Triceps Training – the Key to Bigger Arms

Woman performing a Bench Dip in a park

Tricep Bench Dip

Although many men start weight training with the sole aim of building up muscle and definition in their arms, triceps training is certainly not just for guys. 

The triceps are actually the larger muscle group in the arms, making up two-thirds of your arm mass. So regardless of whether you are a man wanting to build big arms, or a woman looking to tone up those “chicken wings”,  triceps training forms a vital part of your fitness workout.

The triceps are actually a set of three muscles (tri) which are used to straighten the arm, and are therefore used in pressing movements. To work the triceps efficiently, you need to work the long, medial and lateral heads of the muscle.

Triceps brachii

Triceps brachii


The triceps involve small muscles, so high repetitions can lead to over training. Limit a workout to 8-12 sets, split between three or four different exercises. Focus on intensity rather than quantity, i.e. “go heavy”. Many sets of lower rep workouts are better for the triceps. It is important to allow maximum tricep recovery during the week, so combine a tricep workout with other upper body exercises, as well as lower body, and cardio training.

Simple Tricep Training Routine:

1. Kneeling Extension (works the long head).

You need a resistance machine / lat pulldown machine for this exercise. Attach a V-shaped bar or rope to an adjustable pulley approximately 1.5m off the ground (about chest height). Kneel on the ground facing away from he machine, with elbows resting on a flat bench and feet pressed against the machine. The extension part of the exercise is the same as any other, but during the return phase, as you bend your elbows, lower your chest slightly to increase the stretch in the arms. Raise your chest again as you extend your arms with the next rep.

Recommendation: 1 set of 15 reps to warm up, followed by 3 sets of 8 reps.

2. Single Arm Pushdowns (works the lateral head)

Using the same machine set-up as above, hold the handle of the pulley in your right hand, palm up. Squeeze your should blades down and back, keeping them there for the entire movement. Straighten your elbow until fully extended, slowly return to the start and repeat. Keep elbows and shoulders stable. Switch arms to complete one set.

Recommendation: Three sets of 10 reps.

3. Triceps Kickbacks (works the medial head)

Start with your left hand and leg, knee resting on a bench, holding a dumbbell in your right hand (or your weakest hand to start with). Keeping your back flat and parallel to the floor, extend your right arms completely to fully contract the triceps, and then slowly return to the start position. Ensure that you keep your upper arm completely still. Switch arms to complete one set.

Recommendation: Three sets of 12 reps.

4. Triceps Dips

Dips are the ultimate tricep exercise, as you are forced to use your entire body weight. When performing dips keep your body upright to isolate the triceps. Lower yourself down until your elbow is bent 90 degrees, then raise. To start with this exercise may seem like the hardest by far, but if you keep training, you will eventually need to start performing weighted dips to built the triceps further.

Tricep Training Tips

Do not go overboard with triceps exercises, as it is easy to over-train them. Ensure that you work the biceps, and the rest of the body too, to avoid looking out of proportion. But remember, if you want bigger arms, then the triceps are the real key, and not the biceps.

More like this in the Strength Training section

  4 comments for “Triceps Training – the Key to Bigger Arms

  1. robinson
    May 15, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    whats your recommendation for triceps dips? i mean how many sets and reps?

  2. MotleyHealth
    May 15, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Treat them like any other weight training exercise. Perform sets of about 10, add weight if it becomes too easy.

  3. robinson
    May 16, 2010 at 2:33 am

    how to add weight? and use what to add weight?

  4. MotleyHealth
    May 16, 2010 at 7:54 am

    You would need a weight lifting dip belt for this. Your hang weights from the chain on the belt to add resistance. But for now you may be OK just doing bodyweight dips and working on triceps extensions. You also work the triceps with bench press.

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