If Instagram has taught us anything in the last few years, it’s that the fitness industry has gone absolutely gaga for glutes. And yeah, I get it! Glutes are pretty awesome, and serve a more functional purpose than just shilling skin for likes and follows on da’gram. But what if I were to tell you that glute envy craze has hit it’s peak, and there is another both aesthetically and functionally appealing region of the body that’s about to take it’s place?
No, I’m not talking about the abs, that’s so 1990’s bro. And definitely not the traps either, their time has come and gone. They are the true signature of a strong and powerful physique that also have the ability to protect the elbows and shoulders while unlocking potential on ALL of the big lifts. Yes, you heard it here first, I’m referring to the triceps. The triceps are truly the new glutes.
But lets not pretend that traditional barbell bench press and classic triceps push downs are going to build the big and brutally strong triceps that are as functional as they are fucking awesome to show off in a cutoff. If you want to build legitimate triceps that are as much show as they are go, you better start hitting them hard, heavy and everywhere in-between from a variety of angles and variations.
But before you go blasting your joints to oblivion on outrageous volumes and intensities on direct triceps work, it’s pivotal that you not only choose optimal exercise variations, but program each correctly for maximal gain, and none of the common elbow pain that’s commonly associated with triceps work. Here are the 10 most effective triceps exercises for size, strength and sparing the shoulder and elbows.
#10 Banded Triceps Variations
It’s easy to forget about the “less sexy” variations and banded pushdowns probably aren’t on most people’s lists for top triceps variations, but let’s be clear these variations will be used as a prehabilitative measure to improve elastic properties of tendons. This work is done for very high volumes, explosively, and for the short amount of time it will take you to complete this work the return on investment is massive. Moreover, band work for tendons is critical for increasing stored elastic energy. Remember, the series elastic component (SEC) is the workhorse of plyometric exercise and is comprised mostly of tendons. During eccentric range of motion the SEC is stretched and elastic energy is stored – this work will translate to improving your explosiveness. As Louie Simmons says, “strength is measured in time” – improving explosive strength is an important part of the equation for health and performance.
Programming – 2x a week – 100-200 total reps per session – rotate variations each session
#9 Cable Pushdowns
This variation is nothing new, but it’s important to vary you grip with this as well movement as well as the attachment you use as this can change the aspect of the triceps that is emphasized. For instance, using a reverse or supinated grip will stress the medial head of the triceps where as a pronated grip will stress the lateral head. The execution is similar to that of our banded triceps pushdowns, but the intent is for hypertrophy – time under tension where reps are more slow and controlled. With this particular variation I tend to favor the supinated grip as the medial head of the triceps is often overlooked.
Programming – 1x a week – 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
#8 Rollback Triceps Extensions
This is a favorite of mine and for my clients. This variation has two components – an extension behind the head into a neutral press. Because of this we are able to effectively target the long head of the triceps (behind the head positioning) and the anconeus upon completion. This variation also tends to be more joint friendly not being a “true extension” because of how the movement is finished. With that said, this variation may be the variation to help you break that plateau in your bench press. This variation can be done with a barbell or dumbbells and the angle can be manipulated to add variety i.e. incline, decline, flat bench.
Programming – 1x a week – 4-5 sets of 10-15 reps
#7 The JM Press
The JM Press is a staple in Conjugate Programming and rightfully so. Why is the variation effective? It places a great deal of stress on the lateral head of the triceps. This variation can be done a number of ways – personally I prefer with the safety squat bar (handles removed), but it can be done with a barbell as well. You’ll notice the execution is slightly different with a barbell vs. SSB.
Programming – 1x a week –5-6 sets of 6-8 reps
#6 Pin Bench Press Lockout or Dead Bench Press
The pin lockout bench press is an incredible exercise to build absolute strength. This is the exercise that we’ll likely perform for max effort work progressively building to a 1 rep max, but that’s not say you couldn’t perform this variation using the submaximal method building to 3-6RM – dead stop on each repetition. This can be performed from a variety of heights with a variety of grips, but since we are talking about building the triceps we are going to stick with a medium or a close grip. Since you’re starting from the bottom we can strategically target individual mini-maxes or sticking pointsand adjust pin height to align with our individual limitations. It’s important to establish more than a few records and retest them every 12-weeks to ensure your programming is working. Additionally, if you have access to accommodating resistance or a specialty bar like a football bar you’ll have even more variations to choose from. With Max Effort work make sure you rotate your variations weekly though.
Programming – Max Effort Work – rotate variations weekly: Build to a 1RM from three heights – 4” above chest, 6” above chest, 8” above chest – Submax Work: Build to a 3-6RM
#5 The Floor Press
The floor press is another variation we’ll use for Max Effort work. The intent of the floor press is similar to that of your dead press, but with this variation there is an eccentric component. I love this variation to work the lockout and in particular using a medium grip (just inside shoulder width) to ensure the emphasis is on the triceps group and not the front deltoids.
Programming – Max Effort Work – Build to a 1RM retesting every 12 weeks.
#4 The Bradford Press
While the Bradford press isn’t the most likely choice for your triceps work as there is contributions from the posterior and anterior deltoids, but the nature of this movement keeps the triceps under tension for longer sets – 60+ seconds. Be forewarned, the pain and local muscle fatigue you’ll experience is hard to match. The muscle pump is unmatched too! For an added challenge you add an oscillatory effect by using a bamboo bar with hanging kettlebells or affix hanging weights to your barbell.
Programming – 1x a week – 3 sets of 25 reps (back + front = 1 rep)
#3 The Tate Press
Another variation to stress the lateral head of your triceps as well as the anconeus. This variation is another staple in Conjugate Programming. This variation I recommend to be done with lighter loads for higher repetitions as this is an easy exercise to cheat with and turn into more press than an extension.
Programming – 1x a week – 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps
#2 Rolling Dumbbell Triceps Extensions
This movement consists of an extension past the forehead into a neutral grip press – essentially the same finish as the rollback triceps extensions. Where the main difference lies is with the extension past the forehead which will hit all three heads of the triceps equally, but the stress on the elbow joint is less than that of a pure triceps extension.
Programming – 1x a week – 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps
#1 Dumbbell Floor Press with Neutral Grip
The final variation may come as a shock to you, but for pain free performance it’s tough to beat the DB Floor Press with a neutral grip. This variation much like it’s barbell counterpart does work the top-range of your press and even though the range of motion is less, without the use of the legs to drive the loading one can handle tends to be roughly 10% less of the bench variation. Of course, you can perform this one with a pronated grip as well, but for the general population I find the neutral grip to be more advantageous in terms of keeping the glenohumeral joint centrated and thus decreasing stress on the front deltoid. This variation is going to stress all three heads of the triceps group. One caveat is to make sure you have a spotter to help you get the dumbbells into place.
Programming – 1x a week – 4-5 sets of 6-10 reps
Time To Train The Triceps
So there you have it, the top 10 triceps exercises video, executional details and programming considerations that will have you building triceps like Tate with the shoulder and elbow health of Rusin. Now I call that training with the best of both worlds. And for the record, before you invest another second into your 87th set of glute work for the week, just make sure that your triceps aren’t lagging to a level of embarrassment in and out of the gym. Now get to work.
My name is Jason Brown and I have been fitness professional for nearly 15 years. I have owned my own facility, trained a wide-range of clients ranging from soccer moms, military personnel, law enforcement, CrossFit athletes, Powerlifters, and professional athletes. My area of specialization is providing a system of concurrent fitness geared toward the general population in a group setting. Currently, I own BoxProgramming.com and write programming for over 300 facilities world-wide.