For many beginners, the assumption is that if you want big arms then you should spend a decent portion of your weight training time focusing on the biceps. While building big biceps certainly helps, the triceps actually make up a larger proportion of the upper arms.
In this article we’ll look at some of the best tricep exercises for mass, helping you to build big, strong arms that will complement various other aspects of your training.
Sadly, the triceps can sometimes be a bit of an afterthought when it comes to mass building. A lot of people focus on building a big chest or adding mass to their back, while neglecting the supporting muscles which will help them add weight to the bar and ultimately improve their physique.
Some Basic Tricep Anatomy
There are three muscle heads in the triceps. The lateral head (responsible for the sort of horseshoe shape you can see on well-developed arms), the medial head and the long head, which is the biggest of the three.
The main function of the triceps is to extend the arms and to straighten the elbow, meaning strong triceps are required for adding weight to the big pushing lifts such as the bench press and the overhead press. Developing the triceps (along with adding size and strength to the shoulders) should help you add weight to the bar on the big lifts.
The other function is adduction (bringing the arm down towards the body), for which only the long head is responsible.
Adding Mass to Your Triceps
As with any muscle-building program, there are a few things you’ll need to do when you’re not lifting which are essential for getting bigger.
Firstly, make sure you’re eating more calories than you’re burning. Aim for an initial increase of 2-300 calories over your maintenance level and adjust if you’re not seeing much progress. Apps like My Fitness Pal are ideal for this if you’re not used to tracking calories or macronutrients.
Next, make sure you’re getting plenty of protein. Aim for around 1g of protein per pound of body weight, so if you weigh 180lbs try to get 180g of protein every day. You can do this through higher protein foods like lean meat, and you can add in supplements like whey protein if you’re struggling to hit your targets through food alone.
Lastly, make sure you’re getting plenty of good quality sleep. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of weight training (and health in general), and it’s often key to adding weight to the bar and muscle to your frame. As I’ve recommended many times on the site, Shawn Stevenson’s Sleep Smarter is about as good a guide as you’re likely to find.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the exercises. Pick out 3 or 4 of the exercises from the list below and aim to do 3 or 4 sets of 8-12 reps, and leave a couple of days before training the same muscle group.
Tricep Kickback with Dumbbells
- Set up next to a flat bench
- Bend your left knee and place it on the bench
- Place your left hand on the bench to support your weight, and line your back up at a 45-degree angle
- Grab a dumbbell in your right hand and place your feet on the floor
- Bent your right arm and raise it up to your shoulder – this is the starting position
- Kick your arm back in a controlled manner by extending your arm
- Return to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps
- Repeat for the other arm
Triceps Pushdown with Cable
- Set up in front of the cable machine and attach a shot bar to a high pulley
- Hold the handle with both of your palms facing down
- Keep your back straight and your core tight
- Keeping your elbows close to your side, push the handle down towards your thighs
- Pause briefly at the bottom of the movement and return to the starting position in a controlled manner
Standing Triceps Extension
- Set up with your feet shoulder-width apart, your core tight and your back straight
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with both palms facing up
- Lift the weight up over your head and carefully lower the dumbbell in an arc behind you
- Raise the weight back up the to the starting position above your head in a controlled manner
- Set up by kneeling on the floor with your hands and thumbs together and push yourself up onto your toes
- Keep your core tight and your back straight
- Lower your body to the floor in a controlled manner by bending your arms until you are almost touching the floor
- Push yourself back up to the starting position in a controlled manner
- Set up with two flat benches roughly 3-4 feet apart
- Sit on one bench and place your feet on the other, suspending your legs between the two
- You can cross your feet for additional support
- Hold on to the bench with both hands and carefully lower yourself to towards the floor by bending the elbows
- Pause briefly at the bottom of the movement before pushing yourself back up to the starting position
Bent Over Two Arm Triceps Extension
- Set up with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your core tight
- Bend over at the waist, keeping your back straight, until your torso is parallel with the floor
- Grasp a dumbbell in each hand
- Bring your right arm up to your side, until the dumbbell is in line with your chest
- Keeping your lower arm vertical, press your arm back in an arc
- Return to the starting position and repeat for the left side
This movement can also be performed with one arm at a time.
Narrow Grip Bench Press
- Set up on a flat bench with your back flat on the bench and both feet flat on the floor
- Grab the barbell inside shoulder width, approximately 14” apart
- Lift the barbell off the rack and move it above the middle of your chest
- Lower the bar in a controlled manner until it lightly touches your chest
- Push the bar back up until your elbows are locked and your arms are fully extended
- Continue for the desired reps
Lying Triceps Press with Barbell
- Set up on a flat bench with your head at one end
- Ideally you should be using an EZ bar or a curl bar – grasp it with an overhand grip
- Keeping your elbows in close, raise the bar straight up over your shoulders
- Lower the bar in an arc over your head in a controlled manner
- Return to the starting position and repeat for the desired rep range
This movement can also be performed with dumbbells.
Bodyweight Tricep Dips
- Set up on the parallel bars and push yourself up until both elbows are locked
- Keeping the elbows close to the body, lower yourself down until the upper arms are parallel to the floor
- Push yourself back up to the starting position in a controlled manner
One Arm Tricep Extension with Cables
- Set up the cable pulley on the highest setting and use a stirrup handle
- Face the weight stack and grab the handle with an underhand grip
- Keep your back straight, your core tight and maintain a slight bend in the knees
- Beginning at the top, push your arm down until it’s straight and concentrate the movement in your tricep
- Return to the starting position in a controlled manner
- Set up on a flat bench with your back flat and both feet firmly on the floor
- Grab a dumbbell with each hand with your palms facing towards your feet
- Keeping your back on the bench and your core tight, lift the weights above the centre of your chest
- Without moving the elbows, raise your arms up and out in a controlled manner contracting your triceps
Decline Close Grip Bench to Skull Crusher
- Set up with our back flat on a flat bench
- Hold the bar with a narrow grip, approximately 8-12” apart
- Lower the bar in a controlled manner until it touches your chest, roughly an inch below the nipples, keeping your arms close to your sides
- Return to the starting position, focusing on the triceps
- When you return to the top of the movement, bend your arms down towards your chest
- Raise the bar back to the starting position and repeat the whole movement
- Set up by lying on a flat bench with your head just over the edge
- Hold the bar with a medium width overhand grip
- Your elbows should remain close to your side, and the bar should be just above the middle of your chest
- Lower the bar to the chest in a controlled manner, pausing briefly at the bottom
- Push the bar back up to the starting position in a quick but controlled manner
Lying Close-Grip Triceps Press to Chin
- Set up with your back flat on a flat bench and your head at one end
- Grab the bar with a narrow grip, hand approximately 6 inches apart
- In a controlled manner, lower the bar in an arc towards your chin
- Carefully return the bar to the starting position
Images via http://db.everkinetic.com/