Although the biceps in the front of your upper arm often get quite a lot of training focus because we can easily see the improvements in size and tone when we flex in the mirror, your triceps, which are the muscles on the back of your upper arm, are equally important.
The triceps are a three-headed muscle that helps extend the elbow. This muscle group is also crucial for assisting with exercises such as push-ups, bench press, pull-ups, and overhead presses.
The best tricep workouts incorporate a variety of triceps exercises to build strength, size, and power in your triceps. But, what are the best triceps exercises for mass? What are the best tricep workouts for building triceps strength and size?
In this article, we will discuss how to structure tricep workouts and provide step-by-step instructions to perform the following best tricep exercises for mass and strength in your arms.
- Triceps Pushdowns
- Narrow-Grip Barbell Bench Press
- Parallel Bar Dips
- Overhead Triceps Extensions
- Skull Crushers
- Diamond Push-Ups
- Floor Presses
- JM Presses
- Standing Landmine Presses
Let’s dive in!
How to Structure Tricep Workouts
In terms of how to structure the best triceps workouts for increasing mass and strength, the number of reps and sets you should do per exercise will depend on your fitness level, the number of workouts you are doing per week, and your primary strength training goals.
In general, if you are looking to increase triceps strength, you will want to work up to doing 4 to 6 sets of each exercise, performing 1 to 6 reps per exercise.
The weight that you lift should be quite heavy—a minimum of 85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) is recommended. The fewer reps you perform, the closer to 100% of your 1RM you should strive for.
If your goal is to perform triceps workouts for building mass or increasing size, the recommendations for hypertrophy (muscle growth) are to perform three sets of each exercise, using loads that are 70 to 85% of your 1RM for 8 to 12 reps.
Lastly, if you are trying to do the best triceps workouts for muscular endurance, perform at least three sets of each exercise using weights that are about 65% of your one RM for a minimum of 15 reps or until failure.
The Ultimate Tricep Workout
Here are some of the best tricep exercises for mass, strength, and power in your arms:
#1: Triceps Pushdowns
This is a key exercise in all the best triceps workouts as it is one of the best ways to isolate the triceps.Here is how to perform this exercise for your triceps:
- Face the cable pulley machine or use a resistance band anchored at a high position well above your head.
- Keep your feet together and tuck your elbows in at your sides so that they are hugging your ribs. Your back should be straight, your chest should be up, and you should have a slight forward lean to your torso by hinging at the hips.
- Using the rope attachment or cable handles, pull down on the band or cable to fully extend your elbows, keeping your elbows slightly in front of your shoulders but glued to the sides of your ribs.
- Gently allow the cable or band to lift back up to the starting position as your elbows bend upward towards your face before beginning the next rep.
#2: Narrow-Grip Barbell Bench Press
The triceps are primarily involved in pressing exercises as opposed to pulling exercises, which recruit the biceps.
The barbell bench press with a narrow grip is especially effective at shifting the workload more to your triceps instead of your chest muscles.
Although the load that you will be able to lift for your sets will be lower with a close-grip bench press than with the standard hand placement, if you are looking to maximize your triceps gains, bringing your hands closer together will help isolate your triceps for better mass and strength improvements.
Another benefit of the narrow grip bench press is that it removes some of the strain on your shoulders.
Here is how to do this exercise for stronger triceps:
- Lie back on a flat bench with your hands slightly closer than shoulder-width apart; the closer they are, the more you will isolate your triceps rather than your pecs.
- As you bring the bar down to chest level, pull your elbows inward towards your sides.
- When the bar grazes your chest, press through the heels of your hands, squeezing your triceps to lift the weight back up until your elbows are fully extended.
#3: Parallel Bar Dips
Dips are one of the best exercises for triceps mass and strength. Depending on your strength level, you may not be up to performing parallel bar dips.
However, this body positioning will recruit your triceps more than performing dips on angled bars or rings because your arms are tucked into your sides rather than pressed away from your body.
Like the close-grip bench press, this body positioning is also easier on your shoulders because it keeps them in a neutral position.
Here’s how to do this triceps exercise:
- Suspend your body from the parallel bars with a slight forward lean to your torso, but keep your back straight. Your elbows should be fully extended.
- Keep your chest up and squeeze your shoulder blades together in the back as you bend your elbows to lower your body down.
- Once your elbows are bent 90°, press through the heels of your hand back up until your elbows are fully extended.
#4: Overhead Triceps Extensions
When you perform overhead shoulder presses, one of the limiting factors is often your lockout strength, which is where adding this exercise to your triceps workouts comes into play.
Because this triceps exercise uses a resistance band, the tension actually increases as you get closer to the lockout position, which helps build lockout strength while maximizing your triceps muscle-building gains.
Plus, if you have a set of resistance bands, this is a great exercise for triceps workouts at home.
Here are the steps:
- Step both feet in the middle of a sturdy resistance band.
- Stagger your feet so that one foot is in front of the other, and hold the handles of the band up behind your ears.
- Keep your elbows tucked into your ribs as you extend your elbows until they are fully locked out up above and behind your head.
- Squeeze your triceps in this locked-out position before slowly lowering the handles back down to slightly below ear level.
#5: Skull Crushers
This is a great exercise for triceps workouts, especially if you have access to a spotter.
If you do not have a spotter, you can perform the exercise with dumbbells, a cable pulley, or kettlebells rather than a barbell, which will be safer. However, in all cases with free weight, having a spotter is ideal.
These are the steps for this triceps-strengthening exercise:
- Lie down on a flat bench holding a barbell (or dumbbells) with your arms extended straight up, like the end position of the bench press.
- Point your elbows so that you can lower the barbell backward towards your forehead, only moving your lower arms. Your upper arms should remain completely fixed and perpendicular to the weight bench.
- The barbell should nearly graze your forehead before you contract your triceps to press it back up and forward to the starting position.
#6: Diamond Push-Ups
This is a great exercise for home triceps workouts.
By moving your hands all the way to the center under your chest in this narrow-grip push-up, you’ll increase the workload on your triceps.
Beginners can start on their knees until they are strong enough to do full push-ups from their feet.
Here are the steps:
- Get into the standard push-up position, but instead of placing your hands shoulder-width apart, move them inward, placing your fingertips and thumbs together so that your hands form a diamond under your chest.
- Lower your chest toward the ground by bending your elbows until they are flexed to a 90° angle.
- Press through your palms to engage your triceps and pecs and return to the starting position.
#7: Floor Presses
You can actually perform the same bench press movement from the floor. This may seem counterproductive since it limits the range of motion of your arms as they run into the floor.
However, it is a popular variation in triceps workouts for bodybuilders because the range of motion restriction means that you can actually press more weight, allowing for bigger triceps gains.
Here is how to do this exercise for triceps mass:
- Lie inside a power rack with the barbell set low enough so that when you extend your arms upward towards the finishing position of a bench press you can reach the bar.
- Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, lifting the bar out of the rack before lowering it down to your sternum. Be sure to keep your elbows tucked in at a 45° angle toward your body.
- Press through the palms of your hands by engaging your triceps and pecs to extend your arms back up to the top position.
#8: JM Presses
This is an interesting hybrid exercise that basically combines a narrow grip bench press with a skull crusher.
It is named after the weightlifter JM Blakey who added this lift into his triceps workouts, which ultimately translated to massively impressive bench press performances.
These are the steps for this triceps exercise:
- Use the same setup as for a narrow-grip bench press but bring your arms slightly back towards your face so that the bar is lined up towards your upper chest instead of your nipple line.
- As you lower the barbell, allow the path of motion of the bar to drift back toward your face, bringing your elbows out to a 45° angle. Your forearms should be roughly parallel to the floor at the bottom of the movement, and your elbows should be pointed forwards toward your feet rather than down toward the floor.
- Squeeze your triceps to lift the bar back to the starting position.
#9: Standing Landmine Presses
Some of the best triceps workouts are pretty tough on your elbows and shoulders, but this is a great exercise to isolate your triceps without invoking joint pain.
The landmine exercise increases scapular stability and uses a neutral grip so that there is less stress and torque on your shoulders and elbows.
Here are the steps for this triceps exercise:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, facing the landmine station on a functional trainer, or secure the end of a barbell in a towel on the floor.
- Brace your core and lift the barbell up so that it is standing on its end and positioned just in front of your shoulder.
- Press the barbell up and forward until your elbows are completely locked out.
- Slowly lower the barbell back down towards your body.
To learn how to maximize your muscle gains, check out our muscle-building guide here.