When it comes to upper-body training, arm day likely has a place in your workout rotation. but how much of your arm-day routine is biceps focused? From rows and pull-downs to the many variations of curls, it’s likely your workout is mirror-muscle heavy. But when it comes to building a balanced upper body—both in form and function—triceps training is key.
While they’re often overlooked or targeted only during a finishing movement at the end of a workout, triceps comprise about two-thirds of the upper arm. Made up of three heads, (the lateral, medial and long)triceps are utilized in both pushing and pulling movements. Aside from aesthetic appeal, strong triceps help with functional training and play a role in both gross motor skills (like throwing a ball) and fine motor skills (like writing).
Don’t overlook the backs of your arms. Build strength with these triceps-tightening movements.
Close-Grip Bench Press
Target all three heads of the triceps in one movement with the bench press. As opposed to a standard grip, which targets the chest and deltoids, this variation places more stress on your triceps. Just make sure not to go too close, or you’ll put undo strain on your wrists.
1. With your back pressed into a bench and your hands in a close grip at roughly shoulder-width apart, lift the bar off the rack. Your arms should be locked.
2. Breathe in as you lower the bar to your breastplate. Keep your elbows tight to your core.
3. Pause before exhaling and pressing the bar back to the starting position.
Integrate machines into your routine with triceps cable pushdowns. The pulley system allows you to target—and feel the burn—in your upper arm. When it comes to pushdowns, don’t be too stiff. Make sure you’re achieving a full range of motion on this movement by angling your torso slightly forward.
1. Stand facing the cable machine. Fix the rope attachment and place the cable at sternum height.
2. With your elbows close to your body, press the rope down until your arms are fully extended.
3. Slowly return to the start position.
One of the more advanced triceps exercises, dips are an isolation movement that directly targets the muscle. One important thing to keep in mind when performing dips: Lower isn’t always better. Descending too far down (where your elbows form less than a 90-degree angle) can put your shoulder in an unstable position. Lower yourself until your triceps are parallel with the floor before pushing back up.
1. Holding the handles of the dip machine, extend your arms fully as you support your body.
2. Lean forward at a 45-degree angle, hinging at the waist. Make sure not to round your back.
3. Lower your body by bending your elbows. Keep descending until your triceps are parallel to the ground.
4. Keep your elbows tight as you press back up to your starting position.
Standing Overhead Triceps Extensions
Sometimes a little goes a long way. All you need for this isolation exercise is one dumbbell (or barbell or kettlebell). While the triceps are the main muscle targeted, your forearms and lats might feel the burn too.
1. With your core strong and feet about shoulder-width apart, hold a weight in both hands.
2. Lift the weight over your head, wrapping both palms around it. Fully extend your arms.
3. Lower the weight until your forearms touch your biceps with the weight moving behind your head. Keep your elbows close to your head (avoid flaring).
4. Engage your triceps as you press back up to the starting position.
Different angles of movements not only mix up a routine; they can be what spells results. This exercise is the prone version of the overhead extension.
1. Grab an EZ bar with a close grip and angle your elbows in as you hold it overhead.
2. While your upper arms remain still, bring your forearms back as you lower the bar. Pause when it’s right above your forehead.
3. Extend at the elbow to return the bar back to the top of the movement.
This variation of the traditional push-up takes the focus from your chest to your triceps. The close positioning of the hands makes it a more challenging movement, so modify as needed by cutting reps or going to your knees.
1. With your hands close together, get into a plank position. Spread your fingers so your index fingers and thumbs touch and form a diamond shape.
2. Descend downwards, bending your elbows while lowering your chest toward the floor.
3. Extend your arms to press back up.