AndOn Arms Day, once you’ve burned out your biceps and shoulders, tricep exercises tend to be tossed around as an afterthought. But even though the backs of our arms may not get top billing, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve their fair share of attention.
Although they can be easy to overlook, your triceps are an important component in helping your entire upper body function properly. Fun fact: these muscles actually make up two-thirds of your arm. “The tricep muscles extend the shoulder and elbow joints, and building tricep strength, stability and control can improve posture as well as improve flexibility,” says Joey Cifelli, former master trainer at Crunch Gym in New York City.
From a functional movement standpoint, these muscles are integral to all the pushing movements we do throughout the day, whether that means squatting down for 20 push-ups or pushing a grocery cart. “You need to strengthen your triceps to master these pushing movements and be truly effective,” says Dave Schenck, co-owner and co-CEO of LIFT Society.
The best way to work your triceps
1. Mix things with weight
“Both weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing exercises have their place in any fitness program,” Cifelli says. While bodyweight tricep exercises can definitely strengthen the backs of your arms—especially if you’re a beginner—it’s worth grabbing some weight every once in a while.
“Using an external weight like a dumbbell gives you the ability to fine-tune an exercise and create the perfect angle and load you want to use on your triceps,” says Schenck. This ability to play around with different loads will allow for variety in your workouts, and changing things up with your weights will ultimately help you avoid injury.
2. Pair with shoulder work
When it comes to strengthening your triceps, doing the actual tricep exercises is only half the battle. To keep them strong, you will Also Want to work on strengthening your shoulders. “The triceps are used in all of our pushing movements, such as push-ups and bench presses,” Schenk says. “And if you want to be strong in these movements, you need to strengthen your shoulders along with your triceps, because your shoulders will support these big lifts which will allow you to load your triceps with more weight.” And of course, using more weight will help you build overall strength, so think of these two muscles as an important pair that should work together during your workout.
3. Train in three distinct sections
To get the most out of your tricep exercises, Schenk recommends thinking about your workout in three distinct categories. First, you’ll want to load up with heavy weights for moves like heavy tricep extensions and weighted dips (which use your body weight). Then, you’ll want to focus on creating muscle damage (aka soreness) with slow, eccentric lifts like the Skull Crusher. Finally, you’ll want to use a lightweight, high-rep model for moves like kickbacks and pushdowns, which stimulate blood flow to get a “pump” in your triceps.
5 tricep exercises for posture that are worth trying
1. Tricep push-ups
Unlike your standard push-up, this version of the move puts all the work behind your arms. Begin in a high plank pose with your hands planted directly below your shoulders. As you lower down, keep your eyes on the floor and your elbows close to your body (rather than extending them to 90 degrees like you would with a push-up). Be sure to keep your core engaged, back flat, and butt down, and after a few reps, you’re sure to feel it in those triceps.
2. Side push ups
Flip your traditional push-up on its side for a move that targets your triceps in a whole new way. Begin lying on your side on the mat with your knees stacked and your lower arms wrapped around your body. Place your upper arm flat on the mat alongside your upper arm with the fingertips just above your elbow and around the top of your shoulder. Draw in your stomach and flatten your palms into the mat to push your body. Once your arms are straight, slowly lower your body toward the mat. Repeat 10 to 12 times then flip to switch to the opposite side.
3. Pike from plank
This running plank will burn those triceps (and bonus: your core) almost immediately. Grab a high plank, and push your hips toward the ceiling and back into a pike position. While on your pike, touch one hand to your opposite leg, then return to parallel. Repeat on the other side to make sure both arms get an equal amount of work.
4. Tricep kickbacks in a plank
If you want to take your plank to a whole new level, add some weight and try your hand (literally) at some kickbacks. In addition to firing up your triceps, shoulders, back and core, it will also get your heart rate up. Grab a set of light to medium weights and pop up into a high plank position with your weight underneath you. Hold the dumbbell and row it under your armpit, then squeeze your triceps as you move the weight up. Return to the starting row position, then continue for 12 to 15 repetitions on each side.
5. Dumbbell lat pull down
Swap your pushing exercise for a pulling option with this move. Begin sitting on a bench or chair with a set of light to moderate weights. Keep your palms facing forward as you lift the dumbbells straight above your head. Pull one hand down toward your shoulder, squeezing your lats as you pull your shoulders together. Stop the movement when your weight is parallel to your shoulders, then press it back up to start. Repeat the same procedure on the other side.