The 10 Best Tricep Exercises for Muscle & Strength

If you want to add muscle and gain strength in your upper arms, you should prioritize training your triceps.

Your tricep is by far the largest muscle in your upper arm, with more than twice the volume of your biceps.1

It is involved in all pushing and pressing movements and is thus an important muscle to develop whether you want to increase your bench press strength or fill out your shirt sleeves.

In this article, we’ll review ten of the best tricep exercises you can do in or out of the gym. We’ll cover exercises for all three heads of the triceps, to maximize muscle growth and strength gain.

Let’s get into it!

Triceps Anatomy

To understand which tricep exercises you should include in your workout routine, you must understand the tricep muscle.

The triceps are the large muscles on the back of your arms. As the name states, the tricep has three separate heads, originating from different places, which come together into one tendon inserting on your elbow bone.

The three parts of the triceps are:

  1. The long head. Originates from your shoulder blade. This head sits closest to your side and rubs against your lats. It makes up about 50% of the triceps muscle volume and is the only head that crosses two joints: the shoulder and the elbow.
  2. The lateral head. Originates from your upper arm bone. This is the head that, among other things, creates the “lump” on the outside of your arm, at least when the muscle is well developed. This head makes up about 38% of the triceps muscle volume.
  3. The medial head. Also originates from your upper arm bone but lies closest to the bone beneath the two other heads. This is the smallest head and makes up only about 12% of the triceps muscle volume.
Tricep muscle

The lateral and medial tricep heads only cross one joint: your elbow. The long head of the tricep, on the other hand, crosses two joints: your elbow and your shoulder joint. This means that the muscle length of the long head varies depending on what position your arm is in, but that is not the case for the medial and lateral head.

Research shows that the long head of the triceps is at a short muscle length when your upper arm is by your side, and at a long muscle length when your upper arm is elevated in front of or above you.2

This is important because, generally, muscles seem to grow better from training at long muscle lengths compared to short.3

In this list, we’ll look at the ten best exercises for working three all heads of your triceps. By combining the right exercises, like we do in our triceps workout, you’ll get the fastest and largest development of your tricep muscles.

1. Overhead Cable Triceps Extension

The overhead tricep extension is one of the most studied isolation exercises for the tricep, and it has proven its use again and again.

Recently, a study had 21 participants train overhead cable extensions with one arm, and tricep pushdowns (where the upper arm is by your side, pointing toward the ground) with one arm. After twelve weeks of training twice per week, the tricep muscle of the arm that had trained overhead tricep extensions had grown in muscle volume by 19.9%, compared with only 13.9% for the arm that had trained pushdowns.4

Overhead triceps extensions are great exercises for the triceps as a whole, but especially for the long head of the tricep. This was evident in the study mentioned above, as the long head grew in volume by a whopping 28.5% in the overhead triceps extension group – 1.5 times more than the 19.6% in the pushdown group.

The reason why overhead tricep extensions are so effective for working your tricep as a whole, but especially the long head, was mentioned in the previous section on tricep anatomy: in an overhead position where your arm is elevated, the long head is at a long muscle length.

Training at long muscle lengths yields greater muscle growth in other muscles, and the tricep does not seem to be an exception.

How to Do Overhead Cable Triceps Extensions

  1. Fasten a rope handle in the lower position of a cable machine. Stand with your back against the pulley, with a slight forward lean, and hold the rope behind your head and your upper arms next to your ears.
  2. Straighten your elbows until your arms are fully extended.
  3. Reverse the motion by bending your arms again.

2. Dumbbell Standing Triceps Extension

Don’t have access to a cable? The overhead dumbbell tricep extension is another way to work your tricep in the overhead position.

I remember doing this exercise a lot when I was a teenager and had just gotten a dumbbell for Christmas. One thing I did often was that toward the end of the set, when I could no longer lift the dumbbell with one arm, I used two hands to get the weight up, and then slowly lowered it down using only one arm, resisting the eccentric portion.

It worked tremendously well, and the rapid arm growth I saw from training with that dumbbell was an important motivator for me to keep strength training.

Anyhow: you can perform this exercise with a lighter weight and work one arm at a time, or use a heavier weight and hold it in two hands to work both arms simultaneously. You can even do standing tricep extensions with a barbell, although the size can make it a bit awkward.

How to Do Dumbbell Standing Triceps Extensions

  1. Lift a dumbbell to a straight arm over your head.
  2. Lower the dumbbell down behind your head while keeping your upper arm still and vertical.
  3. Reverse the motion and extend your arm again.

3. Barbell Lying Triceps Extension

This is another classic barbell tricep exercise, and it is also a highly effective exercise for increasing your tricep muscle size.

Like in the standing tricep exercises we just looked at, your upper arm is elevated relative to your upper body in this exercise, making it a great exercise for your tricep as a whole, but the long head of your tricep in particular.

One study compared the barbell lying tricep extension with the bench press over ten weeks of training twice weekly. The participants that trained the lying tricep extension grew their tricep muscle volume twice as much as those who trained the bench press (10% vs. 5% muscle volume increase), and the long head in particular: 17.5% growth vs. 2.1% growth.5

This exercise is also sometimes referred to as the skull crusher, but skull crushers actually require you to lower the barbell toward your forehead. True to the name, that is not without risk, and I recommend you bypass your head, like in the image above, to mitigate the risk and also get a longer range of motion for your triceps.

How to Do Barbell Lying Triceps Extensions

  1. Lie down on a bench with your head close to the edge. Hold a barbell with a shoulder-wide grip, and lift it up to straight arms over yourself.
  2. Lower the barbell down behind your head. Try to keep the same distance between your elbows throughout the movement.
  3. Reverse the motion and extend your arms again.

4. Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension

Don’t have access to or want to use a barbell in your lying tricep extensions? Then a pair of dumbbells are equally effective.

The benefit of using dumbbells is that you can more closely control that you are actually working both arms equally. The potential downside is that dumbbells are less stable than a barbell, which might make this exercise slightly more difficult.

How to Do Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extensions

  1. Lie down on a bench which your head close to the edge. Hold a pair of dumbbells with your arms pointing straight up.
  2. Lower the dumbbell down behind your head. Try to keep the same distance between your elbows throughout the movement.
  3. Reverse the motion and extend your arms again.

5. Tricep Pushdown With Bar

As mentioned earlier, in a study comparing the triceps pushdown with the overhead tricep extension, the latter resulted in superior muscle growth by 40–50%.

Does that mean the tricep pushdown does not have its place in tricep training? Not so fast.

Another study, similar in design, also compared the same two exercises and found different results: the total tricep growth was similar between the two, but was distributed differently. Overhead tricep extensions resulted in more muscle growth in the parts of the tricep closer to the elbow, while pushdowns resulted in more growth higher up on the arm, closer to the shoulder.6

My takeaway from these two studies is that even if overhead tricep extensions might be superior if you were only to pick one tricep exercise, your best bet for maximum development of your tricep is to combine many different tricep exercises, where your upper arm is in different positions. Do both overhead tricep extensions and pushdowns.

The tricep pushdown can be performed with either a bar (like in the GIF above) or with a rope. It probably doesn’t matter too much for your tricep activation, and I suggest you go with whichever handle feels most comfortable to you.

How to Do Tricep Pushdowns With Proper Form

  1. Stand one step away from the cable pulley, and grip a bar about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Pull the handle down until your upper arms are perpendicular to the floor. This is the starting position.
  3. Push the handle down until your arms are fully extended.
  4. With control, let the handle up again.

6. Close-Grip Bench Press

The close-grip bench press is a classic chest and tricep exercise for strength and muscle gain, and a more tricep-intensive variation of the regular bench press.

Pressing exercises such as the bench press has been shown to grow and strengthen your triceps, albeit maybe not to the exact same rate that pure tricep exercises do.

However, it is possible, that they contribute to your tricep development in a different way.

In the earlier study comparing the barbell lying tricep extension with the bench press, the tricep extensions mainly yielded growth in the long and medial head of the triceps, whereas the bench press wasn’t as effective.

The bench press did, however, result in better growth in the lateral head of the tricep, increasing the muscle area by 7.2% on average compared to no growth at all (0.6%) from the lying tricep extensions.

Again, by adding a different type of tricep exercise (a pressing exercise) to your tricep workouts, you might achieve superior muscle growth compared to putting all your eggs in one tricep basket.

How to Do Close-Grip Bench Press

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
  2. Grip the bar narrower than in a regular bench press so your hands are directly above your shoulders or closer.
  3. Take a breath and hold it, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control until it touches your chest somewhere where the ribs end.
  5. Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
  6. Take another breath in the top position, and repeat for reps.

7. Close-Grip Push-Up

No bench or weights? No problem! Let’s finish up this article with a few body weight tricep exercises.

The close-grip push-up is another compound exercise that works your chest, shoulders, and triceps, and it requires no equipment at all.

The pressing movement emphasizes the lateral head of your tricep compared to the overhead tricep isolation exercises, and by keeping a close grip, you move more of the work from your shoulder and chest muscles to your triceps.

If you want to take the close grip even further, you can move your hands together until the fingers touch each other and do so-called diamond push-ups.

How to Do Close-Grip Push-Ups

  1. Assume the starting position with hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Form a straight line from head to feet and brace your abdomen slightly.
  3. Lower yourself as deep as you can, while inhaling.
  4. Reverse the motion when you’ve touched the floor and push yourself up to straight arms again while exhaling.
  5. Repeat for reps.

8. Bar Dip

The bar dip is another exercise that works your chest and triceps simultaneously. This exercise is a heavy one, and it requires a good bit of upper body strength to be able to perform.

If you can perform it, however, you have access to a great exercise for developing your upper body (and triceps) strength and musculature even further. The bar dip doesn’t require any weight to perform, but you need some kind of dip station.

Again, the bar dip works your tricep differently compared to the pure tricep exercises, as your upper arm is moving forward while your tricep is extending.

How to Do Bar Dips

  1. Grip a dip station about shoulder-width apart, and climb or jump to get into the starting position.
  2. Lower yourself with control until your shoulder is below your elbow, or as deep as you comfortably can.
  3. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.

9. Bench Dip

The bench dip (or tricep dip) is a slightly easier dip variation and doesn’t require as much strength as the bar dip to perform. This exercise is also a little easier to do at home, as all you need is some kind of low, sturdy bench (or chair?).

This is another pressing exercise for your triceps, and it is possible that it yields muscle growth in other regions of your triceps than the isolation exercises do.

One word of advice for the bench dip is to go easy on the range of motion in the beginning. If you have a limited range of motion in your shoulders, deep bench dips might be uncomfortable and increase your risk of a shoulder injury. In that case, begin by not going too deep, and then strive to gradually increase your depth in this exercise, as your shoulders increase their mobility.

How to Do Bench Dips

  1. Turn your back towards a sturdy training bench, and put your hands on the pad about shoulder-width apart. Extend your legs in front of you.
  2. Lower yourself with control for as far as comfortable by bending your arms.
  3. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.

10. Tricep Bodyweight Extension

The last exercise on this list is a bodyweight tricep extension.

As you can see, the joint and muscle action in this exercise mimics that of an overhead tricep extension or a barbell lying tricep extension. Your upper arm is elevated relative to your torso, and the extension takes part in your elbow joints.

While it might be a little tricky to learn, this exercise is great for working out your triceps at home, as long as you have something to hold on to. Sandrine uses a bar in the GIF above, but you could also use a suspension trainer or a rope attached to a ceiling or doorway.

You can also adjust the resistance level in this exercise by changing the height of the handle: a higher handle means less resistance, and a lower handle means more resistance.

How to Do Triceps Bodyweight Extension

  1. Grab the bar using an overhead grip with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Your arms should be fully extended at the starting position, and your core and glutes activated as in a standing plank position.
  3. Bend the arms, bring your torso forward, and lower your head below the bar. Do the movement slow and controlled.
  4. Reverse the movement by straightening your arms.
  5. Repeat for reps.

How Many Tricep Exercises Should You Do?

How many tricep exercises you should do depends on how much time you want to invest, and how important it is to get optimal tricep development compared to “just” good tricep development.

Minimalist Approach

A minimalist approach is just to pick one good tricep exercise. The best tricep exercises, according to research, seem to be the ones where your upper arm is elevated relative to your upper body or even over your head, like in exercises #1–4 and #10 in this list.

These exercises have been proven to result in great tricep muscle growth, especially in the long head of the tricep. The long head is the largest tricep head, and also the one least likely to get sufficient training from any push exercises you might be doing.

Even More Minimalist

An even more minimalist approach would be not to do any tricep isolation exercises at all, but instead, stick to compound exercises where you work your triceps along with your chest and shoulders. For example, with exercises like the bench press, overhead press, or push-up.

This will not yield optimal tricep growth, as pressing exercises only seem to develop the tricep at about half the rate of tricep isolation exercises. They do, however, seem to be effective for developing the lateral head of the triceps.5

Optimal Tricep Growth

So how many exercises should you do if you want to optimize and maximize your tricep muscle growth?

My recommendation is to do three different types of tricep exercises:

  1. One tricep extension where your upper arm is elevated. Like in the overhead tricep extensions or lying tricep extensions.
  2. One tricep extension where your upper arm is by your side. Like in the tricep pushdown.
  3. One pressing movement. Like in the close grip bench press, bar dip, or overhead press.

The first type of exercise, where your upper arm is elevated, is probably the most effective type of tricep exercise as they continually show great tricep muscle growth in scientific training studies. They also seem to preferentially grow the long head of the tricep, as that is in a lengthened position when your upper arm is elevated.

The second group of exercises, where your arm is by your side, means that your long tricep head is in a shortened position, which shifts which tricep heads are working. This might emphasize your lateral tricep head more, and one study also showed that pushdowns resulted in more muscle growth in the upper part of the tricep, closer to the shoulder, while overhead extensions resulted in more growth in the lower part, closer to the elbow.

The final group of exercises works your triceps in a pressing movement, where your upper arm is brought forward at the same time that your elbow joint is extending. This probably means that the long head of your tricep doesn’t change in muscle length much, which might shift the work to your lateral head. Indeed, this is what one of the studies we’ve mentioned hints at, as the bench press resulted in more lateral head muscle growth than the overhead press did.

By combining exercises from all three groups, you will maximize your muscle growth and develop all parts of your triceps optimally.

How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do of Each Tricep Exercise?

Tricep exercises lend themselves well to a medium-to-high rep range of about 8–15 reps per set, or even up to 20 reps per set. This rep range is highly effective for muscle growth, and the medium-to-light reps that you will be using are easy on your elbow joints.

Many people, especially older lifters, feel that doing tricep exercises with heavy weights and low reps feels uncomfortable for their elbows, and staying with a slightly higher number of reps and lighter weights can be a good way around this.

An exception to this is pressing exercises, where you can often get away with using heavier weights and lower reps without irritating your elbows, as the shoulder joint is often more loaded than the elbow joint in these exercises.

Regarding the number of sets, research has found that more sets lead to greater muscle growth up to a point of about ten sets per muscle per week.7

This is based mainly on studies with previously untrained participants, and it is likely that you will require slightly higher training volumes to keep growing as you get more trained. Up to 15 to 20 sets per muscle group and week is not uncommon for trained individuals to do, but you should be careful not to do too much too soon, as that increases your risk of injury.

You should also consider the number of tricep exercises you wish to include in order to work all tricep heads and distribute your sets among these exercises.

A Tricep Workout for Muscle & Strength Gains

Don’t want to design your own tricep workout?

Then follow ours!

Our tricep workout is designed to maximize your tricep growth and develop all three heads of your triceps. It uses a variety of exercises and both low and high-rep sets to maximize strength and muscle growth.

I hope you learned something from this list of the best triceps exercises, and wish you good luck with your tricep training!


  1. Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2017, 39(5). Large and small muscles in resistance training: Is it time for a better definition?
  2. Acta Orthop Traumatol Turc. 2018 May; 52(3): 201–205. The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension.
  3. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 37(5):p 1135-1144, May 2023. Which ROMs Lead to Rome? A Systematic Review of the Effects of Range of Motion on Muscle Hypertrophy.
  4. Eur J Sport Sci. 2022 Aug 11;1-11. Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position.
  5. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 34(5):p 1254-1263, May 2020. Varying the Order of Combinations of Single- and Multi-Joint Exercises Differentially Affects Resistance Training Adaptations.
  6. J. Funct. Morphol. Kinesiol. 2018, 3(2), 28. Triceps Brachii Muscle Strength and Architectural Adaptations with Resistance Training Exercises at Short or Long Fascicle Length.
  7. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
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Daniel Richter

Daniel has a decade of experience in powerlifting, is a certified personal trainer, and has a Master of Science degree in engineering. Besides competing in powerlifting himself, he coaches both beginners and international-level lifters. Read more about Daniel and StrengthLog by clicking here.