The 23 best tricep exercises for big & powerful arms

Ask any guy in the gym what his favourite muscle to train is...and he'll probably say chest or biceps

This probably isn't news to you...

After all, big biceps are the key to bigger arms.

Or so you've been led to believe.

Today, I'm going to convince you (hopefully) that training the biceps isn't the best way to achieve big, powerful, and muscular arms.

To begin, I'll let you in on a little secret:

The triceps are a MUCH stronger muscle than the biceps.

Why is this important?

Well, the higher the strength potential for a muscle, the bigger (and faster) they grow.

Unfortunately, the biceps are a rather small muscle and you can only get so strong doing curls.

This is why  'arm days' are an absolute waste of your time.

Arm days are a waste of time. Train the triceps 2-3x week instead!

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On the positive side, I'm going to help you add an extra inch to your arms.

Yes that's right- an inch!

What you'll learn in this article:

  • check
    The anatomy of the triceps and how to hit them effectively
  • check
    The 3 key benefits to training the triceps
  • check
    How to pick the right exercises for you (and get the best results)
  • check
    The 23 best tricep exercises for building big & powerful arms

As a bonus, I've also included a FREE tricep workout routine

Click on the link below to get instant access:

Anatomy of the triceps

The triceps brachii (triceps) is a large, three-headed muscle, located on the back of the arm.

All three heads of the triceps insert into the elbow joint and their primary function is elbow extension.

Fun fact- The name "tricep" originates from the latin word "tri" which translates as "three-headed":

  • Long head: Attaches at the scapula and covers the entire arm. It's the largest of the three tricep heads and is found on the inner part of the arm (parallel to the torso).
  • *How to target it: The long head is activated through shoulder flexion. To do this, you must raise the shoulders above your head. Most overhead extensions target the long head, in addition to compounds that fully stretch the tricep, e.g. close grip bench press.
  • Medial head: Attaches at the humerus (the upper arm bone) and stretches across the elbow joint. It's the deepest/most dense part of the triceps. 
  • *How to target it: To engage the medial head of the triceps, you need to extend the elbows. Pushdowns and  extensions target the medial head of the triceps most effectively.  
  • lateral head: Similarly to the medial head, the lateral portion of the triceps attaches at the humerus and covers the elbow joint. The lateral head can be found on the outer part of the arm (underneath the deltoid).
  • *How to target it: The lateral head works in conjunction with the long head/medial head.

The three heads of the triceps work together as a team, therefore it is difficult to isolate them. 

Because of this, the best triceps exercises are typically heavy compound movements rather than isolation exercises.

The benefits of training the triceps

The triceps are one of the most rewarding muscle groups to train.

By prioritising them, you can achieve big arms with very little extra effort. 

Theoretically, you can grow them with only one or two accessory lifts per week (around 3-6 sets per week).

Not too shabby. 

But if you're still unconvinced, check out my top 3 benefits for training the triceps:

Benefit #1 Training the triceps will grow the arms 66% faster

Want to know a fascinating fact about the triceps?

They take up approximately 2/3 of your upper arm mass!

So by prioritising the triceps you can grow your arms 66% faster.

*Fun fact: The triceps take up 2/3 of your arm! So get to work...

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Not too bad eh?

Fortunately, the triceps are also hit indirectly with a lot of pressing exercises- so they require far less volume to grow.

Benefit #2 Strong triceps have great carryover to the big compounds

The triceps are crucial for performance in the gym.

If you want to maximise your bench press or OHP, you need strong triceps. Period.

This is specificity of training 101.

By directly training the triceps, you can improve strength in the lockout and prevent sticking points.

If you're new to lifting, this isn't a concern...yet.

But as you get more advanced, you'll start to develop weak points in the bench press/OHP.

This is the specific point in the range of motion where the bar slows down and you end up failing the lift.

For most guys, this is just off the chest...

However, there are some rare exceptions whereby the lockout is the biggest sticking point (I'm one of these people).

Benefit #3 Injury prevention

Tricep pushdowns and extensions build the tendons around the elbow joint, as well as the medial head of the triceps.

This  is essential for preventing elbow pain.

Which exercises should you pick?

Picking the right exercises for your routine is incredibly important.

Your decision should be primarily based on your goals- aka what you want to achieve in the gym.

Is it:

  1. Max strength
  2. Hypertrophy (isolation)
  3. Both (power building)

Goal 1: Maximum strength carryover

To get the most carryover to the bench or OHP, you need to select exercises that mimic the movement patterns.

What do I mean by this?

To explain, I'll refer you to the book "The science & practice of strength training" By Dr Zatsiorsky.

In the book, Dr Zatsiorsky claims that training adaptations are highly specific in nature, and to get the maximum transference we should be using movement patterns that mirror the lift we want to get good at.

This is known as 'specificity of training'.

Let's use the bench press as an example:

The close grip bench press is a great accessory lift because it uses a very similar movement pattern with a slight alteration on the grip.

Goal 2: Hypertrophy

If your goal is purely hyperrophy, you'll want to isolate the triceps.

The dumbbell & machine exercises are the best way to do this as they remove the stabilisation, allowing you to focus entirely on the triceps contraction. 

Dumbbells also give you a larger range of motion, which is beneficial for muscle building.

Goal 3: A mixture of both

Strength and hypertrophy are connected in a big way, therefore it is impossible to have one without the other.

If your goal is to maximise size and strength simultaneously, you'll want to use big compounds and isolation exercises. 

Typically, barbell exercises are best for high intensity work because they're easier to overload.

Whereas, dumbbells and machine exercises are better suited for high rep training (metabolic fatigue). 

The 23 best tricep exercises

Below, are my top 23 picks for the best tricep exercises.

I've included barbell exercises, dumbbell exercises, machine movements, and bodyweight variations too. 

Don't try to include all of them in your program, instead pick and chose them based on your training goals (see above).

Without further ado, let's dive in.

Barbell tricep exercises

1. Close grip bench press

The close grip bench press is one of the best tricep builders on this list. 

It's an awesome accssory lift that will build the long head of the tris and raise your bench automatically.

How to do it:

  1. Lay down on the bench
  2. Retract the scapula and tuck your feet under the bench
  3. Grip the bar with your hands roughly 8 inches apart (shoulder width)
  4. Un-rack the bar and lower the bar to your upper abs
  5. Press the weight slightly back and up (J bar path)

2. Close grip bench w/ band tension

Adding bands to the close grip bench makes it a more complete triceps exercise.

The weight is slightly de-loaded at the bottom and gets progressively heavier near the top.

This is perfect for building lockout strength.

The over-speed eccentrics from the bands will also pull you down faster than gravity- stretching out the triceps. 

How to do it: (see the video below for attaching bands)

3. Reverse bench press

The reverse bench press is a unique variation of the traditional bench press.

The triceps are heavily sitmulated due to the exaggerated elbow tucking.

It's also a great rehabilitation exercise for the shoulders, as it teaches you the correct way to press. 

How to do it:

  1. Lay down on the bench
  2. Retract the scapula and tuck your feet under the bench
  3. Take a supinated grip on the bar (palms facing toward you) and un-rack it
  4. Tuck the elbows and lower the bar down to your mid abs
  5. Press the bar straight up 

4. JM press

The JM press is a combination of a press and an extension.

Due to the shoulder flexion component, it hits the medial head of the triceps really hard. 

It's an effective way to build the bench press and overload the triceps at the same time.

How to do it:

  1. Lay down on the bench
  2. Grab the bar with a regular grip
  3. Un-rack the weight and lower it until it's hovering above the chin
  4. Extend the elbows and press the weight up at the same time
  5. (Optional) If you suffer form elbow pain, you can use the pins in a power rack to rest the weight at the bottom. This will take some of the stress off the elbows.

5. Incline JM press 

The incline variaiton hits the medial head even harder and has greater transference to the overhead press. 

*Warning: it can be tough on the elbow joint, so you may want to limit range of motion or use pins.

How to do it: Same as above.

6. Floor press

If you have trouble locking out the weight on the bench press, the floor press is a must try. 

The floor breaks up the eccentric and concentric chain- removing the stretch reflex and putting most of the work on the triceps. 

*Pro tip: If you want maximum overload on the triceps, you can add chains to the bar. 

How to do it: 

  1. Set the pegs so that they're approximately 8 inches off the floor (or less depending on your arm  length)
  2. Get under the bar and retract the scapula
  3. Take a regular grip width
  4. Un-rack the bar and lower it to your upper abs (it should stop a couple of inches above your torso)
  5. Press the weight back up

7. Board press

Board pressing is a great alternative to the floor press.

By using a high board height, you can use a much heavier weight than your standard press.

*Note: You need a partner to hold the board on your chest while you bench.

How to do it:

  1. Get setup on the bench
  2. Have your partner hold the board on your chest 
  3. Lower the bar until it makes contact with the bar and press back up explosively. 

8. Standing overhead extensions

Standing barbell extensions are very specific to overhead pressing. 

It's also the most effective way to hit the long head due to the stretching component. 

However, it can be exceedingly hard on the wrist and elbow joint.

You can workaround this by using an EZ curl bar and wrist wraps. 

How to do it:

  1. Pick the barbell up form the floor
  2. Clean it into position
  3. Raise the bar overhead and extend it straight up
  4. Lower the bar behind the head and repeat

9. Kneeling extensions off pins

The kneeling variation is handy if you have a low ceiling and can be rotated alongside the standing version.

The pins take some of the stress off the elbow joint and allow you to load the bar up with more weight. 

I suggest using this variation if you want to build maximum lockout strength in the overhead press. 

How to do it:

  1. Set the pins inside the power rack so that they are in line with your forehead
  2. Take a kneeling position and grab the bar with a neutral grip
  3. Extend the bar upwards and push your head forward (like you would in an OHP)
  4. Lower the bar back onto the pins, so the weight is reset
  5. Repeat

10. EZ curl skull crushers

EZ skull crushers are a classic exercise for the triceps.

There are two variations:

You can either lower the bar to your forehead (to hit the medial head) or  use shoulder flexion to emphasise the long head.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the edge of a bench and place the barbell on your knees
  2. Lay back and raise the bar above your head keeping the arms slightly bent
  3. Lower the bar to your forehead and extend the elbows straight up

11. Pin press

The pin press is the ultimate way to build dead-stop lockout strength.

You can customise the pin height to balance the weight used with the range of motion for the lift. 

*Pro tip: Strength radiates 15 degrees upwards and downwards, so pick your pin height based on your own weaknesses:

  • -If you struggle off the chest, then place  the pins a couple of inches above your chest
  • -If you struggle at the lockout, then set the pins at the forehead height

12. Push press

The push press is the ultimate way to overload the shoulders and triceps...

Because you're using leg drive at the bottom, you can use significantly more weight than a strict OHP. 

Push presses are also beneficial because they enable you to stretch the long head on the way down (the eccentric) with a heavier weight than they're used to.

How to do it:

  1. Set the pegs so the bar aligns with your upper chest
  2. Take a close grip on the bar (slightly narrower than your bench grip)
  3. Tuck the elbows and puff your chest out, then un-rack the bar
  4. Without hesitating, dip the knees slightly forward (and out) then explode back up using the quads
  5. Press the bar straight up and push your head forwards

Dumbbell tricep exercises

13. Dumbbell skull crushers


If you experience elbow pain using a bar for extensions, the dumbbell variation is for you.

The great thing about the dumbbells, is that you can rotate your hands freely so that they remain neutral.

This is much easier on the wrists and allows you to get a deep stretch on the long head of the triceps. 

How to do it:

  1. Pick up the dumbbells from the rack and sit on the edge of a bench
  2. Lay back and raise the dumbbells above you head (keeping the arms slightly bent)
  3. Lower the dumbbells behind your head until you eel a stretch on the triceps, then extend the elbows straight up.

14. Incline DB skull crushers​​​​



The incline DB extension is a tougher variation and hits the medial head slightly harder.

15. Overhead DB extensions


Overhead dumbbell extensions are more specific for vertical pressing.

You can either do them one arm at a time, or use both arms.

The unilateral version takes longer but allows you to focus more on each arm individually.

How to do it: (one-arm version)

  1. Clean the dumbbell up with both arms and rest it above your head
  2. With your palms facing forward, lower the dumbbell behind your head until you feel a deep stretch in the triceps 
  3. Extend your elbow straight up

16. Neutral-grip DB floor press


Floor presses with dumbbells are great because they allow you to twist the hands inwards.

By doing this, you'll transfer most of the work onto the triceps and get a deeper range of motion. 

How to do it:

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and lay down on the floor
  2. With the dumbbells raised above your body, twist the palms inwards 
  3. lower the dumbbells down to your sides (until your elbows come into contact with the floor), then press back up

17. "Elbows out" extensions


Elbows out extensions work the lateral and medial head of the triceps.

They're also more specific to benching than standard DB skull crushers.

How to do it:

  1. Pick up the dumbbells from the rack and sit on the edge of a bench
  2. Lay back and raise the dumbbells above your head (keeping the arms slightly bent)
  3. Twist your palms so that they're facing forwards
  4. Lower the dumbbells until they touch your chest (keeping the elbows spread out)
  5. Extend the weight back up

Machine exercises

18. Cable pushdowns


Cable pushdowns are excellent for high rep tricep work.

They hit all three heads of the triceps equally.

*Pro tip: Use shoulder flexion to recruit the long head more. To do this, raise your elbows at the top of each repetition.

How to do it:

  1. Select the weight you'll be using for the set
  2. Grab the straight bar and lower it until your arms are parallel to the floor
  3. Keeping your elbows at your sides, push the weight straight down

19. Rope pushdowns


You can use the rope attachment if you experience wrist pain on the straight bar version.

Due to the hand position, you'll also be able to get more range of motion.

Tricep exercises without weights

20. Band pushdowns

If you don't have access to a cable machine, bands are a cheap alternative.

Simply attach them to the top of a power rack and perform the pushdowns how you would normally. 

21. Standing overhead band extensions

The standing band extensions stretch out the long head more and have greater carryover to overhead pressing.

How to do it:

  1. Attach the band to the top of a power rack
  2. Face away from the power rack and grip the edge of the band in both hands
  3. Extend your elbows above your head
  4. If you're using a heavy band tension, place one foot forward and angle the torso forward to prevent the bands from pulling you back

22. Diamond pushups

Diamond pushups are a close-grip variation of the regular push up.

They're more difficult and recruit the triceps to a greater extent. 

These are perfect when travelling, or if you're without a gym.

*Pro tip: If you want to add weight, load the plates into a rucksack and fasten it around your shoulders.

How to do it:

  1. Get on your knees and place your palms face down (side by side)
  2. Form a triangle shape with your hands by angling them at a 45 degree angle
  3. Straighten out your legs and perform  pushups

23. Bodyweight tricep extensions

By using an empty barbell in a power rack, you can get a great tricep workout.

But instead of using traditional weights, you're using your own bodyweight.

How to do it:

  1. Set the pegs to waist height and place an empty barbell
  2. Grab the barbell with a neutral grip and bring your forehead down until it makes contact with the bar
  3. Extend your elbows and push yourself back

BONUS: 8 Week intermediate tricep workout routine

Conclusion

Building strong triceps is extremely beneficial:

  1. You'll increase your arm size much faster
  2. You'll proof the elbows from injury
  3. You'll have huge carryover to the bench and overhead press

But remember, you need to pick the right exercises based on your individual goals.

Generally, if you want a stronger bench, you should be doing heavy close grip benching and JM pressess.

For overhead pressing you need to include standing extensions.

High rep dumbbell extensions and pushdowns are great for accessory movements  and can help you isolate the triceps further.

As long as you keep 'specificity of training' in mind, you'll grow big triceps in no time!

Now, it's over to you.

What are your favourite tricep exercises? Did I include them on the list?

Let me know in the comments below!

(Images)

Image 1-credit to Miguel 
Images 9-13 credit to Everkinetic 
Image 14- credit to LLC
Image 17-credit to Louish  

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