The 8 Most Effective Triceps Exercises

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woman doing a triceps exerciseAlmost every upper body exercise you perform on a daily basis requires strong arms, and your biceps are frequently the big lifters. Your triceps are used whenever you push something, be it a door, a stroller, a lawnmower, or a barbell. Moreover, exercising other muscle groups requires having strong triceps.1.For example, doing push-ups and chest presses requires strong triceps.

The triceps is a single muscle with three different heads: the long head, lateral head, and medial head. All of these heads contract during triceps exercises, but some moves emphasize the muscle fibers of certain triceps heads more than others. The best way to build strong, firm triceps is to choose a mix of exercises that hit all those muscle fibers from every angle.

How Should You Do Triceps Workouts?

Putting together a triceps workout can help you gain functional movement. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Start with a warm-up: Begin with some brisk walking or jogging, jumping jacks, or calisthenics. Warming up gets blood flowing to your muscles and increases the temperature of your muscles, which helps prevent injury.2
  • Gradually add weight and intensity: If you’re starting out, aim to do three sets of 10-12 reps of each exercise using about 70% of the maximum amount of weight you could possibly lift for each exercise.3 Add more weight and reps as your fitness level increases at The 8 Most Effective Triceps Exercises.
  • Target all three tricep heads: Your strength will grow more evenly distributed the more variety you may add to your triceps exercise. Choose one of the exercises listed below.
  • Train multiple muscle groups: Tricep workouts isolate the triceps very specifically so that you don’t work other muscle groups simultaneously. Consider training the shoulders and chest along with the triceps since they are all involved in many of the same functional movements.
  • Build in rest days. It’s important to rest the muscle groups you train for at least two days before working them again to allow for the recovery process and to help prevent injury at The 8 Most Effective Triceps Exercises.

Best Triceps Workouts

Some triceps exercises are more effective than others, according to the ​American Council on Exercise (ACE). In an ACE-commissioned study, researchers took exercisers through eight of the most common triceps exercises and recorded muscle activity by attaching EMG electrodes to subjects’ triceps.4 With this information, they were able to rank the best triceps exercises. Here, the top triceps in order of effectiveness (starting with most effective):

    • Diamond push-ups: Also known as triangle push-ups, this exercise emphasizes all three heads of the triceps muscle and is the most effective move for that.
    • Kickbacks: This move also targets all three heads of the triceps, but not quite as much as the diamond push-up. It is also easier, so it may be more user-friendly than push-ups.
    • Dips: This exercise also works all three triceps heads and has the added benefit of helping to activate core muscles.
    • Overhead triceps extensions: Including this exercise means you have a move that primarily emphasizes the long head of the triceps muscle, which is a nice complement to the other exercises.
    • Triceps rope pushdowns: This move emphasizes the long head of your triceps, again a nice complement to the other exercises at The 8 Most Effective Triceps Exercises.
    • Triceps bar pushdowns: This bar variation emphasizes the long head of the triceps but is slightly less effective than rope pushdowns.
    • Lying triceps extensions: This is yet another way to target the long head of the triceps primarily.
  • Close grip bench press: This move primarily targets the lateral head and is a more accessible option for those getting started with triceps exercises.

Rather than doing all of these moves in the same workout, focus on choosing a combination of exercises that emphasize all the different areas of the triceps.

Diamond Push-Ups

The diamond push-up is probably the hardest triceps exercise in this list. It requires tremendous upper body strength, so you may need to try this move on your knees and slowly work your way up to the toes.

How to Do a Diamond Push-Up

  1. Begin the move by positioning the hands on the mat directly under the chest with the fingers spread and the thumbs and forefingers touching, making a diamond shape.
  2. Straighten the legs into a plank position, or keep the knees on the floor for a more accessible version.
  3. Make sure the back is flat and the abs are engaged as you bend the elbows, lowering until your chin or chest touches the mat. If you can’t go that low, go as low as you can—then work to build enough strength to lower all the way down over time.
  4. At the bottom of the movement, your elbows should stay close to your sides.
  5. Press back to start, keeping the torso rigid, and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.

Triceps Kickbacks

Triceps kickback

According to the ACE study, the triceps kickback is the second most effective triceps exercise and not far behind diamond push-ups, achieving about 88% muscle activation.4

By bending forward, you really have to work against gravity to move the weight up and down. The key to this move is to use your shoulder to stabilize the upper arm, allowing the forearm to extend behind you. If your elbow drifts down, use a lighter weight to maintain good form at The 8 Most Effective Triceps Exercises.

Defintion

Muscle activation is the ability to switch on your muscles so they can do work. Typically, activation occurs when you use short, isolation exercises that target specific muscles to wake them up and get them working.

How to Do Triceps Kickbacks

  1. Prop the right foot on a step or platform, resting the right forearm on the thigh to support the back or allowing the arm to drop directly below the shoulder.
  2. Hold a weight in the left hand and pull the elbow to the torso level.
  3. Keeping the elbow in that position, extend the arm behind you, focusing on contracting the triceps muscle.
  4. Lower the forearm to about 90 degrees and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
  5. Focus on keeping the upper arms stationary against the body throughout the exercise.

Triceps Dips

Triceps dips

Triceps dips are the third most effective and challenging exercise, depending on how you position your feet. In this version, the knees are bent, making the movement easier. Extending your feet out will increase the intensity of the exercise.

The key to ensuring this move is safe is keeping your hips close to the chair or bench to avoid straining the shoulders. Keep the shoulders down and away from the ears, and if you feel any discomfort in the shoulders, skip this exercise.

How to Do a Triceps Dip

  1. Sit on a chair or bench with your hands just outside your hips, with your knees bent or your legs extended straight out (harder).
  2. Lift up onto your hands, keeping your hips very close to the chair or bench. Bend your elbows, lowering down until they’re about 90 degrees.
  3. Keep the elbows pointing behind you, the shoulders down, and the abs engaged.
  4. Push back to start and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
  5. Avoid this exercise if you feel any pain in the shoulders at The 8 Most Effective Triceps Exercises.

Overhead Triceps Extensions

The overhead triceps extension is the fourth most effective exercise, activating about 76% of muscles.4 The key is keeping the arms next to the ears as you lower the weight behind you. Make sure you can contract the abs to keep your back from arching.

You can do this exercise seated or standing. Believe it or not, this move feels more challenging when you’re sitting, and sitting on an exercise ball adds an element of core strength.

How to Do an Overhead Triceps Extension

  1. Sit on a chair, bench, ball, or stand; keep your back straight. Hold a weight in both hands, extending it up overhead.
  2. Keep your biceps close to your ears and elbows pointing forward as you lower the weight behind your head until the elbows are at about 90-degree angles.
  3. Straighten the arms, contracting the triceps, and then repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
  4. Keep the abs engaged throughout the exercise and avoid arching the back.

Rope Pushdowns

Triceps rope pushdown

The rope pushdown, normally done on a cable machine with a rope attachment, comes in at number five, eliciting about 74% muscle activation.4 The idea is to spread the rope at the bottom of the movement to fire up the triceps muscle.

If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can use a resistance band. Attach it to the top of a doorway and tie a loose knot in the band about halfway down.

How to Do a Rope Pushdown

  1. At a cable machine with a rope attachment, hold the rope near the knotted ends and begin the exercise with the elbows bent at about 90 degrees. Your elbows should be next to your torso.
  2. Extend the arms, taking the hands down towards the floor, spreading the rope slightly out on either side as you contract the triceps.
  3. Bring the forearms back to start and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.

Bar Pushdowns

The bar pushdown is similar to the rope pushdown but slightly less effective at about 67%.4 This exercise is usually done on a cable machine at the gym using a small bar attachment, although you can also do this exercise at home with an exercise band and a small pole or bar threaded through the handles.

The key to this move is to keep the elbows stationary as you push the weight down. If you lift the bar too high (say, higher than neck level), your elbows may come forward, making the exercise less effective.

How to Do a Bar Pushdown

  1. Stand in front of a cable machine, holding onto the bar with the elbows bent to about 90 degrees.
  2. Keeping the elbows stationary, push the bar down, contracting the triceps as you extend the arms.
  3. Bring the bar back up to about chest level without moving the elbows and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.

Lying Triceps Extensions (Skull Crushers)

Triceps skull crushers

Triceps extensions performed lying down (also known as skull crushers) come in at a surprising number seven, eliciting about 62% muscle activation.4 Some exercisers will find this comparatively low activation rate surprising because this exercise is known for being challenging.

The muscle activation data doesn’t mean you should stop doing these exercises, but rather that you should work them into a program that includes some of the top exercises as well. Using a variety of exercises that tackle different muscles at different intensities will lead to better results and stronger triceps at The 8 Most Effective Triceps Exercises.

How to Do a Skull Crusher

  1. Lie on a bench, step, or floor and hold a barbell or dumbbell with your hands about shoulder distance apart.
  2. Begin the exercise by extending the weight up over your head, with your palms facing out and thumbs next to your fingers.
  3. Bend the elbows and lower the weight until the elbows are at about 90-degree angles. Don’t go too low during this part of the exercise, as you might hit your head or face.
  4. Squeeze the triceps to straighten the arms without locking the joints.
  5. Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.

Close Grip Bench Presses

The close grip bench press comes in eighth as an effective triceps exercise, eliciting about 62% muscle activation.4 This move also involves quite a bit of the chest, which may be why the triceps don’t work as much as in other exercises.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do this exercise. In fact, it can be a great exercise for working both the chest and triceps in the same workout at The 8 Most Effective Triceps Exercises.

Doing this move at the end of your chest exercises can warm up the triceps before you move on to more targeted moves.

How to Do a Close Grip Bench Press

  1. Lie on a bench or step holding a barbell with hands about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Begin the exercise with the elbows bent and the barbell hovering just over the ribcage.
  3. Press the weight straight over the ribcage, focusing on contracting the triceps.
  4. Lower and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.