5 Best Tricep Exercises to Increase Upper Arm Strength
Most people tend to focus exclusively on training their biceps since this muscle group is front and center on your upper arm. They conveniently neglect the triceps, which make up the back of your arms. However, focusing on your triceps is key to getting impressive-looking arms.
For well-developed, three-dimensional upper arms, you need to work on all your muscle groups, be it front or back. In other words, both biceps and triceps exercises should be the priority of your upper-arm training.
In this article, we will discuss why you need tricep exercises for bigger, more muscular arms, and the best tricep exercises to include in your workout routine.
Why Triceps Workouts Are Integral to Your Workout Routine
The tricep, or triceps brachii, is a three-headed muscle that includes:
- Medial head — located on the inside of your upper arm
- Long head — found along the midline on the back of your upper arm
- Lateral head — intersects your elbow and shoulder joint
Fun fact: Flexing the triceps muscles creates a horseshoe shape. Aesthetics aside, the primary function of the triceps is to enable elbow extensions and help keep the shoulders stable.
Triceps Exercises Increase Upper Arm Size
The triceps are a bigger muscle group than the biceps (which only have two heads). Therefore, incorporating the best tricep exercises into your current workout routine is a must if you want to build muscle mass on your upper arms.
Besides that, the biceps comprise the front of your upper arms. Focusing only on biceps exercises will result in upper arm imbalances — your arms will look strong from the front but weak from the back.
This is why a triceps workout on top of your bicep curls is key to building balanced, developed arms. To get the most out of your triceps workout, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine suggests starting with triceps exercises. This way, you’ll have more energy and strength to move heavier weights and increase the tension you put on the triceps, allowing for greater muscle overload.
Triceps Workouts Improve Upper Arm Strength and Function
Triceps workouts don't just promote upper arm muscle growth. They're also essential for pushing movements like the push-up and the tricep dip.
If your triceps are weaker than your biceps, this creates an imbalance in your upper arm strength. Having strong biceps and weak triceps will consequently impact your pushing and pulling capabilities. In turn, you'll face a higher risk of injuries when you attempt compound upper body pushing exercises as part of your strength training program, like bench pressing and shoulder pressing.
Another reason to add triceps exercises to your workout routine: The tricep muscle, particularly the long head, supports shoulder stability. Hence, powerful triceps are essential to building more resilient and muscular shoulders.
Strong triceps also allow you to perform shoulder exercises more explosively while minimizing the risk of rotator cuff or shoulder joint injury.
Finally, investing in triceps strength training has benefits that carry over to virtually all upper body pushing movements. Can’t get your chest to grow? Your triceps might be holding you back. Thankfully, the best triceps exercises will help you overcome plateaus and facilitate overall upper-body muscle growth.
The Best Tricep Exercises to Include in Your Workout Routine
The best tricep workouts target the long head, lateral head, and medial head in your triceps muscle group. For variations on each exercise, check out the corresponding modification section.
1. Tricep Dip (Bench Dip)
What it is: This compound exercise uses your body weight to train your triceps. Some people may refer to a tricep dip as a bench dip since you can use a bench to perform this tricep exercise.
Targeted areas: Lateral head and medial head of the triceps muscle.
What you need: A stable platform such as a bench or chair.
Sit on the edge of the bench with your shoulder rolled backward and your back straight. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on opposite sides of the bench next to your hips.
Move both feet away from your body, but keep your feet fully flat against the ground. Your knees should be bent.
Keep your core tight and slowly lower your body into the bench dip by bending your elbows to a 90-degree angle. You should avoid slumping your shoulders when dipping.
Then, exhale and do an elbow extension to lock out your arms. Use a slow, measured pace throughout the range of motion.
- With a chair: Substitute the bench for a chair and perform the same motions mentioned above.
- With a plank position: For increased difficulty, straighten your legs and perform the tricep dip in a reverse plank position.
- With parallel bars: Grasp one bar in each hand with an overhand grip. Tighten your core and transfer your full body weight onto your arms. Next, keep your knees bent as you lift your feet off the ground. Lock out your arms at the top of the dip. Then, bend your elbows to lower your body. Pause before raising yourself up again.
2. Close-Grip Bench Press
What it is: This upper-body compound exercise targets your triceps primarily but also engages your chest and shoulders.
Targeted areas: Medial head, lateral head, and long head of the triceps muscle.
What you need: A flat bench and a barbell (with the right weight load). If you have yet to master the close-grip bench press, a spotter or a Smith machine is recommended.
Lie on the bench and grip the barbell with a close grip (preferably shoulder-width). Ensure your elbows are tucked close to your body so your triceps do most of the work. Your back and hips should lie firmly against the bench throughout the exercise.
Lift the bar with straight wrists and hold it above you. Breathe in and slowly lower the bar towards your upper rib cage. Then, breathe out and push the bar up while flexing your triceps. Return to the starting position.
- With dumbbells: Hold one dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other. Hold the dumbbells closer than shoulder-width but not touching as you press them up.
- Without equipment: This exercise is also known as the close-grip push-up or a diamond push-up. In the push-up position, form a diamond-shaped base with your thumbs touching.
3. Lying Triceps Extension (Skull Crusher)
What it is: This is a common overhead extension exercise in upper body strength training. It's also referred to as skull crusher, French press, or French extension.
Targeted areas: Lateral head and long head of the triceps muscle.
What you need: A flat bench and an EZ bar or a barbell.
Lie on the bench and grip the EZ bar with both hands shoulder-width apart and above your chest, arms extended. Bend your elbows and move the EZ bar toward your head. Lower the bar to just behind the top of your head.
Exhale, squeeze your triceps, extend your elbows, and press the bar upward to return to the starting position.
- With one hand: Use your right hand to grip a dumbbell in a vertical position. Place your left hand on the elbow of the right hand to lock it in a steady position as you raise and lower the dumbbell. Do 10 reps, then switch arms.
- While standing: Also known as the standing bodyweight skull crusher, you can perform this modified form with a barbell in the squat rack or with a Smith machine. Place both hands on the bar in an overhand grip and slowly lean your body weight forward until your forehead touches the bar. Your elbows should bend at a 90-degree angle. Then, do a full elbow extension to bring your body back up to the starting position.
- For an added challenge: Do the skull crusher on an incline bench. This engages the long head of the triceps muscle even more. To work on the lateral head of your triceps, use a decline bench instead.
4. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension
What it is: This exercise bends your elbow joint against weight resistance, primarily engaging the triceps muscle.
Targeted areas: Medial head (cable machine) and long head of the triceps muscle.
What you need: A dumbbell
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your core and glutes tight. With an open grip, grasp the top of the dumbbell with both hands. Extend your arms upward and raise the dumbbell over your head. This is the starting position.
Your biceps should be next to your ears with your elbows tucked in. Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbell behind your head while keeping your upper arms stationary.
At the end range of motion, your forearms should be at least parallel to the ground. Pause here for one beat, and squeeze your triceps muscles. Exhale as you lift the weight to the starting position.
- When seated: To do the dumbbell overhead triceps extension in a seated position, you'll need a bench with back support. Sit with your back straight and feet firmly on the ground (or on the pegs of the bench). Keep your head and spine in a neutral position and avoid arching your neck forward.
- With a cable machine: This modified form is also known as the cable overhead triceps extension, which emphasizes the medial head more than the dumbbell overhead triceps extension. Use a cable machine with a rope attachment on the high pulley. Lean forward at the hips with one foot in front of you. Grip the rope with both hands shoulder-width apart, tighten your core and glutes, and lock in your elbows. Press the rope forward until both arms are extended (don't lock your elbows), and flex your triceps. Then, slowly lower the rope under control and return to the starting position.
5. Triceps Pushdown
What it is: This exercise is also known as the cable push-down when used with a cable machine.
Targeted areas: Lateral head and medial head of the triceps muscle.
What you need: A straight bar handle or a rope attached to the high pulley of the cable machine.
To do this exercise, stand facing the cable machine with your feet slightly apart and your knees slightly bent. Grab the handle or rope with both hands using an overhand grip at chest level.
Your back should be arched slightly forward, your shoulders straight and rolled back, and your spine in a neutral position. Keep your abs tight and your elbows close to your side and in front of your hips.
Exhale and push down until you reach a full elbow extension without locking the elbows. Then, squeeze your triceps and slowly raise your upper arms to the starting position. Make sure your elbows are in front of your hips throughout the full range of motion.
- With a resistance band: This modification is ideal if you don't have access to a cable machine. Hook the resistance band to a high anchor point, like a metal hook above your head. Hold the band in both hands with an overhand grip, and perform the triceps pushdown as the above directions indicate. If you want to correct your form or work on a weaker arm, perform the same exercise with one hand instead.
- With an EZ bar: If you find the cable bar or the rope are uncomfortable to work with, try doing the triceps pushdown with an EZ bar instead.
The Best Tricep Workouts Enhance Upper Arm Size, Strength, and Function
The triceps muscles are often overlooked in the quest for big and strong upper arms. By incorporating the best triceps exercises into your training routine, you're able to build muscle for size and improve upper-arm strength.
For upper-arms strength training and muscle-sculpting, use a superset workout that targets both your triceps and biceps in the same routine. Then, follow up with a high-quality whey protein, like Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate to restore your energy levels and boost muscle growth.