The Top 5 Best Triceps Exercises

Arnold Triceps ExtensionsTwo common questions you will hear from male weightlifters are:

  1. How can I get bigger arms?
  2. How can I bench press more weight?

Normally I would scoff at such questions, except that the answer is a lesson that most young weightlifters need to learn.

Because your triceps comprise two-thirds of your arm, the answer to the first question is: train your triceps.

Because your triceps are often the weakest link in the chain of muscles that facilitates bench press, the answer to the second question is: train your triceps.

This brings me to the point of this whole post, which is how best to train your triceps.


Anatomy of the Triceps

The triceps brachii has three heads that connect the humerus and scapula to the forearm bone called the ulna.

These heads are known as the Lateral, Medial, and Long heads.

The lateral head is located on the outward facing side of the humerus.

This head is most responsible for the horseshoe shape of the triceps.

The medial head is located towards the midline of the body.

The long head runs along the bottom side of the humerus and is the largest of the three heads.

Again I will mention that your triceps make up about 70% of the total muscle mass of your upper arm.

Triceps Anatomy
Triceps Anatomy

Functions of the Triceps

The primary function of the triceps is to extend the elbow, which results in straightening the arm.

The secondary function of the triceps is fulfilled only by the long head of the muscle, which is to adduct the arm (or to bring the arm down towards the body). The triceps shares this function with the latissimus dorsi (back muscles).

Top 5 Best Triceps Exercises

A number of criteria went in to selecting the best triceps exercises. I focused on compound exercises over isolation. We also want to be able to go as heavy as possible in order to build the size and strength we are seeking. Work a couple of these exercises into your weekly training, and you will see a huge improvement in your triceps within 2 months.

Until I get my video camera set up, you can enjoy the following videos from YouTube.

  1. Close grip bench press

    Close grip bench is probably the best triceps exercise on the planet. This exercise allows you to go heavy and put maximum stress on the one muscle besides the pecs that can help increase your bench.

    You want to set up like a regular bench press, but position your hands no wider than shoulder width. On the descent, you want to keep your elbows in; do not let your elbows drift away from your body like you would with a regular bench press.

    At the bottom of the movement, you want the bar to come to the lower portion of your chest; at the top of the movement, the bar should be over your upper chest.

    Ideally, your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor at all times. Your hands and wrists should be directly over your elbows throughout the movement.

    Scott Herman’s video below, used a slightly wider grip than I prefer, but not by much – 1-2 inches per side at most. The rest of his form is great though. He doesn’t quite touch and go like I do, preferring to stop about an inch above the rib cage, but touch and go isn’t for everyone anyways.

    YouTube Preview Image

  2. Dips (weighted)

    A classic triceps builder. Keep your body as upright as possible to put the stress on your triceps rather than your chest.

    Use a belt with a chain to add weight to your body if you can do more than 5 reps at bodyweight.

    Be careful to always respect the flexibility and stability of your shoulders. Be sure not to lower your body so far that your shoulders become compromised, and always use strict form and a bounce-free concentric movement. Elbows should stop just short of lock-out at the top. Never lockout your joints with a heavy load.

  3. Rack lockouts or board press

    True powerlifting exercises, these two can be used interchangeably but only choose to use one of these exercises in any given workout. For the most part they train the same muscles.

    The goal here is to train the top portion of the bench press, where triceps rain supreme. I prefer rack lockouts because if I do use too much weight I can just rack the bar, and I don’t have to worry about carrying around a bunch of boards nailed together as if I didn’t already carry enough equipment around in my gym bag.

    Rack Lockouts

    Board Press

    However, most powerlifters that I have ever known prefer the board press to rack lockouts. I believe this is because the board press is identical to a regular bench press, except that the range of motion is much shorter (and there’s a big board on your chest). You can also vary the thickness of the boards from 1 inch to 10 inches or whatever you need for your workout.

  4. Lying French press (aka skullcrushers, nosebreakers)

    This is as close as I’ll get to recommending a triceps extension type exercise. The reason I like this exercise so much is that you really can work up to a decent weight, and it works your triceps from a different angle than any of the pressing movements.

    I suggest using an EZ curl bar and positioning your hands shoulder width apart. Lower the bar under control down to your nose, your hairline, or behind your head. If you feel any pain in your triceps, opt to lower the bar behind your head.

    Scott Herman takes it one step further in the video below and actually hangs his head off the bench. I see how this could cause neck strain in some folks, so you may just want to keep your head on the bench instead, but still drop the weight behind.

    YouTube Preview Image
  5. Close grip (diamond) push ups (with a clap)

    What? How did this get in here? No seriously, if you can bang out a set of 10 diamond push ups that’s great, but can you clap after each rep. This is an exercise that will really condition your triceps to contract with maximum force.

    You want to position your hands underneath your chest with index fingers and thumb tips touching. The space between should form a diamond. As soon as you can do 10 of these without the clap, add the clap. In order to clap properly you will need to push yourself up high enough to execute the clap and return your hands to their proper diamond position for the next rep.

    If this is too hard you can work up to it by placing plates or books beside your hands, and ‘jump’ up onto them. This is initially a shorter range of motion than a clap.

    In the following video Scott Herman is just doing regular diamond push ups without a clap, that should be enough for most people. We do these in thai kickboxing class.

    YouTube Preview Image

If you use a 3-day full body training split, you can probably choose 3 of these exercises, using 1 each day. If you have an ‘arm day’ (which is a totally bogus topic for another day), you can probably choose 2 of these exercise for your triceps routine.

Keep reps under 5 per set, and do no more than 3-5 sets of each exercise including warm-ups.

Dedicate yourself to triceps specialization for a minimum of 2 months and you will rep wondrous rewards.

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127 Responses to “The Top 5 Best Triceps Exercises”

  1. matthew says:

    steve,

    im wondering if you can give me some feedback on this workout exercise day (chest, Tricep, Shoulder)

    regular bench press 5 min
    incline dumbell press 5 min
    Dips 5 min
    tricep kickbacks 5 min
    skull crushers 5 min
    shoulder press 5 min
    side, front shoulder raises 10 min
    back shoulder machine 5 min

    Is that the order i should do them in? its a good 45 minute workout… right?? not overdoing it, not underdoing… any exercise i should add maybe??

    thanks!!

    • Ryan says:

      you only do two primary chest exesizes. and you work three muscle groups in a session? i would recommend shoulders on a different day. and to intergrate another chest workout. it dont matter how long you spend on each excersize.. its about sets and reps. if you finish in 45 and working 3 body parts i would say your not doing enough for each body part

  2. Oliver says:

    I’ve had good results but everytime i do them my wrists hurt like hell is there a way to prevent this?

  3. Proto says:

    In my experience the best way to isolate the long head of the triceps is to use a reverse grip with a strait bar on cable pushdowns (especially with the lat pulldown machine). Do 3 sets of 10 reps with a fairly moderate weight and you should feel a wicked burn right at the top of the long head. Also, any overhead extension should add some mass to the long head as well. A great exercise i found for the lateral head is using the rope attachment and squeezing out at the bottom of a cable pressdown. Hold peak contraction for a few seconds and you should feel a great stretch. I recently began using the close grip row attachment for press downs with a palms facing in grip and I felt immediate stimulation along the entire length of the lateral head. Any thoughts on these?

  4. Alan says:

    I have had good success doing shoulders and and triceps on the same day, usually atleast 48 hours after chest. Is this a good idea? Any comments?

    • Steve says:

      Sounds like a good idea to me. Shoulders, triceps, biceps, abs. That’s the closest you’ll get to an “Arm Day” that I can approve of.

      • Alan says:

        Yea I usually mix in forearms/wrists, but save biceps for back day. After 75ish minutes I begin to lack my full energy

        • Steve says:

          Your workouts should really not take any longer than 45 minutes, not including warm ups and stretching. After 45 minutes you will have a steep drop off in returns on your time invested. There must be a better way to organize your workout to reduce the time you spend training secondary muscle or wasting time on isolation exercise. That is unless you are on the juice, HGH, or if you are a genetic freak who can tolerate training for an hour and a half a day, 5 days a week. Most of us are just wasting time and incurring unnecessary catabolism when we train longer than 45 minutes in one shot.

  5. Myles says:

    Hi Steve,

    My 3 day workout right now consists of:

    4 sets of Pull Ups: 17,18,19,20.

    4 sets of Push Ups off dubmbells (the handles):
    Horizontal 21,22,23,24
    Vertical 11,12,13,14

    4 sets of Abs (Captains Chair Leg Raises): 40,45,45,50

    4 sets of Lower Back Machine: 21,22,23,24

    4 sets of Biceps curling: 10,12,14,16

    4 sets of Cable Flyes: 15,16,17,18

    I end with 2 sets of Benching and 1 set of Chin Ups.

    Is what I’m doing a good workout? I’ve been doing this for about 2 months now.

    • Steve says:

      What is your goal? That workout is OK for an upper body workout, but where is your squat and deadlift training? I’d rather see you bench more and do fewer push ups if you are after muscle gains. Either that or switch to plyo push ups. Cable flyes are pretty lame. You need more than just captains chair for your abs.

  6. Gavin says:

    Hey steve,
    i do a two body part split my week looks like this;

    Day1.
    3 sets of 8 bicep curls
    3 sets of preacher curls
    1 set max out of pull ups
    3 sets of 8 bent over rows
    3 sets of 8 one armed rows
    3 sets of 8 chin ups

    Day2
    3 sets of 8 Bench press
    3 sets of 8 incline bench
    3 sets of 8 dumbell flyes
    3 sets of 8 skullcrushers
    3 sets of 12 dips
    3 sets of 8 single arm tricep extensions

    Day3
    3 sets of 6 squats
    3 sets of 12 calf squats
    3 sets of 6 deep squats
    3 sets of 8 bent over reverse flyes
    3 sets of 8 shoulder press
    3 sets of 8 military press

    i repeat this and rest on sundays, cardio is mixed in with all sessions, anything you recommend or would take out?

  7. Patrick says:

    Hi Steve,
    I am looking to gain more size in my arms, right now I usually hit chest/triceps one day and back/biceps the other days. Usually I do about 32 total sets on chest or back and then 16 total sets on bicep/triceps. Will this help me to build size on my arms or should I try and get a bicep/tricep/shoulder day?

    Thanks for the help!

    • Steve says:

      Remember that 2/3 of your arm mass is triceps, 1/3 is biceps. I think maybe your number of sets might be twice as high as it should be. In a single workout, I would only do about 10-12 total sets for chest or back, and 5-7 total sets for biceps or triceps. You could probably add 3-5 extra sets for triceps if you want to prioritize them for a while. I used to use a shoulder/triceps/biceps day in addition to a chest/bis and back/tris day. Why? Because you work your tris on chest day, and bis on back day anyway. You could do:
      Mon – back, tris, abs
      Tues – legs, quads, calves
      Weds – chest, bis, abs
      Thurs – legs, hams, calves
      Fri – shoulder, tris, bis
      The thing is, if you are going to train 5 days in a row you can’t do too many sets each day or you’ll end up overtraining. In fact, I wouldn’t use a routine like that longer than a couple months before switching to a 4 day split like the Werewolf Muscle Training routine.

  8. [...] really consider eating a high protein, low carb, moderate to low calorie diet while trying to get huge triceps and biceps. This is because 75-80% of your fat loss will come from diet rather than exercise, and [...]

  9. Alan says:

    hi steve
    here is my 3 day split workout
    what do you think?

    Sunday

    Chest Flat bench press 2×8-12 (close grip)
    Incline bench press 2×8-12 (close grip)

    Shoulders shoulder press 2×8-12

    Triceps dips 2×8-12
    Lying French press (optional)

    Wednesday

    Leg press 3×12-20
    Leg extension 3×8-15
    Seated hamstring curls 3×8-15

    Friday
    Back pull up/ pull down 2×8-12
    Bent over BB raw 2×8-12

    Biceps barbell curls 2×8-12

    personal info
    70kg
    175cm tall
    12+ body fat

    my goal is to gain size, im aiming toward 75-77kg with 8ish body fat

    • Steve says:

      I’m not quite sure about your routine. So you’re only training your chest with a close grip? Are you doing that on purpose? No squats or deadlifts? Pull downs? You’re using a 3 day, 2 muscle group split, which doesn’t seem like enough volume or enough frequency, no matter how you look at it. The only positive critique I can make about your routine, is that you definitely won’t be overtraining.

      I recommend you use my Fat Loss for Men routine for about 2 months and focus on cutting bodyfat, but plan on also making some muscle and strength gains due to the added frequency compared to what you’re doing now. Then when you’re at an acceptable body fat level, switch to Werewolf Muscle Training for 3 cycles and focus on gaining muscle. After that, switch back to the Fat Loss for Men routine or try Werewolf Strength Training for 3 cycles, while focusing on maintaining your gains while losing any fat your may have gained on Werewolf Muscle Training.

      Or if you don’t like any of that, switch to my Generic Full Body routine or just stay on Fat Loss for Men until you’re happy with your progress.

  10. Alan says:

    hello Steve,
    i really thought i had it figured out, i guess i was wrong!!
    i tried to look for the fat lose thing you mentioned, i couldn’t quite get it.. would you be able to give me a good 3 day workout i could follow, it would be great if you can,
    as for my routines i got it of youtube from this guy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-c6wgafRgk) his method was doing poshing movement one day and pulling movement the other and lower & upper body…

    kind regards
    Alan J.

  11. vicky says:

    hi coach
    tell me the good exercise for biceps and triceps
    i want bigger biceps and triceps.

  12. Ross says:

    Steve, what do you think of weighted bench dips? I would probably rate them the best for tri’s personally, except the whole finding two free benches is a whole drag. I dislike normal dips, they make my rotator cuff and shoulder joints feel out of whack, love CGBP though.

    On an unrelated note, what do you think of muscle memory? I just got back into the game after 8 months of being sick, lost about 20kg of almost all muscle thanks to hospital food and lack of energy.
    Cheers

  13. Lynnie says:

    I am 51 years old and my arms shame me !!

    I am developing the “old lady arms” and have decided that if I don’t start getting rid of them now, I will always have them.

    I have always been very active, but I have never worked out.
    I just joined a gym 2 days ago, is there any advise that you can offer to a beginner to get started?

    • Steve says:

      You get out of it, what you put into it. So don’t be lazy. Use maximum intensity and make every set count. If you don’t know what to do, use a routine from this website… Fat Loss for Women perhaps.

  14. Nelson says:

    Hey, So Im trying to increase strength overall, stability, power, etc. I do 6 days a week, doing every muscle group twice.

    mon. chest, biceps, forearms (prehab)
    tues. back shoulders
    wed. triceps, legs

    these first three days I hit all heavy weight, lower reps, but more than three sets

    then thurs fri sat I do the same again but plyometrics, higher reps, isometrics, just different.

    any feedback?

  15. Chris says:

    Hi, i’m currently trying to bulk up every main muscle group within the body, to generally look bigger and become stronger. We train 4 days a week as so;

    Monday – back,shoulders,biceps
    Tuesday – rest
    Wednesday – chest,abs,triceps,
    Thursday – rest
    Friday – back,shoulders,biceps
    Saturday – legs, and possibly cardio

    We alternate the first Monday session to make it even (example – next week we’d do c.a.t first)
    Baring in mind i’m in late teens, will this workout see sufficient results for what I’m seeking?

    Thanks in advance

  16. muzafar says:

    hi steve my arm size is 19;inch my age is 32 is it enough size for me or increase more

  17. Ben says:

    Steve,
    I do a two-day split six days a week and I’m aiming for mostly upper body muscle gain. My routine is:
    Day 1
    3×12 curls
    3×12 concentration curls
    3×12 hammer curls
    3×16 pushups
    3×12 dumbbell chest fly
    3×12 chest press
    2×12 front raise
    3×12 weighted squats
    3×12 weighted lunges

    Day 2
    3×12 vertical leg crunch
    3×12 bicycle crunch
    3×12 long arm crunch
    3×12 lateral raise
    3×16 dips
    3×12 skull crushers
    3×12 seated extensions
    3×10 reverse fly
    3×12 dumbbell rows

    Does this sound like a decent workout for upper body and ab growth or am I way off? Thanks!

  18. Jack says:

    I’m 16 years old and I’ve been lifting weights for about 8 months. I started off at 140 lbs and now I’m 151 lbs. When I started, I really wanted to get bigger. I do look stronger and feel stronger than what I started out as but not as much as I hoped. I was wondering if you could give me some tips because I haven’t gotten much stronger in the last 2-3 months of lifting. Here is my 3 day schedule. Tell me if this is okay or not.

    Day 1 (Shoulders, traps)
    Overhead shoulder barbell press: 4 sets, 8 reps
    Shrugs: 4 sets, 12 reps
    side lateral raise: 4 sets, 8 reps
    standing barbell upright row: 4 sets, 8 reps
    bent over dumbbell later raise: 4 sets, 8 reps

    Day 2 (Back, biceps)
    Standing curls with EZ curl bar: 4 sets, 8 reps
    Deadlifts: 4 sets, 8 reps
    One arm dumbbell row: 4 sets, 8 reps
    Close grip chin up: 4 sets, 6 reps
    Barbell bent over row: 4 sets, 8 reps
    pull ups: 4 sets, 6 reps
    Alternating rotating dumbbell curl: 4 sets, 8 reps

    Day 3 (Chest, Triceps)
    Bench press: 4 sets, 10 reps
    skull crushers: 4 sets, 8-10 reps
    Dumbbell chest flyes: 4 sets, 8-10 reps
    Dips: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
    Incline dumbbell bench press: 4 sets, 8 reps

  19. Darin Clements says:

    One of my Drill Sgt.'s in Basic Training used to have a saying, "Diamonds are forever".

  20. Caleb Getty says:

    I'm having trouble making gains hopefully this stuff helps great stuff and thanks man.

  21. Robert Taylor says:

    I love doing skull crushers.

  22. that skullcrush video was kinda pathetic, but great advice, thanx.

  23. so the start of the article states the function of the Long Head of the triceps as being a shoulder adductor, yet there are no shoulder adduction exercises included in the "top 5". SO all 5 of these exercises are targeting primarily the lateral head. If you want to grow your arms, drop one of this author's 5 best and add a shoulder adduction exercise on a cable column.

    • Steve Hanson says:

      Eh… I don't think that's really a necessary change to these top 5. You'll work your long head enough with just these 5. If you want to throw in some accessory movements as an extra workout, active recovery, HIRT training and such, then a shoulder adduction movement on a cable machine would be fine.

  24. alex says:

    the rack lockouts how can be in gym is easy?

  25. Skull crushers with solid form is one of my favorites. If you really want to freak out your tris, try going straight into a set of close grip presses after your last rep of skull crushers. Burns ‘em like hell.

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