It's no secret that just about everyone who goes to the gym wants bigger arms. Something that I've noticed, though, is that while virtually no one skips out on biceps, triceps are often neglected. They might only receive a few sets after a chest workout or a hard biceps workout.
If you want bigger arms, this is a huge mistake! Your triceps make up the majority of your upper arm! Also, since I'm touching on the gym stereotype that everyone wants bigger arms, let me touch on another: Everyone wants to press more weight! You know you know what I'm talking about!
What does this have to do with triceps, though? Well, with back and biceps, the latter doesn't take a beating when training the former. But the opposite is true for pressing motions and triceps! Even with good form, your triceps are a crucial component of your ability to press, whether it's the bench press, shoulder press, standing military press, or some other version.
So if you beef up your triceps, you'll beef up the weight you're able to move on your chest and shoulder days!
Bullet Points For Bigger Horseshoes
Before we get into what my favorite exercises are for building the triceps, let me go over a couple philosophies I feel should apply to your triceps training, regardless of the exercise chosen.
Use a full range of motion (ROM), but avoid taking tension off of the triceps by allowing the ROM of your exercise to go too far. This is taken care of primarily by keeping your elbows and upper arms in relatively the same position for the whole repetition.
Create as much tension as possible with every rep. I am a firm believer in time under tension being a major factor for muscle growth. So, at the end of every extension, I like to really contract the muscle under the load I've placed on it. Think about it as trying to flex your triceps at full extension on every rep.
There are three distinct angles from which to train triceps: arms at the sides of your body, arms at a 90-degree angle in relation to your body, and arms overhead. Each angle stresses the triceps in a different way, and I try to incorporate at least one exercise for each arm angle when I train my triceps.
Although you can't isolate any one of the three heads exclusively, as all three heads serve the function of straightening your arm out, the different angles and exercises are critical to developing all three heads. I've even organized my six favorite triceps exercises by arm angle!
Arms At Your Sides
This exercise is a staple in just about anyone's triceps routine, and for good reason. When performing this exercise, there are a couple of things that you will want to keep in mind.
First, keep your shoulders back throughout the entire rep, even when you are at the bottom of the rep, and turning your hands out will really light your triceps up. When you allow your shoulders to roll forward and use your chest to turn out your hands, stress is removed from the triceps.
Second, do these about 2 feet away from the pulley of the cable machine. That way, when pressing down, you have to pull both down and back with your hands. This places a little extra stress on the long head of your triceps while still blasting the medial head. Use a longer-than-standard rope attachment if you can. It makes it much easier to keep your form solid and attack the triceps.
Single-Arm Cable Press-Down
When it comes to finishing off the triceps at the end of a workout, this is one of my go-to exercises. I like to do these with no attachment on the cable machine, but you can use a D-handle, single rope attachment, or whatever else you feel gives you the ability to contract the muscle as tightly as possible.
Some people like to do these across their body, but I prefer to keep everything—cable pulley, shoulder, elbow, and wrist—in a straight line. Keep your elbow pinned to your side and your shoulder back. This will keep as much stress and tension as possible on your triceps.
I prefer to do these as a high-rep, blood-gorging exercise, so I typically go pretty light, aim for at least 20 reps, and rest just long enough to do the set with the other arm. Doing them in this manner will give you a pump like you can't imagine while exhausting your triceps.
Arms At 90 Degrees
Traditional skullcrushers are a standby that should be done by everyone chasing better triceps development. But I have really taken a liking to doing the dumbbell variation of this exercise as an alternate, for two reasons.
First, the dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion, since your forehead isn't in the way of the bar. This extra stretch at the bottom—as well as the fact that you have to stabilize the dumbbell— makes the exercise much harder and produces an intense pump.
Second, dumbbells allow you to use a hammer grip, which makes it much easier to not "chicken wing" your elbows. Just like with normal skullcrushers, you need to keep your upper arms frozen. All the motion should happen at the elbow joints.
When I do these, I like to do both arms at the same time for my lighter sets. However, once I reach my heavier sets, I begin by doing both at the same time, but then switch to alternating once I fatigue. Doing it in this manner makes for a "micro rest-pause" rep, especially if you are lifting in a slow, controlled manner like you should be.
This is my favorite exercise to superset with other triceps exercises because you can make it as hard or as easy as you need it to be. There is no way you will lose your triceps pump with this exercise.
I like to do them off a Smith machine, with the bar set somewhere around sternum level, but experiment to find what feels best for you. The higher the bar, the easier it will be; the lower the bar, the harder it will be. I don't recommend you go any lower than your belly button or any higher than midchest.
You can also vary the difficulty by how close or far to the bar you stand. The closer you stand, the easier; the farther away you stand, the harder. Regardless of how close or far you stand, and how high or low you have the bar set, do your best to keep your core rigid and not move at the hips. All motion should occur at the elbow joint.
Incline EZ-Bar Skullcrusher
Skullcrushers are a staple of most people's triceps routine, for good reason! I see most people doing this exercise on a flat bench, and they don't know what they are missing out on by doing them at an incline.
For starters, on an incline, you are beginning with the triceps in a stretched position, placing more stress on the long head. You can also expand the range of motion a bit by bringing your head off the bench and letting the bar travel behind your head, neither of which you can do on a flat bench.
Throughout each repetition, concentrate on keeping your elbows close together and avoid "chicken winging," which places a lot of stress on the elbow joint and reduces the efficiency of the exercise.
Standing Overhead Triceps Extensions
This is another exercise that's great for cranking out a lot of reps for a major triceps pump. Continuous tension from the cables and the ability to turn out your hands make the contractions intense.
Keep your elbows as close together as possible. Many lifters, myself included, have a problem with allowing elbows to flare out. Keep your core tight when doing this exercise as well, and avoid using momentum or swinging to move the weight.