Ready to build an exceptional pair of arms? While the biceps usually get all the attention, a bulging set of triceps can take your BB guns to full-blown bazookas. These muscles aren’t just about brute strength; they’re key for that balanced, defined look that complements every flex. So, let’s turn those often underappreciated horseshoes into something that would fit a Clydesdale! We’ve gathered seven of the best triceps exercises recommended by IFBB pros you should be adding to your workouts immediately. In this article we will cover:
- Cable Pushdowns
- Ez-Bar Skull Crushers
- One-Arm Reverse Cable Pushdowns
- One-Arm Overhead Triceps Extensions
- Close Grip Bench Press
- Cross Body Cable Tricep Extensions
1. Cable pushdowns
A favorite of Arnold Schwarzenegger and probably one of the best-known triceps exercises, cable pushdowns are a staple of almost every gym-goer’s arm day. Often done at the start of an arm workout, cable pushdowns are a great way to get the elbows warmed up and ready for some serious work. 6x Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates liked to perform these on the lat cable machine because he liked the motion better. But before you try to emulate Dorian, you’ll need a 45lb plate hung around your waist to keep you grounded.
How to perform Cable Pushdowns
- Setup: Position yourself in front of a cable machine with a high pulley. Attach a straight bar or a rope attachment.
- Grip: Grasp the bar or rope with an overhand grip (some people don’t wrap their thumb, find what’s comfortable for you), hands shoulder-width apart.
- Starting Position: Stand upright with a slight lean forward, feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows close to your body and bent at about a 90-degree angle, with the bar at chest level.
- Stabilize Your Core: Engage your core muscles to stabilize your upper body.
- Push Down: Exhale and extend your arms downwards, pushing the bar or rope towards the floor. Focus on moving only your forearms while keeping your upper arms and elbows stationary by your sides.
- Contract Your Triceps: At the bottom of the movement, when your arms are fully extended, contract your triceps muscles for a moment.
- Return to Start: Inhale and slowly return the bar or rope back to the starting position, maintaining control and keeping the movement smooth. Your elbows should return to the 90-degree angle.
- Repeat: Perform your desired number of repetitions, ensuring you maintain proper form throughout.
Pro Tip: The key to effective triceps cable pushdowns is to keep your upper arms still, focusing the movement solely on your forearms and ensuring a full contraction of the triceps at the end of each extension. Avoid using momentum or swinging; control is crucial for maximizing the benefits of this exercise.
2. EZ-Bar Skull Crushers
EZ-bar skull crushers are a stellar addition to any triceps workout, particularly for those targeting specific muscle development. This exercise hones in on the long head of the triceps, which is crucial for that standout arm definition.
Bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger once emphasized the importance of targeting each muscle from various angles to achieve comprehensive development, a principle that skull crushers embody perfectly. By altering the angle of your arms and the bar path, you can engage different parts of the triceps, ensuring well-rounded growth.
The EZ-bar’s design also allows for a more ergonomic grip, reducing wrist strain and enabling you to focus on isolating the triceps. Incorporating EZ-bar skull crushers in your routine can lead to significant gains in both strength and aesthetics on the back of your arm.
How to Perform EZ-Bar Skull-Crushers
- Select the Right Weight: Start by choosing an appropriate weight for the EZ-bar. It’s important to pick a weight that allows you to maintain good form throughout the exercise.
- Lie Down: Lie on a flat bench, holding the EZ-bar above your chest with your arms extended. Your hands should grip the bar slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart, using the curved sections of the bar for a comfortable grip.
- Position Your Arms: Keep your elbows stationary and close together. Your arms should be perpendicular to your body and the floor.
- Lower the Bar: Inhale and slowly lower the EZ-bar by bending your elbows. The movement should happen only in your forearms. Bring the bar down towards your forehead (hence the name ‘skull crusher’).
- Pause and Contract: Bring the bar down until it’s just above your forehead. Hold for a brief pause, keeping the tension in your triceps.
- Extend Your Arms: Exhale and extend your elbows to return the bar to the starting position. Focus on using your triceps to move the weight.
- Repeat: Perform your desired number of repetitions, ensuring you maintain control and proper form throughout the set.
Pro Tip: The key with skull crushers is control, especially during the lowering phase. It’s not about the weight you lift but how you lift it. Proper form and controlled movements will engage your triceps effectively and help prevent injury.
3. One-Arm Reverse Cable Pushdowns
One-Arm Reverse Cable Pushdowns are a stellar choice for those looking to enhance their triceps workouts, focusing specifically on the lateral and medial heads of the triceps. This exercise provides a unique angle of resistance that traditional pushdowns don’t, leading to more comprehensive muscle development. This exercise allows for focused, controlled movements that effectively stimulate the muscle fibers without excessive strain.
The reverse grip employed in this variant not only intensifies the engagement of the triceps but also recruits the forearms, contributing to overall arm strength and stability. By isolating each arm, you also ensure balanced muscle development, correcting any asymmetries. For those aiming for well-defined, strong triceps, incorporating One-Arm Reverse Cable Pushdowns can be a game-changer in achieving those sculpted arms, as recommended by bodybuilding greats like Lee Haney and Dorian Yates.
How to Perform one-arm reverse cable pushdowns
- Set Up the Cable Machine: Attach a single handle to a high pulley on a cable machine.
- Choose the Weight: Select an appropriate weight on the machine. It’s better to start lighter to focus on form.
- Grip the Handle: Stand facing the cable machine. Grip the handle with one hand using an underhand grip (palm facing up).
- Position Your Body: Stand upright with a slight lean forward. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart for stability. The arm you’re using should be pinned to your body.
- Stabilize Your Upper Arm: Fix your elbow at your side throughout the exercise. This will isolate the triceps.
- Perform the Pushdown: Exhale and push the handle down until your arm is fully extended. Focus on moving only your forearm and keeping your upper arm stationary.
- Pause and Squeeze: At the bottom of the movement, when your arm is fully extended, pause briefly and squeeze your triceps.
- Return to Start: Inhale and slowly return the handle to the starting position with control.
- Repeat: Complete your set number of repetitions and then switch arms.
Pro Tip: Avoid using momentum or swinging the body; let your triceps do the work. This focused approach ensures maximum engagement of the muscle for optimal results.
Check out the video below to see Dorian Yates demonstrate all three of the above exercises during a grueling workout session.
4. One-Arm Overhead Triceps Extension
One-Arm Overhead Triceps Extensions are a vital exercise for anyone aiming to build strong, well-defined triceps. This focused movement primarily targets the long head of the triceps, which is crucial for achieving a full-looking back of the arm. Legendary bodybuilder Jay Cutler once highlighted the importance of isolating muscle groups for maximum growth, a principle perfectly exemplified by this exercise.
By working one arm at a time, you ensure each tricep receives concentrated attention, leading to more balanced muscle development. The overhead nature of the exercise also provides a thorough stretch in the triceps, particularly in the long head, enhancing both strength and aesthetic appeal. This targeted approach not only aids in building muscle size but also improves the overall shape and symmetry of your arms.
How to Perform One-arm overhead triceps extensions
- Choose Your Weight: Start with a dumbbell of suitable weight. It’s better to start light and focus on form before progressing to heavier weights.
- Starting Position: Stand upright or sit on a bench with back support. Hold the dumbbell in one hand and raise it overhead, extending your arm fully. Your palm should face inward.
- Stabilize Your Upper Arm: Keep your upper arm close to your head and stationary throughout the exercise. This is your starting position.
- Lower the Weight: Inhale and slowly bend your elbow to lower the dumbbell behind your head. The movement should happen only in your forearm. Ensure your upper arm and elbow stay fixed in place.
- Extend Your Arm: Exhale and use your triceps to push the dumbbell back to the starting position. Your arm should be fully extended.
- Repeat: Perform the desired number of repetitions for one arm before switching to the other arm.
- Control the Motion: Maintain a controlled movement throughout the exercise. Avoid using momentum to lift the weight.
Pro Tip: The key to effective One-Arm Overhead Triceps Extensions is keeping your shoulders down, which will help you keep your upper arms in one spot. This isolation ensures your triceps are effectively engaged during the exercise.
You can check out Roelly Winklaar doing One-Arm Overhead Triceps extensions in the video below.
5. Dips/Machine Dips/Bench Dips
Dips, Machine Dips, and Bench Dips can be the center point of an effective triceps workout, known for their impact on the whole triceps. Dips are particularly effective at engaging the lateral head, which is key for that pronounced ‘horseshoe’ shape on the back of the arm.
Machine Dips provide a more stable and controlled way to isolate the triceps, making them great for beginners or for those focusing on specific muscle engagement. Bench Dips, a favorite of Roelly Winklaar, who is known for some of the best arms in the history of bodybuilding, are a more accessible variation and can be performed almost anywhere, still effectively targeting the entire tricep area. By incorporating these exercises into your routine, you can expect not just an increase in muscle size, but also a boost in overall arm strength and definition, ensuring a balanced development of all three tricep heads.
How to perform Dips/Bench Dips
- Position Yourself: Stand between the parallel bars of a dip station. Grip the bars firmly and hoist yourself up to a starting position with your arms fully extended.
- Stabilize Your Body: Keep your torso upright and your core engaged. Lean forward slightly to put more emphasis on the triceps.
- Lower Your Body: Slowly lower yourself by bending your elbows until they are at about a 90-degree angle. Ensure your elbows don’t flare out too much; keep them close to your body.
- Push Back Up: Exhale and push through your palms to extend your elbows and return to the starting position.
- Repeat: Perform the desired number of repetitions.
Here’s a video of Jay Cutler preparing for the 2011 Mr. Olympia with some dips.
- Set Up: Sit on the edge of a bench or chair with your hands next to your hips, fingers gripping the edge.
- Extend Your Legs: Extend your legs out in front of you with your heels touching the ground and legs straight, or bend your knees for a less intense variation. (If you want an added challenge, you can have a partner put some weight plates on your lap)
- Lower Your Body: Slide your buttocks off the bench, supporting your weight with your arms. Slowly lower your body by bending your elbows until they are at a 90-degree angle.
- Push Up: Exhale and press down into the bench to straighten your elbows, lifting your body back to the starting position.
- Repeat: Complete the desired number of reps.
Pro Tip: Avoid going too low, as this can strain the shoulders. Control is more important than speed or number of repetitions. These exercises are great for building triceps strength and can be modified to suit different fitness levels.
Check out the video below to see Larry Wheels and Roelly Winklaar push their triceps to the limit with weight bench dips.
6. Close Grip Bench Press
The Close Grip Bench Press is a key exercise for triceps development, highly recommended by top bodybuilders for its effectiveness in enhancing arm strength and mass. This variation shifts the emphasis from the chest to the triceps, intensifying the workout for these muscles. Renowned figures like Ronnie Coleman have highlighted the value of compound movements, and the close grip bench press exemplifies this, effectively targeting the triceps for significant growth. It’s not just about size; this exercise also boosts overall upper body strength, a crucial aspect in bodybuilding. By integrating the close grip bench press into your routine, you can expect notable improvements in both the look and functionality of your arms, echoing the practices of professional bodybuilders.
How to perform close grip bench press
- Set Up the Barbell: Start by loading an appropriate weight on a barbell at a bench press station. Lie on the bench with your eyes under the bar.
- Grip the Bar: Grip the barbell with your hands closer than shoulder-width apart. Your grip should be narrow but comfortable, usually around 6-10 inches apart, depending on your build.
- Unrack the Barbell: Keep your wrists straight, lift the bar off the rack with straight arms, and position it directly above your chest.
- Lower the Barbell: Inhale and slowly lower the barbell towards the lower part of your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body. Avoid flaring your elbows out to maintain focus on the triceps.
- Press Up: Exhale and press the barbell back up to the starting position by extending your arms. Focus on using your triceps to push the weight.
- Repeat: Perform the desired number of repetitions, maintaining a controlled pace throughout the exercise.
Pro Tip: The key to the Close Grip Bench Press is keeping your elbows close to your body to ensure that the triceps are doing most of the work. It’s important to select a weight that allows you to maintain good form and complete your sets without compromising technique.
You can see one of the best bodybuilders in history that never won a Sandow perform Close Grip Bench in the video below.
7. Cross-Body Cable Tricep Extension
The Cross-Body Cable Tricep Extension is an excellent exercise for those looking to carve out strong, defined triceps. This movement is often praised by bodybuilding experts, including the likes of Phil Heath, for its ability to isolate and target the triceps with precision. Unlike many other tricep exercises, the cross-body motion allows for a unique angle of resistance, engaging each part of the triceps muscle, particularly the lateral and medial heads.
This isolation is key to achieving the detailed, cut look that many bodybuilders strive for. By including this exercise in your triceps routine, you’re following in the footsteps of some of the greatest in the sport, working towards not just size, but also the shape and definition that define a champion’s physique.
How to Perform Cross-Body Cable Tricep Extensions
- Set Up the Cable Machine: Attach a single handle to a cable machine at a high setting. Stand beside the machine, not directly in front of it.
- Grip the Handle: With the cable machine to your side, use the hand closest to it to grip the handle. Your palm should be facing down.
- Stabilize Your Stance: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart for balance. You can slightly lean away from the machine for stability.
- Starting Position: Extend your arm across your body so the handle is in line with your opposite shoulder. Keep your elbow fixed and close to your body.
- Perform the Extension: Exhale and extend your arm at the elbow, pushing the handle down and across your body. Your forearm should move, but keep the rest of your arm stationary.
- Contract Your Tricep: At the end of the movement, when your arm is fully extended, squeeze your tricep muscle for a moment.
- Return to Start: Inhale and slowly return to the starting position, maintaining control of the movement.
- Repeat and Switch: Perform the desired number of repetitions, then switch sides and repeat with the other arm.
Pro Tip: Don’t use momentum! The effectiveness of the Cross-Body Cable Tricep Extension lies in the isolation of the triceps and maintaining proper form throughout the exercise. It’s important to control the movement both while extending and returning to ensure maximum engagement of the tricep muscle.
While he may not be an IFBB pro, Sam Sulek has been on a lot of people’s minds in the fitness industry. Here he is working Cross-Body Tricep Extensions into his workout.
There you have it. Seven of the absolute best triceps exercises you should be working into your arm day immediately. If you haven’t tried any of these out before, let us know what you thought of them after doing them in the comments. Feel like we missed something? You can let us know below as well!