When it comes to building up your arms, many lifters focus on their biceps and shoulders. And we admit, it’s pretty great to be able to show off a serious gun show when you flex your bicep. Often, though, the biceps counterpart—your triceps—don’t get the attention they deserve. We’re here to help you with that problem.
Anatomy of the triceps muscle
The triceps are the counter to the biceps muscles; when you bring your forearms toward your shoulder, you’re contracting your biceps and relaxing your triceps. Conversely, when you extend your arm and lock your elbow, you’re flexing your tricep and relaxing your bicep. The triceps muscle has three different heads (thus the name triceps brachii, Latin for “three-headed muscle of the arm”)—lateral, medial, and long. All three heads connect to the scapula and humerus before connecting to the ulna at your elbow.
- Lateral head: Attaches at the outer side of the humerus and consequently helps give the triceps muscle its distinctive horseshoe shape
- Medial head: Gives the triceps its bulk in the middle of the muscle
- Long head: Gives the triceps its bulk through the length of the back of the arm from your shoulder to your elbow
If it helps you visualize how the triceps work, think of it as a cable machine where pushing down on the triceps extends the elbow.
Key components of effective tricep training
When it comes to effectively training your tricep muscles, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Because there are three heads, you’ll need a variety of exercises to develop each of them.
- Similarly, you’ll want to use different strategies and exercises depending on your goals, whether you’re looking for mass, strength, or tone.
Let’s look at how those strategies might vary a little more closely.
Strategies for tricep mass
Let’s look at a few key considerations when trying to build tricep mass:
- Start with general strategies for building mass, including bulking and Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training (PHAT).
- Build up each of the three tricep heads with focused training that utilizes each of them.
- To build the triceps long head, focus on overhead lifts such as overhead extensions and skull crushers.
- To build the triceps medial head, focus on exercises that get your elbows out in front of you—particularly at 90, 135, and 180 degrees of flexion. Additionally, focus on underhand grip exercises, such as reverse-grip press downs.
- To build the triceps lateral head, focus on exercises that utilize overhand grip and your arms at your sides, such as press-downs and bench dips.
- Remember that when focusing on building muscle mass, utilize heavier weights and lower repetitions to develop mass.
Strategies for tricep strength
Let’s look at a few key considerations when trying to build tricep strength:
- Start with general strategies for building strength, including PHAT training.
- To strengthen the triceps long head, focus on overhead lifts. In particular, shoot for exercises that prioritize endurance (higher rep counts) over bulking (heavier weights).
- To strengthen the triceps medial head, focus on underhanded grip exercises that keep your elbows out in front of you.
- To build the triceps lateral head, focus on press-downs, bench dips, and other exercises that utilize overhand grip and keep your arms at your sides.
- Remember that when focusing on building muscle strength, utilize lighter weights and higher repetitions.
Strategies for tricep toning
Let’s look at a few key considerations when trying to tone your triceps:
- Start with general strategies for toning, such as cutting and programs designed specifically for toning.
- Keep in mind that toning is generally more effective with low weights and higher rep counts.
- To tone the triceps long head, focus on low-weight, high-rep overhand lifts.
- To tone the triceps medial head, focus on low-weight, high-rep underhand gripped lifts that keep your elbows in front of you.
- To tone the triceps lateral head, focus on low-weight, high-rep overhanded gripped lifts that keep your arms at your sides.
- Remember that when focusing on toning, you need your body to shed excess fat, which means you need to burn more calories than consuming
Best triceps exercises
Determining the best triceps exercises for you is dependent on what your goals are. If your goal is to build mass, focus on lower repetitions of heavier weights while utilizing a mix of lifts that will push each of the muscle heads. If your goal is to build strength, focus on lower weights and higher repetitions and a mix of lifts that will strengthen each of the muscle heads. If your goal is toning, you’re likely best off looking at a combination of strength work and cutting.
Modifications for tricep workouts at home
Consider ways you can hit each of the tricep heads with home equipment. Sometimes that means bodyweight exercises, such as different types of dips. Sometimes that means dumbbell lifts. Keep the principles above in mind and you can still work and develop your triceps nicely. Utilizing good lifting principles is more important than the exact workouts.
What makes a good triceps workout?
The short answer? Variety. The best triceps workouts should utilize both strength- and mass-building strategies (such as a PHAT workout) as well as a combination of exercises that hit all three tricep heads. Keep in mind, too, that any triceps program should also include biceps work and be part of a larger program, so as to prevent muscular imbalance. That said, to really emphasize your triceps, consider the exercises below and hit the triceps after a rest day (so you go into it fresh) to get the most out of your workout. Additionally, don’t forget to periodically deload for best results.
Example triceps workout day for building mass
- Close-grip barbell bench press: 4 sets of 6-10 reps with 60-90 seconds rest between sets
- Dip machine: 3 sets of 8-10 reps; 60-90 seconds rest
- Seated dumbbell press: 3 sets of 8-12 reps; 60 seconds rest
- V-bar pulldown: 2 sets of 8-12 reps; 60 seconds rest
For a strength workout, you can consider the same exercises—but more reps at a lower weight.
Example triceps workout day for building power
- Dip machine: 4 sets of 10-12 reps; 90 seconds rest
- EZ-bar skullcrusher superset with close-grip barbell bench press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps; 60-90 seconds rest
- Triceps pushdown with rope attachment superset with triceps overhead extension: 3 sets of 10-12 reps; 60 seconds rest
- Triceps overhead extension with rope: 3 sets of 10-12 reps; 60 seconds rest
Example triceps workout day for tone
- Machine triceps extension: 3 sets of 12 reps; 60-90 seconds rest
- Dip machine: 3 sets of 12 reps; 60-90 seconds rest
- Triceps pushdown with v-bar attachment: 3 sets of 12 reps; 60 seconds rest