The Best Triceps Workouts that Train all Three Tricep Heads

Handsome man with big muscles, posing at the camera in the gym

Did you know that your triceps muscle makes up 75% of the mass of your arm? If you’ve been curling like a madman in order to get bigger arms, you’re focusing on the wrong side.

Something else you may not know about the triceps muscle is that most people train them incorrectly. By only focusing on one or two standard tricep exercises, most people miss the bigger picture (pun intended). Your tricep muscles need the right amount of resistance coming from three different angles.

If your goal is to get bigger or more defined triceps, keep reading; we’re going to talk about how the muscle works, how to target all three tricep heads, and tricep workouts to help you achieve your goal.

Triceps Muscle 101

Exercise for triceps

The triceps brachii, or triceps muscle for short, is found on the back of your upper arm. While you may think of the triceps as one muscle group, it’s actually made up of three different and intersecting heads:

Long Head: Beginning at the scapula, the long head of the triceps inserts into the elbow. It is the largest of the three and the most popular triceps exercises tend to target this section.

Lateral Head: The second largest head of the triceps muscle is the lateral head. It begins at the humeral shaft and inserts into the elbow.

Medial Head: The smallest of the three, the medial head of the triceps muscle begins at the back of the humerus and inserts into the elbow. It’s often the most neglected part of the triceps muscles, but it’s essential to target if you want that well-rounded and developed look.

Since the tricep muscles are considered secondary when compared to primary movers or those larger muscle groups such as your quadriceps and back, they are targeted primarily through isolation movements. While compound movements or exercises that utilize several muscle groups at once are important, strengthening your secondary muscle groups can have a positive two-fold effect:

First, by strengthening your triceps muscles, you’ll improve your performance in other exercises, especially those that focus on pressing such as the bench press and overhead press. Studies show that as a secondary muscle group, the triceps are responsible for supporting and stabilizing larger muscle groups during resistance training. By increasing their workload capacity, you also improve your overall primary mover ability.

Second, if your primary goal is to have bigger muscles or more defined arms, focusing on exercising your triceps is the way to go. It’s not enough to rely on compound movements such as the bench press to build your triceps. Sure, they’ll get activated, but not enough for you to have noticeable gains in size or definition.

Triceps Training Fundamentals

couple doing triceps dip on bench

The basic tips for triceps training depend on your goals. As mentioned above, most people will either want to get bigger triceps or they’ll want more definition. Let’s break down the training fundamentals for both goals:

Mass

The biggest difference between training for size compared to training for definition is the amount of weight you use and the tempo of the exercise.

Weight Used: The best tricep exercises for mass will allow you to use heavier weights in a safe and effective way. You’ll want to strive to use no less than 65% of your one-repetition maximum or the greatest amount of weight you can use to perform an exercise with perfect form. Some tricep exercises will allow you to use up to 85%, but an appropriate middle ground would be 75% of your 1RM.

Tempo: Since you’re using more weight, you’ll be performing fewer repetitions; however, one thing to focus on is tempo or the speed at which you move the weight. We recommend a 2 / 0 / 2 lifting speed, which is the number of seconds you move the weight from the lifting to pausing to lowering portions of the exercise, respectively.

Compound to Isolation: Another trick to ensuring maximum muscle hypertrophy is to begin your tricep workouts with a compound or multi-joint exercises such as the close-grip bench press or triceps dip. This will help to properly warm up the triceps while allowing you to use more weight than an isolation exercise. After several compound sets, switch to isolation movements, selecting one exercise for each of the three heads (more on that below).

Definition

Most people who want slimmer or more toned triceps say that definition-focused workouts burn much more, and there’s something to this because of the way the best tricep workouts are structured.

Weight Used: Unlike a mass-centered triceps workout, a definition-focused workout will use less weight, but with more repetitions. Unless you’re performing pyramid sets or failure sets, you’ll want to use no less than 50% of your one-repetition maximum. The most you’ll want to use is 65% of your 1RM. In general, you should be able to complete between 12 to 20 repetitions with the last few being tough to push through.

Tempo: When you’re warming up your tricep muscles, you’ll want to take a similar approach to that of a mass workout: use compound movements for a few sets at a 2 / 0 / 2 lifting speed to get the blood pumping and muscles primed. Once you’re warmed up, the workout will take a different turn and speed things up. The tempo of the lifting or concentric portion of the exercise should be as quickly as possible, but the lowering or eccentric portion should be slow. In this way, you’re activating fast-twitch fibers on the way up and then slow-twitch fibers on the way down.

Feel the Burn: Definition-focused tricep workouts will often take advantage of lifting methodology that pairs two exercises together or forces you to keep pushing. For example, we recommend using supersets, which is when you complete one triceps exercise then immediately move on to another before taking a break. You can also use failure sets, which is when you perform as many repetitions as possible with one weight, then lower the weight by five pounds and perform as many repetitions as you can.

8 Triceps Exercises to do at the Gym

Muscular bodybuilder working out in gym doing triceps exercises on parallel bars

The best place to build bigger or leaner triceps is your local gym, here are tricep exercises that can help you get big or shredded arms:

Close-Grip Bench Press: Use a narrow grip to focus the contraction in the triceps, not the chest muscles.

Rope Triceps Pushdown: The closer you hold the handles, the easier the movement.

Seated Dip Machine: Go slow with this one and be sure to fully extend to activate the triceps.

Triceps Dumbbell Kickbacks: Keep your upper body straight throughout the movement. Focus the activation in your triceps only.

Overhead Triceps Extension: You can use the single or double dumbbell method so long as you keep your elbows toward the ceiling.

Skullcrushers (Lying Triceps Extensions): Keep your elbows skyward and lower the bar slowly to protect yourself.

Straight Bar Triceps Pushdown (Underhand Grip): Fully lock out the arms to target the medial head of the triceps. Be sure to maintain a tight core throughout.

Underhand-Grip Bench Press: Use a lighter weight that allows you to have a narrower grip.

5 Triceps Exercises to do at Home

Young woman doing triceps exercise

Here are five exercises that you can incorporate into your tricep workouts at home. No fancy equipment needed, but a dumbbell will be helpful if you have one.

Push-Up: A classic chest exercise that will help you warm up and activate the triceps.

Diamond Push-Up: More difficult than a push, a diamond push-up focuses on your triceps and core.

Bench Dip: The lower you dip, the more difficult the movement.

Dumbbell Floor Press: If you don’t have a dumbbell, you can also use a kettlebell, resistance band, water bottle, soup can, or another household item that has weight to it.

One Arm Kettlebell Floor Press: If you don’t have a kettlebell, you can also use a dumbbell, resistance band, water bottle, soup can, or another household item that has weight to it.

Training Plan to Train All Three Triceps Heads

Muscular young man training triceps in the gym

Studies show that each head of the tricep muscle plays a unique role in how your arm moves and how your muscles perform. Here are tricep workouts with dumbbells and other equipment, including bodyweight, that you can use to ensure you target all three heads of the muscle.

Lateral Head Training

Push-Ups:
Mass: 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
Definition: 3 sets of 12 to 20 repetitions

Close-Grip Bench Press:
Mass: 3 x 8 – 12
Definition: 2 x 12 – 20

Rope Triceps Pushdown:
Mass: 3 x 8 – 12
Definition: 2 x 12 – 20

Seated Dip Machine:
Mass: 3 x 8 – 12
Definition: 2 x 12 – 20

Diamond Pushups:
Mass: 1 x failure (do as many as you can)
Definition: 1 x failure (do as many as you can)

Long Head Training

Bench Dip:
Mass: 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
Definition: 3 sets of 12 to 20 repetitions

Dumbbell Floor Press:
Mass: 3 x 8 – 12
Definition: 2 x 12 – 20

Skull Crusher:
Mass: 3 x 8 – 12
Definition: 2 x 12 – 20

Triceps Dumbbell Kickbacks:
Mass: 3 x 8 – 12
Definition: 2 x 12 – 20

Overhead Triceps Extension:
Mass: 1 x failure (do as many as you can)
Definition: 1 x failure (do as many as you can)

Medial Head Training

Underhand Grip Bench Press:
Mass: 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
Definition: 3 sets of 12 to 20 repetitions

Straight Bar Triceps Pushdown (Underhand Grip):
Mass: 3 x 8 – 12
Definition: 2 x 12 – 20

One Arm Kettlebell Floor Press:
Mass: 3 x 8 – 12
Definition: 2 x 12 – 20

Tips for Triceps Training for Women

fit woman exercise

Tricep workouts for women aren’t that much different from the guidelines listed above; however, if you’re a woman who wants to focus on total body toning and fat loss, we highly recommend pairing the tricep exercises above with a high-intensity interval training workout for two days per week.

A HIIT workout will focus on compound movements while triggering a higher level of fat burning. This will support your goal of getting toned arms while minimizing fat in other areas simultaneously.

Tricep Workouts: Your Key to Impressive Arms

Young female with sport body doing workout at the gym.

Considered one of the glamour muscles of the body, a well-built set of arms is going to draw plenty of attention your way even with your shirt on.

What you may not realize is that the tricep muscles make up two-thirds of the size of your arm, so it goes without saying this is where your focus should be. Use the tricep workouts listed above to achieve your goal and let us know the progress you’re making in a few weeks.

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