Getting Your Best Triceps - What You Need to Know About Your Triceps

Working Your Triceps Muscles

Triceps Muscles
Triceps Muscles. Getty Images/SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI

Your Triceps are some of the most important muscles in the upper body, although most of us are more concerned with how they look, rather than how strong they are.

The phrase 'Bat Wings,' comes to mind.

Of course, spot training doesn't work - You can't do triceps exercises and expect to lose fat from the triceps, but you can get strong, firm muscles that support your body in all the movements you perform each day.

 It helps to know more about the triceps and how they work.

Your Triceps

The triceps are actually made up of three parts - A long head which originates at the scapula, a lateral head which originates at the back of the arm (humerus) and a short head which originates on the humerus a bit lower than the lateral head. All three heads work when you do triceps exercises, but some moves will target one head more than the other.  The triceps are responsible for extending the elbow.

Why Should You Work Your Triceps?

Aside from looking good in a tank top, strong triceps are important for any number of movements you make each day.  Your triceps are involved in every pushing motion you can think of including:

  • Pushing open a door
  • Pushing a vacuum
  • Pushups
  • The Table Push - That's when you push your body away from the table and any tempting food that might be there. Yes, that burns calories.

The point is, you use your triceps all day and they will work much better if they're strong and healthy.


Something else to keep in mind is this:  Your triceps will work during other exercises, like when you work your chest and back.  Chest presses and pushups are just two exercises that involve the triceps as synergists, so it's normal for your triceps to fatigue more quickly if you've already worked other muscle groups.


Another point, your triceps muscles are fairly small, so you won't be able to use as much weight as you can for your chest or your back.

How Often Should You Train Your Triceps?

The general guidelines for strength training suggest:

  • Work your triceps up to 3 non-consecutive days a week.  You want at least a day of rest in between workouts
  • If you're lifting very heavy weights, enough that you can only perform 6-8 reps, you might need to rest more between workouts to allow your muscle fibers to recover
  • If you're goal is lean muscle tissue and endurance, try 1-3 sets of 12-16 reps of each exercise, making sure you use enough weight that you can ONLY complete the desired number of reps.

What Exercises Should You Do?

Most triceps moves are called 'pushing' exercises and generally involve extending your elbow as in kickbacks. You can do tricep exercises with any type of resistance--dumbbells, barbell, resistance bands, cables or a machine.

To create your own triceps workout, choose about 3-4 different triceps exercises, doing each for 1-3 sets of 12 reps.  You can do straight sets, resting in between sets, or you can try a circuit format where you do the exercises one after the other with no rest in between.

Sample Triceps Workout #1

  1. Seated Triceps Extensions - I love starting out a workout with seated extensions.  There's a bit more emphasis on the long head of the triceps muscle and, because you're sitting upright, you get a great stretch which helps you build more force for the exercise.
  2. Kickbacks - The key to kickbacks is to keep your elbow in the same place for each rep.  Your elbow may sag as you get tired, so pay attention to that.
  3. Dips - Dips involve more muscle groups and joint actions than the other exercises, so it's a nice complement to the other isolation exercises.
  4. Lying Triceps Extensions - These are similar to the seated extensions, except now you have to work very hard to control the weight and avoid hitting yourself in the face.

    Sample Triceps Workout #2

    1. Triceps Pushups on the Ball - This is a great way to warm up the triceps and get the entire body involved in the exercise.
    2. One Arm Triceps Extensions - Using an exercise ball to get your body on an angle will really challenge your triceps in a whole different way.
    3. One Arm Pushups - These are much harder than they look and a great way to build strength and endurance.
    4. Triceps Extensions with Bands - Mix things up with a resistance band, which hits your muscles in a different way than dumbbells.  I really like to do tempo changes with bands - For example, 8 regular reps followed by 8 pulses.

    Alternate the workouts during the same week to create more variety in your workouts.

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