What exercises do you do to build stronger, more defined triceps? Some compound exercises people do for other body parts also work the triceps. However, your triceps can also benefit from more focused work since it’s a muscle you shouldn’t neglect. Too often, people work their biceps harder than their triceps. It’s only natural since we spend more time strengthening and hypertrophying the muscles we see from the front when we look in the mirror. But just because you can’t see your triceps, other people do, especially when you wear a tank top. Plus, strong triceps will help you avoid strength imbalances between the upper body muscles that pull and those that push.
When you work your triceps, do you limit your workout to a few sets of triceps kickbacks? Not that kickbacks don’t work. They do. In fact, the American Council on Exercise did a study where they used EMG activity to measure triceps muscle activation when participants did a variety of triceps exercises. Triceps kickback came in second of the eight exercises they tested, and it was effective at activating both the long and lateral head of the triceps. So, keep doing kickbacks, but add some variety to your triceps training too. It’s most effective to work the triceps from different angles. Here are some that will work your triceps differently and at varying angles.
Here’s an exercise you don’t want to skip. The number one movement in the ACE study, in terms of triceps activation, was the diamond push-up. Some people also call diamond push-ups triangle push-ups. To do a triangle push-up, place your hands close together so that your fingers and thumbs point toward and touch to form a diamond shape. With your hands in this position, lower your body into a push-up in the usual way. It’s a tough exercise, so you may only be able to do a few at first. If you can’t do one, modify the move on your knees or reduce the range-of-motion of the exercise until your triceps become stronger. An added benefit: push-ups are a compound exercise that works other muscle groups, including your core. You get multiple benefits from this exercise.
One-Arm Banded Pulldown
An effective alternative to kickbacks, a one-armed banded pulldown requires only a resistance band. How do you do one? Secure the resistance band overhead so that the band hangs down to around waist level. Flex one arm and grasp the resistance band with one arm at a level just below your shoulder. Pull the band toward your feet until your arm is extended. Hold for a second or two and then slowly return your arm to the starting position. Aim for 8-10 reps and 2 or 3 sets. Switch arms and repeat. This is a very focused exercise for your triceps muscles and it works the triceps differently than kickbacks.
Not only do dips activate your triceps, but they also work for other muscle groups too. The muscles you work when you dip include the anterior deltoids in your shoulders and the rhomboids and the pectoralis minor in your chest. You can do this exercise by placing your hands on a bench and your heels on another bench of the same height. Your palms will face away from your body and your fingers toward it. From this position, push your body up using your arms until your arms are straight. Pause for a second or two and lower your body back down until your arms are at a 90-degree angle. Congratulations! You’ve completed one repetition. Keep raising and lowering your body in this manner complete 8 to 10 reps. The goal is to complete 2-3 sets.
If triceps dips start to feel too easy, place a dumbbell or other weight on your lap when you do the exercise. You can also increase the challenge by elevating your feet higher than your hands.
Triceps Kickbacks with a Twist
Triceps kickbacks are an effective exercise for isolating the triceps, as demonstrated by the American Council on Exercise triceps study. But the triceps have three heads–the long, lateral, and medial heads. Most exercises work the long and lateral head more than the medial. Plus, your triceps adapt to doing the same movement at the same angle over and over.
Take triceps kickbacks up a notch, get the medial triceps in on the action, and challenge them differently by adding a twist at the midpoint of the movement. Most people do a kickback by holding the dumbbells with their palms facing their body, hammer curl style. Do that, but as you reach the midpoint of the movement where you extend your elbows, twist your arms so that your palms face upward toward the ceiling at the top of the movement. The added twist places more emphasis on the medial head of the triceps, a portion of the triceps that doesn’t get worked as much as the long head.
Overhead Triceps Extensions
Overhead triceps extensions is another effective exercise for building triceps strength. To do one, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell with each hand. With a tight grip on the dumbbell, extend your arms toward the ceiling as you lift the dumbbell overhead. Your elbows should point toward the front of your body. Once your arms are extended, slowly bend your elbows to bring the dumbbell behind your head. Pause for a few seconds at the bottom and slowly straighten your arms as you bring the dumbbell back toward the ceiling and the starting position. Use a weight that allows you to complete around 8 reps before your muscles fatigue. Do 2-3 sets.
The Bottom Line
Now you have more ways to challenge your triceps and build triceps strength! Enjoy adding these exercises to your routine and getting great results!
- American Council on Exercise. “ACE Study Identifies Best Triceps Exercises”
- J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Jul;31(7):1879-1887. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001651.
- The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31(7) · September 2016.
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