Gym goers often want to increase their arm size and muscle definition. Or clients complain about loose, flabby skin underneath their arms. Working the biceps is often the first step many people take, giving the triceps little to no attention.
Performing an effective triceps workout cannot spot-target fat removal, but it can help tighten the arms. The more muscle you build, the more fat you burn. Let’s dive into the triceps muscle function and which exercises help build muscle definition and strength in this key area.
What are the Triceps Muscle Actions?
The triceps muscle is known as the triceps brachii. The prefix “tri” means three. It is located on the humerus, or arm bone, and has three muscle parts.
The lateral head is on the outermost part of the arm. It is active during elbow extension when resistance is applied. The medial head, on the inner part of the arm, is most active during forearm extension.
The long head runs down the back of the arm and is quite different. Unlike the medial or lateral head, it crosses over the shoulder joint. It attaches to the scapula and assists in shoulder adduction. It helps with extension at the glenohumeral joint where the humerus bone sits.
The triceps is solely responsible for elbow and arm extension. When the arm is flexed and extended, the triceps can begin working. Anytime the arm adducts, the triceps muscle pulls on the humerus bone to keep it in place.
What is the Best Workout for Triceps?
Choosing the right triceps workout is important to overall muscle development. Each triceps exercise stimulates all three heads of the triceps, but some exercises target different areas more than others.
The outermost triceps muscle benefits best from keeping the arms tucked to your side and using an overhand grip. This helps emphasize the lateral head during triceps exercises. You can’t isolate one head of the triceps entirely, but the following exercises are some of the best for activating mainly the lateral head.
Overhand cable pushdown
Dumbbell neutral-grip skull crusher
Close-grip overhand bench press
Opposite of the lateral head, the medial head of the triceps is more activated by using an underhand grip. You still want to keep the elbows tucked and arms tight to your side.
Underhand cable triceps pushdown
Dumbbell reverse-grip skull crusher
Underhand close-grip bench press
Lastly, to target the long head of the triceps you need to focus on overhead exercises. Overhead exercises stimulate the long head because it attaches above the shoulder joint. The muscle stretches only when the arm is above the head. It promotes range of motion and eccentric contractions for the muscle.
Dumbbell overhead triceps extension
Overhead cable extension
Benefits of Implementing Triceps Workouts into Your Routine
Supersets and adding triceps exercises to push workouts are two ways to effectively train the triceps. There are benefits to both methods. Decide which method fits your program schedule and goals best.
These involve completing one exercise and immediately moving to another. There is little to no rest between the two exercises. Shortening rest periods increase the intensity of the workout. You not only increase volume and stress on the muscle but you also create more overload and force muscle breakdown.
Supersets are mainly performed by combining antagonistic pairs of muscles. The biceps and triceps are antagonistic muscles—when one muscle contracts, the other relaxes. While the biceps contract, the triceps need to relax. Or the biceps need to relax while the triceps contract for the elbow to extend.
You can superset biceps exercises and triceps exercises by doing full upper arm workouts two times per week.
Another option is to consider adding triceps exercises into your chest workout plan. If you choose this method, consider performing three triceps exercises at the end of each chest workout.
You can also superset each chest exercise with a triceps exercise. Combining the chest and triceps exercises is a way to overload the muscles leading to greater gains. All push movements during a chest workout encompass triceps muscle activation. It is the secondary muscle and it gets more stress applied through supersets.
Prescribing the right amount of volume for each client varies. Based on fitness levels you can start with 4-6 arm exercises or chest and triceps exercises. Anywhere from 3-5 sets of 6-10 repetitions can help build triceps mass and definition.
The bench press or chest accessory exercises can benefit from triceps training.
The Best Triceps Exercises Without Equipment
What if you or a client has limited access to workout equipment, at home or on the go? You can still create a killer triceps workout using bodyweight exercise. To incorporate bodyweight training, consider the following tricep workout format.
Narrow-grip pushup: 4 sets to failure
Chair or bench dip: 4 sets of 15-20 reps
Press up: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
TRX triceps extension: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
When including a bodyweight exercise, aim for higher rep ranges if needed. Utilize shorter rest periods to increase the intensity of the workout. A rest time guide is 15-30 seconds in between each set.
Achieving muscle definition throughout the body is an art, driven by muscle overload, technique, and volume. Expand your expertise with ISSA’s Personal Trainer certification. You’ll learn the details of muscle anatomy and biomechanics and how to effectively implement workout strategies into your client’s exercise program for maximum results.
Certified Personal Trainer The Certified Fitness Trainer program is designed to equip graduates with the practical day-to-day skills necessary, as well as the theoretical knowledge needed to excel as a personal trainer serving the general public. Along with the necessary exercise science foundation, the distance education program covers client assessment, program design, basic nutrition, and sports medicine along with business and marketing skills.