Function often overrides form when it comes to triceps. For many gym goers, as long as they can bench, dip, and push-up, who cares how those horseshoes look, right? This is the wrong approach to take, says IFBB physique pro Brandan Fokken.
"Triceps used to be a lagging point on me," Fokken explains. "They were big, but they had no shape or definition. So I changed my workout pattern and I started to do more volume, more angles, and higher reps."
If you're ready to round out your arms and put the finishing touch on a competition-worthy physique, this workout is for you. You'll do six triceps-only exercises for 4 sets of 10-15 reps each. It should take you about 30-45 minutes to complete the workout, taking about 30-60 seconds of rest between each set. Let's get started!
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Single-Arm Cable Cross-Body Extension
Cables are great for working the triceps because you can set them at any level to hit different angles in the muscle.
"The reason I like to start with this exercise is it puts constant tension on the muscles," adds Fokken. "And it's a great warm-up for this workout."
Make sure when you extend out you're squeezing all the way into your triceps. On this and many triceps exercises, it's important to keep your shoulder locked so you're not using it or your back to help do the movement. No need to push serious weight on these!
Overhead Dumbbell Extension
Form is important on this one because you're pulling the weight behind your head and behind your neck, where your shoulder mobility—or lack thereof—can pose problems. So make sure you've got the form dialed in, and chase time under tension more than heavy weight.
Sitting on a bench, make sure you have your feet planted, your back straight, and your core locked in tight. When you extend, keep your elbows tucked in and press the weight all the way up to the top.
"You want to get a good squeeze at the top before you bring the weight down," says Fokken.
Single-Arm Cable Extension
Fokken recommends a reverse-grip for this extension, so you'll want to use a handle with enough movement in it to allow you to perform the movement without having to switch your grip.
In an already highly specialized workout, Fokken takes his triceps-isolation a step further by performing this exercise one arm at time.
"I like doing single-arm because a lot of times, one arm is stronger than the other arm, so splitting the arms up helps," he explains. "That's why I do a lot of single-arm exercises in this workout."
Make sure your elbow is tucked in and you're doing all the work with your triceps. Again, keep your shoulder locked and avoid swinging—go straight down, get a good contraction at the bottom, control the weight back up slowly, and repeat.
Assisted Dip Push-Down
This is one of those weird gym hacks you won't see a lot of people doing, but that grew from Fokken's years of serious training.
"I feel like if you're using the same stimuli all the time, your body gets used to it," says Fokken. "That's why I encourage people to try a lot of different things—different sets, different reps, and different machines."
It's easy to just go through the motions on this exercise, so make sure you're feeling it in your triceps. Do not let your chest take over. Keep your body back, your elbows out, and squeeze the pad down by engaging your triceps. If you're not feeling it in the triceps, try moving your elbows in or out until you're feeling it where you should.
Overhead Rope Extension
Set the pulley low so you can extend the rope up from behind your head. If you've never done overhead extensions like this before, it can feel a little awkward at first. According to Fokken, this is normal.
"This isn't an exercise that I do a lot, because I don't like pulling things from behind my head," he explains. "But as I said before, different stimuli give you different results."
With this exercise, make sure you've got your feet planted and your back straight. Keep your elbows in as you extend up and make sure you're squeezing at the top. Get a good contraction in the triceps, then let it back slowly, and repeat.
Finish of your triceps with 4 sets of dips to failure. It's your last exercise, so don't be afraid to step it up a little bit. Put your feet up on a bench or put a weight on your waist—whatever it takes to really push yourself to failure.
"Failure to you could be 10 reps, it could be 15 reps, or even 30," says Fokken. "Make sure you're pushing yourself. Keep your elbows tucked in to maintain proper form, and just push through."
Now that you've finished all six exercises, you've hit your triceps from every angle possible. Fokken recommends doing this workout weekly on its own, or pairing it with something like his Best Chest Workout.