Exercises are like ice cream flavors. Most people choose common varieties like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. A few others opt out of the mainstream, instead indulging in butter pecan, chocolate espresso, or mango. And a more limited number want to try something altogether different, like goat cheese cashew caramel. (Don't laugh: This is a real flavor from Black Dog Gelato in Chicago.)
Like those at the ice cream parlor, most people in the gym stick with a handful of tried-and-true movements, rarely venturing into new or unfamiliar territory. On triceps day, that means push-downs, dips, and skullcrushers. The more adventurous may vary hand grip and body or bench position to introduce some novelty into their arm training, but even they rarely venture from these safe waters.
And then there's this group of five Team Bodybuilding.com athletes, who sent us their personal triceps favorites that are extremely unique and effective. In the parlance of the ice cream parlor, these exercises would live at the far end of the counter.
Check out these unique triceps moves, and pick at least one to sample in your own routine!
1. Side Cable Triceps Extension
Courtesy of Brandan Fokken
About This Move: This is a move you'll rarely see. I bring the cable to about shoulder height. I stabilize my shoulder and keep the upper arm of my working side elevated and parallel to the floor so the movement is restricted to the elbow, which is pointed directly out.
Grasping the cable with an overhand grip, I extend my arm to move my hand straight outward, squeezing my triceps at full extension. The weight then pulls my hand back to the start position in a controlled fashion. I usually do 3-4 sets of 10-15 (even 20!) reps toward the end of my workout.
Key Training Tip: Maintaining your upper-arm position is essential for maximizing muscular tension on the triceps. If your elbow starts to stray, use your opposite-side hand to help support it and maintain its position.
2. Bodyweight Triceps Extension On Smith Machine
Courtesy of Mike Hildebrandt
About This Move: This exercise is a great choice to include in your routine to really target the triceps in a whole different way. This movement is unique because it uses your body weight and follows an unusual vector toward the bar.
By doing this exercise, you'll notice that you can easily change the resistance by adjusting your feet, making it a great choice for supersets and dropsets. This exercise not only targets the triceps, but is great for core development since it requires your entire trunk to activate to maintain proper form.
Key Training Tip: Make sure you start close to the bar and position it fairly high to get comfortable with the movement. You should move back and lower the bar only when you're able to complete your set without breaking form (which is typically broken at the core).
Keep your head neutral as you perform the movement, and try to keep your elbows tight without allowing them to flare out.
Dropset Variation Of This Movement
Courtesy of Steven Lopez
Start at the top and work your way down the Smith machine, training at three different levels. The bottom is the hardest on this long-head movement. I train to failure at each level, repeating for a total of 3 three-part dropsets.
3. Double Cable Kick-Back
Courtesy of Brandon Johnson
About This Move: Most people perform kick-backs either with a dumbbell or using a single-arm cable from the low-pulley position. This exercise combines the benefits of both exercises into one movement! This is a great exercise to isolate the triceps and really focus on the peak contraction.
Kick-backs with dumbbells are great, but I often see people start to lean with their body or allow movement in their shoulder. Using cables allows you to better focus on just the triceps.
Key Training Tip: I like to set up the cables so that they're slightly below where my hands will end in the flexed position. This lets me extend my arm in a more natural upward movement as I approach the end of the range of motion. Make sure you're bent over about parallel with the ground, and of course avoid rounding your back.
Don't worry about not being able to use a lot of weight with this exercise; the idea is to do slow, controlled reps, really focusing on the mind-muscle connection and the peak contraction.
4. Incline Dumbbell Triceps Extension
Courtesy of Brandon Johnson
About This Move: This is a great exercise that I picked up from Mike "Titan" O'Hearn. Mike talks a lot about training around different angles, not only to fully develop a muscle (in this case, the triceps), but to also work connective tissue, which ultimately can be a limiting factor in the amount of weight you lift.
Set up a bench with a moderate incline. The idea here is to fully extend your arms at the top of the movement and exercise through a full range of motion through the elbow joint.
Key Training Tip: When you bring the dumbbells down to your chest, actually let the weights touch just briefly on your chest before starting the next rep. This forces you to start each rep from a dead stop while allowing you to train through the longest range of motion possible. Keep your upper arms locked in place.
Seated Upright Variation Of This Movement
Courtesy of Kelechi Opara
This variation keeps the stimulus on the muscle for the entire set because the weights don't touch your body at the bottom of each rep. I get a little bit of shoulder action here, but it can be reduced if you keep your upper arms locked in place.