Looking around in your gym may give you an idea about training your biceps but what about the other half of the arm? We all have seen big posters of bodybuilders flexing their biceps, but seldom with their triceps. Different muscles make up the human arm, and building strong arms require working on all the muscle groups.

Triceps make up almost half of our arms and help in all movements that involve pushing, whether it's the door, furniture, a car that's broken down or even with a barbell in the gym. The primary function of the triceps is to extend the forearm and help move the joints in our hands.

To get stronger, leaner and toned arms you need to train your triceps along with the biceps. It is necessary to first identify the muscle group - straighten out your arm to the point of hyperextending it from the elbow, and you will feel a muscle bulge at the back of the upper arm. That is your triceps. 

The word triceps comes from Latin, which means three-headed muscle that includes:

  • Long head: The largest part of the tricep that runs along the back of the upper arm.
  • Lateral head: The smallest of the three muscles that is located on the outside of the arm.
  • Medial head: Located right around the middle of the upper arm.

There are dozens of exercises such as dips, kickbacks, bench press and triceps extensions to train these muscles. However, very few movements train the entire triceps structure at the same time.

  1. Benefits of triceps workout
  2. Diamond push-up
  3. Standing triceps extension
  4. Lying triceps extension (skull crushers)
  5. Kickbacks
  6. Rope push down/bar push down
  7. Precautions

You can't think of achieving a proportionate pair of arms by just training your biceps. The back of the arms end up storing much of the arm fat, which can be addressed by exercising the back of the arms. Triceps not only make up half the arms but training it adds to the overall strength. A triceps workout is one of the best to strengthen or beef up your upper body, and its benefits include:

  • Increase in overall arm strength, power and endurance.
  • Allows you to lift heavier during other lifts like bench presses and shoulder presses.
  • Improves stability of the shoulders and elbow joints.
  • Great workout for tennis, golf, basketball or cricket players - a movement that needs the full motion of the arm muscles.

Triceps are hard to train and need even harder exercises to target them. The diamond push-up is one of the simpler yet difficult exercise for the triceps. In order to gain the upper body strength for an exercise like this, you first need to master the basic push-up and then move on to this variation.

Muscles targeted

  • Triceps and chest

Equipment required

  • None

Intensity

  • Moderate to high (trainee-professional)

Sets & reps

  • 3 sets of 15 reps each

How to do it

  • Get down on all fours and plant your hands directly under your chest, making a diamond shape by joining your index fingers and thumbs.
  • Slowly go down by bending the elbows until your chest touches the hands, like how you would during a basic push-up.
  • Pause for a second or two and then come back up again by extending the arms all the way. This is one rep.

Tip: Keep your body aligned and parallel to the floor. Do not lift your hips or waist.

The triceps extension exercise has many varieties and can be done during a full workout for triceps muscles. You can perform this with a dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, EZ bar, or even with a cable machine available at gyms.

Muscle targeted

  • Triceps

Equipment required

  • A Dumbbell/barbell/kettlebell/cable machine

Intensity

  • Low to high (beginner-professional)

Sets & reps

  • 3 sets of 10-15 reps each

How to do it

  • Hold a dumbbell in both your hands with palms facing each other.
  • Lift the dumbbell over your head with arms touching the side of your face.
  • Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbell behind your head.
  • Pause for a second or two at the lowest you can go, before bringing it back up by straightening the elbows. This is one rep.
  • Once you master the movement you can try these alternatives as well:
    • Single-arm dumbbell overhead extension.
    • Overhead kettlebell extension.
    • Overhead barbell extension.

Tip: If starting out, it is advisable to lift an empty barbell or an extremely light weighted dumbbell to get the lifting technique in order before proceeding to lift heavier weights. 

Standing gives more strength and stability to lift heavier but lying down on a platform allows you to engage the core muscles simultaneously. Lying triceps extensions are also known as skull crushers that can be more effective than the standing variations if done correctly.

Muscle targeted

  • Triceps, core, and forearms

Equipment required

  • An EZ barbell/dumbbell/barbell/kettlebell/cable machine

Intensity

  • Moderate to high (trainee-professional)

Sets & reps

  • 3 sets of 10-15 reps each

How to do it

  • As a beginner, you may need someone to hand you the barbell at the right position.
  • Lie down on a flat bench on your back and anchor your feet on the floor.
  • Bend your elbows and grab an EZ bar with an overhand grip over your forehead.
  • Stretch your arms out and pause for a second or two.
  • Slowly bring the barbell back down over your forehead. This is one rep.
  • Once you master the movement you can try these alternatives as well:
    • Lying one arm dumbbell extension.
    • Lying one arm kettlebell extension.
    • Lying barbell extension.
    • Lying cable machine extension.

Tip: Keep your arms stable and elbows locked making an arch.

One of the better exercises to target all the three triceps muscles, kickbacks work against gravity and put the tension directly on the long head.

Muscle targeted

  • Triceps and forearms

Equipment required

  • A dumbbell

Intensity

  • Moderate to high (trainee-professional)

Sets & reps

  • 3 sets of 10-15 reps each

How to do it

  • Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Hold a dumbbell in one arm and bend your back to a 60-70 degree angle.
  • Raise your hand parallel to your torso. Your elbow should stay at the same position throughout the movement.
  • Push the weight behind you, flexing the triceps.
  • Hold for a few seconds and bring the dumbbell back to a 90-degree angle. 
  • This is one rep. Complete one set and then move to the other hand. This will be one set.

Tip: Watch online tutorials and videos or take help from a professional and better understand the position of the elbows. Lifting too heavy can put pressure on the shoulder.

You may have seen fellow gym members pulling down weights on a cable operated machine. The rope or cable push down exercise can inject massive gains and beef up the triceps brachii muscle.

Muscle targeted

  • Triceps and forearms

Equipment required

  • A cable machine with a rope or a bar

Intensity

  • Moderate to high (trainee-professional)

Sets & reps

  • 3 sets of 10-15 reps each

How to do it

  • To perform this exercise set the cable bar at the top level and attach a rope or a bar.
  • Hold the knotted ends of the rope with palms facing each other, or the bar with palms pointing down.
  • Pull the weight down, keep the elbows still and bring the rope up to 90 degrees at the elbow, and hold for a second or two.
  • Push the rope back down by extending the arms. This is one rep.

Tip - To perform the bar pushdown; attach a bar instead of a rope and hold it with both hands at shoulder-width apart, and follow the same steps.

Do not forget to warm-up with mobility exercises such as high knees, jumping jacks, stretching your arms and a short run on the treadmill. Start with a multi-joint or low intensity workout as lifting heavy on cold muscles can cause workout injuries.

Chest workouts are often clubbed with triceps as both involve pushing movements. Never opt for a triceps workout after a heavyweight chest day. Chest workouts strain the triceps, so you need to give an adequate amount of rest to recover from fatigue. Take a break of one or two days between both the workouts if you're doing them on different days.

Wear braces on your elbow joints as extensions or pushdown movements can cause muscle strain. Most gym-goers bend their elbows too far making it more stressful to straighten back again, which can result in joint pain. To perform heavy reps take the help of a professional or a spotter.

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References

  1. Akagi R et al. Muscle hardness of the triceps brachii before and after a resistance exercise session: a shear wave ultrasound elastography study. Acta Radiologica. 2015 Dec;56(12):1487-93. PMID: 25422513.
  2. Farias DA et al. Maximal Strength Performance and Muscle Activation for the Bench Press and Triceps Extension Exercises Adopting Dumbbell, Barbell, and Machine Modalities Over Multiple Sets. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2016 Sep; 31(7):1879-1887.
  3. Bagchi A. A Comparative Electromyographical Investigation Of Triceps Brachii And Pectoralis Major During Four Different Freehand Exercises. Journal of Physical Education Research. 2015 Jun; 2(II): 20-27.
  4. [email protected]: University of Wisconsin [Internet]; Electromyographic analysis of the triceps brachii muscle during a variety of triceps exercises
  5. Derman PB et al. 24-Hour Fitness: the Orthopedic Resident On-Call Workout. HSS Journal. 2015 Jun; 11:294-298.
  6. Miranda U et al. Effect of Rest Interval Length on the Volume Completed During Upper Body Resistance Exercise. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2009 Sep; 8(3): 388–392. PMID: 24150002.
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