Building bigger triceps is key to growing your arms, as the triceps muscles make up the majority of the arm.
To build bigger triceps, you want to choose exercises that target all three heads of the triceps. The most common exercises are close grip presses, dips, pushdowns, and overhead extensions. If you are lacking tricep growth, you may also want to increase your training volume, frequency, and broaden the rep ranges you train in.
As someone who spent many years struggling to grow my triceps, I finally found strategies and exercises that helped me gain arm mass, and in this article I share my top tips with you.
- On average, a new Fitbod user who trains 3 times a week for about 45 minutes will see a 34% strength increase after 3 months. Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Anatomy of the Triceps
The triceps is a group of muscles (three smaller muscles, each referred to as “the triceps”). The three smaller muscles of the triceps are the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head.
The long head of the triceps runs the full length of the back of the arm, and is targeted by most triceps movements that involve pressing or when the elbows remove backwards overhead and the elbows bends and straightens.
For example, skullcrushers and overhead extensions (especially when the elbows are tucked into the sides of the body).
The long head is the biggest muscle of the triceps, which will contribute to most of the visual growth of the triceps.
The lateral head of the triceps is the outer portion of the triceps, and is targeted during many of the same movements as the long head.
To target the lateral head more, you can allow the elbows to be flared off the body more, such as in a diamond push up, rope pushdown, or lateral cable triceps extension.
The medial head is located in the inner part of the triceps, and is targeted when you take a reverse grip on many of the common triceps exercises.
Exercises like the reverse grip cable pushdown, reverse grip bench press, and the reverse grip skullcrusher are all good ways to target the medial head of the triceps.
How Long Does It Take to Build Big Triceps?
Building bigger muscles can take anywhere between 6-12 weeks, depending on your training program, experience level, and nutrition. In that time, you can expect to gain ½-1inch on your arms or more.
In a previous article, we talked about how much muscle you can expect to gain in a month, which you can learn more about below:
6 Tips for Getting Bigger Triceps
Below are six tips for getting bigger triceps. We will discuss how programming, exercise selection, and proper form can have a huge impact on your results.
1. Add More Volume
The first step to getting bigger triceps is to understand how many total sets of triceps you’re doing each week.
For general growth of the triceps, you want to try to deliver 10-15 total work sets per week. If you are lacking growth, try bumping this up to 15-20 sets. If you still are having issues, you could bump it up to a whopping 20-25 total weekly work sets, as long as you spread out that volume across 2-3 days (see below).
If you are lacking the growth you want, one of the first factors to consider is that you may not be training your triceps enough throughout the week. Training volume refers to the overall amount of weekly work you deliver to a muscle, usually expressed in total sets per week.
When looking at building bigger triceps, this usually refers to the amount of “triceps-specific” sets, not simply how many times you use your triceps for other movements (like pressing, etc).
2. Train Triceps More Frequently
Most people should aim to train the triceps 2-3 times a week, with each session delivering 6-10 sets per session (not exceeding 20 sets per week). In extreme cases, however, some lifters may add a fourth session, and bump their volume up to 20-25 sets per week.
Training frequency refers to how many days a week you train the triceps. Most people will train the triceps one or two times a week and call it there. If however, you are lacking muscle growth in the triceps, you will want to bump up the number of days per week you train the triceps to 2-3, or even 4 times per week.
Be sure to progress yourself slowly when ramping up volume, and understand that some lifters will get amazing growth training two days a week for 10-15 total work sets, whereas others may need to train the triceps three times a week and deliver 20+ total sets.
3. Compound vs Isolation Exercises
Both compound and isolation exercises are necessary when looking to build bigger triceps.
Compound movements refer to exercises that move multiple joints at the same time, such as bench presses, overhead presses, and dips (both the elbow and shoulder joints move).
Isolation exercises are movements that have only one joint move (elbow only), such as skull crushers, overhead tricep extensions, kickbacks, and pushdowns.
In a well-thought-out triceps program, you will use both compound movements and isolation exercises.
Compound exercises are great for training the triceps with heavier loads, whereas isolation exercises allow you to focus on training only the triceps and delivering high doses of direct training volume to the muscle with heavy, moderate, and light loads.
4. Train the Triceps with Heavier Weight
When looking to fully develop a muscle, it is important to train with variable loading to increase strength, promote more motor recruitment (increase the muscles ability to activate all of its fibers), and ultimately boost growth. Only using light and moderate loads may be the reason you are lacking growth.
Most upper body workout programs will include some sort of heavier pressing movements (bench press, overhead press, dips), which indirectly expose the tricep muscles to heavier loads. While this is key, it may not be enough if you are still lacking growth.
For best results, you will want to also train a few isolation exercises with heavier loads too (still ensure proper form and control). Some great isolation exercises to train with heavier weights (5-10 reps) are pushdowns, skull crushers, and overhead triceps extensions.
5. Control the Eccentric (Lowering) Phase
The eccentric phase of an exercise is the portion of the lift where the muscle is being lengthened (stretched) under load.
This type of training (slowly lowering the weight) has been shown to promote greater increase in muscle mass and girth growth than concentric training (just focusing on lifting the weight up).
A good example of this would be when performing a triceps pushdown, where you should be lowering the weight stack (your hand will be moving from your hips to your chest) slowly, feeling the triceps having to resist the urge to let the stack drop quickly.
6. Train Every Head of the Triceps
Training the triceps for maximal growth means you need to also hit every head (long, lateral, and medial) of the triceps throughout the week.
Most triceps exercises target one, maybe two main heads, and a proper understanding of how to target each head will ensure you develop the muscle group completely.
Below, we will discuss what exercises are best for developing all heads of the triceps to help you maximize muscle growth.
With the Fitbod app, you can search hundreds of exercises by muscle group to help you build the best workout program for your goals. Try the Fitbod app out today and start building your next arm workout routine!
11 Best Exercises For Building Big Triceps
Each of the exercises below can be found in the Fitbod app, and are ready to be inserted into your next workout program.
1. Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press is a great exercise that targets both the long and lateral head of the triceps. This compound exercise allows you to train the triceps with heavier loads, and can also help to increase your lock out strength in a bench press.
Training Tip: When doing the close grip bench press, make sure to keep the elbows tucked more into the body than you would in a normal bench press. Your wrists should be shoulder with a part slightly narrower, but not too narrow that you feel discomfort in the wrists.
2. Smith Machine Close Grip Bench Press
Unlike the close grip bench press above (which is typically done with a barbell), the Smith machine close grip bench press takes the need to stabilize the bar during the movement.
By minimizing that demand, you are able to fully attack the weights without having to worry as much about maintaining proper bar path and form.
This is great for beginners and advanced level lifters who want to attack their triceps with the highest amount of intensity.
Training Tip: The set up is the same as the barbell variation, however once you get going, focus on allowing the elbows to bend and straighten freely. This will help you isolate the triceps more and make a better mind-muscle connection.
3. Diamond Push Up
The diamond push up is a close grip push up variation that targets the lateral head of the triceps.
To do this, you want to perform a push up with your hands touching one another.
Your thumbs should be touching one another, as well as your pointer fingers (creating a diamond shape).
Your elbows should be allowed to flare out to your sides some, helping you target more of the lateral head of the triceps.
Training Tip: If you feel discomfort in the wrists when doing this, allow a little more space between the hands, just try to keep the elbows flared out appropriately 30-45 degrees from the body.
The dip, whether it be bodyweight, weighted, or machine assisted, is a powerful exercise to develop the long and lateral head of the triceps. When doing dips, you will want to be sure to keep your elbows slightly tucked into the body, but not too tucked that you place the shoulder in an odd position.
Training Tip: When performing dips, keep the elbows flared out roughly 15-30 degrees away from your body.
5. Lateral Cable Triceps Extension
The lateral cable triceps extension targets the lateral head of the triceps. This isolation exercise is ideal for moderate and higher rep sets, as it requires high amounts of concentration, proper form, and control.
To do this, you will straighten the elbow with the arm flared out to the sides 90 degrees, which helps target the lateral head.
Training Tip: This is a more advanced exercise, and requires proper form and control throughout the range of motion. Be sure to refer to the video in the Fitbod app to master this movement.
6. EZ Bar Skullcrusher
The skullcrusher develops both the lateral and long head of the triceps. This is an isolated tricep exercise that can be trained with heavy, moderate, and light weights.
This exercise may be challenging for some lifters, and should alway be performed with slow eccentric movements to ensure safety to the elbow joint.
Training Tip: Ideally you should have the elbows pointed forwards (towards your feet) while performing this movement lying down. This will help you target the long head.
7. Incline Barbell Skullcrusher
The incline skull crusher is similar to the regular skullcrusher, however you are performing this while lying on an incline bench (rather than lying flat).
By placing yourself on an incline bench, you allow for more range of motion, which will mean the triceps will be taken through a wider range to overcome, ultimately increasing the demands on the muscle.
Training Tip: Since you are taking the muscle through a wider range of motion, you will most likely be using less weight. Be smart with load selection and be sure to control the eccentric, especially at the bottom of the movement to protect your joints and connective tissues from injury.
8. Tate Press
The Tate press targets the lateral head of the triceps, and is done with dumbbells. This exercise starts with you lying on your back, and having two dumbbells extended above you (one in each hand).
Unlike the bench press or skullcrusher, you allow your elbow to flare out 90 degrees to the sides, and bring the ends of the dumbbells to the chest, and then straighten the elbows back out to finish the rep.
Training Tip: Keep your elbows flared out and bring your thumbs towards your chest. This exercise is typically done with moderate to light loads to ensure the shoulders do not get involved in the movement.
9. Cable Triceps Pushdown
The cable triceps pushdown targets the lateral and long head of the triceps.
To perform this isolation exercise, you need to set yourself up so that you are not allowing the shoulders to hunch forwards as you push the attachment downwards.
This exercise should be done with only the elbows being allowed to bend and straighten.
Training Tip: If you want to target more of the lateral head, use a rope attachment and pull the rope handles apart at the bottom of the movement. If you want to target more of the medial head, take a reverse grip.
10. Dumbbell Triceps Extension
The dumbbell triceps extension targets the long head of the triceps, and can be done with one dumbbell in each hand, one dumbbell being held by both hands, or done one arm at a time.
To do this, you will want to point the elbow straight in the air and keep the biceps by the ear.
Training Tip: This can be done with heavy, moderate, or light weights. The key is to control the eccentric and fully straighten the elbow starting at the top.
11. Loop Band Triceps Extension
The loop band, also known as a resistance band, is a tool that can be great for increasing elbow strength and joint health (when done in higher reps).
As you stretch the band out, the resistance increases, also allowing you to train the muscle harder as it extends and place less tension on the joint when it is bent.
Training Tip: This is done exactly like a dumbbell triceps extension, just be sure to control the eccentric as the band will want to snap back during the lower phase.
12. TRX Triceps Extension
The TRX is a suspension training that requires you to keep tension on the muscle at all times.
Since you are forced to keep tension on the muscle at all times, you are able to stress the muscle throughout the entire range of motion, activate a ton of muscle fibers, and not have to use a lot of external loading (other than your bodyweight).
This is great for all levels, and can be done in all rep ranges.
Training Tip: When performing this, be sure to try to get a big stretch on the muscle as you lower yourself down, all while keeping tension on the triceps. As you start to fatigue out, simply step forwards to decrease the loading, and continue to train the muscle to failure.
Sample Triceps Workout Plan
Note, that while the exact workouts below are not found in the app, you can use these as a template to design your workout in the Fitbod app. All exercises below are found in the Fitbod app.
Triceps Workout #1
This workout program should be done earlier in the week, as it challenges the strength of the triceps with heavier loads. This is a great workout to also help increase bench press and overhead press strength, as it strengthens the triceps which aim in fully locking out those lifts.
- Close Grip Bench Press: 4 sets of 6-10 reps, with 90-120 second rest between sets
- Dip (either bodyweight, weighted, or machine assisted): 4 sets of 6-10 reps, with 90-120 second rest between sets
- Cable Triceps Pushdown: 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps, 60 seconds between sets
Triceps Workout #2
This workout is a great workout to develop the triceps size, with less emphasis on building to maximize triceps strength. Ideally, this would be done in the middle of the week, 2-3 days after your heavier triceps training session (workout #1).
- Incline Barbell Skullcrusher: 4 sets of 12-15 reps, with 60 second rest between sets
- Tate Press: 4 sets of 12-15 reps, 60 seconds between sets
- Loop Band Triceps Extension: 3-4 sets of 20-30 sets, 30 seconds between sets
Triceps Workout #3
This third triceps workout is optional, as you may not need it if you are already experiencing high amounts of muscle soreness from two hard training sessions. This workout delivers very high rep sets, and short rest periods to drive a ton of blood flow to the muscle and get you a great arm pump.
- Cable Triceps Pushdown: 3 sets of 20-30 reps, with 15-30 second rest between sets
- Diamond Push Up: 3 sets of 20-30 reps, with 15-30 second rest between sets
- Dumbbell Triceps Extension: 3 sets of 20-30 reps, with 15-30 second rest between sets
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Increase My Triceps Size?
Training the triceps directly with both compound and isolation exercises is key to increasing size. Additionally, you will want to train the triceps 2-3 times a week (frequency) delivering roughly 6-10 total work sets per session to provide 15-30 total sets (volume) per week.
What Exercises Grow the Triceps the Most?
Generally speaking, the best exercise for the triceps include pressing movements, overhead extensions, and any exercise where the elbow joint is isolated and made to bend and straighten under loads. Be sure to check out the 11 best triceps exercises discussed in the above section.
- Want bigger arms? Check out these powerful bulking arm exercises.
- Eat to grow more muscle with this bulking guide for hardgainers.
- Looking for the best arm exercise and workouts for all levels? Try these workouts out for size.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.