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Tunde Oyeneyin doing a triceps exercise

Get Strong, Sculpted Arms with these Ultra-Effective Triceps Exercises

Plus, how to zero-in on these upper-body muscles for stronger arms overall.

By Alyssa SparacinoJune 2, 2023

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Balancing your weekly workouts between upper- and lower-body strength days and various forms of cardio is the secret sauce to a well-rounded fitness routine and one that keeps your mind and body nimble for years to come. But to really guarantee a comprehensive fitness routine, you should be taking it a step further to hit your major muscle groups from all angles. 

One area of the upper body that shouldn’t be neglected is the triceps. These muscles on the back of the upper arm help to bend and extend the elbow and move the forearm—they’re also key to really defining your arm muscles, if that’s something you’re after. Below, learn more about what the triceps are, the benefits of targeting them, and the triceps exercises that deserve a spot in your regular routine.

What to Know About the Triceps Muscles

There are three parts, or heads, to the triceps muscle located in the back of the upper arm, opposite of your bicep: the long head, lateral head, and medial head. The long head runs from the shoulder blade down to the elbow, whereas the lateral head is more toward the outer part of the arm and the medial head more toward the inner side of the arm. These different origin and insertion points (aka where the various parts of the triceps start and end) mean it’s important to hit the triceps from all angles during your workouts if you want strong and sculpted arms.

Together with the biceps, the function of the triceps muscle is to bend and straighten the elbow and move the forearm. When your triceps contract, or shorten, the elbow is able to extend and straighten your arm. When triceps are extended, or lengthened, this allows your elbow to bend. This also means the triceps and biceps work in opposition to each other, so when your triceps on the back of your arm are extended, the biceps on the front of your arm are contracted and vice versa. Specifically, “triceps play an integral role in push exercises, while biceps are responsible for pull movements,” says Peloton instructor Tunde Oyeneyin, who is known for her ultra-effective arm workouts.

Maintaining a harmonious relationship between the bis and tris will ensure your arms are strong, and well-defined from all sides. “Triceps make up a large portion of your arm and play a huge part in daily activities including holding bodyweight,” says Tunde. “They stabilize the shoulder joint, and training triceps helps improve shoulder and elbow strength and performance overall.” 

The Best Triceps Exercises to Try

Now that you understand the mechanics of the triceps muscles and why it’s so important not to neglect them, check out these top triceps exercises below from Tunde. If you’ve ever taken a class with her, or did her 4-week “Arms with Tunde” program on the Peloton App, you know she is not one to mess around when it comes to upper-body strength.

1. Overhead Extension

This classic triceps exercise targets all three heads of the triceps, with special attention to the long head. Drop one weight if two in either hand is too much load at first.

  1. Begin standing, holding a dumbbell in either hand. Lift arms to bring weight up overheard, then bend elbows so biceps frame the face and weights are behind your head. This is your starting position.

  2. Engage your triceps to extend arms straight with palms always facing inward.

  3. Bring weights back to the starting position. Repeat. 

Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps. 

2. Triceps Dips

There are endless ways to modify this triceps exercise to make it more difficult or less challenging. It’s a great option to target multiple areas of the upper body, including your shoulders.

  1. Stand facing away from the side of a workout bench. Bend down and place palms on the edge so palms are flat on the bench and fingers curved around the side. Legs can be out straight to make this more difficult or bent to make it a bit easier. (You can also do this triceps exercise using a dip machine or dip bars.)

  2. Bend at the elbows, bringing arms into a 90-degree position.

  3. Push back up through the palms, squeezing your triceps at the top of the position. Repeat. 

Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps. 

3. Preacher Curl

Tunde Oyeneyin doing preacher curls

“I love this triceps exercise because it works both the biceps and triceps, shredding the upper body,” says Tunde. 

  1. Begin holding dumbbells or a mini barbell—an EZ bar, which is an angled barbell design meant to ensure proper alignment and prevent joint injury, is best in this case—in either hand with upper arm and elbows resting on the cushion of a preacher curl machine. Arms begin extended with a slight bend in the elbow to protect the joint.

  2. Squeeze your biceps while maintaining contact with the back of your arms to the padding to curl weight up.

  3. Lower back to starting position, keeping triceps engaged throughout the lowering phase of the movement. Repeat.

Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

4. Skullcrusher

Tunde Oyeneyin doing skullcrushers

You’ll want to move slowly through this exercise to maintain tension on the triceps throughout each rep. “I enjoy switching out a barbell for an EZ bar occasionally,” says Tunde, per the various modifications and equipment options for this move. 

  1. Start lying on the ground face-up with knees bent and feet flat on the floor holding dumbbells in each hand. Raise arms to bring weight up above chest with palms facing in. Arms should create an L-shape with your torso.

  2. Bend elbows to bring the weights to either side of your head (careful not to move weight directly over face), bending the elbows to two 90-degree angles.

  3. Engage triceps to straighten arms back to starting position. Repeat. 

Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

5. Triceps Kickback 

Tunde Oyeneyin doing tricep kickbacks

This triceps exercise targets all three heads of the muscle with an emphasis on the lateral head toward the outside of the arm. “I love these because they’re simple yet extremely effective,” says Tunde.

  1. Begin standing holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in. Hinge at the hips to bring butt back and maintain a flat back. Row weights back to bring bent elbows backward, arms tucked in close to the midline. This is your starting position.

  2. Extend arms out long to “kick” weight back, being mindful not to overextend your elbow joint.

  3. Engage triceps at the top before returning to 90-degree angle. Repeat

Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps. 

6. Diamond Push Up

Tunde Oyeneyin doing diamond pushups

This advanced push-up is a great way to target the triceps with just a simple change of hand positioning. “When knocking these out, I always feel like I'm pushing myself, especially when I add a weight to my back,” says Tunde. 

  1. Begin with palms on the ground in a diamond shape with thumbs and pointer fingers connected and directly beneath your chest. Knees can be on the ground to modify (this is a tough move!), or you can be up on your toes to make this triceps exercise even harder. 

  2. Engage your core and bend at the elbows coming to the bottom of your push-up.

  3. Push through your palms and use your triceps to left chest back up to starting position. Repeat.

Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps. 

7. Triceps Pull-Down

Target the medial and lateral heads of the triceps with this move. Don’t forget to squeeze your core, says Tunde. Bonus: This triceps exercise also works your shoulders, upper-body, and abdominals. 

  1. Stand facing a cable machine with a short bar or rope accessory set with the attachment point slightly higher than your head. (Conversely, you could use a double-ended resistance band that is securely fashioned at the middle and grab both ends.)

  2. Hold cable or band in each hand with elbows bent at 90-degrees and palms facing toward the floor.

  3. Press down to engage your triceps and extend your arms straight. Return to starting position never losing tension on the cable or band. Repeat. 

Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

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