It’s always impressive to see a well-developed set of triceps.
Similar to the hamstrings, it’s a group of muscles that aren’t always focused on when training the extremities.
For some reason, ill-informed or egocentric men love to target the biceps first; likely partially because it’s what they see when they look at themselves in the mirror.
The truth is, arm size completely relies on the triceps being developed.
Guys with bulging biceps and nonexistent triceps end up looking very strange as far as physique goes.
But appearance aside, having strong, useful triceps helps plenty when it comes to doing things in life and in sport that requires pressing strength or stability.
Here are 4 exercises that will get you started on the right path for development.
Exercise 1: Parallel Bar Dips
Many times, the chest and triceps are trained as synergistic muscle groups only by way of the bench press movement and its variations. Hitting this combination a different way via dips is a great way to trigger new development, and increase your general pushing strength in the process.
I choose parallel bar dips over bench dips for a very specific reason: the positioning of the humeral head while bearing load. Simply put, with your hands stuck behind your body in an internally rotated arm position (the way a bench dip asks), it leaves the shoulder joint in a fairly vulnerable position – especially if you’ve been susceptible to shoulder issues in the past.
Being able to make the half-rotation to a neutral hand position the way parallel bar dips allow can be a game-changer to the shoulder capsule and promote a much healthier joint. As a bonus, the pec and abdominal muscles get to become more involved making the exercise doubly effective.
If you don’t have a dip station at your gym, or you can’t seem to find a width that fits for your body type or preference, then feel free to makeshift some dips in your squat cage. Set up a couple of barbells in the cage on the pins at waist level, and choose the angle you want.
Make sure the bars don’t slide around (I like to use flimsy rubber yoga mats draped over the pins if need be), and have at it. Just make sure you’re not killing someone else’s squat time when you do them!
Exercise 2: Floor Press/Pin Press
Referring to the mechanics of a bench press, the most common place for lifters to run out of gas during heavy efforts is in the lockout phase. Simply taking the bench press movement and compartmentalizing things into segments can be the simple solve you need to address this weak link.
In the case of floor presses, these are often performed with dumbbells for reps. Since the floor blocks your elbows from travelling below the level of your body, the floor press isolates the lateral head of the triceps well.
Taking advantage of the fact that you can manipulate your elbow angle and wrist positioning makes this a comfortable and useful move to do. Here’s my friend Ben Bruno crushing a burnout set for reps.
For the heavy stuff, it makes sense to use the Pin Press by setting a barbell bench press station in your squat cage. Set the safety pins high enough so the bar rests 4-6 inches off of the chest. As you continue to get used to this movement, you can set the pins higher or lower depending on how much of the bench press movement you intend to replicate.
Since you’re setting up in a typical bench press format here, you’re going to be capable of moving much more weight, and you also can focus on just the concentric portion of the lift.
Allow the bar to settle on the pins before pushing every rep. This gives you a chance to reset your hands and back before giving your next effort. Sets of 3-6 reps are usually a good direction to follow.
Exercise 3: Skull Crusher “Plus”
We start getting into the fun stuff when we think about just how the triceps are built. They’re a group of three muscles, and the truth is, most guys only end up hitting two of them at most on any given workout.
The often neglected piece is known as the long head and attaches up high on the shoulder blade. As a rule of thumb, remember that the further away you bring your arm from your torso, the higher the potential you have to hit the long head of the triceps.
Movements where the arm stays close to the trunk (think close grip bench press, dips, or press downs) will zero in on the lateral and medial heads of the triceps, but neglect the long head. It’s time to get your hands overhead to slap some muscle on the tris. And the exercise I call the Skull Crusher Plus can do just the trick.
A lot of this movement comes down to rhythm and timing. Assume a starting position similar to a regular skull crusher, and slowly lower the weight using only the elbow joint as your fulcrum. Once the bar reaches forehead level, begin flexing at the shoulder joint so that the weight hangs down below bench level and toward the floor.
Really look for a stretch in the triceps when performing this, but remember to stay tight. In one motion, return to the top position, replicating a soccer throw-in with your arms. Don’t let the elbows travel too far forward, and gauge this by aiming for a vertical upper arm position that is perpendicular to the floor.
Personally, I don’t believe it takes much weight to get a hard hit for the triceps here, as long as you’re focused. It’s best to chase reps in this movement. For a visual, check the video below.
Exercise 4: Modified Pressdown
Speaking of press downs, we’re all familiar with the classic rope press down that hits the lateral head of the triceps. I’ve found that the development and “pump” these can provide can be short lived, and adding another dimension to the lift can be crucial for gains.
As I explain in the video below, encouraging the long head to become involved in this movement can do well for fully exhausting the triceps, especially as a finisher for a nasty pump. Some movements need to be respected as not primary strength or size tools, and when the right tactics are implemented they can be the real icing on the cake to a great workout session.
To hit any muscle, you first need to know how it works, and what it does.
Doing what’s popular will get you some results, but not all of them. Take the time to invest in yourself and learn about your body.
You’ll be in a much better place to train it at the end of the day, and the gains you receive will speak for themselves.