There are thousands of articles about “how to build big triceps” online, but most of them miss the mark.

More often than not they focus on tricep exercises that are well-suited to high-rep “pump” training designed to leave you feeling swollen and sore. And while this kind of training can be fun, it doesn’t make for particularly good triceps workouts.

If you’re looking for the best tricep workout for mass, here’s what you need to know:

The best tricep exercises are those that allow you to lift heavy weights, because if you want to build big triceps, you need to get strong. 

That’s why your tricep training should mainly be made up of compound tricep exercises that enable you to lift heavy, with a few additional isolation exercises that help to correct any weak points in your triceps muscle group.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about in this article.

So, let’s get to it!

How to Get Bigger Triceps

There are a lot of theories out there about how to best train your triceps.

Some people say you have to focus on high-rep training and really “feel the burn.”

Others say you should be training them multiple times per week.

Others still say you don’t have to do triceps exercises at all and should focus on compound pressing movements instead.

Well, I’ve tried all the above and more, and I’ve worked with thousands of people, and here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Directly train your triceps with specific triceps exercises.

Most of us can’t get the triceps we really want through pressing alone.

Hitting your chest hard and heavy will help you build bigger triceps, but this isn’t enough to get the type of arm size and strength that most of us desire.

The reality is most people have to directly train their triceps in addition to pressing to get the triceps mass they want.

2. Heavy dumbbell, barbell, and cable extensions are best for gaining triceps strength and size.

Many people think that the triceps won’t respond well to heavy (80%+ of one-rep max) weightlifting—that they grow best in response to a pump.

They’re wrong.

Just like every other muscle group in the body, the triceps can grow in response to a variety of weights and rep ranges. That said, you’ll see the best results by focusing on compound tricep exercises that allow you to lift heavy weights in roughly the 4-to-10-rep range. I typically recommend 4 to 6 reps, as most people prefer doing fewer reps per set and it allows you to use heavier weights.

3. One heavy triceps workout per week is generally enough.

A big part of getting big triceps is optimizing your weekly volume, which is the total number of sets you do every week.

Here’s a good rule of thumb for weightlifting volume:

The heavier the weights are, the fewer sets you can do each week before you start experiencing symptoms of overtraining.

This is particularly true of compound exercises like the deadlift and squat, which are fantastic whole-body muscle builders, but are also very taxing. Thus, the heavier you pull and squat in your workouts, the more time your body and muscles need to fully recover.

I’ve tried many different workout splits and frequency schemes, and what I’ve found works best lines up with two extensive reviews on the subject.

4. Train your triceps with 10 to 20 sets per week to maximize muscle growth.

This is true for every major muscle group that you train, not just your triceps.

When computing your weekly volume, though, remember that the triceps are also trained by a variety of pressing movements. For example, the bench press and overhead press also train the triceps, and those sets count toward your weekly volume. 

If you’re doing, let’s say, about 15 sets of pressing per week for your chest, shoulders, and triceps, adding another 15 sets of direct triceps is generally overkill.

That’s why I think that something closer to 9 to 12 sets of direct triceps work per week (in addition to your heavy pressing) is a good starting place for most people.

5. Use push-ups to get bigger triceps at home.

If you don’t want (or can’t) go to the gym, and you’re wondering how to get bigger triceps at home, the answer is simple: push-ups and dips. 

Most people think of push-ups as a chest exercise, but research shows they’re a great compound tricep exercise, too, especially if you place your hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.

The same can be said for dips. Whether you do them using a bench or on parallel bars with an upright posture, dips should be included in any at-home tricep workout for mass.

To get the best results from your home triceps workouts, do between 12 and 15 sets of triceps exercises split over three workouts per week, and try to do between 10 and 20 reps per set.

If you want to learn more about exercise routines that’ll help you add mass to your triceps, check out this article:

The Best At-Home Chest Workouts (with Bodyweight, Dumbbells, or Bands!)

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The 10 Best Tricep Exercises for Bigger Triceps

Despite what you might read in books, blogs, and muscle mags, you only need to do a small handful of carefully-selected exercises to build great triceps.

And since the mechanisms that govern muscle growth are pretty much the same for both men and women, the best tricep exercises for women are more or less the same as the best ones for men.

1. Close-Grip Bench Press

The close-grip bench press is one of the best triceps exercises you can do because it allows you to use a lot of weight. It also trains your chest, shoulders, and biceps, making it an outstanding all-around upper-body exercise.

  • Lie on a flat bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and without lifting your butt or shoulders off the bench, slightly arch your back.
  • Grip the barbell with a shoulder-width grip or slightly narrower, and unrack the barbell.
  • Lower the barbell to your lower chest while keeping your elbows tucked at about a 30-degree angle relative to your torso.
  • When the bar touches your chest, explosively press the bar back to the starting position.

Sets: 3

Reps: 4 to 6

Rest: 2 to 3 min

2. Barbell Bench Press

The barbell bench press is one of the single best exercises for building almost every major muscle in your upper body. While it’s mainly thought of as a chest exercise, it’s also one of the best triceps exercises you can do, too.

  • Lie on a flat bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and without lifting your butt or shoulders off the bench, slightly arch your back.
  • Grab the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, take a deep breath, brace your core, and unrack the barbell.
  • Bring the barbell to the middle of your chest, making sure to keep your elbows tucked at about a 45-degree angle relative to your torso. 
  • When the bar touches your chest, explosively press the bar back to the starting position.

Sets: 3

Reps: 4 to 6

Rest: 2 to 3 min

3. Barbell Overhead Press

The barbell overhead press is one of the best exercises for improving upper body strength, chest, shoulder, and tricep size, and whole-body balance and coordination.

  • Set a barbell in a rack at the same height as your upper chest. Grip the bar with a shoulder-width grip and your palms facing away from you.
  • Unrack the barbell and take a small step backwards with each foot, keeping your wrists stacked over your elbows, and your elbows tucked close to your sides.
  • Plant your feet just outside of shoulder-width, arch your upper back enough so the bar is directly over your midfoot and your head is slightly behind the bar. 
  • Take a deep breath into your stomach and brace your core, squeeze your glutes as hard as you can, and push the bar off your chest toward the ceiling.
  • Once your arms are straight and your elbows are locked out, reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

Sets: 3

Reps: 4 to 6

Rest: 2 to 3 min

4. Dip

Dips are often thought of as a chest exercise, but depending on how you do them, they’re also excellent for training the triceps. When you first start doing dips you can make great progress with just your body weight, but as you get stronger you’ll want to add weight by hanging weights from a dip belt around your waist or by pinching a dumbbell between your thighs. 

  • If you’re using a dip belt, start by wrapping the chain around your waist, adding the desired amount of weight to the chain, and fastening the carabiner.
  • Grab hold of both handles of a dip bar or dip station, then press yourself up by straightening your arms and gently jumping off the ground so that your arms are straight and supporting your entire body weight. 
  • Keep your body upright to put the emphasis on your triceps, bend your knees to keep your feet from touching the ground, and lower your body by bending your elbows until your upper arms are roughly parallel to the floor.
  • Press hard into the handles to drive your body back up to the starting position.

Sets: 3

Reps: 4 to 6

Rest: 2 to 3 min

5. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension

The dumbbell overhead triceps extension is particularly good for training the medial head of the triceps which helps to add overall mass to your upper arms.

  • Sit up straight on a bench. 
  • Grip one end of a dumbbell using the palms of both hands and lift it overhead so that your arms are straight. Your palms should be flat against the weighted disk on the end of the dumbbell, and facing toward the ceiling. 
  • Lower the weight until it’s behind your head by bending at the elbow, then straighten your arms to return to the starting position.

Sets: 3

Reps: 8 to 10

Rest: 2 to 3 min

6. Cable Overhead Triceps Extension

The cable overhead triceps extension is similar to the dumbbell overhead triceps extension, but because you use a cable, there’s tension on your muscles throughout the entire exercise, which trains the tris in a slightly different way. 

  • Set the pulley on a cable machine to the lowest setting and attach the rope handle.
  • Grab one end of the rope handle in each hand and turn you back to the machine while pushing the handles up over your head at the same time.
  • Adapt a staggered stance and lean slightly forward.
  • Bend your elbows until your forearms are almost parallel with the floor, then straighten your arms to return to the starting position.

Sets: 3

Reps: 8 to 10

Rest: 2 to 3 min

7. Skullcrusher (Lying Triceps Extension)

The skullcrusher is a great exercise for training the slightly smaller medial and lateral heads of the triceps, ensuring you have defined, proportional upper arms.

  • While lying on a flat bench, hold an EZ Bar above your chest with a shoulder-width grip. 
  • Bring the bar down to your forehead by bending at the elbow, then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
  • (Tip: If you want to increase the range of motion of this exercise, lower the bar behind your head until it’s almost touching the bench.)

Sets: 3

Reps: 8 to 10

Rest: 2 to 3 min

8. Cable Triceps Pushdown

The cable triceps pushdown is particularly good for emphasizing the long head of the triceps. The long head is also the largest of the three sections of the triceps, and so training this portion of your triceps will have the biggest impact on your upper arm size.

  • Set the pulley on a cable machine to slightly above head height, and attach the rope handle.
  • Stand upright or lean slightly forward (you can adopt a staggered stance if it helps you balance), grab one end of the rope in each hand, and push the rope downward by straightening your elbows. 
  • Once your arms are straight and at your sides, reverse the motion to return to the starting position.

Sets: 3

Reps: 8 to 10

Rest: 2 to 3 min

9. Cable Triceps Kickback

Like the cable triceps pushdown, the cable triceps kickback emphasizes the long head of the triceps, which is useful for adding overall mass to your upper arms.

  • Set the pulley on a cable machine to the lowest setting and attach a single handle.
  • While still facing the pulley, grab the handle in one hand and take a large step back so that there is tension in the cable.
  • Bend at the hips so your upper body is almost parallel to the ground and tuck your elbow into your side. Slightly bend your knees and stagger your stance if it feels more comfortable.
  • Push the handle straight behind you by straightening your arm, then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

Sets: 3

Reps: 8 to 10

Rest: 2 to 3 min

10. Diamond Push-up

If you want to know how to get bigger triceps at home, you need to know about the diamond push-up. Research shows that doing push-ups with your hands close together shifts the emphasis onto your triceps, which helps to build the entire tricep muscle group.

  • Get on all fours with your hands together under your chest.
  • Form a diamond with your index fingers and thumbs, then extend your legs behind you, so that your body weight is supported on your hands and toes, and your body forms a straight line from your head to your feet (don’t lift up your butt or let your hips sag).
  • Keeping your back straight, lower your chest to your hands, and then push your body up and return to the starting position.

Sets: 3

Reps: 10 to 20

Rest: 2 to 3 min

The Best Tricep Workout

Although you can do all of these exercises in a single workout, that’s not necessary. In fact, you’ll make much better progress by doing a small number of triceps exercises and then getting as strong as possible on these breadwinners. 

After helping tens of thousands of men and women build bigger triceps through my books, blog, and podcast, this tricep workout routine has proven its worth:

  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps
  • EZ Bar Skullcrusher: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
  • Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
  • Cable Triceps Pressdown: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Tricep Workout Tips

If you want to get the most from your triceps workouts, bear these pointers in mind.

Warm up before each workout.

A thorough warm-up helps you to troubleshoot your form and “groove in” proper technique before handling heavy weights, and can significantly boost your performance once you get into your actual workout.

A good weightlifting warm-up is simple: 

  • Estimate roughly what weight you’re going to use for your three sets of your first exercise (this is your “hard set” weight).
  • Do 10 reps with about 50 percent of your hard set weight, and rest for a minute.
  • Do 10 reps with the same weight at a slightly faster pace, and rest for a minute.
  • Do 4 reps with about 70 percent of your hard set weight, and rest for a minute.

So long as all the exercises you do in your workout use similar muscle groups, you don’t need to do warm-up sets before every exercise. A warm-up at the beginning of your first exercise will suffice. 

If you want to learn more about the importance of a proper warm-up and how to warm up for different workouts, check out this article: 

The Best Way to Warm Up For Your Workouts

Don’t go to absolute muscle failure every set.

We should take most of our sets one or two reps shy of failure, the point where our form begins to break down.

Take no more than two or three sets of isolation exercises, like triceps pushdowns and dumbbell overhead triceps extensions to failure per workout, and never train to failure on the squat, deadlift, bench or military press, as it can be dangerous.

Rest 3 to 4 minutes in between each set.

This will give your muscles enough time to fully recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each set.

If you want to learn more about how long you should rest between sets, check out this article:

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets to Gain Muscle and Strength?

Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, you move up in weight.

For instance, if you bench press 135 pounds for 6 reps on your first set, you add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set.

If, on the next set, you can get at least 4 reps with 145 pounds, that’s the new weight you work with until you can barbell row it for 6 reps, move up, and so forth.

If you get 3 or fewer reps, though, reduce the weight added by 5 pounds (140 pounds) and see how the next set goes. If you still get 3 reps or fewer, reduce the weight to the original 6-rep load and work with that until you can do two 6-rep sets with it, and then increase the weight on the bar.

This method is known as double progression, which you can learn about in this podcast:

How to Use Double Progression to Get More From Your Workouts

+ Scientific References

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