How To Get Big Triceps (Best Triceps Workout)

October 11, 2021

Horseshoes. Fishtails. Anacondas. The names all physique enthusiasts want to hear about their big triceps. But you can’t just bench press and expect your sleeves to tighten. So, if you’re in the market for some new shirts that will fit your new physique, then read on!

I’ve detailed everything you need to know about building massive triceps. But before we get into the tips and exercises, it's important to have a basic understanding of triceps anatomy so we can develop all the muscles of the triceps (yep, it's not just one muscle).

Anatomy Of The Triceps

The triceps consist of three muscle heads. Hence the name triceps. These three heads are:

Anatomy Triceps
  • Lateral head
  • Long head
  • Medial head

The triceps are the prime movers for elbow extension (straightening of the elbow). However, the long head crosses two joints making it biarticular. These being the elbow and the shoulder. So not only does the long head extend the elbow, but it also extends the shoulder. This long head muscle (along with the lateral head) will give you the most meat on your triceps.

Specifically, it will give a full look from the front when striking a double bicep pose. That round shape at the bottom of the arm is the long head of the triceps. The lateral head is the bulging muscle you’ll see from the side or behind when the arm is hanging down or the triceps are flexed.

The "horseshoe" or "fishtail" is the combination of the lateral and long head. The medial head of the triceps is a small muscle toward the inside of the elbow.

5 Muscle Boosting Training Tips To Get Big Triceps

Long Head Triceps Exercises

Attack All Three Heads Of The Triceps

All three heads of the triceps don’t work in unison through elbow extension [1]. For example, the medial head of the triceps only becomes fully involved in the movement when the elbow is flexed past 90° (think the bottom of a skull crusher) whereas the long head maintains a constant capacity to generate force at a wide range of elbow angles [2].

Based on muscle activation research, the shoulder position heavily influences the contribution of each muscle head [3]. Here is how to effectively target each muscle head of the triceps based on shoulder position:

  • 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 the close grip bench press.
Shoulder Elevation Angle Triceps

By using a combination or variety of triceps exercises, you can maximize the growth of your triceps.

Use Big Compound Exercises

Big compound exercises are going to be a staple in your question for massive triceps. Do you think someone who overhead presses 225 lbs or close grip bench presses 365 lbs will have small triceps? Definitely not.

Getting stronger in these compound exercises will increase your triceps ability to produce force and allow you to use heavier loads on your isolation exercises. Heavier loads on your compound and isolation exercises equal greater mechanical tension. We know that mechanical tension is a key mechanism of muscle growth [4].

Finish With High Rep Isolation Exercises

You'll often hear people say that compound exercises are all you need to grow big triceps. Sure, as mentioned in the previous tip, compound exercises are great mass builders. But for well-rounded triceps, you need to perform isolation exercises with them.

One study showed that muscle growth of all three heads of the triceps was only seen in the group that performed both compound and isolation exercises but not in isolation or compound only groups [5].

Further, there was a trend towards compound and isolation resulting in greater overall triceps growth compared to just single joint or compound exercises. So don’t skimp on your isolation exercises.

Train The Triceps With Enough Volume

Triceps Workout For Mass

Volume is the key driver for muscle growth. There is a clear dose-response relationship between how many sets are performed per muscle group per week and hypertrophy [6]. Meaning the more sets of triceps you perform (to a certain extent), the greater muscle growth response you’ll stimulate.

What is this volume limit? It would seem that 20-25 sets per week have been recommended as the upper limit of sets per week per muscle group to reach functional overreaching [7]. Starting anywhere from 7-10 sets per week and gradually increasing volume to 20-25 sets is a sensible approach.

Bear in mind this will also include your pressing movements. So, if you’re performing 10 sets of pressing, then you will make up the rest with your isolation exercises.

Train The Triceps At Least Twice A Week

While training frequency doesn’t seem to play a role in muscle growth, higher frequencies allow for greater training volume and better quality of rep execution [8]. Hitting 25 sets of triceps in one workout is very hard. Doing it over two or three is much easier.

Further, because you’ll be fresher since volume is split over multiple workouts, you’ll be able to handle heavier loads. Meaning greater mechanical tension and over the long term, greater muscle growth.

So, what are the best exercises for menacing triceps?

10 Best Triceps Exercises For Massive Triceps

Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench press should be a staple in your big triceps program. It allows you to handle serious weight and the closer grip increases the activation of the triceps [9]. I'm not talking about having your hands so close they are touching. That is a recipe for a wrist injury.

But having the hands just outside the shoulders. This is approximately a thumb or half a thumb from the edge of the inner knurling. The close grip bench press tends to respond best to around 8-10 reps.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps.

Close Grip Floor Press

At the same load, the floor press has been shown to induce greater long head of the triceps activation than the bench press and close grip bench press. However, this is not peer-reviewed data so it must be taken with a grain of salt.

However, if you’ve ever done the close grip floor press, you’ll know that it absolutely smokes your triceps. Importantly, pause at the bottom of the floor press so you don’t bounce your arms off the floor. Keep your legs straight to reduce the involvement from the lower body and to isolate the upper body.

Recommended sets and reps: 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

JM Press

This is a Powerlifting staple. The JM press is essentially a close grip bench press and skull crusher hybrid. It was created by Powerlifter JM Blakely, but it’s not an exercise you’ll see in the commercial gym.

It allows you to perform a tricep extension-like movement but at heavier loads because you are also pressing. Your setup will be the same as a regular close grip bench press. Except when you lower the bar, you won't be keeping your elbows under the bar.

You’ll lower the bar to either your chin, nose, or forehead. Your elbows will be in front not out to the side like a guillotine press. From the bottom position, press the weight back to the starting position.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

Dips

Dips are a bodybuilding staple. You can load them or pump out reps with your bodyweight. When doing dips, do them on parallel bars. Not a bench. Bench dips internally rotate your shoulders and at the bottom position, places a lot of stress on the tendons in your shoulder. It’s not worth the risk.

Some lifters will have sternum pain when performing dips. I get it myself. In this instance, just avoid the exercise altogether. There is no hard and fast rule that you have to perform dips to get big triceps.

I've tried building up my volume from one rep. Even starting with partial reps and progressing a little more range of motion each session. Nothing has stopped me from getting sternum pain that lingers for a month and stops be doing other exercises.

There are plenty of other exercises you can do instead. If you can tolerate dips, then go after them! A mixture of loaded and bodyweight dips will smoke your triceps. Turns out, dips are one of the best exercises for activating the lateral and medial head of the triceps.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-5 sets of 8-12 reps weighted. 2-5 sets of 10-25 reps bodyweight.

Overhead Press

The triceps are one of the main muscles used during the overhead press [10]. That is why those who are on the quest for a massive overhead press train their triceps obsessively. But you can also use the overhead press to grow your triceps and shoulders within one movement.

There are plenty of variations you can use too such as pressing off of the pins for raw pressing power to maximally recruit your triceps without the aid of elastic energy. You can even perform a variation from behind the neck if your mobility allows it.

It seems that behind the neck variations are great for developing the long head of the triceps.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-5 sets of 5-10 reps.

Ring Push-Ups

According to Bret Contreras’ EMG experiment, out of all push-up variations, performing push-ups on rings or a suspension trainer (like the TRX) activates the long head of the triceps to the greatest degree. If you’ve ever tried these, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

You can make these even more challenging by elevating the feet on a box or bench. You can even load them by wearing a weight vest or having a partner place a plate on your back.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-5 sets of 10-20 reps.

Cable Triceps Extension

Because the arm is position straight down, we can nail the long head of the triceps but also get significant activation of the lateral and medial heads. If you’ve ever done triceps pushdowns or extensions to failure, you’ll know the feeling of that burn at the midpoint of your triceps slightly on the inside.

That is your long head getting obliterated. You have plenty of different attachments you can use with the cable triceps extension. Straight bars, V bars, and even ropes. If you’re using a rope, use two. One for each hand. You can get a greater range of motion and even be able to extend your shoulder further behind your body which will maximally stimulate the long head of the triceps.

A single rope isn’t long enough to find this position. I’m personally fond of the V bar. Even though your arms are stuck in front of you, you can load these much heavier for even greater mechanical tension.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-5 sets of 10-20 reps.

Lying Triceps Extension With Extra ROM

This is an awesome exercise to target the lateral and medial heads of the triceps. I prefer the variation with the extra range of motion as you get a big stretch for the long head as well. To place the most stress on the triceps, place your shoulder at the 135° elevation position when lying down.

Shoulder Elevation Angle Triceps

Lower the bar like a skull crusher but behind your head. Let your shoulders follow like you're performing a pullover. Use a little shoulder momentum to help the elbow extension to return to the starting position.

I prefer using the EZ bar for this as it feels best on my shoulders and elbows. By keeping the arms behind your head, you keep the tension on the triceps for the entire set. If you return to the position directly above your chest, you lose this tension.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-5 sets of 10-20 reps.

Overhead Triceps Extension

The overhead triceps extension will maximally activate the lateral head of the triceps. In my experience, you can get away with not performing overhead triceps variations and still develop horseshoe triceps.

Sometimes, overhead variations can be uncomfortable and can cause some elbow and shoulder pain. That is why it’s important to perform overhead variations later in your workout, not as the first exercise.

Cables, bands, dumbbells, and EZ bars are all fair game. Seated variations will isolate your triceps even further.

Recommended sets and reps: 2-5 sets of 10-20 reps.

Scientific Triceps Workout For Mass

Here is how you can piece these exercises together to maximally stimulate each head of the triceps over two days of training.

Day 1

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

A1) Close Grip Bench Press

4 x 8

8 RPE

B1) Cable Triceps Extension

4 x 10-15

9 RPE

C1) Overhead Triceps Extension

3 x 10-15

9 RPE

Day 2

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

A1) Overhead Press

3 x 8

8 RPE

B1) Ring Push-Ups

3 x 10-15

9 RPE

C1) Lying Triceps Extension Extra ROM

3 x 15-20

9 RPE

References

1. Madsen, M., Marx, R. G., Millett, P. J., Rodeo, S. A., Sperling, J. W., & Warren, R. F. (2006). Surgical anatomy of the triceps brachii tendon: anatomical study and clinical correlation. The American journal of sports medicine, 34(11), 1839-1843.

2. Landin, D., Thompson, M., & Jackson, M. (2018). Functions of the triceps brachii in humans: a review. Journal of clinical medicine research, 10(4), 290.

3. Kholinne, E., Zulkarnain, R. F., Sun, Y. C., Lim, S., Chun, J. M., & Jeon, I. H. (2018). The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta orthopaedica et traumatologica turcica, 52(3), 201-205.

4. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.

5. Brandão, L., de Salles Painelli, V., Lasevicius, T., Silva-Batista, C., Brendon, H., Schoenfeld, B. J., ... & Teixeira, E. L. (2020). Varying the order of combinations of single-and multi-joint exercises differentially affects resistance training adaptations. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 34(5), 1254-1263.

6. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sports sciences, 35(11), 1073-1082.

7. Schoenfeld, B., & Grgic, J. (2018). Evidence-based guidelines for resistance training volume to maximize muscle hypertrophy. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 40(4), 107-112.

8. Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., & Krieger, J. (2019). How many times per week should a muscle be trained to maximize muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of resistance training frequency. Journal of sports sciences, 37(11), 1286-1295.

9. Lockie, R. G., & Moreno, M. R. (2017). The close-grip bench press. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 39(4), 30-35.

10. Kroell, J., & Mike, J. (2017). Exploring the standing barbell overhead press. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 39(6), 70-75.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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