Tricep exercises are classified as elbow extension movements. Why? Because they are all typically done by extending your arm at the elbow joint to lift a weight in the direction away from head.
Common examples of some of the best tricep exercises include:
- Close Grip Bench Press (flat, incline or decline)
- Lying Triceps Extensions/Skull Crushers (flat/incline/decline, barbell/dumbbell)
- Overhead Triceps Extension (barbell or dumbbell)
- Cable Pushdowns
Figuring out which are the best tricep exercises for your specific workout routine and incorporating them all properly isn’t quite as simple and easy as just randomly picking your favorites and doing them all on “tricep day.”
There’s a lot more to the exercise selection and implementation process, and my articles about different types of weight lifting exercises, how to figure out which are truly the best exercises for your body and goal, my favorite workout plans, and my guide to workout routines will help you figure it all out.
Either way, no matter which you end up using in your workout routine, proper form MUST always be used. This is not only to avoid injury, but to ensure the triceps are actually going through the full range of motion and doing all of the work.
To help you understand the basics of proper form, here is a brief description of how some of the best (and most popular) tricep exercises should be performed…
Dips are an interesting exercise. For some people, it may be the best tricep exercise there is. For others (like myself), it’s a common cause of shoulder issues. For that reason, I recommend anyone with any preexisting history of shoulder problems avoid dips.
However, if you have no existing or lingering shoulder problems, dips are a fantastic compound exercise that hits your triceps, chest and shoulders to some degree depending on exactly how you do it. The form I’m going to describe puts most of the emphasis on triceps.
Here’s how it should be done…
- Stand inside a parallel (or v-bar) dip station and hold on to the bars with a shoulder width grip.
- While keeping your elbows close to your sides at all times, press yourself straight up so that your arms are extended.
- Lower yourself until your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
- Return to the starting position by pressing yourself back up.
In addition to the form described above, be sure you keep your head up and hips straight, and try to avoid leaning forward too much or allowing your elbows to move away from the sides of your body. Both will cause the focus to shift from your triceps to your chest or shoulders.
Once you are able to do a couple of good sets of 8-10 reps with your own body weight, you should definitely start adding weight. You can do this by either holding a dumbbell between your feet, wearing a weighted vest, or by using a dip belt.
Also note that this is NOT the same as bench dips, which are an easier (and generally less useful) tricep exercise.
Cable pushdowns are usually the only machine-type tricep exercise I ever use or recommend. It can be performed with an overhand or underhand grip, unilaterally or bilaterally (meaning one or both arms at the same time), and various types of handles can be used (including a rope).
Here’s a description of how to do them using both arms at the same time with an overhand grip…
- Stand at a cable tricep pushdown station with knees slightly bent and your back against the pad (if there is no pad, just stand upright).
- Grab the bar with palms facing down. At this starting point, your forearms and biceps should be pretty much touching.
- Press the bar down in a semicircular motion towards the front of your thighs by extending your arms at the elbow.
- Keep elbows close to your sides at all time.
Skull Crushers (aka Lying Tricep Extensions)
Easily the weight lifting exercise with the scariest name, skull crushers are just like any other tricep extension (which is why “skull crushers” is just a cool nickname for lying tricep extensions), except done on your back with the weight above your face.
For this reason, it would be an extra good idea to start off with an extra light weight just to get a feel for how much you are able to use without… you know… actually crushing your skull.
These can be done using a straight barbell, EZ curl bar, or dumbbells. The straight bar will probably be uncomfortable on most people’s wrists, so an EZ curl bar (or dumbbells) are usually the best choices.
Here’s how to preform the barbell version…
- Lie on your back on a bench with a barbell or EZ-Curl bar.
- Using a narrow overhand grip (so that palms are facing the ceiling when your back is on the bench), press the bar to arms length (arms fully extended) above your chest.
- Lower the bar towards your forehead by bending your arms at the elbows. Your upper arms should remain still and vertical the whole time.
- Return to the starting position by extending your arms at the elbow.
Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press is basically a bench press with a narrower grip. The main difference? A narrow grip takes most of the emphasis off of the chest and shoulders (which will still get hit a little) and puts it on the triceps.
The other big difference will be weight lifted. You should expect to use a lot less weight on the close grip bench press than you do on the regular bench press. Here’s how it should be done…
- Lie on a flat bench (the same used for the regular bench press) with your feet firmly on the floor.
- Grab the bar with a shoulder width or slightly narrower grip (palms facing forward) and lift it off of the holders.
- Lower the bar down towards your chest while keeping your elbows tucked in close to your body.
- Press the bar back up to the starting position.
This exercise can be done on a flat, incline or decline bench (decline might be least stressful on your shoulders… more on that in a second).
One thing a lot of people screw up on the close grip bench press is the grip width. They go WAY too narrow, which causes all sorts of wrist problems. Shoulder width or slightly narrower is usually perfectly fine.
I should also mention that, like dips, if you have any preexisting shoulder problems, these could be an issue for you (doing them on a decline bench might be the safest option in this case).
Now Use Them Correctly
So, those are a few of the best tricep exercises, and that’s a basic break down of how they should be performed. Like I mentioned before, the key now is to actually use them correctly in your workout routine. Those articles I mentioned earlier will show you exactly how to do that.
In addition to those, my article about How To Get Big Arms should be pretty useful too.
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