A Tricep Workout to Build Lean, Muscular Arms

Tricep WorkoutAn effective tricep workout is crucial to building lean, muscular arms.

Now, we all know that the bicep gets all the glory when you consider the size of someone’s arm, but is this really fair?  Or is the bicep just a selfish loudmouth starving for attention?

Well, it’s probably a little of both.  The bicep is obviously a huge part of upper arm development, but remember that the triceps make up 2/3 of the upper arm.  Yes, that’s right, 2/3 of the total size.

So…make sure you give the triceps its due props.  I would recommend that you give equal focus to the triceps and the biceps…50/50 right down the middle.  I think you will see your best results with this approach.

The Top 5 Triceps Exercises are listed below, but first, let’s review the triceps basics.

Tricep AnatomyTriceps Structure and Function

The triceps brachii muscle is the muscle on the posterior (back) of the upper arm.  It is a 3-headed muscle, hence the “tri” in triceps.

It connects from the shoulder blade down the back of the upper arm to the elbow.  It has 3 separate points of origin at the shoulder blade.  The 3 separate heads then converge to a single tendon, connecting to the elbow on a bone called the ulna.


The primary function of the tricep is to extend the elbow joint and thus straighten the arm, and a great tricep workout is the best way to improve this function.

Top 5 Exercises for Your Tricep Workout

First, remember these basics for tricep workout routines:

  • Perform a full range of motion with each tricep extension.
  • Do not cheat on the exercise by using your body as leverage.  If you are having to use your body to perform a rep, drop weight.  You do want the motion to be forceful to fatigue the muscle, but also under control.
  • Do proper warm-up — dynamic stretching and light cardio.  Paramount to avoiding injury, and it can happen in a blink.
  • Steady and smooth motions – not jerky.
Tricep Workout
Tricep Pulldown

#1  Tricep Pulldown

  • Start Position:  Grip the rope (attached to a cable), chest high, with feet shoulder width apart.
  • Technique:  Using the triceps rope, extend the cable straight down until the arms are fully extended.  Keep the elbows very still, so they feel like they are on a fixed hinge.  Return to the start position.
  • Sets / Reps / Rest:
    Mass and Size: 4-5 / 6 to 12 / 30 seconds
    Hardness and Density:  3-4 / 4 to 6 / 90 seconds
  • Variations:  Instead of using a rope, use a straight bar with palms down.  Instead of pulldowns, they will be pushdowns.  This will work the outside muscle of the triceps and is another great tricep workout.
  • Caution:  Make sure your wrists are very warm and loose when performing a tricep workout, as they will be strained.  See wrist stretches here.  I have suffered several wrist strains as a result of improper warm-up with my wrists.  It’s a mistake you only make once, as it can be a lingering, nagging injury.

# 2  Overhead Tricep Extension

  • Start Position:  Grab the rope (which is attached to the cable) above your head, and secure your left foot at the base of the machine (dig it in…this will be your base).  Step out with your right foot facing away from the machine, and lean your body out at a 45 deg angle.
  • Technique:  Keeping nearly all of your weight on your front foot, extend your arms to a straight position, then return the rope to the start position.  Very important to feel like your elbows are on a fixed hinge, keeping them very still and locked in.
    This is my favorite tricep workout.  I get the most gains in size, hardness, and strength when this exercise is part of my routine.
  • Sets / Reps / Rest:
    Mass and Size: 4-5 / 6 to 12 / 30 seconds
    Hardness and Density:  3-4 / 4 to 6 / 90 seconds
  • Variations:  N/A
  • Caution:  Make sure wrists are fully warmed up, as this exercise will exert force on your wrists. A good warm-up will make sure you don’t strain your wrists.

# 3 Tricep Dips (Bench Dips)

This is a great exercise to do as part of a bi-set, where you would do rope extensions and then immediately after each set, do bench dips.  This bi-set is my “go-to” tricep exercise.

  • Start Position:  Grip a bench behind your back with your body facing up, and your feet resting on a parallel bench 3 to 5 feet away (depending on your height).
  • Technique:  Slowly bend your elbows so your body dips down.  Continue the down movement until your upper arms are horizontal to the ground (elbows 90 deg), and then push your body back up to the start position.
  • Sets / Reps / Rest:
    Mass and Size: 4-5 / 6 to 12 / 30 seconds
    Hardness and Density:  3-4 / 4 to 6 / 90 seconds
  • Variations:  Instead of your feet being on another bench, put feet on the ground 3 to 5 feet from the bench (works great if you’re smoked and have nothing left in the tank).  On the other hand, if you need to increase the load, you can add weight to your body if you need more resistance to step up your tricep workout.
  • Caution:  Make sure your down movement is very controlled and deliberate, as you will feel strain on your wrists and arms that you won’t feel on other exercises (new muscles worked).

Tricep Bench Dips

# 4  Tricep Extension with Dumbbell

  • Start Position:  Standing tall with good posture and feet shoulder width, lift your dumbbell over your head and lower to the rear of your head.  This is the start position.
  • Technique:  Extend the dumbbell upward until your arms are nearly fully extended, and then return the dumbbell to the start position.  Be careful on the down motion not to hit your head with the dumbbell.  It can happen – I’ve done it – and it usually happens when you get tired and sloppy…and when everyone in the gym happens to be looking your way 🙂
  • Sets / Reps / Rest:
    Mass and Size: 4-5 / 6 to 12 / 30 seconds
    Hardness and Density:  3-4 / 4 to 6 / 90 seconds
  • Variations:  N/A

# 5  Tricep Push upTricep Pushups

  • Start Position:  Assume a modified push-up position, with your palms on the ground with your index fingers and thumbs touching (forming a diamond), your arms extended, and your body straight and aligned.
  • Technique:  Lower your body by bending your arms until your chest is a few inches from the ground.  Return to the start position.
  • Sets / Reps / Rest:
    Mass and Size: 4-5 / 6 to 12 / 30 seconds
    Hardness and Density:  3-4 / 4 to 6 / 90 seconds
  • Variations:  If you are spent, or if you are still building your strength and need a little help with this exercise, then slightly widen your hand position to lighten the load.  A great tricep workout for home as you don’t need equipment.

A Few Close Seconds

Actually, these are not “seconds”…they are fully deserving of the list above:

  • Close Grip Bench Press – Keep the hands about a foot apart, and do normal bench press (with a lot less weight).
  • Dumbbell Kickbacks – With one hand and one knee on a bench as shown below and your elbow bent at a 90 deg angle, extend the dumbbell back until your arm is straight.

Tricep Dumbbell Kickback

Avoiding Tricep Injury

Triceps injuries are very serious business.  Please do not think that it cannot happen to you – it is better to err on the side of caution so you don’t have to deal with an injury.

I have never had a tricep strain, but I have had so many other injuries (wrist, elbow, lower back, biceps, heel) that I am a believer in how quickly and unexpected they can happen.

There are a few steps you can take to avoid injuring or straining your triceps during your tricep workout:

  • Make sure you are doing proper warm-up:
  • Light cardio for 2 to 3 minutes to warm the muscles
  • Dynamic stretching to loosen the muscles
  • Always maintain control over your lift, and make sure your weights are not too heavy.  You do want heavy enough for significant force, just not out of control
  • Never use jerky motions – always smooth and controlled.

If you do feel a slight strain or muscle pain, take a few weeks off to let things heal.  Working through pain is never a good solution, but it is such an easy trap to fall into because you just never want to lose your gains – we all know that feeling.  But patience always wins the day.

And if it is painful enough, seek treatment from a doctor.

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