If you want to be the Mayor of Muscletown, then building mass in every muscle group is essential. In the upper arms, the biceps might be the main show; however, the triceps should not be forgotten. The triceps are a key muscle group that makes up 60% of your upper arm mass. It is responsible for extending and bending your elbow. If you’re working on building mass in your arms, then strengthening this foundation group of muscles is crucial. Below are five of the best triceps workouts for building mass, based on the scientific approach. However, to start here’s a quick biology lesson about the triceps, so you know what you’re working with and how best to dominate your workouts.
Knowing the anatomy of the triceps is valuable to understanding how to maximize your workouts and reach peak beast mode. Triceps have three different heads — lateral, long, and medial. For maximum gains, you need to work all three. While you can’t completely isolate a single head when exercising, you can choose exercises that emphasize one over another. However, the goal is to build all three heads proportionately to achieve the distinctive horseshoe shape of aesthetic triceps.
The long head is the only one that attaches to two joints – the shoulder and the elbow. It sits at the back of your arm and is the largest of the tricep heads. Because it attaches to both the shoulder and elbow joints, working the muscles through their full range of contraction is key to getting the most out of your exercises.
The lateral head sits on the outermost part of your arm. It is also the most visible head in the triceps, and a well-defined lateral head undoubtedly gives you the look of a jacked physique. The best methods for focusing on the lateral head are movements with your arms at your sides, with an overhand grip.
Finally, the medial head also sits at the back of the arm; however, it’s lower down than the long head and closer to the torso. It’s the least visible head; however, it is critical in providing stability.
Best Tricep Workouts
There are many great exercises for building mass in the triceps. The best results come from a combination of moves that will train the entire muscle, not just one specific head. You want to make sure you’re hitting all areas of the triceps from different angles. We’ve chosen the best exercises below based on the recommendations from the ATHLEAN-X Training Program. Jeff Cavaliere created ATHLEAN-X. He is the former Head Physical Therapist and Assistant Strength Coach for the New York Mets. He has a Masters Degree in Physical Training and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. As such, his programs and exercises are back by science, meaning you’ll get the most out of your workout.
1. Close Grip Bench Press
Always begin your workout by warming up, to ensure you don’t injure yourself. However, after you’ve warmed up, and you’re raring to get into it, it’s best to start your triceps workout with heavier, multi-joint exercises. Hitting these hard, when you’re feeling fresh, will allow you to make the most of your beginning-of-workout energy. Close grip bench presses will move the focus of a press from the chest to the triceps. For this workout, you want to be using a power rack so that you can press off the pins. Pressing off the pins ensures the triceps are doing all the work. When you do go lower than the midpoint, the delts tend to take over to push off from that lower level.
- Hold the barbell in an overhand grip, with your hands in line with your shoulders.
- Keep your elbows tight and forward — resist flaring them out.
- Maintain good bench posture — engage your core and glutes, keep your feet flat on the floor, and drive into the bench.
- Lift the bar from the pins to a full extension, with your arms 90 degrees to your body.
- Bring the bar back to the pins, with control.
- You’ll complete three sets of 10, then six, then four reps. Choose a weight that will allow you to reach failure in each set.
- Keep in mind that as you lower the bar, unlike regular bench presses, the bar will be aiming toward your upper ribcage, rather than higher at your sternum.
Reps: 10/6/4 — to failure
2. Tricep Dips
Tricep dips are another heavy-weight, multi-joint exercise to fit into the start of your workout. For this particular exercise, you’ll do a triple set with dropped weights. Start with weighted dips, then use your body weight, and finally assisted dips with bands. Performing the exercise this way will allow you to up your game and take it to the next level, working beyond your failure point.
- Set yourself up at the dip station. You’ll need an appropriate weight to hang around your waist, as well as resistance bands you can use for the assisted dips.
- For the first set, hang the weight around your waist, or hold it between your knees, and dip until you reach failure.
- Once you’ve reached your failure point, remove the weight, and immediately continue to dip with just your body weight. Repeat until failure.
- Finally, for the last drop set, hang the resistance band between the bars, hooking it under your knees to continue, again, until failure.
- Complete three lots of these tri-sets, going to failure on each set.
- In this workout, keep your torso as upright as possible. You’ll also want to focus on pushing down through your palms, even releasing your grip slightly to ensure your forearms aren’t take over.
Reps: to failure on each drop (weighted, bodyweight and assisted)
3. Overhead Cable Extension
Now that you pushed out some killer heavy sets, it’s time for some single-joint exercises. An overhead cable extension is perfect for emphasizing that long head and working it through its full range of motion. Turn this into a superset by combining an overhead pull-down with drag pushdowns. This combination of moves means this workout both fully extends and contracts the long head. For this exercise, you’ll attach the ropes to the high pulley on the cable station.
- Stand with your back to the cable machine and tilt your torso forward slightly, keeping your neck straight. Create a stable standing position by dropping one leg back behind the other.
- Hold the cables in both hands, above and behind your head, with your elbows tucked in next to your ears.
- Pull the cables down to a full extension in front of your head. Keep your elbows in tight.
- Allow the cables to retract with control, pulling your arms back to the side of your head. Let your elbows go as far back as your body will allow, so the long head gets a full extension. Plus, doing this is a phenomenal stretch that feels fantastic.
- Repeat this action 10-12 times to failure.
- Once you’ve maxed your set, immediately turn around to face the cable machine.
- Hold the cables level with your sternum, again, keeping your elbows tucked in. Your legs should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Drag the cables down, keeping your hands as close to your body as you can, and your elbows tucked in. You want to push down until your arms are fully extended. By doing this, you’ll achieve a full contraction in that long head.
- Repeat this action 10-12 times to failure.
Sets: 3 of each exercise, performed back to back as a drop set
Reps: 10-12RM — to failure
4. Cable Rope Triceps Pushdown
Similar to the pushdowns in the superset above, this workout will force that long head into a full contraction. The most significant difference for this workout is the addition of a rocking motion at the bottom of the extension. The science behind this is all about the physics of resistance. When the cable is perpendicular to the moving part of your body, the tension is greatest. Conversely, when the cable is parallel, the resistance is nearly gone — that’s why it feels more effortless when you reach the bottom of a standard pushdown. As such, the goal of this workout is to maintain that perpendicular angle, and therefore the resistance. As above, you’ll attach the ropes to the high pulley on the cable station. To complete this workout:
- Stand facing the cable machine with one foot dropped behind the other. Your weight will be on your front foot, torso leaning forward slightly, and your toes extended on the back foot, but still bearing some weight.
- Hold the cables at head height, keeping your elbows tucked in.
- Drag the cables down, until your arms are fully extended in front of your body, keeping them close to your sides.
- As you approach the bottom of the extension, shift your weight onto your back foot, leaning your torso back slightly. Doing this moves your body away from the machine, keeping that angle between your forearms and the cable closer to 90 degrees.
- Be careful to make sure you’re not using the shift in weight and body position to pull the rope — you want to ensure your arms are doing the work.
- Allow the cables to retract with control, shifting your weight back to the front foot, and your original position.
- Repeat this action 12 times to failure.
Reps: 12RM to failure
5. Lying Triceps Extension
The final workout is lying triceps extensions. This exercise is also known as skullcrushers and is a formidable drill. However, the resistance becomes close to nil as you reach the full extension of the move, with the weight over your body. To counteract this, and up the ante on your workout, add additional resistance by using exercise bands. Like the overhead cable extension, this exercise gets a full contraction and extension of the long head. For this workout, you’ll need exercise bands, free weights, and a bench.
- Safely and securely attach the bands to something exceptionally heavy or attached to the floor. No-one wants to get smacked in the head with exercise bands at full stretch if they accidentally pop off.
- Attach the other end of the bands to your chosen weights, again, making sure they’re secure.
- Lie down on the bench, with good posture — engage your core and glutes and keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Start with the weights held just behind the top of your head, elbows bent and tucked in close to your ears.
- Extend your arms up toward the ceiling, with a full extension achieved when your arms are at a 90-degree angle to your body. At this point, the bands should be pulling on the weights, adding that additional tension. You should feel the burn.
- Lower the weights back to behind your head, allowing the elbow to extend back as far as your body allows. Doing this will allow for that brilliant stretch along the back of your arm.
- Repeat this action 15 times to failure.
Reps: 15RM to failure
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