Tricep Exercises to Tone and Shape Your Arms

Do you want stronger, firmer, and more toned arms?

You’d be a fool to say no.

The simple truth is that we all want a pair of well-defined arms.

The issue is that most of us go about training them the wrong way — by focusing too much on the biceps and not enough on the triceps.

And it’s easy to see why. After all, the biceps are on the front of the body, and they’re the ones glamourized in movies, magazines, and tv. The triceps are on the back of the arm and are often forgotten about save for a few sets of measly kickbacks tacked onto the end of your workouts.

But, the reality is, is that if you want to have arms to causes people to stop what they’re doing and take notice, you want to prioritize training your triceps over your biceps. Beyond that, building stronger triceps also helps burn calories and eliminate those flabby old lady “bingo” arms!

Ahead we’ve got a slew of fresh tricep exercises you can incorporate into your training program to spark new growth, burn fat, and develop lean, toned arms.

8 Best Tricep Exercises to Tone Your Arms

 

Kettlebell Skull Crushers

No doubt you’ve seen kettlebells in the gym, and maybe given them a try when performing sumo deadlifts, goblet squats, or even some kettlebell swings.

But, have you ever given thought to use them for training your triceps?

Probably not.

That’s too bad because kettlebells are an incredibly useful training tool for the triceps.

The secret is knowing how kettlebells to properly implement the versatile free weights into your training program to maximize their unique construction and offset weight distribution.

When combining kettlebells with the classic tricep isolation exercise, the skull crusher, you create an exercise that solves one of the biggest problems with most free weight exercises — loss of tension on the working muscle at specific points of the exercise.

You see when performing traditional skull crushers with a pair of dumbbells once you fully extend the elbow, there is a very little tension on the triceps in the fully contracted position. However, when using kettlebells, you can maintain greater tension at the top of the movement thanks to the angle of pull of the kettlebells.

This increased tension creates more metabolic stress, cell volumization, and occlusion which leads to greater muscle pumps, all of which help drive greater muscle growth.

While performing skull crushers on a flat bench (or even the floor) is a perfectly suitable option, we like to up the ante on this exercise even further by performing it on a decline bench.

Doing so reduces the involvement of the front delts, allows for a greater stretch on the long head of the triceps, and ultimately forces all three heads of the triceps to perform more work. To top it off, many lifters also find that performing skull crushers with kettlebells on a decline helps eliminate elbow pain commonly experienced when performing the exercise with a barbell.

Bodyweight Tricep Extension

The bodyweight tricep extension is the bodyweight version of a skull crusher, and it’s also a fantastic way to work all three heads of the triceps. It even helps tone and tighten your core!

Bodyweight tricep extensions are typically performed a TRX, gymnastics rings, or some suspension trainer, but even if you don’t have access to these pieces of equipment, you can still perform bodyweight triceps extensions by using the bar in a Smith machine or a barbell fixed in place on a power rack.

The reason we suggest the use of suspension trainers is that it allows for a slightly greater range of motion compared to the fixed barbell or bench varieties. This is most important when concerned with emphasizing the long head of the triceps, as to place a maximum stretch on it, the arm has to get up and overhead.

To perform the bodyweight triceps extension, grasp the handles of your suspension trainer and face away from the anchor point. Orient your body, so it’s at an angle of about 45 degrees to the ground with the handles overhead and arms straight.

Brace your abs, engage your glutes, and keep everything as tight as possible, slowly bend the elbows so that that handles move in an arc along the sides and finish back behind your head.

Pause in this position, then flex the triceps to return to the top.

Alternating Kettlebell Skull Crusher

The alternating kettlebell skull crusher ups the ante on the standard KB version of the skull crusher by increasing the time under tension to an even higher degree.

For this triceps exercise variation, it can be performed lying on the floor, on a flat bench, incline bench or decline bench. Begin as you would in conventional arms extended and perpendicular to your torso.

Lower both kettlebells to the sides of your head. The first rep begins by extending your right arm while the left arm remains in the stretched position next to your head. Once you have completed one rep with your right arm, it’s now time to perform a rep with your left arm. Continue performing these in an alternating fashion until all reps are complete.

It may sound simple, but remember the arm that is not moving is held at the bottom of the skull crusher movement, which creates tremendous mechanical tension and metabolic stress (two of the principal drivers of hypertrophy), thanks to the constant tension induced by the kettlebells.

This is what makes the alternating kettlebell skull crusher one of the most challenging exercises, yet one of the best muscle-building ones too.

Decline Close-Grip Press

The close-grip bench press along with dips should make up the majority of your heavy compound exercises for training the triceps. But similar to dips, the close-grip press can irritate that shoulder joint when it is performed on a flat bench. This can be solved one of two way:

  • Performing the Close-grip Press on the Floor, or
  • Using a CDcline Bench

The added benefit of the decline bench, in addition to reducing shoulder stress, is that it allows the elbows to travel behind the torso, creating greater stretch and tension on the triceps.

The close-grip press can be performed with dumbbells or a barbell with plates. If using the barbell option, be mindful of your grip width. Many lifters make the mistake of placing their hands right next to each other on the close-grip press, which contributes to some of the shoulder irritation they commonly experience.

Your hands only need to be about shoulder-width apart or slightly inside of shoulder width to effectively stimulate the triceps while avoiding unwanted shoulder irritation.

Cable Kickbacks

Tricep kickbacks are one of the most common exercises performed in the gym around the world. Typically, the exercise is carried out using a pair of dumbbells, or a single dumbbell if working one arm at a time.

While that’s an “ok” option for the triceps, it suffers from the fact that there’s not a great deal of tension on the triceps for portions of the exercise. You see, more often than not, individuals make one of two (or both) mistakes — they don’t use a full range of motion, or they pick too heavy of a dumbbell, which causes their elbow to drop, turning the exercise from a triceps isolation exercise into one that works the shoulders, biceps, and triceps.

The cable triceps kickback takes the best elements of this isolation exercise and makes it better with the introduction of the constant tension on the triceps thanks to the cable column. The dumbbell version creates little tension in the triceps at the start of the exercise. Using a cable, however, automatically places tension on the triceps (particularly the lateral head which contributes to the “horseshoe look” of the triceps) at the start of the exercise.

To perform the single arm triceps cable kickback, attach a D-handle to the lower pulley of a cable machine, or grab the rubber ball if there’s no handle available. Perform the kick back just as you would if you were using a dumbbell — keep your elbow high and fixed to your side. Make sure that your upper arm and torso are parallel to each other and your lower arm is perpendicular to your body at the start of the movement.

Tricep Pushdowns

Pushdowns are another staple triceps-building exercise performed by most gym rats, and it’s another seemingly simple exercise that’s done improperly. You’ve probably seen it for yourself.

A lifter walks over to the cable column, loads up a ton of weight, hunches over the bar or rope attachment, flairs their elbows and starts repping away. While it might seem like they’re getting a great triceps workout, in reality, they’re getting minimal activation of the triceps and working a lot of their chest and shoulders.

To get the most out of this exercise, you need to make sure you’re correctly set up. This begins with getting your hands out in front of your body at about the level of your chest at the start of the movement. Additionally, instead of allowing your elbows to flare, you need to keep your elbows pinned to your sides and slightly behind your body.

This position allows for maximum tension on the triceps, which is what we want after all.

Now, you’ll quickly realize that you won’t be able to lift nearly as much weight as you are used to doing, but that’s ok. There’s no trophy for moving the entire stack of plates on pushdowns. That’s just your ego talking.

Performing the exercise correctly, maximizing tension on the triceps, and getting a substantial contraction is the key to sculpting better-looking arms.

In addition to serving as an excellent triceps muscle and strength-building exercise, the pushdowns can also serve as a great way to warm up your elbows ahead of the heavy compound lifts like bench press, overhead press, and pull-ups. Start with a lightweight (~15-20RM) and perform a 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps at the start of your workout to create a strong mind-muscle connection as well as increase blood flow to the elbow joint, which will help create a more stable joint for pressing movements and may help reduce some of the “crankiness” you typically experience with bench presses.

Triceps Diamond Push-Ups

While any push-up will strengthen and tone the triceps, diamond push-ups really up to the ante on triceps activation. If you’re used to doing standard push-ups, this variation will be a welcome addition to your training and help spark some new growth in your triceps.

Instead of beginning in a high plank with your hands just outside of shoulder width, bring your hands together until your fingers are touching (or nearly touching) into the shape of a diamond.

As you lower into the bottom of the push-up, make sure you keep your elbows pinned close to your sides. Allowing them to flare out and away from your body can place undue stress on the shoulder joint and lead to potential injury.

Dips

If you’re used to doing dips in your workouts but finding not much to write home about in regard to building better arms, it’s probably because you’re doing the wrong kind of dips.

And by the “wrong kind” of dips, we’re referring to bench dips.

Every fitness and women’s health magazine on the planet will tell you to do bench or chair dips to strengthen your arms, but here’s the thing — for everyone but your grandma, bench dips aren’t that challenging of an exercise. Furthermore, they also can quickly ruin your shoulders if you aren’t performing them correctly.

If you’re serious about building better arms, you need to master your body weight and provide a real challenge for your arms with parallel bar dips. Not only are these a great triceps exercise, but they also help build stronger shoulders too!

Now, you may not have the necessary strength to start repping out multiple sets of 8-10 reps on dips. But that’s ok. You can begin by using a band assist, performing negatives, or an assisted dip machine.

If you don’t have access to an assisted dip machine or dip bars with a band assist, you can still perform bench dips, but with a few subtle tweaks.

Instead of setting up in the typical internally rotated position (fingers pointing towards your body), start by externally turning your hands so that your fingers are pointing out away from the sides of your body. This would have you place your hands along the sides of the seat of the chair instead of the front of it like you typically do.

What this does is that it opens the chest and helps keep the shoulders back in a more joint-friendly position as you begin the exercise. As you descend into each rep, consciously depress your shoulder blades and keep your shoulders down (“unshrugged”) throughout the entire range of motion exercise to ensure that you are maintaining proper position during the bench dip. Your triceps (and shoulders) will thank us!

Tricep Workouts for Toned Arms

 

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Close Grip Decline Press

4

10 / 10 / 8 / 6

Tricep Pushdowns

3

8-10

Overhead Cable Tricep Extension

3

10-12

Diamond Push Ups

2

AMRAP

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Dips (add weight if needed)

4

8-10

Cable Kickback

3

8-10

Kettlebell Skull crusher

3

10-12

Bodyweight Tricep Extension

2

AMRAP

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