How should you train your triceps?

Training your Triceps

The triceps brachii, more commonly known as the triceps, has three heads –lateral, medial, and long.

The long head of the triceps is the largest part of the triceps and is found running down the back of the arm along the body. This portion is is responsible for most of the overall mass of your triceps.

The lateral head of the triceps is found on the outer side of the humerus and is what makes up that “horseshoe” shape of the triceps that all bodybuilders strive for. It is  is smaller than the long head but is the most visible head from the side.

The medial head of the triceps is found in the middle of the back portion of the upper arm is the least visible of the three. However, the medial head still plays an important role in definition and in providing stability and overall strength for the triceps muscle as a whole.

Like most muscle groups, the “simple” basic exercises are the ones that hold most true when it comes to growing your muscles.

When it comes to the triceps, the basics are heavy, compound movements.

That means exercises such as the bench (close-grip bench press, triceps kickbacks—even dips (especially once they’re weighted).

Barbell variations of the two above mentioned exercises have been shown to activate the triceps better when compared to the dumbbell version.

One other tip when doing triceps exercises: Go to full extension!

Yes, yes, I know what the so called “fitness experts” say about this, but read this…

“The triceps are primary elbow extensors, having large elbow extensor moment arms. The moment arm length remains relatively high throughout elbow extension and increases as elbow joint angle decreases (as the arm straightens). This suggests that exercises that challenge the triceps close to full extension (such as bench press lockouts) are likely to be highly beneficial.”

-Chris Beardsley, author for

*Do NOT go beyond full extension*

 If you want to seriously grow your triceps, we recommend training them twice per week, hard and heavy. Make sure to hit all three heads—lateral, medial and long.

Here are a few exercises that will grow your triceps:

Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press

  1. Lie back on a flat bench. Using a close grip (around shoulder width), lift the bar from the rack and hold it straight over you with your arms locked. This will be your starting position.
  2. As you breathe in, come down slowly until you feel the bar on your middle chest. Tip: Make sure that - as opposed to a regular bench press - you keep the elbows close to the torso at all times in order to maximize triceps involvement.
  3. After a second pause, bring the bar back to the starting position as you breathe out and push the bar using your triceps muscles. Lock your arms in the contracted position, hold for a second and then start coming down slowly again. Tip: It should take at least twice as long to go down than to come up.
  4. Repeat the movement for the prescribed amount of repetitions.
  5. When you are done, place the bar back in the rack.

*Caution: If you are new at this exercise, it is advised that you use a spotter. If no spotter is available, then be conservative with the amount of weight used. Also, beware of letting the bar drift too far forward. You want the bar to fall on your middle chest and nowhere else.

*Variations: This exercise can also be performed with an e-z bar using the inner handle as well as dumbbells, in which case the palms of the hands will be facing each other.

    Dumbbell Triceps Kickback

    1. Start with a dumbbell in each hand and your palms facing your torso. Keep your back straight with a slight bend in the knees and bend forward at the waist. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor. Make sure to keep your head up. Your upper arms should be close to your torso and parallel to the floor. Your forearms should be pointed towards the floor as you hold the weights. There should be a 90-degree angle formed between your forearm and upper arm. This is your starting position.
    2. Now, while keeping your upper arms stationary, exhale and use your triceps to lift the weights until the arm is fully extended. Focus on moving the forearm.
    3. After a brief pause at the top contraction, inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
    4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

    Incline Dumbbell Overhead Extensions

    1. Select the desired weight from the rack and position an adjustable bench on a slight incline of 25-35 degrees.
    2. Lay back keeping the weights close to your chest. Once your back is flat against the pad, press the weights to lockout using a neutral grip.
    3. Lower the weights towards your shoulders by unlocking the elbows while maintaining a neutral grip.
    4. Once your forearms reach parallel or just below, drive the dumbbell back to the starting point by extending the elbows and flexing the triceps.
    5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

    Triceps Push-Down

    1. Attach a V-Bar (ropes, straight bar, etc) to a high pulley and grab with an overhand grip (palms facing down) at shoulder width.
    2. Standing upright with the torso straight and a very small inclination forward, bring the upper arms close to your body and perpendicular to the floor. The forearms should be pointing up towards the pulley as they hold the bar. The thumbs should be higher than the small finger. This is your starting position.
    3. Using the triceps, bring the bar down until it touches the front of your thighs and the arms are fully extended perpendicular to the floor. The upper arms should always remain stationary next to your torso and only the forearms should move. Exhale as you perform this movement.
    4. After a second hold at the contracted position, bring the V-Bar slowly up to the starting point. Breathe in as you perform this step.
    5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

    Skull Crushers

    1. Lie on a flat bench with either an e-z bar (my preference) or a straight bar placed on the floor behind your head and your feet on the floor.
    2. Grab the bar behind you, using a medium overhand (pronated) grip, and raise the bar in front of you at arm’s length. Tip: The arms should be perpendicular to the torso and the floor. The elbows should be tucked in. This is the starting position.
    3. As you breathe in, slowly lower the weight until the bar lightly touches your forehead while keeping the upper arms and elbows stationary.
    4. At that point, use the triceps to bring the weight back up to the starting position as you breathe out.
    5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

    Parallel Bar Dips

    1. Stand between a set of parallel bars. Place a hand on each bar, and then take a small jump to help you get into the starting position with your arms locked out.
    2. Begin by flexing the elbow, lowering your body until your arms break 90 degrees. Avoid swinging, and maintain good posture throughout the descent.
    3. Reverse the motion by extending the elbow, pushing yourself back up into the starting position.
    4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

    Optional: More advanced lifters can add weight to the exercise by using a weight belt that allows the addition of weighted plates.

    When it comes down to it, no matter what muscle group you’re training, it is important to focus on mind-muscle connection. Really try to feel each rep and feel the muscle working. If you cannot feel these exercises in your triceps, you’re either doing it wrong or are using a weight that is too heavy, and this are using more than just your triceps muscles.

    In wrapping up, I want to share a good tip that really helps to target the triceps muscles as you train them. It is really simple and just involves your thumb placement. When performing exercises such as skull crushers, overhead extensions, and press downs, if you move your thumb to the same side of the bar that your fingers are, you create what is called a “false grip”. This helps to put the emphasis on your triceps and takes away emphasis on your forearms.

    Give these exercises a “TRI” and let us know how it goes!