Ever heard the saying: “Curls for the girls, tris for the guys”? The sentiment behind it is that women will be more impressed with guy’s biceps whereas other men will be more impressed by their triceps. In other words, while “guns” get most of the glory, if you want to sculpt all 360 degrees of your upper arms (or finally nail that chaturanga in your next yoga class), it's time to give your triceps some much-deserved attention — for no one but yourself!
Your triceps, which run along the backs of your upper arms, actually consist of three muscles known as the long head, medial head, and lateral head—hence "tri." Together, these muscles help you extend your elbows and straighten your arms—and assist in chest-dominant exercises, like those infamous yogi pushups.
Since different exercises emphasize different parts of your triceps, it's important to incorporate a variety of triceps exercises into your workout routine in order to build well-rounded strength.
How to Add Definition to Your Triceps
Although shoring up strength and stamina in your arms is more than enough reason to engage in one of the exercises below, if you’re here, there’s a chance you’re looking to sculpt and add definition, too. But for Holly Roser, CPT, seeing actual muscle definition in your arms (or anywhere on the body) for that matter comes down, for the most part, to one overarching thing: your body composition. “The more fat you have on your body, the less muscle will show,” she notes.
Still, it is possible to grow the size of your triceps (which can help make them pop) with regular targeted resistance training, she says. “Focus on full-body strength training and adding these triceps moves into your plan three days per week,” she recommends, adding that three sets of 8 to 15 reps is best. “You know you’re using the correct resistance when the last two reps seem almost impossible to finish.”
Pro Triceps-Sculpting Tips
The key to nailing popular moves, like floor presses, close-grip pushups, and overhead triceps extensions, is to keep your upper arms as stable as possible so that your reps work the right muscles. That means you've gotta keep those elbows in-line with your shoulders so your upper arms are parallel to each other.
Ready to feel the backs of those arms burn? The moves listed here make for a killer triceps workout.
Time: 15 minutes
Equipment: mat, dumbbells, stability ball
Good for: triceps
Instructions: Choose one triceps exercise from each group below:
- A: Dumbbell floor press, single-arm dumbbell floor press, alternating dumbbell floor press
- B: Pushup, close-grip pushup, hand-release pushup, single-arm sphinx press, 1/2 Turkish getup to pushup, dolphin pushup
- C: Lying overhead triceps extension, triceps kickback, triceps dip, alternating triceps kickbacks, overhead triceps extension, kneeling triceps extension, plank triceps kickback
Complete three sets of the indicated number of reps for each move. Once you've completed all sets of one move, continue to the next, in ABC order, resting as needed. Alternatively, incorporate these triceps exercises into an upper-body workout routine.
Why it rocks: Your super stable position in this move allows you to challenge your triceps with heavier weights than in many others.
How to: Start lying on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with elbows out about 45 degrees from sides. Keep lower back pressed into floor, press weights straight up over chest, and extend arms. Pause for a moment, then slowly bend elbows to lower weights back down until backs of upper arms return to floor. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Why it rocks: In addition to isolating each arm at a time (a must for avoiding strength or muscle imbalances!), this single-arm floor press variation also challenges your core to keep you stable.
How to: Start lying on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in left hand with left elbow out about 45 degrees from side. Rest right arm flat on floor. Keep lower back pressed into floor, press weight straight up over chest, and extend left arm. Pause for a moment, then slowly bend elbow to lower weight back down until back of upper left arm returns to floor. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps on your left side, then repeat on your right for a full set.
Why it rocks: Alternating floor presses give your arms a little more rest than pressing both sides together so you can push extra weight. They also hit your core a little harder.
How to: Start lying on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with elbows out about 45 degrees from sides. Keep lower back pressed into floor, press weights straight up over chest, and extend arms. From here, bend left elbow to lower weight down until back of upper left arm returns to floor. Reverse the movement to press left weight back up to meet right. Repeat with right arm. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Why it rocks: The pushup is an all-around power move, working your chest, back, core, glutes, triceps, and biceps at once. Maintain your form and it's a fast-track to stronger tris.
How to: Start in a high plank position with shoulders over wrists. Keep core tight, bend elbows, and lower body toward floor, until arms form 90-degree angles. (Elbows should point 45 degrees away from sides.) Press back to start position. That’s one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Why it rocks: Compared to the standard pushup, the close-grip pushup places greater emphasis on your triceps, hitting all three heads hard.
How to: Start in a high plank position, but with hands directly beneath chest instead of shoulders. Bend elbows straight back towards feet to lower body toward floor, keeping upper arms close to sides. Press back up to start. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Why it rocks: Hand-release pushups work all of your major muscles (triceps included, of course) and can help you boost your pushup range of motion, since they force you to practice powering up off the floor.
How to: Start in a high plank position with shoulders over wrists. Keep core tight, bend elbows, and lower body all the way down on to the floor. (Elbows should point 45 degrees away from sides.) At the bottom, lift hands a few inches into the air. Replace hands, then press back up to start. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Why it rocks: A stability ball throws in a balance challenge for your core for this pushup variation, all while giving your triceps a hard-burning, laser-like focus.
How to: Start in kneeling plank position with right hand and forearm on stability ball and left hand on mat or floor slightly beyond left shoulder. Keeping hips level and ball still, lower down onto left forearm. Push back up to starting position. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Why it rocks: Turkish get ups are some of the best total-body burners around. This variation, which emphasizes a pushup at the end of the movement, targets your triceps even more.
How to: Lie face up with your left leg straight and right knee bent, foot flat. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, with your arm bent. Press the weight into the air at shoulder height. Keeping your eyes on the weight, roll up through your spine until you’re supported on your left forearm. Now, lift your hips off the mat and push down through your right heel to flip your body over, landing in a high plank position. Complete a pushup, then reverse the movement. That’s one rep. Complete 5 on each side.
Why it rocks: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying the muscle-activating power behind pushups. Switch things up with this slightly inverted variation.
How to: Start in an upside down "V" shape, palms pushing into mat and heels high. Bend at elbows and lower forearms down to floor at same time. Reverse motion to return to start. That's one rep. Complete 10 reps.
Why it rocks: Also known as skull crushers, lying extensions target the long head of your triceps and take stress off your back so you can focus on your arms.
How to: Start lying on back with legs bent and feet flat on the floor holding a pair of dumbbells so arms are extended toward ceiling in line with shoulders. Without moving upper arms, slowly bend at elbows to lower weights to frame face. Pause, then slowly press weights back up overhead. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Why it rocks: Bilateral (a.k.a. both-sided) kickbacks are challenging and activate your core while targeting the medial and laterals heads of your triceps.
How to: Start standing with slightly knees bent and body hinged forward at 45 degrees holding and a dumbbell in each hand, elbows bent, narrow, and back behind body. Keep upper arms still, then press dumbbells back to straighten arms, squeezing triceps. Return to start with control. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Why it rocks: All you need is your bodyweight to feel the burn in the lateral and medial heads of your triceps pretty much immediately.
How to: Sit in front of your dumbbells on the floor with legs extended, knees, bent, and feet flexed. Grip one end of either dumbbell with palm, fingers facing forward. Straighten arms to lift butt a few inches into the air. This is your start position. Bend elbows to tap bum on floor, then engage the back of arms to press back to start. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Why it rocks: This kickback variation gives your triceps more rest between reps, making it more beginner-friendly or a good way to work with heavier weight.
How to: Start standing with slightly knees bent and body hinged forward at 45 degrees holding and a dumbbell in each hand, elbows bent, narrow, and back behind body. Keep right arm still, then extend left elbow, pressing weight behind body and squeezing triceps. Return to start with control and repeat on the other side. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Why it rocks: This one hits the long head of your triceps hard and works your core. Just keep that spine straight and ribs from flaring forward.
How to: Start standing with dumbbells in hands, pressed together overhead with straight arms. Keep biceps by ears and weights together, then bend elbows to lower dumbbells slowly behind head. Pause, then press weights back up to straighten arms, returning to start. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Why it rocks: Planks provide a burn for a plethora of muscles, from your abdominals to your shoulders to your (you guessed it), triceps. Throw in a traditional triceps kick back to push that activation to the max.
How to: Get into a high-plank position with your feet slightly wider than shoulders. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, elbow bent until your tricep is in line with your torso. Extend your arm back, until it’s completely straight. Then return to start. That’s one rep. Complete 5 reps on each side.
Why it rocks: The best part about this triceps move? You can make it as easy, or difficult, as you want based on how much pressure you apply to the stability ball.
How to: Start kneeling with seat on heels, stability ball in lap, and arms extended so that elbows and forearms rest on ball. Keeping elbows on ball, bend arms to 90 degrees. This is your start position. Extend arms straight and press forearms into ball, squeezing triceps. Return to start position. That's one rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.