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15 Best Triceps Exercises to Tone the Back of Arms

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The biceps tend to get most of the love, but the triceps (those unloved muscles on the back of your upper arms) have far more potential. Whether you want your arms to be more toned and firmer or you just want them to be bigger, the triceps are the unsung wunderkind.

Going by the full name of triceps brachii, which literally means three-headed arm muscle, this low-key muscle makes up around two-thirds of your upper arm mass.

In other words, to get amazing strong, toned arms you’ve got to ditch the bicep bias and target your triceps too. So we’ve put together a comprehensive list of triceps exercises you can use to build, strengthen and tone the back of your upper arms.

Read more: Sculpt sexy arms workout

The Best Triceps Exercises

These exercises are based on research from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), who studied the most effective triceps exercises.1

We’ve ranked the best triceps exercises starting with the most effective (1 to 8), and thrown in some extra variations at the end to keep your workout interesting and effective. One of the best ways to develop cut triceps is to expose your muscles to a variety of exercises. This ensures you work your triceps from a variety of angles and keep your workouts fresh.

How to do these exercises: Add a few of these triceps exercises to your next workout. Before performing any of these exercises, spend a few minutes warming up with some light cardio followed by dynamic stretching and mobility exercises.

Weights: Start with light weights and only increase the load when you have mastered the technique of the exercise you are performing. While a little post-exercise muscle soreness is to be expected after doing a new workout, excessive soreness or elbow pain would suggest you have done too much too soon. Increase the volume and difficulty of your workouts gradually. 

1 Diamond Pushups 

Number one on the list of best tricep exercises, this is a super tough spin on the classic push-up.

How to perform:

  • Squat down and place your hands on the floor so that your thumbs and forefingers are touching and form a diamond shape. Walk your feet back so your legs are straight and your feet, knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line.
  • Keeping your elbows close to your sides, bend your arms and lower your chest down to lightly touch the back of your hands. Push back to full arm extension and repeat. 

Variations: Make this exercise more demanding by raising your feet on an exercise bench or easier by bending your legs and resting your knees on the floor (as illustrated above). 


2 Dumbbell Kickbacks 

Second on the list, this is a super effective isolation exercise. According to ACE research this move activates about 88% of the triceps muscle.

How to perform:

  • With a dumbbell in one hand, lean forward from your hips and place your free hand on a knee-high exercise bench. Pull your elbow into your ribs and allow your forearm to hang down vertically.
  • Keeping your elbow tucked in, extend your arm so the dumbbell moves back toward your hip. Slowly lower the weight and repeat. 

Tips: Do not bend your elbow past 90-degrees of flexion as this merely takes tension off your triceps and reduces the effectiveness of the exercise. Keep your back flat and use a light to moderate weight – this is not an exercise suited to big weights.

Variations: Do standing tricep kickbacks with a single-leg kickback to turn this move into a full body workout (as illustrated above).


3 Triceps Dips 

How to perform:

  • Sit on the edge of a stable chair or weight bench, and grip the edge. Your legs should be straight, with your feet on the floor (or raised if doing a harder variation, as illustrated above). Slide forward so that your butt is just in front the chair.
  • With control, lower yourself until your elbows are bent 90 degrees. Push back up until your arms are almost straight, and repeat. 

Variations: Place your feet on a bench or chair for a tougher variation (as illustrated). Elevating your feet increases the amount of bodyweight you have to lift and lower, making it more difficult. Another variation are tricep dips using parallel bars (see below).


4 Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extensions 

How to perform:

  • Hold a dumbbell with your hands flat against the inside of the plates at one end. Raise the weight above your head so the dumbbell is vertical.
  • Keeping your elbows facing forward and close to your ears, bend your arms and lower the weight behind your neck. Extend your arms and repeat. 

Tips: If you find the overhead position uncomfortable, this suggests you have tight shoulders or pecs; improve your flexibility by stretching regularly and use an alternative exercise until you are ready to do this move in comfort. 

Variations: This exercise can be performed seated or standing. You can do a combo move and combine overhead tricep extensions with calf raises (as illustrated above).


5 Tricep Rope Pushdowns 

How to perform:

  • Attach a rope pulley to a high cable machine and hold an end in each hand. Tuck your elbows into your sides. Push your hands downward and outward to touch the outside of your thighs.
  • Bend your elbows and lower the weight but keep your elbows pinned to your ribs. 

Tips: Keep your abs braced and avoid the temptation to lean forward into the exercise. Leaning forward reduces the range of movement available and therefore reduces the effectiveness of the exercise. 


6 Tricep Bar Pushdowns 

How to perform:

  • Stand facing a high cable machine fitted with a straight or V-shaped bar. Grasp the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Tuck your elbows into your ribs and lock your wrists straight.
  • Push the bar down toward your legs until your elbows are fully extended and then bend your arms as far as you can without moving your elbows away from your sides. 

Tips: Keep your abs braced at all times; exhale as you push down and inhale as you return to the starting position. 


7 Lying Triceps Extensions (aka Skull Crushers)

How to perform:

  • Lie on your back and grasp a barbell with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Hold the weight over your chest with your arms vertical.
  • Keeping your elbows pointing down your body, bend your arms and lower the bar to your forehead. Extend your arms and repeat. 

Tips: Always perform this exercise with a spotter so it doesn’t live up to its name! You can also use an EZ curling bar if you find a straight barbell is hard on your wrists. 


8 Narrow Grip Bench Press

How to perform:

  • Lie on a bench and grasp a barbell with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Keeping your wrists straight, bend your arms and, with your elbows tucked into your sides, lower the bar to lightly touch your chest.
  • Push the weight back up to full arm extension and repeat. 

Variations: You can also perform this exercise on an incline or decline bench to change the feel of the exercise and for variety. 


Now for some extra variations.

9 Reverse Grip Triceps Pushdowns

A spin on the standard pushdown (at number 6), this variation switches it up by changing your grip from an overhand to an underhand position.

How to perform:

  • Fix a straight bar to a high cable and grasp the handle with a shoulder-width underhand (palms up) grip. Tuck your elbows into your ribs. Extend your arms and push the handle down toward your thighs.
  • Bend your arms to raise the weights while ensuring your elbows remain tucked into your sides. 

Tips: This exercise is awkward which is what makes it so effective. However this awkwardness also means you will not be able to lift as much weight as when you perform the palms down version. 


10 Dumbbell Skull Crushers

A variation of the barbell skull crusher (at number 7), this move works each side of your body individually, and may be beneficial for those with muscle imbalances.

How to perform:

  • Lie on your back on an exercise bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Press the weights up to arms length and hold them over your chest. Turn your hands so your palms face inward.
  • Keeping your elbows pointing forward, bend your arms and lower the weights down to the side of your head. Extend your arms and repeat. 

Tips: This exercise can also be comfortably performed while lying on the floor. Have a spotter on hand for safety when performing this exercise. 


11 Parallel Bar Dips

This move is a tougher version of standard tricep dips (at number 3).

How to perform:

  • Using a narrow set of parallel bars to emphasize your triceps, grasp the bars with an overhand grip and then support your weight with your arms extended. Bend your legs and cross your feet for balance.
  • Bend your arms and descend until your biceps touch your forearms. Push back up and repeat. 

Variations: Make this exercise more demanding by holding a dumbbell between your knees, wearing a weighted vest or using a chin/dip belt loaded with weight plates. 


12 Overhead Cable Triceps Extensions 

The final few moves are variations of the tricep extension (the overhead tricep extension came in at number 4).

How to perform:

  • Attach a handle to a low pulley. Grasp the handle with an overhand grip and lift it so that the cable is behind you and your hands are behind your head.
  • Keeping your upper arms close to your ears, extend your arms fully and then lower the handle back down behind your head. Keep your abs braced throughout. 

Variations: This exercise can be performed using a V-shaped, straight or rope handle as preferred. You can also adopt a staggered stance and lean forward from your hips for variation. 


13 Kneeling Cable Triceps Extensions 

How to perform:

  • Fix a handle to a high cable and place an exercise bench on the floor around 6-feet away from the machine. With your back to the cable, grasp the bar handle with an overhand grip and then kneel down. Lean forward and rest your elbows on the bench.
  • Starting with your elbows bent and the handle behind your head, extend your arms without lifting your elbows off the bench. Bend your arms and repeat. 

Variations: This exercise is the triceps equivalent of the preacher biceps curl. Use a V-shaped bar or rope as preferred. 


14 TRX Triceps Extensions 

How to perform:

  • Shorten the straps on your TRX or other suspension trainer so they are around waist-height. Take a handle in each hand and step out into a split stance. Extend your arms so they are perpendicular to your body.
  • Keeping your upper arms stationary, bend your elbows and lower your head toward your hands. Control the handles and do not let them fall outward or inward. Extend your arms and repeat. 

Tips: Use your front leg to assist your arms and adjust the difficult of this exercise. Standing with your feet together will make this exercise much more demanding. 


15 Cross Body Dumbbell Triceps Extensions 

How to perform:

  • Lie on your back on an exercise bench with a dumbbell in one hand. Press the dumbbell up to arms length and hold it over your shoulder. Turn your hand so your palm is facing down your body.
  • Bend your elbow and lower the dumbbell to your opposite shoulder. Extend your arm and repeat. 

Variations: This exercise can also be performed lying on the floor. Do the same number of repetitions on each arm. 

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