best tricep exercises

The Best Tricep Exercises for 3D Arms

by Jeremy Campbell - Last Updated June 12, 2019

With your triceps making up more than two-thirds of your upper-arms, neglecting them means they’ll never reach their full potential. If until now, you’ve been hitting every curl variation under the sun in hopes of growing your arms with no attention paid to your triceps, it’s time for a change!

Building stronger triceps will do more than fill out your arms. Taking the time to develop bigger triceps will enable you to lift heavier weights while benching and overhead pressing. If you’re stalling on these lifts, adding on a few of the exercises below will likely result in you busting through that plateau and seeing some new gains!

If you’re looking to get your benching progress back on track, and grow some mean guns in the process, continue on for the best tricep exercises to add to your routine.

The Tricep Muscles Explained

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of what it takes to build monster triceps, I’m going to give you a brief primer on this muscle and how it works.

When thinking about the triceps, or the triceps brachii, for the more scientific among us, it is a good idea to not think about it as just one muscle. You need to consider the three different heads that make up the whole.

Tricep heads are the different points where the muscle attaches to the skeleton via tendons. Your tricep attaches to your arm and shoulder joints with three different heads.

The triceps’ main role is to help extend your elbow, and to also keep the shoulder and scapula stable while doing other upper body exercises.

When you combined the three heads of the triceps, you get what is commonly referred to as the “horseshoe” in bodybuilding circles. Of course, you won’t see a horseshoe on yourself if you’ve been neglecting this muscle up until now!

The long head of the triceps is the largest head of your triceps and makes up the majority of the back of your arm. The long head makes or breaks well-built looking arms.

While the long head is arguably most important in providing you with overall growth of your upper arms, the other heads need to be worked for you to achieve the “horseshoe” or “3D” arms that we’re after.

Aside from the long head, there are also the lateral and the medial heads that will need some attention if you want good results.

Now that you have been brought up to speed on the different heads of the triceps, let’s take a look at what you should be doing to get them ready for the gun show!

The Best Tricep Exercise: Close-Grip Bench Press

The single best tricep building exercise you can add to your routine is the close-grip bench press. These are a variation of the bench press which is a compound exercise. My favorite, in fact!

While isolation exercises such as skull crushers may allow you to throw more reps at the triceps, equating to more volume, compound movements like the CGBP let you lift heavier weights, which trigger even more growth! Tricep isolation exercises have their place, for sure, but if I had to pick one exercise to work the triceps it’d have to be the close-grip bench press!

This lift is a mainstay of powerlifting routines, due to its ability to target and work the triceps hard, which frequently are the weak point in the bench press. EMG studies done on different pressing exercises found that the close-grip bench press activates the long head of the triceps more so than other variations, which further proves my point.

If you’re looking to strengthen and grow your triceps, look no further than the close-grip bench press!

How to Do Close-Grip Bench Press

  1. Lie down on a flat bench. Grab the bar at about shoulder’s width distance apart and then lift it from the rack, holding it straight above your head.
  2. Slowly lower the bar to about mid-chest, while keeping your elbows tucked into your sides.
  3. Pause for a second and then push the bar back up to the starting position, locking your arms as they reach full extension.
  4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
  5. When done, re-rack the bar on your rack.

It’s recommended that you use a spotter if you are new to this exercise. If no one is available, you shouldn’t try to lift too heavy, or you run the risk of hurting yourself.

The Best Tricep Isolation Exercises

The triceps really benefit from direct and targeted work. While CGBP is the best in general, you’d be leaving gains on the table if you weren’t throwing in at least a few of these isolation exercises into the mix.

Skull Crushers

Throughout the years, I’ve frequently gone back and researched what movements truly are the best for tricep strength and hypertrophy. I’m always brought back to these. EMG research has consistently found skull crushers to be the single best tricep exercise!

This exercises also goes by the monikers French press or lying tricep extensions. Whatever you choose to call them, if you’re looking to develop horseshoe triceps then these need to be a part of your routine!

I usually like to tack on 2 or 3 sets of these to the end of every bench day, aiming for between 12 and 15 reps. I’ve never seen such immediate results as when I started adding these to my routine!

How to Do Skull Crushers

  1. Lay down on a bench while holding dumbbells in each hand. Extend your arms up above your head with your palms facing inwards.
  2. Keep your arms up against your head. Lower the weights back by bending at the elbows, towards your head, just until your forearms reach your biceps. Throughout the movement, be sure that your upper arms are stationary. Only your forearms should be moving during this exercise.
  3. Reverse the movement bringing the weights back up to the starting point above your head.
  4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Seated Overhead Dumbbell Extension

These are like skull crushers but done from an upright position. While skull crushers work the long and short head of the tricep fairly evenly, overhead extensions place the focus squarely on the long head.

The long head of the tricep makes up the majority of your arm, and so you’ll do well to add these into the mix. Any overhead tricep exercise will work the long head, and these are the best!

If you’ve had trouble feeling the burn in your triceps with other exercises, these will not disappoint. If you really focus on doing all the work with your triceps during this movement, you will feel it! I guarantee you.

How to Do Seated Overhead Dumbbell Extensions

  1. Sit on a bench while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Extend your arms up above your head with your palms facing inwards.
  2. While keeping your arms up against your head, lower the weight back by bending at the elbows, towards your head, just until your forearms reach your biceps. Throughout the movement, be sure that your upper arms are stationary. Only your forearms should be moving during this exercise.
  3. Reverse the movement bringing the weights back up to the starting point above your head.
  4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

 

Single-Arm Cable Kick-Back

If you have access to a cable machine, consider giving these a try. These will make your triceps burn like no other! If you have your form down on these they work the tricep to a similar degree to that of overhead extensions.

Form is important with these. Be sure to avoid dropping your elbow or you’ll risk turning this tricep isolation exercise into a compound movement, which takes some of the stress off your target muscle.

How to Do Single-Arm Cable Kick-Backs

  1. Attach a handle to the low pulley of a cable machine. Face the machine and bend your back until it is parallel with the floor.
  2. Grab a hold of the handle and then bring it to your side while tucking your elbow in towards your body.
  3. Extend your arm back slowly, and under control, as far as you can, while squeezing your triceps. Hold this position for a second or two.
  4. Reverse the movement back to the starting position.
  5. Return back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Cable Overhead Extension With Rope

If you prefer cable work consider subbing these for overhead dumbbell extensions. Other than the implements used, and your seating position, these work the triceps just as well as dumbbell overhead extensions.

One thing that cable overhead extensions have over the dumbbell variant is constant tension. When you do these with a cable implement, tension is placed on the triceps through the full range of motion.

How to Do Cable Overhead Extensions With Rope

  1. Attach a rope to the low pulley of a cable machine.
  2. Grab the rope with both hands and then extend your arms until they are directly above your head. Keep your elbows in close to your head, with your arms perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Slowly lower the rope behind your head while keeping your upper arms still. Keep going back until you feel the full stretch of your triceps.
  4. Return your arms back to the starting position using your triceps.
  5. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Cable Push-Downs

Now that we have the long head of the tricep taken care of, we need to make sure we are giving the lateral head some love. While EMG research found skull crushers and overhead extensions to be the best isolation exercises for the long head of the triceps, cable push-downs are king when it comes to the lateral head.

While focusing on developing the long head of your triceps will do well to induce growth, you won’t be able to truly fill out those sleeves if you’re neglecting the lateral head.

Cable push-downs are a great tricep isolation exercise that is best done with lower weights, in the 10 to 12 rep range. This is the best rep range for hypertrophy, and it’s what you want to go for when doing isolation exercises. Save the low rep work for the bigger compound movements!

How to Do Cable Push-Downs

  1. Attach a straight or v-bar to the high pulley of a cable machine. Grab a hold of the attachment with an overhand grip.
  2. Standing tall, bring your arms down to your side while keeping them perpendicular to the floor. Your hands should point towards the cable machine.
  3. Using your triceps only, push the bar down until it reaches right in front of your thighs, and your arms are fully extended. Keep your upper arms still throughout the whole movement.
  4. Hold the bottom position for a second or two before slowly bring the bar back up to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Best Compound Exercises For Triceps

While I’ve already gone over the best compound tricep exercise, there’s no reason to stop there. Compound movements provide the most bang for your buck. When time is limited, it’ll do you well to throw a few of these in instead of focusing solely on isolation work.

The exercises I’ve chosen below work your upper-body to a great degree, and are amazing for building bigger triceps! I wouldn’t recommend adding all these onto your weekly routine. One or Two of these throughout the week should be enough to see results.

Bench Press

The bench press is my absolute favorite exercise! I bench heavy 3 days a week, and if I could find a decent routine that had more bench days, I’d switch in a heartbeat!

While the bench press is usually seen more as a chest exercise, being that it is a compound movement, the chest is far from all that it works! The triceps are a main player in the bench press, and if you’ve been neglecting yours up until now, then you’re not benching near your potential.

During one study that looked at tricep activation during pressing movements, researchers found bench press to activate the triceps significantly more than even tricep isolation exercises!

The takeaway from all this is you need to be bench pressing if you want to build the biggest arms, in as little time as possible! Whether you chose to do these with a barbell, or a dumbbell, take the time to get in a few sets throughout the week and you’ll start to see more growth in your arms before long.

How to Bench Press

  1. Lie down on a flat bench. Grab the bar at a medium width distance apart and then lift it from the rack, holding it straight above your head.
  2. Slowly lower the bar to about mid-chest, while keeping your elbows tucked into your sides.
  3. Pause for a second and then push the bar back up to the starting position. Lock your arms as they reach full extension.
  4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
  5. When done, re-rack the bar on your rack.

It’s recommended that you use a spotter if you are new to this exercise. If no one is available, you shouldn’t try to lift too heavy, or you run the risk of hurting yourself.

Barbell Overhead Press

The overhead, or military, press is another great compound movement that works the triceps to a great degree. While these are considered to be more of a shoulder exercise, your triceps still come into play quite a bit.

These aren’t quite as good as the bench press for tricep activation, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing them. I recommend both benching and pressing throughout the week to develop a well-rounded upper-body.

As with the bench press, these can be done with either a dumbbell or a barbell. You’ll likely find it difficult to get dumbbells into position once you progress far enough in these though. A barbell and rack setup is the way to go.

There are plenty of variations of this lift to try, though the barbell overhead variant will allow you to move the most weight. I’ve personally switched to doing behind the neck Z-presses, and have been loving them! These are more geared towards working the shoulders though. I do enough benching already, with lots of close-grip work, so my triceps are already getting hit pretty hard.

How to Barbell Overhead Press

  1. Position a barbell at about chest height on a squat rack. Add the desired amount of weight to the bar.
  2. Grab the bar with a grip a bit wider than shoulder-width distance apart.
  3. Bend your knees slightly and then rack the barbell onto your collar bone. Lift the bar up while keeping it on your chest. Take a step or two back and position your feet at about shoulders’ width distance apart.
  4. Lift the bar up over your head until your arms lock out.
  5. Lower the bar back down to your collarbone slowly.
  6. Lift the bar back up again.
  7. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
  8. When done, re-rack the bar on your rack.

 

Dumbbell Floor Press

If you’re short a bench, or just want to bench more while focusing on your triceps then you should give these a try! Limiting the range of motion of the bench to just the top portion means your triceps are targeted to a greater degree.

How to Dumbbell Floor Press

  1. Lie down on the floor while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the weights out straight above your head.
  2. Lower the dumbbells down until your upper arm is in contact with the floor. Keep your elbows tucked into your sides as much as you can, to put the emphasis on your triceps.
  3. Pause for a second or two before lifting the dumbbells back up over your head.
  4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Board Press

The board press works a similar range of motion to the floor press but uses a bench and barbell. Board press lets you focus on working your triceps, while still lifting heavy weight!

If you’re unfamiliar with this lift, it is basically the same as the bench press, but with the addition of a block of wood between your chest and the bar. The block lets you limit the range of motion of the bench to just the mid to upper portion of the lift. This takes the emphasis off your chest and puts it more so on your arms.

If you need any more justification for adding the board press to your routine, look no further than to some of the top powerlifters’ routines. Board presses are commonplace in the world of powerlifting and are a great way to bring up lagging triceps.

How to Do Board Presses

  1. Lie down on a flat bench. Have someone place some boards onto your chest. Grab the bar at a medium width distance apart and then lift it from the rack, holding it straight above your head.
  2. Slowly lower the bar to the boards, while keeping your elbows tucked into your sides.
  3. Pause for a second, and then push the bar back up to the starting position. Lock your arms as they reach full extension.
  4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
  5. When done, re-rack the bar on your rack.

It’s recommended that you use a spotter if you are new to this exercise. If no one is available, you shouldn’t try to lift too heavy, or you run the risk of hurting yourself.

Best Bodyweight Tricep Exercises

If you’re away from the gym or don’t have any equipment to work with, you can still put in some solid tricep work. There are plenty of great bodyweight tricep exercises to choose from!

To help you get the most out of what limited time and equipment you have, I’ve brought together a few of the best bodyweight tricep exercise for your consideration. Regardless of your situation, give a few of these a try if you’re looking to grow your triceps:

Parallel Bar Dips

Parallel bar dips are an excellent compound exercise that works your whole upper-body. If I had to pick only 3 exercises to do for my upper-body, they’d be the bench press, pull-ups, and parallel bar dips. Between those 3 exercises, you’ll be able to work out nearly every muscle in your upper-body enough to induce solid growth and strength adaptions!

When doing parallel-bar dips, you want to keep your body in as upright a position as possible in order to target the triceps to the greatest degree. Leaning forward allows you to hit your chest more-so, which is fine, but that’s not what we’re looking for here.

How to Do Parallel-Bar Dips

  1. Position yourself between a pair of parallel bars. Grab a hold of each bar with your hands and then lift yourself up until your arms are locked out.
  2. Bend at the elbow and slowly lower your body down until your arms are just below 90 degrees. Keep the rest of your body still during this movement.
  3. To reverse the movement, push throw the elbows until you’ve made it back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Close-Grip Push-Ups

You might be surprised to see these on a list of tricep exercises, but push-ups, and more specifically the close-grip variants, are especially well suited to building the coveted horseshoe tricep!

To take a standard push-up and bring the focus more to the triceps, simply move your hand placement closer together. After a few reps, you’ll see why these made the list! Even unweighted, close-grip push-ups make my triceps burn like no other!

How to Do Close-Grip Push-Ups

  1. Lay down on the floor with your hands placed inside of your shoulders, so that they are close together.
  2. Hold your torso up at arms’ length.
  3. Slowly lower yourself down until your chest comes just shy of touching the floor.
  4. Using your chest and triceps, press your body back up to the starting position. Focus on using your triceps as you lift yourself so that you get the most out of this movement.
  5. Hold the top position for a second or two before repeating for the desired amount of reps.

Bench Dips

At first glance, these appear to be the same as parallel-bar dips, but that is far from the case! Having your lower-body out in front of you takes more of the weight off of your chest and puts it squarely on your triceps!

Don’t just rely on me and the significant arm pump you’re likely to feel after doing these to convince you. Researchers looked at EMG data and found the triceps were activated to a significant degree while participants did this lift.

What I really like about the bench dip is just how easy it is to add weight. While parallel bar dips require a specialized lifting belt for you to attach weight to when doing bench dips you can simply place anything heavy onto your lap to increase the load!

How to Do Bench Dips

  1. Position a flat bench behind you. Stand with the bench perpendicular to your body and then grab a hold of it while facing away from it. Your arms should be fully extended and at shoulders’ width distance apart. Keep your legs extended in front of you, perpendicular to your torso.
  2. Bend at the elbow, and slowly lower your body down until your arms are just below 90 degrees. Keep the rest of your body still during this movement.
  3. To reverse the movement, push through the elbows until you’ve made it back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Diamond Push-Ups

Last, but far from least, on our list of the best tricep exercises, are diamond push-ups. These take close-grip push-ups and bump the difficulty up a notch! Bringing your hands even further in, and forming a diamond with your thumbs and forefingers, takes an ordinary push-up and makes them an amazing tricep building exercise!

You may find these difficult to complete at first, and it’s likely you’ll need to work up to doing them. Start with standard push-ups and then over time, bring your hand placement in until you’re able to complete sets of close-grip push-ups. By the time you’ve graduated to diamond push-ups, you should see some solid tricep gains!

How to Do Diamond Push-Ups

  1. Lay down on the floor with your hands placed together, so that a diamond is formed with your thumbs and forefingers.
  2. Hold your torso up at arms’ length.
  3. Slowly lower yourself down until your chest comes just shy of touching the floor.
  4. Using your chest and triceps, press your body back up to the starting position. Be sure to focus on your triceps as you lift yourself so that you get the most out of this movement.
  5. Hold the top position for a second or two before repeating for the desired amount of reps.

Wrapping Up

If before now, the majority of your time spent in the gym was focused on curls and flies, now you’ve got a little more to work with. When people think about building bigger arms, it’s commonly thought that the biceps are what needs to be targeted. This is faulty thinking!

While the biceps are important for arm size, the triceps make up a large portion of your arms. You’ll never develop truly massive arms without giving them some love!

The triceps can take a beating, and many find it beneficial to work them 3 or 4 times a week. Feel free to try out a few of these tricep exercises throughout your workout days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *