Best Tricep Workout Exercises│How to Grow Your Triceps and Hit Every Head

When you imagine the look of the perfect triceps, what do you see? Don’t know about you but I visualize the shape of a horseshoe with an insanely good muscle definition (see here – this is the triceps horseshoe and this is as good as it gets in real life). Most fitness enthusiasts will desire to own the triceps horseshoe that perfectly represents the three-headed muscle and make heads turn. In this post, I will share with you the best tricep workout exercises and training strategies that have helped me build the perfect triceps and will help you too. 

If you have ever desired that snug feeling when all of your t-shirt sleeves get filled in with the size of your muscular arms, the muscle responsible for filling in your sleeves is not your biceps. It’s the TRICEPS.

Just like the other muscles located at the back of our bodies, the often overlooked and lagging tricep muscle is not something that most people are particularly focused on when trying to build bigger arms. 

Details matter when the ultimate goal is to build a better and balanced physique. You need to pay just as much attention to the posterior chain muscles (located at the back of the body like triceps, back, hamstrings) as much as you pay attention to the anterior chain (located in the front of the body like chest, abs, quads) muscles. 

Having bigger, stronger and more defined triceps, the muscles at the back of your upper arm will give you one of the best upper bodies you’ll be proud to sport anywhere from the beach to the boardroom.

Before getting to the best exercises for bigger triceps, it is very important to understand the basic muscle anatomy of the triceps as this knowledge will benefit us later in the exercise selection.

The Muscle Anatomy of the Triceps (The Three Heads)

Tri = Three
Ceps = Heads

The triceps is a three-headed muscle that is located at the back of our upper arms. This muscle helps us in elevating the shoulders and extending the elbows. 

Just like any other muscle in our body, this muscle also needs to be trained with care. While it is not crucial to train it separately, it is important to give it the necessary attention so that its size can be maintained.

Triceps muscle and heads anatomy

Triceps Anatomy

Long Head + Lateral Head + Medial Head = Triceps Brachii

The 3 Heads of the Triceps

– Jeff Cavaliere (Athlean-X)

The three heads of the triceps are –

1. Long Head: 

The longest head of the triceps brachii muscle is located at the back of the upper arms. It starts from the shoulder joint and ends at the elbows.

2. Lateral Head: 

The small area of the triceps lateral head is located at the side of the upper arms.

3. Medial Head: 

The small area of the triceps medial head is located in the middle of the long head and lateral head of the triceps.

Everyone knows that the triceps is a major muscle group that works as an extensor of the elbow joint. What most people don’t know, however, is that it is equally active in our movements of elbow abduction and flexion. For example, if you do a pushup, your triceps work hard to keep your elbows away from your body.

Now, in terms of training the triceps maximally to add muscle and size, what we can learn from the triceps anatomy is this – 

While choosing the best tricep workout exercises, we must prioritize selecting the ones that train the long head of the triceps. 

The reason is that this long head is the most important triceps muscle and the largest area of this three-headed muscle that can contribute the most towards well-defined triceps and the most size if trained using the right exercises.

Remember, to fully contract the long head of the triceps, you have to get your arms back and behind the body with the elbows tucked closer to the body (not flaring out) and being completely straight during the complete exercise movement. 

This takes the triceps muscle through its full range of motion and puts the long head under immense tension, therefore, causing muscular hypertrophy in the triceps. 

If during any triceps exercise, your arms are in front of your body, then you are not fully extending and contracting the triceps, and doing this won’t do much for their growth and size.

This is why when training triceps, always keep this one important training rule in your mind to see muscle gains with time.

How to train the triceps for adding muscle mass and size?

The way you perform an exercise means everything. 

If you are a fitness enthusiast and an active lifter trying to build bigger arms for mass and size, the first area you should try targeting through your workouts is the triceps muscle. 

Whenever there is talk about triceps, it’s significant other (the biceps) is always dragged into the conversation. People always like to compare biceps with the triceps and enjoy debating about why one is superior to the other or why your arm workouts should focus more on biceps exercises and not so much on the triceps for building bigger arms and so on and so forth…

Personally, in this debate of the arm muscles superiority, the winner (for better arm size) will always be the muscle with the most number of ‘heads’. In no way does this mean that you should shift all your efforts and focus towards one muscle and ignore the other.

In his interview to the FLEX magazine, this is what Arnold Schwarzenegger has to say about his training knowledge for the triceps –

Training triceps is different from training biceps because with the latter you have one movement, the curl, with which you do as many variations as possible (barbell, dumbbell, preacher, etc.). With tri’s, you can do exercises in front of your body, overhead, or lying down, and you can also target them with a close-grip barbell bench press. The tri’s need to be isolated to grow to their potential, so concentrate strongly on the action of each exercise.

To build bigger triceps, you can either train them on a Push Day (Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps) or if you follow a Bro Split (training different body parts on different days), you can train triceps on arms day together with the biceps. Yes, the biceps and triceps can be trained together as these two muscles grow the fastest when trained with each other. 

In my Push-Pull-Legs (PPL) workout program, I like to train the biceps and triceps together by super-setting exercises for these two muscles.

For example, when I do a tricep exercise on Push day, I immediately follow the tricep exercise with a bicep exercise without any rest, and after doing a biceps exercise set on Pull day, I superset the biceps exercise with a triceps exercise to increase my workout volume and get the best results for building bigger, muscular arms. 

The best workout strategy that has worked for me for training the triceps with a purpose to grow and build muscle is to focus on just these two factors –

1. Ensuring complete elbow extension back and behind the body for each triceps exercise.

The triceps will be maximally trained when these muscles are in their fully contracted position and that is with the elbows back behind the body.

In simple words, always make sure that your elbows are locked out while lowering your arms when doing a triceps exercise. Think of squeezing your triceps and elbows completely extended at the top of the movement in a lying triceps extension. 

The reason for doing this is taking the triceps muscle through its full range of motion. The total muscle contraction is necessary for training any muscle with the purpose to add muscle mass and size. 

2. Using heavier weights (80-85% of 1-RM) to progressively overload the triceps and induce muscle hypertrophy.

Our muscles grow and get stronger in response to the extent of overload and healthy damage which you can create through weighted exercises. 

Heavy weight training has been scientifically proven for gaining both muscle and strength because of the higher amounts of muscle tension and greater action of the muscle fibers. This is why if you want to add size and get bigger muscles, it is paramount that you prioritize heavy weight lifting. 

The best exercise you can do to progressively overload the triceps muscle is the close-grip bench press.

How heavy are you supposed to lift for this to work? 

To answer this question, one first needs to understand the concept of One-rep max (1RM). 

The one-rep max is the amount of weight one can lift for a given exercise and do just a single repetition with proper form, giving their maximum effort.

Now, back to the question, to build muscle and add size to your triceps, you should be lifting weights that are around 80 to 85 percent of your one-rep max. This means that you should be lifting heavy weights a rep or two shy of absolute failure.

Calculate your one-rep max here and get going with the right amount of weight to lift for your triceps workout optimal to gain muscle and strength in the long run.

The 5 Best Tricep Workout Exercises for Mass and Size

Just because your triceps have fallen behind your biceps, doesn’t mean you should back off your triceps workouts.

Ronnie Coleman (winner of the Mr. Olympia title for eight consecutive years)

The triceps are a trio of muscles on the back of your upper arm. They’re responsible for extending your elbows and making them appear wider. You can build your triceps by performing a combination of compound and isolation exercises that combine the three heads of your triceps: the long head, middle head, and short head.

In all the triceps exercises listed below, you will notice that all of them help train all three heads of the triceps. 

The next most important factor to grow triceps is the exercise form you use and the amount of weights you lift on these triceps exercises. Keep in mind to follow the “Master Tip” given with each triceps exercise to get the most out of your hard work and training.

To make things easier for you, I have also included exercise videos and pictures wherever possible to help you understand and get the complete picture of How to Perform each triceps exercise with the right form.

Now, let’s get started and learn more about the best tricep workout exercises below –

1. Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions/ EZ-Bar Skull Crushers (Best Overall): 

Muscles Worked: All three tricep heads (long, lateral, and medial)

The ultimate best workout exercise you can do for your triceps is the Lying Triceps Extension. This is a fantastic compound exercise to get the triceps pumping with the EZ Bar Skull Crushers being my personal favorite for many years. The day I added this exercise to my workout routine was one of the best decisions that helped give me the perfect triceps muscles I now own.

The reason that lying triceps extension is the best exercise for building that perfect horseshoe triceps is, a) the intense overload we can create on the triceps and b) the targeting of all three heads of the triceps in a position of elbow extension back and behind the body.

The eccentric overload caused by the lying triceps extension and the perfect range of motion is unmatched as compared to other triceps exercises for muscle growth and adding size.

Now, coming to the two different variations for this exercise, you can either do it using dumbbells or an EZ-bar. Both these variations work the triceps in the same way and are equally effective.

Master Tip: Keep the arms angled slightly backward instead of in a vertical position and lower the weights all the way towards the floor instead of your forehead for maximum triceps long head involvement and keeping the tension in the muscles during the complete exercise movement.

How to Perform: 

Lying dumbbell triceps extensions exercise

Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions

EZ-Bar Skull Crushers

EZ Bar Skull Crushers, best tricep workout exercises

2. Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press (Best for Progressive Overload)- 

Main Muscles Worked: Triceps Brachii (Triceps) with assistance from the secondary muscles of the chest and shoulders.

The close-grip barbell bench press is the next-best compound exercise for overloading the triceps with heavier weights. Doing this forces the muscles to grow because of a phenomenon called progressive overload. 

This is the best barbell exercise you can do to build bigger triceps. 

If you want to increase your upper-body strength and build stronger arms, the close-grip bench press should be one of the staples in your workouts. 

This exercise is also used specifically to improve high-velocity, upper-body pushing movements by athletes and is a great addition to your tricep workouts. The close grip bench press combined with the lying triceps extensions are guaranteed to add more mass to your triceps in no time.

Master Tip: Focus on full elbow extension at the top of each repetition with a one-second pause and slowly controlling the weights down. 

How to Perform:

Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press for Triceps

3. Rope Triceps Pushdown (Beginner) Or Rocking Triceps Pushdown (Advanced): 

Main Muscles Worked: All three tricep heads (long, lateral and medial)

The long head of the triceps is responsible for the maximum size and this exercise trains it perfectly. 

The rope pushdown is a better and more effective triceps pushdown variation as compared to others like a short, straight bar because of the rope’s independence of movement that allows the arms to travel freely. 

At the gym, you will find most people doing the standard version of the rope triceps pushdown exercise which is good in itself but not the best for building bigger triceps.

The less-known variation of the rope triceps pushdown known as the Rocking Triceps Pushdown has been popularized by one of the best trainers and PT in the fitness industry, Jeff Cavaliere from Athleanx.

Trust me, folks, this is a killer triceps exercise and is way better than the basic rope pushdowns. Why? The main reason is the positioning of the triceps in both rope pushdown variations. In the standard rope pushdown, the arms stay in front of the body while in the rocking pushdowns, the triceps are back and behind the body which is where the triceps long head is maximally contracted and in a complete stretched position. 

With the reasoning explained, the choice is yours about which rope pushdown variation to include in your triceps workouts. My choice? Definitely, the Rocking Pushdowns. You rock, Jeff!!!

Master Tip: Keep both arms perpendicular to the ground at the starting position, lean back to take the triceps through its full range of motion, back and behind the body. Pause at the bottom position for one second with full elbow extension.

How to Perform:

Rope Triceps Pushdown
Rocking Triceps Pushdown/Athlean-X

4. Dumbbell Triceps Kickback (Best with Dumbbells)

Main Muscles Worked: Complete Triceps Brachii muscle, All three tricep heads (long, lateral and medial)

The dumbbell triceps kickback is one of my favorite triceps exercises that you can do with a pair of dumbbells, the other being the Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extensions.

This exercise is best performed on an incline bench (chest-supported variation) where one can focus more on the proper exercise form rather than balancing your body. Using the incline bench for doing kickbacks makes sure that just the triceps are doing all the lifting with as little support from the secondary muscles. 

The next best variation of the triceps kickback is the standing variation with the dumbbell in both hands. Choose either one of these triceps kickback variations that suits the best for you and makes you connect with the triceps muscles with a solid contraction at the top of the movement.

Master Tip: Use lighter dumbbells and keep your focus on mastering the form which is full extension and lockout of the elbows back and behind the body.

How to Perform:

Standing Two-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Kickback
Chest-Supported Incline Triceps Kickback

5. Weighted Upright Triceps Dips (Best Bodyweight Exercise)

Main Muscles Worked: Complete Triceps Brachii muscle, All three tricep heads (long, lateral and medial)

The classic triceps building exercise called the Triceps Dip has been a staple of the arms workout of all legendary bodybuilders and for good reason. 

This exercise is simple enough to do from anywhere using just one’s bodyweight that is enough to target and tone the tricep muscles. You can do a Bodyweight Tricep Dip at home using two chairs, a low table and also the edge of your kitchen island where you have enough space to balance your body on two hands. 

And the most effective variation of the Triceps Dip for adding muscle, size and strength is done on the dip bar using weights if you’re an advanced lifter or just your bodyweight if you’re a beginner.

The best way to use weights on a Weighted Triceps Dip is to hold a single dumbbell in between your crossed feet or use a lifting belt around your waist with a weight that allows you to do about 8 to 10 repetitions before reaching failure.

Master Tip: To make sure that the Tricep Dip exercise is working your triceps as the primary muscle and not your chest, focus on keeping your stance upright with the chest out and in front at all times and the triceps back and behind the body.

How to Perform:

Bodyweight Triceps Dips for Beginners
Weighted Triceps Dip exercise for Advanced Lifters
Weighted Triceps Dip for Advanced Lifters/Scott Herman/

Key Facts and Takeaways

Yes, you can build bigger triceps and enhance the look of your upper arms if you follow everything said and explained in this article. 

The triceps are a smaller muscle group of our bodies and the best exercises to build triceps muscle and add size are both isolation and compound exercises that are performed using an accurate form and using heavy weights, with the exception of dumbbell kickbacks.

This training strategy for growing triceps and building muscle mass explained above has been working for a long long time and will always keep working. 

How to Build Bigger, Stronger, and Muscular Triceps

  • 3️⃣ Triceps is a three-headed muscle and the long head is responsible for the most size. This is why we should choose triceps exercises that target this largest triceps head primarily and at the same time isolate the other two heads to work them properly.

  • 🎯 To fully contract the long head of the triceps, you have to get your arms back and behind the body with the elbows tucked closer to the body (not flaring out) and be completely straight during the complete exercise movement. Concentrate strongly on the movement of each exercise and feel the triceps muscle working for the best results.

  • 💪 The two best workout strategies to grow triceps size to their potential and build muscle are A) Ensuring complete elbow extension back and behind the body for each triceps exercise and B) Using heavier weights (80-85% of 1-RM) to progressively overload the triceps and induce muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle size).

  • 5️⃣🏆 The five best triceps workout exercises are Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions or EZ-Bar Skull Crushers, Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press, Rope Triceps Pushdown, Dumbbell Triceps Kickback, and Weighted Upright Triceps Dip.

  • 1️⃣💯 If you have to choose just one exercise for your triceps that’s the most effective at hitting all three heads, adding size, and gain muscle, go for any variation of the Lying Triceps Extensions (Skullcrushers).

To maximize your time in the gym trying to build muscle and get stronger, the key is to be totally focused on what you’re doing and what you want to achieve. This applies to all your workouts. Try not to get distracted and keep your mind completely into the exercise by visualizing the muscle you’re trying to build.

With this post, we finish learning about developing another muscle group in the journey to build a better physique. To read the other posts in this series about building the other muscles in your body using the best exercises and training strategies, you can visit the links below.

I hope and wish that the information I shared will be helpful to you in progressing in your fitness journey and making your back muscles stronger. If you enjoyed this post, please leave your experiences and comments below.

And finally, if you’d like to stay up to date with the Physiqueness blog, then please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Pinterest. Your kind gesture would be incredibly appreciated! Thanks for reading 🙂

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