Want bigger, stronger arms? Biceps get all the attention, but your triceps are just as—if not more—important. Triceps play a critical role in athletic skills that involve pushing, such as a stiff arm or driving a player away from you. Plus, massive triceps can strike fear in your opponent’s eyes.
My favorite three triceps exercises hit the three heads of the triceps—hence “try”—developing complete triceps strength. I demonstrate how to perform each of these exercises above.
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DB Pullover Extensions
Reverse Grip Floor Press
Swiss Bar Floor Press
But ripping off a few reps of these exercises completes only part of the puzzle. For true success, you need to incorporate triceps-focused exercises into a complete training program that follows these guidelines:
Don’t lose sight of performance
You want bigger arms that are as strong and useful as they look, but you need to keep your focus on performance. Pick the best triceps exercises for strength and size, but consider that your ultimate goal is to increase your athletic performance. With that being said, don’t do isolated triceps work for your entire workout—especially at the beginning.
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Modify your upper-body pushing to emphasize the triceps
If your program includes horizontal and vertical pushing exercises, you are already doing some of the best triceps exercises. You can tweak this a little more by moving your grip in to about shoulder-width on your pressing exercises and moving your elbows closer to your sides. This will also build useful pushing strength.
Don’t overdo it!
You have limited time and energy, so spend it wisely. Don’t spend hours pumping up your guns. Hit them hard and be smart. Don’t overdo direct triceps work. Pick the best triceps exercises and then move on. You need to save energy for your sport and for your big game-changer muscles (e.g., your posterior chain).
Be kind to your elbows
You only have so many triceps extension reps in you before your elbows start screaming, “Enough already!” Many popular triceps exercises beat on your elbow joints. If your sport also stresses your elbows, you could easily end up with nasty elbow pain. For your heavy work, choose multi-joint movements, since they are not as stressful on your elbows as single-joint exercises. For your speed and pump work, choose elbow-friendly variations (see below for details.)
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Train the triceps the way they were meant to be trained
The triceps are a fast-twitch-dominant muscle group. They love heavy weight and speed. The best triceps exercises are ones that allow a lot of weight to be used or allow for some speed. If your triceps workout is nothing but light-weight pump work, you will get nothing but a nice 30-minute pump.
Sample High-Performance Triceps Training Program
Here is how you can work the three exercises into a training program.
Day 1: Heavy Upper Body
- 1a) Standing Barbell Press or Push Press: 6×3-5, rest 45-60 sec
- 1b) Weighted Chin-Up: 6×5, rest 45-60 sec
- 2a) Swiss Bar Floor Press or Reverse Grip Floor Press: 6×3-5, rest 45-60 sec
- 2b) 1-Arm DB Row: 6×6-8, rest 45-60 sec
Day 1 uses heavy pressing to blast the triceps. Your first exercise is a Standing Press or Push-Press. Do this with a shoulder-width grip and avoid letting your elbows flare out to the sides. For your second pressing exercise, modify a traditional Bench Press with a Swiss bar if you have one.
The Swiss bar allows you to take a joint-friendly neutral grip. It also makes it easy to get a nice elbow tuck, which puts you in a fantastic position to hammer your triceps! Check out this video to see the Swiss Bar Floor Press in action.
If you don’t have a Swiss bar, don’t worry. A great barbell alternative is a Reverse Grip Bench Press. It may feel a little weird, but it also makes it easy to get a nice elbow tuck. It will leave your triceps screaming for mercy!
Both of these pressing variations will absolutely hammer your triceps. Also, the grip on both makes it easy to get a great elbow tuck and force your triceps to do most of the work. Go heavy! The weight may not look like it is moving fast, but attempt to explode the weight back up from the floor!
Day 2: Lower Body 1
Day 3: Rest day
Day 4: Rep Upper Body
- 1a) One-Arm DB Shoulder Press: 3×8-10, rest 45 sec
- 1b) Pull-Up: 3×8-10, rest 45 sec
- 2a) Dips or Weighted Push-Ups: 3×8-10, rest 45 sec
- 2b) Inverted Rows: 3×8-10, rest 45 sec
- 3a) Lying Dumbbell Pullover-Extensions: 3-4×6-8, rest 10 sec
- 3b) Tricep V-Bar or Rope Pressdowns: 3-4×12-15, rest 45 sec
- 3c) DB Curls: 3×8-12, rest 45 sec
Day 2 is focused on traditional muscle-building training. This will give your joints a break from the heavy weights used in Day 1. Dips are both a chest and triceps exercise. However, if they cause pain, if your sport places a lot of stress on your shoulders or if you have a history of shoulder problems, use Push-Ups instead.
Exercise 3a is a hybrid movement that combines a pullover with a triceps extension. I learned a bar variation of this from Mark Rippetoe’s book Starting Strength. While it looks like you are cheating, this combination movement offers five unique advantages for your triceps:
- It hits the long head of the triceps, which is often neglected with traditional Skullcrushers.
- It allows you to use more weight and move at a faster speed—two things the triceps love.
- It allows your elbows to share the stress with your shoulders, which makes it more elbow-friendly than traditional Skullcrushers.
- It creates more eccentric stress, which is a powerful growth stimulator (you will feel these the next day!)
- It hammers the long head of the triceps, which is not hit as much with pressing exercises.
Exercise 3b is a traditional bodybuilding lighter-weight pumping exercise. It creates some nice metabolic fatigue, which leaves you with a great pump and also triggers hypertrophy. Use a V-bar or a rope, whichever allows you to feel the muscle working and keeps your elbows happy. Don’t go crazy with weight on this one; focus on flexing your triceps hard with each rep.
Day 5: Lower Body 2
By selecting the best triceps exercises, making a few programming tweaks and doing some hard work, you can be on your way to bigger, stronger triceps!