Much has been said about the importance of having strong, well-defined arms. However, in the sea of readily available information on arm training, there is a heavy abundance of focus on biceps, while triceps remain barely a footnote.
This is of regrettable. Your triceps is a large, potent muscle. In fact, it takes up more than half of the total muscle in your arm (about 55% to two-thirds, to be exact). With almost every pushing motion you make, you employ your triceps. Why it tends to get neglected is an unsolved mystery.
As you’ve likely assumed by now, today we will be going over the most effective ways of training your triceps. Combine it with any sort of bicep training, and you will sport the most perfect pair of arms in any room!
How to Make a Muscle Grow
As we’ve gone over in our article on bicep training, in order for muscle gain to happen, four factors need to be considered. Listed in order of declining importance, these are:
- Time under tension (oftentimes abbreviated as TUT)
- Proper nutrition
- Progressive overload
- Muscle isolation
The more factors you meet, the easier time you will have with any kind of strength training. Now, while the concepts of proper nutrition (establishing a caloric surplus, preferably via protein), progressive overload (moving over to more difficult exercises and workouts as you keep getting stronger), and muscle isolation (a factor more prominent with weight training) are all rather well-known, TUT tends to wind up just as ignored as the triceps.
Too bad, because making TUT work for you is as simple as finding an exercise that is challenging enough to cause tension, while not being too difficult to perform for extended amounts of time. It is in essence a game of balance; of hitting that sweet spot between taxing and sustainable. For reference, always aim for 8 to 12 reps per set.
Having trouble? No problem! If every exercise you can think of (or read about later on) is either too easy or difficult, you can modify it in order to maximize TUT:
- Too easy? Slow it down! Take 3 to 5 seconds to complete a motion. This will help you get a whole lot of mileage out of what seems like a simple move.
- Too difficult? Take longer breaks between sets! If you find that this slows down your progress too much, add in an extra set or two!
The Best and Most Effective Triceps Exercises
Most of these are tried-and-true, but none are to be taken lightly. When modified for maximized TUT as explained above, they will take you a long way! In no particular order, we recommend:
- The Diamond Push-up. This move is a staple of triceps workouts, and for good reason. Proven to be the calisthenics move that hits your triceps the hardest, there’s no reason for anyone not to incorporate it into their arsenal.
- Bar Dips or Bench Dips. Both do the job, but while the parallel bar dips (which we’ve written about here) pack in a bit more chest action, the bench dips are better at directly working your triceps. For a more balanced workout session, go for the former. If your goal is to pump up your triceps quicker though, use the latter.
- Body Up. A solid alternative to the diamond push-ups. Not really a popular exercise (so the actual data on its effectiveness is hard to come by), but the burn will tell you just how hard it hits!
- Body Triceps Press. Now this one is a killer! Be careful, as it can lead to injury if not performed correctly. But when you are ready for it, it will really take you to the next level!
- L-Sit (any variant). Primarily for abs, but is in fact a solid static triceps exercise.
As should be obvious, these will make for a rather specialized training session. Luckily, that means that your other muscles will remain available for anything else you may wish to throw at them. Biceps, abs, legs, HIIT, it all meshes fine with the triceps workout.
As with hitting the TUT sweet spot, finding what exactly works for you will be a long experiment. If you want a decent base from which to start however, keep reading!
Example Triceps Workout Program
We will be splitting this program into three tiers:
- Tier 1: Beginner. Having trouble with diamond pus-ups.
- Tier 2: Intermediate. Can make TUT-optimal use of diamond push-ups.
- Tier 3: Advanced. Can properly perform the body triceps press.
Always warm up beforehand. It’s not difficult, but helps extend your range of motion while preventing injury. For best results, always give yourself a day-long pause between workouts so the muscles can recover and grow. This makes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays our suggested training days, but feel free to space them out as works for you.
Tier 1: Beginner
Push-ups: 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions
Bench Dips: 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Having trouble with dips? Start with a shallower move, then slowly work toward the full, deeper move.
Tier 2: Intermediate
Diamond Push-ups: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Bench Dips/Bar Dips: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
L-Sit: 2 to 4 sets of 30 to 45 second holds
Tier 3: Advanced
Diamond Push-ups/Body Ups: 4 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Bench Dips/Bar Dips: 4 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
L-Sit: L-Sit: 3 to 5 sets of 45 to 60 second holds
Body Triceps Press: 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Keep doing these, and there’s no way you won’t see results!
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.