With endless push-up challenges scouring social media, you’d hope it’d add some size to the backside of your arms. But does the push-up work the triceps enough to fill your sleeves?
Push-ups work the triceps intensely. You can target the triceps to a greater degree, depending on your hand width. A shoulder width or narrow hand grip is superior for triceps activation.
But this isn't the only way to overload the triceps when doing push-ups. There are other tips and tricks to have a fishtail under your sleeves.
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Do Push-Ups Work Triceps?
Push-ups work the triceps significantly along with the shoulders, pecs, and serratus anterior. In my experience, the push-up is an epic triceps mass builder, depending on how it's used. But you can make modifications to the push-up to better target the triceps.
Best Type Of Push-Ups For Triceps
Conventional wisdom suggests a closer hand width is better for getting big triceps. How true is this? A 2015 study investigated seven different hand widths during the push-up and found very narrow placement (20-30% narrower than shoulder width) had greater triceps activation .
A second study concluded similar results, with a narrow hand width leading to greater triceps activation than a wide hand width . You may notice the hand position is similar to bench pressing for the triceps.
That’s because the muscle activation patterns are similar between the bench press and push-up . The only difference is the push-up uses your bodyweight as load and allows your shoulder blades to move freely. In contrast, the bench press uses the barbell for external load while lying on your back.
The push-up is often a better option if you suffer from shoulder pain, as the shoulder blades are free to move. But hand width isn’t the only way to overload the triceps. You can add external load using a plate on your back or wrapping a resistance band around your back.
Another option is to place more of your bodyweight over your arms. Therefore, your triceps must support more weight. A simple way to do this is to elevate your feet on a bench and perform decline push-ups.
Doing this increases the intensity of the push-up generating greater forces than a regular push-up . Generating more force means more mechanical tension within the muscle, a key mechanism for growing huge triceps .
In my experience, the best hand width is to have your thumbs under your shoulders. I would class this as a shoulder-width position. I've demonstrated it in the picture below:
You start to run into wrist and hand problems any narrower than this. The diamond push-up is a popular variation for triceps, but you'll feel your wrists don't like it. It's better to place your hands on a medicine ball.
Elevate your feet on a bench with the thumbs under the shoulder, and you have a potent triceps-building stimulus.
Can Push-Ups Alone Build Big Triceps?
Push-ups are excellent for getting pressing volume for the triceps, which is vital for muscle growth. However, push-ups alone aren't going to give you horseshoes on the back of your arms. You need a combination of heavy-loaded compound and lighter isolation exercises.
For example, the most significant percentage increases in triceps size were found when combining bench press followed by skull crushers or vice versa after 10 weeks of training . However, the bench press alone showed no significant gain in triceps muscle size.
We can infer similar results when replacing the bench press with the push-up, as muscle activity is similar. Further, shoulder position dictates triceps activation patterns . Meaning if all you did were push-ups, you'd neglect certain triceps muscle heads. Here's a quick rundown:
- Long head – arms straight down (0° angle of the shoulders). This would involve exercises such as the triceps pushdown.
- Lateral head – arms directly overhead (180° angle of the shoulders). This would involve exercises such as the overhead triceps extension.
- Medial head – arms directly in front and the overhead position (90-180° angle of the shoulders). This would involve exercises such as the overhead triceps extension or skull crusher.
Triceps Workout With The Push-Up
Here's how you can use the push-up as the main movement for a triceps-focused workout.
A1) Weighted Shoulder Width Push-Up
4 x 8
B1) Cable Triceps Pushdown
3 x 12
C1) Cable Overhead Triceps Extension
3 x 12-15
C2) Decline Shoulder Width Push-Up
3 x Fail
I use the push-up in almost every training session where I want to target my triceps. Usually during a superset with another isolation exercise like in the example workout above. I don’t advise relying on thousands of push-ups to grow your triceps. They respond well to heavy loading more than volume, in my experience.
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