The six best triceps workouts

Best Exercises for Building Huge Triceps

When you think about getting bigger arms, you think about training more biceps right? After all, the biceps are the muscles most people see when you look at your arm. In my opinion, the biceps get too much attention when it comes to arms size and aesthetics.

The muscles that make up the triceps should be getting the same, if not more, attention than the biceps. In this article, we are going to cover everything you need to know when it comes to triceps. This includes:

  • The anatomy and function of the triceps.
  • How to effectively train your biceps through progressive overload and proper implementation.
  • The best exercises to grow the triceps.
  • Workouts you can implement in your training to speed up growth.
  • Tips to improve recovery.
  • Supplements to help speed up growth and recovery. 

We also suggest you read the best pre-workout ingredients for strength and power.

Anatomy and Function of the Triceps

The triceps’ actual name is the Triceps Brachii. You have the long head, the medial head, and the lateral head. Tri means three, so tri-ceps refers to the three heads. To help you picture these heads, when you look at the back of your arm, the triceps look almost like a horseshoe. The meaty, top part of the horseshoe would be your long head. The part of the horseshoe that sits on the outside of your arm is the lateral head. Finally, the medial head sits on the inner side of that horseshoe. “The primary function of the triceps is the extension of the elbow joint” (National Library of Medicine, 2022).

While the primary function of the triceps is to extend the elbow, the three heads can be further biased based on arm and shoulder position. This does not mean that when you bias one head the others are not working. All three heads will work during each exercise, but you can emphasize different heads during certain movements more. When your arm is overhead, the long head is going to be more biased. When your arms are at your sides with a pronated (palm facing down) grip, the lateral head is going to be more biased. While you will use the medial head in all triceps exercises, using a supinated (palm up) grip with arms at your sides can help place more emphasis on it.

Let’s talk about the muscle fiber composition of the triceps. Knowing the composition of a muscle can help determine the amount of volume, recovery time, and how many repetitions it needs. Physiopedia states “The medial head was predominantly formed by small type I muscle fibers, the lateral head comprised a great quantity of large type IIb muscle fibers, and the long head consisted of a more balanced mixture of fiber types.” This means the lateral head is going to be the strongest, helping the most with high-force movements. The long head is going to be best in the middle of high force and slower, more precise movements. The medial head is going to be best at higher repetition, and slower movements. Knowing this, you can assume that training types of all kinds (lower, middle, and high repetitions) can be beneficial for triceps growth and strength.

Progressive Overload and Triceps Training Structure

While adding more weight to the exercise is an example of progressive overload, this is not the only option. You can add more volume by adding another set. You can increase the time you perform the exercise. You will do this by slowing down your reps and extending the time your muscles are under tension. Adding intensity to the workout is another way. If you never go to failure, then you’re missing out on an optimal way to progress your workout. Aside from working to failure, more intensity can mean methods such as adding advanced training techniques such as drop sets or increasing the range of motion (deficit deadlifts). Finally, you could also increase the frequency with which you train a muscle. If you are only training your triceps once a week, then they only get one stimulus a week to grow. Now say you change that to three times per week. Which do you think will grow faster, a muscle stimulated once per week or three times per week?

Let’s talk about implementing triceps into your training routine. Any time you do a pressing movement, whether that be shoulder press, bench press, etc. your triceps are going to be the main muscle used during the back half of the movement. For example, locking out a bench press is mostly triceps. This means that during your chest day, the Triceps are going to get a good bit of work in as well. As I said before, when wanting to grow muscles more optimally, adding in frequency is a good place to start. Let’s say you are only doing an arm day once a week. Besides that arm day, add in one or two exercises at the end of your chest day since you are working the triceps that day anyways. Just make sure you space the days out enough to where you can recover before working them again. Then, once you do that for a few weeks, add in some advanced training techniques on your arm day. This is progressive overload in action. Doing this continually is the fastest way to grow not only your triceps but any muscle. To sum this up, you don’t need to only do triceps on arm day or push day, add them to both!

The Best Exercises For Triceps

Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press

This should come as no surprise. This exercise is one of the best for adding strength and size to the triceps, simply because of how much you can load them. Not only will this strengthen your triceps but will also strengthen your bench press as well. I would recommend doing these on arm day so you’re not doing two bench presses in the same workout. To perform this exercise, set up like you would for a normal bench press, but bring your hands in to shoulder-width position. This allows you to tuck your elbows really close into your torso. After the hand placement change, perform the exercise like a normal bench press.

One mistake I see far too often is moving your hands too close together. “It is not recommended that the hands are moved any closer than shoulder width apart, else a lifter could cause injury from an unstable set up on the wrists” (Sally, 2021). I have seen many people shy away from a close grip because it hurts their wrists. Then I see that they have their hands almost touching while performing the exercise. When you perform this exercise properly, your wrists and shoulders will actually feel more comfortable than on a normal bench press.

Since this exercise allows for a heavier load on the triceps, I do these in the lower rep range of 4-8 reps. This is what will allow you to optimally strengthen them. You can also perform these in the middle range as well (8-15 reps). This is not to say that high reps on this exercise aren’t beneficial but remember that the two strongest heads of your triceps are made of fibers that work best in the lower-middle rep range. 

Tricep Pushdown

The triceps pushdown is an awesome exercise for complete isolation of the triceps. This is one of the exercises that will bias more of the lateral, or outside portion of the triceps. You will perform the triceps pushdown with a rope attachment, a band, and a straight or w-shaped bar if the straight bar is uncomfortable on your wrists. To perform this exercise, set the cables on the highest anchor point for the machine. Pull the attachment of choice down to where your elbows are at your side. After that, fully extend your elbows to perform the exercise. Make sure to keep your elbows as still as possible and do not use momentum to push the attachment down. You can also bend over slightly at the hips but keep your back flat and your chest up. If you are using the rope attachment, try to bring your hands apart at the bottom of the exercise to feel an even better squeeze in your triceps. Be sure to not flare out your elbows.

I recommend doing these in the 8-15 rep range. Since you are biasing more of the lateral head in this exercise, this rep range aligns with the muscle fiber composition of that head. This exercise is also a good option for adding advanced training techniques such as drop sets.

Skull Crusher

This exercise is awesome for putting your triceps in a “stretched” position. Placing a load on a muscle during a stretched position is one of the best stimuli for muscle growth. This exercise is also very versatile, meaning you can use a barbell, EZ-bar, dumbbell, cable machine, or even kettlebells. In this example, we will use the barbell. Lie back on a bench with the barbell over you, like you would perform a close-grip bench press. Next, bring your elbows back over your head to where the back of your hand is in line with your eyes. Finally, slowly lower the bar by letting your elbows bend until the bar is almost touching the top of your head, and press back up. You should feel a strong contraction and stretch in your triceps. Again, I like doing these in that middle rep range, and I recommend not going heavy on this exercise. It’s called skull crusher for a reason!

Overhead Triceps Extension

This is another very scalable exercise in terms of the different equipment and position of your body. You can perform this exercise either sitting or standing. You can use one heavier dumbbell for which you’d use both hands or two lighter dumbbells in each hand. You can use a barbell or EZ-bar or do them with the cable machine. You can even use kettlebells. In this example, we will use the EZ-bar. Grab an EZ-bar and put enough weight on it that you could do 8-15 reps. Sit on a bench like you would for the shoulder press. Press the bar up overhead keeping your arms about shoulder width or a little closer, then let your elbows bend so that the bar goes behind your head. Once you feel a stretch in your triceps, press the bar back up and repeat. It is almost like a sitting-up version of the skull crusher, except the bar will go behind your head. I would not recommend going heavy on this exercise either, especially if you have shoulder or elbow issues. Make sure to warm up your shoulders and elbows before performing this exercise to reduce the chance of injury.

The Triceps Dip

This exercise is an awesome bodyweight exercise for your triceps, but you can also add weight if you’re more advanced. To perform this exercise, get a bench or chair and sit on the edge. Place your hands by your sides on the bench or chair. Move your feet out until your butt comes forward off the bench, but make sure to keep your feet flat on the ground. Your arms should be straight and slightly behind your body at this point. Slowly bend your elbows until they are about 90 degrees and then press back up. I like doing these in the higher rep range as your medial head will be very involved with this movement. If you would like to add weight, simply put a weight (I recommend plate or bumper weights) on your thighs and perform the movement. It is easier if you get someone to do it for you in order not to worry about getting into the proper position with a weight on you.

Close-Grip Pushup

Here is another awesome exercise you will do with only your body weight. To perform this exercise, use the same cues for the close-grip bench press, except in a pushup position. While in a pushup position, bring your hands to shoulder width, or slightly closer, and keep your core tight and back flat. Lower your body keeping your elbows tucked in tight to your body. Simply press back up and repeat. Again, don’t bring your hands too close together, especially if you have wrist issues. If you are more advanced, you can have someone place a weight on your back while performing the movement. A weighted vest is also another option.

Workout Examples

Picking workouts to do for your Triceps is not hard. On an arm day, I would typically recommend 3-4 exercises with 2-4 sets per exercise. At the end of a push day, one or two exercises with 2-3 sets each will be plenty. 

Workout 1:

  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 4 sets of 6-8.
  • Overhead Tricep Extension: 4 sets of 12-15. 
  • Tricep Dips: 2 sets until failure.

Workout 2:

  • EZ-Bar skull crushers: 4 sets of 8-12.
  • Tricep pushdown with rope handles: 3 sets 12-15 with drop set on last set.
  • Close-grip pushups: 2 sets until failure. 

Workout 3:

  • Close-grip bench press superset with close-grip pushups: 4 sets of 10-12 reps on bench press followed by going to failure on close-grip pushups. Take ample rest in between sets!
  • Overhead Dumbbell extension: 2 sets of 8-15.

These are a few of the workouts you can install into your routine. Remember, progressive overload is just as, if not more, important than exercise selection. Keep track of your workouts and what weights and exercises are being performed. This will allow you to see where you can add more intensity, where you can add more weight, or even where you can add a little more volume.

Improving Triceps Recovery

Your muscles are not growing inside of the gym. The gym is only a stimulus that causes your body to build back bigger. A good recovery regimen will make a night and day difference in the strength and size progression of your triceps. These are a few practices you can add to your routine to speed up recovery:

  • Sleep hygiene: Make sleep hygiene your number one. Sleep is where your body will recover the most. If you are not sleeping well, this can cause your performance to suffer the next day, which increases the chance of injury. Not only that, but poor sleep also affects your brain, metabolism, hormone levels, appetite, and many more. You should be shooting for at minimum 7 hours of good sleep per night.  
  • Proper diet: A well-balanced, high-protein diet is necessary for muscle growth. If you are not ingesting enough protein every day, your body physically cannot build muscle. Likewise, if you are not fueling with a moderate amount of carbs, then strength and energy can suffer throughout the workout. If you are on a lower-carb diet, have a little fruit or quick digesting carb right before the workout.
  • Hydration: Water makes up most of your body, and muscles. If you are not hydrated enough, energy, performance, recovery, and more will suffer. You don’t have to get a gallon every day, but at the least, you should be aiming for half a gallon. Adding in some electrolytes will help with hydration as well. This can be as simple as adding a little salt to your water.
  • Rest: It sounds the opposite of what you need to do in order to build muscle, but as I said before, muscle is not built inside the gym, but during your recovery period. I generally recommend at least two full days off from weight training per week to give your central nervous system and muscles a break. During these off days, try implementing yoga or some stretching to help ease your soreness and improve your range of motion/mobility. 

Supplements That Speed Up Recovery and Growth 

While supplements do not replace any needs, there are a few that will dramatically improve your performance, strength, recovery, and general health. These supplements include:

  1. Protein powder: Protein powder exists to help you reach your daily protein goal if you are struggling to get that through food. I would try to get whey protein as the amino acids here are best utilized. However, if you are vegan/vegetarian or lactose intolerant, try a vegan protein powder or an animal-based protein powder. You don’t have to just drink protein powder! There are many ways you can cook with powder. You can bake (dessert!) or add to smoothies.
  2. Omega 3’s: Unless you are eating salmon, mackerel, herring, or sardines on a regular basis, chances are your body is lacking sufficient amounts of Omega 3’s. To add on to this, the typical American diet is severely unproportioned when it comes to a balance between omega 3’s and omega 6’s. Masterson says, “Research has found that 68% of adults and 95% of children in the United States do not consume enough omega 3’s to meet nutritional needs based on the US dietary guidelines.” Supplementing with these can help with inflammation, joint health, brain/eye/heart health, and blood pressure to name a few.
  3. Creatine: Creatine is the number one natural supplement to directly help with muscle size, strength, and recovery. You store creatine in your muscles as phosphocreatine. Unless you are eating 20 lbs of red meat per day, then your creatine stores are not full. This phosphocreatine helps with the production of ATP (energy). Taking creatine literally helps your muscles have more energy which will translate to better strength, endurance, recovery, and quicker muscle growth.
  4. Essential Amino Acids: Think of these as a protein shake without the calories. You can sip on them during your workout to kickstart the muscle protein synthesis process. EAA’s are especially beneficial if you are having trouble hitting your daily protein goal. You should notice a dramatic improvement in recovery and in delaying fatigue throughout your workout.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best tricep exercise for mass?

I wouldn’t say there is a “best” tricep exercise for mass. However, a few of the best are skull crushers, close-grip bench presses, tricep pushdown variations, and overhead extension variations. 

What is the best exercise for tricep strength?

The close-grip bench press. This exercise allows for the heaviest load and you can perform this exercise in “strength training style” (lower repetitions, high intensity).

What is the best tricep exercise for women?

The anatomy of the triceps is the same for men and women. Due to this, the same exercises are useful for both. To add to this, you can implement the same training style (same sets and repetitions).

How do I make my triceps more defined?

There are two main ways to do this. The first is simply building more muscle in your triceps. The other way is to decrease the amount of body fat you have in order to reveal more of your triceps.

Will training triceps help my bench press?

Absolutely! The Triceps are a strong synergist (helps the chest) during the movement, therefore increasing the strength of your triceps will increase the weight you can move on the bench press. The triceps do most of the work to “lock out” the bench press.

Should you only train the triceps on arm day or push day?

I am a firm believer in training them on both. As I said before, more frequency yields faster muscle growth. While you should be doing more direct triceps volume on arm day, working in an exercise or two on your chest or push day will be beneficial.


Author Bio

Sam Lipscomb has been an avid health and fitness enthusiast for over 6 years now. He is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist who has spent years learning about health, nutrition, fitness, the human body, and supplements in order to better help the individuals he interacts with.

His goal has been to learn everything he can to help others achieve their fitness goals and get accurate fitness information.