Three exercises designed to keep your triceps guessing

Written by Jeff Feliciano and Steve Stiefel

April 11, 2008


A bodybuilding bromide is that you should do many different exercises for each body part, if you expect complete development. For back, that might be true, but triceps are worked most effectively from three basic angles by means of these exercises:

Why: It hits the belly and lower triceps most directly and with compound force, making it the best mass builder for that area.

When: As the anchor exercise of your triceps workout, it needs to come first, so you can have your full reservoir of strength and intensity at your disposal.

How: Since it is a free-weight, compound, maximum movement, warm up first with at least one set of 20 easy reps, not to get a pump but to prepare the joints.

Your first counted set should also be for 20 reps but with enough weight to reach failure near that number but not below. Concentrate on keeping your elbows pointed vertically; do not let them swing back and forth. Extend the weight to arms' length straight overhead, by contracting your triceps; do not swing it up there by pulling your elbows forward.

Use a full range of motion, with a peak contraction at the top. Keep the reps tight, smooth and powerful, without dropping the weight or exploding upward. For your second set, add weight so that you reach failure at 10 reps. For sets three and four, add more weight so that you reach failure at eight reps.


Why: This is an either/or exercise for (a) building mass in the lower triceps or (b) popping out every knotty muscle in that important horseshoe of your upper triceps, depending upon the position of the cable and your elbows.

When: Position this exercise second in your workout, and use lots of weight.

How: For lower-triceps mass, keep the cable close to your body, let your elbows splay outward, and use low reps. To gouge out deep crevices in your horseshoe, keep your elbows close to your body, let the cable push out in front of you, and use higher reps. Do five sets of 7-10 reps to failure.


Why: It splits the difference between the two previous exercises, concentrating its stress in the middle details and belly of the triceps.

When: Since the first two exercises are more parallel with your body's vertical axis, they are considered power movements; therefore, they should precede this one: Since this angle is more perpendicular with the body, its extension relies more on isolated contractions of the triceps than on power-plane leverage.

How: Bring the cable far enough forward to get a complete range of motion in the triceps; yet, keep the cable high enough so you can feel a good stretch in the triceps' lower-middle belly. Fixing your upper arms in that position, press to a full extension by moving your upper arms only, and squeeze hard at the top, for a peak contraction. Do four sets of 10 reps to failure.