The triceps are the true signature of a strong and powerful physique that also has the ability to protect the elbows and shoulders while unlocking the 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.
Let’s not pretend that traditional barbell bench press and classic triceps pushdowns 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 gone, you better start hitting them hard, heavy, and everywhere in-between from a variety of angles and variations.
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.
In our individual programs for both CrossFitters & strength & conditioning clients, triceps training is a priority that requires a fair amount of attention each week – the type of attention that would shock even the most seasoned lifter.
#7 Incline Football Bar Bench With Chains
The football bar is a staple for developing strong triceps and can be used in a number of scenarios such as true maximal effort work as well as a repeated effort session.
Using a the ‘neutral grip’ accentuates the stress on the triceps group and tends to be more shoulder friendly for those with front deltoid pain when benching.
#6 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
#5 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
#4 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 does 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 points and 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
#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 Close Grip Fat Bar Floor Press
This one probably won’t come as a mystery, but the close grip floor press variations are a staple in triceps development.
Reason being, the limited range of motion actually increases to the level of stress on the triceps and forces the trainee to control the eccentric phase.
By increasing the level of motor control with less ROM, there is higher levels of TUT on the triceps. The floor position actually encourages better mechanics as well due to the fact there is less chance of cheating.
Add a fat bar to the mix and the thicker implement increases the number of motor units activated.
#1 Dumbbell Floor Press with Neutral Grip
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
So there you have it, 7 triceps exercises video, executional details and programming considerations that will have you building triceps like Dave Tate.
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!