A Tricep Workout to Build Lean, Muscular Arms

Tricep Workouts

An 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 of your upper arm is the tricep.

So…make sure you give your triceps their due props. It’s best that you give equal focus to the triceps and the biceps…50/50 right down the middle. You will see your best results with this approach.

Table of Contents

Muscles Worked

Primary Muscles Worked 💪

  • Triceps – All (3) Heads: Medial, Lateral, and Long Head

Secondary Muscles Worked 💪

  • Chest (Pecs)

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 (jumping jacks, hopping up and down). Paramount to avoiding injury, and it can happen in a blink.
  • Steady and smooth motions – not jerky.

#1  Tricep Pulldown

Tricep Rope Pulldown

The tricep pulldown is a staple for building angular, hard triceps.

  • 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 sets / 6 to 12 reps / 30 seconds rest
    Hardness and Density: 3-4 sets / 4 to 6 reps / 90 seconds rest
  • 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.

V-bar Pushdown

The V-bar Pushdown is a very close variation of the Rope Pulldown, so is also a top tricep exercise:

Tricep V Bar Pushdown

#2  Overhead Tricep Extension

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 a great tricep workout.
  • Sets / Reps / Rest:
    Mass and Size: 4-5 sets / 6 to 12 reps / 30 seconds rest
    Hardness and Density:  3-4 sets / 4 to 6 reps / 90 seconds rest
  • 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)

Tricep 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 a “go-to” tricep exercise. You can see a full range of tricep dips here.

  • 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 sets / 6 to 12 reps / 30 seconds rest
    Hardness and Density:  3-4 sets / 4 to 6 reps / 90 seconds rest
  • 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).

#4  Tricep Extension with Dumbbell

Tricep Dumbbell Extensions
The tricep extension with a dumbbell ads great variation to your routine.

  • 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, 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 sets / 6 to 12 reps / 30 seconds rest
    Hardness and Density:  3-4 sets / 4 to 6 reps / 90 seconds rest

# 5  Tricep Push ups

Tricep Push-upsThe tricep push-up requires a medium to advanced fitness level, and a good deal of practice. It’s also known as a “diamond push-up” because of the diamond shape made by the arms. It’s on the list because it’s a great bodyweight exercise that does not require equipment. 

So this tricep workout can be done anywhere, at any time!

It’s a great challenge, but hard on your elbows. So use sparingly to mix up your tricep workout. 

  • 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: 3-4 sets / 6 to 12 reps / 30 seconds
    Hardness and Density:  3-4 sets / 4 to 6 reps / 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.
  • Click for more on tricep pushups, also known as diamond push ups.
  • Click to learn more on lateral tricep head exercises.

Muscles Worked With Tricep Push ups

Also, tricep push ups work the lateral head (outside head) of the tricep, and is one of the best exercises to work the lateral head. Click to learn more about muscles worked by tricep push ups.

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.

Dumbbell Kickbacks

Tricep Structure and Function

Tricep Stretches
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. (1)

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.

Tricep Structure and Function

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.

Avoiding Tricep Injury

Triceps injuries are very serious business. There are a few steps you can take to avoid injuring or straining your triceps during your tricep workout, and it starts with making 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.

Best Tricep Workout

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!

Click to return to more content on building lean muscle, and see our tricep videos.

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David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. MD, G. S. (2022, February 16). Triceps brachii muscle. Kenhub.

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