Your triceps account for nearly 60% of the muscle mass in your upper arms, which makes it an integral muscle group in your training program. As the name so aptly suggest, the triceps have three different heads, the long, lateral, and medial. All of these heads contract during different triceps exercises, yet some exercises emphasize different parts of the triceps and stimulate them better than others. We’re going to discuss the best triceps exercises, to help you build strong, toned triceps, from every angle.
The triceps are located on the posterior (back) part of your upper arm between the elbow and shoulder directly below your bicep. Your triceps contain three different heads (short, medial, and long). Your triceps assist in elbow extension (straightening your arm at the elbow) and shoulder extension.
A study published by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) identified the best triceps exercises, by investigating which exercises stimulated the most muscle activity through electromyographic EMG electrodes. According to their study, they were able to rank the eight most common triceps exercises, according to muscle activation. While muscle activation matters to stimulate muscle hypertrophy, it’s not the only thing that determines best muscle building exercises. For example, although overhead triceps extensions are the fifth most effective triceps exercise in muscle activation, they can cause more physical stress on your joints.
There’s nothing like a traditional set of ropes or bands to help build the iconic horseshoe on the back of your arms. The triceps rope extension is extremely effective because it activates all three heads of your triceps. Based on the EMG study conducted by ACE, the triceps rope pushdown elicits around 74% activation. While this predominately works the triceps, it also stimulates and recruits the rear deltoids.
How To Do a Triceps Rope/band Extension
- Grab a set of ropes and connect it to the cable machine
- Set the cable to the highest height.
- Hold onto the rope near the knotted ends and begin with your elbows bent at 90 degrees. Pull the ropes down, with a slight bend at the waist, and knees also slightly bent.
- Pull down the rope and push each side away from each other, turning the ends out slightly to activate your triceps.
- Raise back up slightly above your forearms parallel to the floor and repeat.
If you don’t have access to a gym, or cable machine, you can use resistance bands. Attach it to the top of a doorway and tie a loose knot in the band halfway down.
The straight-bar triceps pushdown mimics the same movement pattern as the rope pushdown; however, the handle is exchanged with a straight bar. You can grip the bar shoulder width apart, palms faced down, or you can also grip the outside of the bar for a wider extension. Form is impeccable to stimulate all three heads of the triceps. The key to this exercise, is to keep your elbows positioned and stationary as you push the weight down.
How To Do a Straight Bar Triceps Push Down
- Using the cable machine, attached the short bar to the cable
- With your hips hinged and knees slightly bent, hold onto the bar with your elbows bent at 90 degrees.
- Keeping your elbows stationary, push the bar down contracting your triceps and extending all the way through the movement, pushing the weight towards your body.
- Bring the bar back to chest level without moving your elbows and repeat.
Diamond pushups are a more advanced variation of the traditional pushup, which isolates your triceps, by placing your hands together, in the shape of a triangle or diamond. Your base is less stable, when your hands are in a narrow position, which isolates your triceps for more effective activation.
A study published in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning, compared three different pushup variations using electromyographic EMG to investigate muscle stimulation and activity of the chest and triceps. Of the three variations (wide, shoulder width, and narrow) EMG activity was greater in both muscle groups from the narrow pushup [R].
How To Do Diamond Push-up
- Position your hands directly under your chest making a diamond or triangle shape with your hands.
- Straighten the legs into a plank position.
- Make sure your back is flat and your core is engaged
- Descend your chest until your chin or chest touches the ground. If you can’t go that low, go as low as you can—then work to build enough strength to lower all the way down over time.
- Your elbows should stay in close proximity to your sides.
- Press back to start, keeping your core activated and repeat.
Triceps dips are an extremely effective arm exercise, which targets all three heads of the triceps, as well as the lower chest. More advanced than other exercises, triceps dips are performed with bodyweight and can be done without any equipment. All you really need is a sturdy chair, bench, or plyo-box.
How To Do a Triceps Dip
- Sit on a chair or bench with your hands just outside of the hips and the knees bent or the legs extended straight out in front of you.
- Lift up onto the palms, keeping the hips and trunk very close to the chair or bench, bend the elbows, lowering down until they’re at about 90 degrees.
- Keep the elbows pointing behind you, the shoulders down and the abs engaged.
- Push back to start and repeat.
Triceps kickbacks were ranked second narrowly beating out triceps dips, amongst a total of eight different variations, with significant activation of all three heads [R].
Triceps kickbacks are best performed with dumbbells. Making sure you have proper form, is paramount to ensure effectiveness, activation, and engagement of the muscles.
How To Do a Triceps Kickback
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing toward each other.
- With your knees bent slightly, bring your torso near parallel to the floor and hinge at the hips.
- Engage your core, and bring your forearms to 90 degrees, then extend your arm(s) behind you, while keeping your elbow stationary near your side and contract your triceps.
- Lower the forearm down to about 90 degrees and repeat
According to the American Council on Exercise, these are some of the best tricep exercises, to build more muscle and strength to obtain well-defined and toned arms. Adding these movements to your exercise program or split training, will help you reach your goals and develop your tricep muscles.
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