The triceps brachii, more commonly known as simply the triceps, has three heads: lateral, medial and long. Because they outnumber the heads of the biceps three to two, focusing your attention on building them up with weights will put you on the fast track to bigger arms. You shouldn’t neglect the biceps of course – you’d look bizarrely imbalanced if you did and presumably carry a huge weakness in arm wrestling competitions – but it’s worth including plenty of these triceps-enhancing lifts in your workouts.
We’ve listed them from heaviest, compound movements that work several muscle groups (they’re natural synergists with pushing movements that work your chest), down to the lighter isolation lifts that you should use for high-volume finishers to blow up your arms at the end of a session. If you target the latter, brace yourself for some serious DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) – the triceps tend to get it more than most muscles. Enjoy.
Triceps Training Tip: Pre-Activate Your Triceps
The triceps, like all other muscles in the body, consist of both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibres. Fast-twitch fibres are far easier to activate and are more commonly stimulated by lifting heavy with low reps. Slow-twitch fibres are more difficult to activate and tend to be stimulated by higher reps. Pre-activating your slow-twitch fibres before your main working sets with a few high-rep sets can spark all kinds of growth.
A tried and tested method to target both sets of fibres in the triceps:
Triceps cable push-down – 2 sets of 20 reps (light)
Narrow-grip bench press – 4 sets of 5-8 reps (heavy)
Use the rope attachment set at the highest point. Grasp the handles so your palms are facing. Pull the handles down to take the weight and tuck your elbows in close to your sides. Keeping your body still, drive your hands down and flare them out either side to target your triceps, then slowly return to the start.
Narrow-grip bench press
Lie on a flat bench holding the bar with an overhand grip, hands about 20cm apart. Drive your feet hard into the floor and press the bar straight up powerfully, then lower it under control until it’s just above your sternum.
RECOMMENDED: How to Master the Bench Press
Grip the bars with your arms extended and a light dumbbell either between your feet or attached to a weight belt around your waist. Stay upright to target your triceps. Keeping your arms locked against your body, bend them and lower until the bottom of your chest is level with your hands, then press back up powerfully.
Feet-elevated bench dip
Sit on the edge of a bench with your feet elevated on another bench. Take your weight in your hands, palms on the edge of the bench and fingers pointing forwards. Lower your body off the bench until your elbows are at right angles, then drive up powerfully.
RECOMMENDED: Triceps Bench Dips
Perform a standard press-up but with your hands less than shoulder-width apart. Lower your chest until it touches your hands, then press back up until your arms are straight. This ensures a full range of motion to work your pecs and triceps.
Lie on a bench with light dumbbells in each hand and arms straight up. Keeping your upper arms still and bending at the elbows, lower the weights either side of your head, then drive back up to the start.
Standing triceps extension
Stand holding dumbbells above your head with your upper arms close to your ears. Keeping your upper arms still, bend at your elbows to lower the weight behind your head, then flex your triceps again to raise the weights straight up.
Cable overhead triceps extension
Use the rope attachment again but turn away from the cable machine. Holding the handles with palms facing, step away from the machine to take the weight. Keeping your arms overhead and your elbows stable, drive your hands forwards – as if you were throwing a football with both hands – until your arms are fully extended, then return to the start.
One-arm resistance band extension
Hold a resistance band in one hand above your head, with the other hand grabbing the bottom of the band and holding it close to your lower back. Keeping the elbow of your top arm still, extend your arm overhead against the resistance.