Image: Bojan Milinkov/Shutterstock