I can remember watching bodybuilding competitions and thinking wow, these people put in some serious work. With that said, there is always one pose that sets each bodybuilder from another – the side triceps pose. The side triceps pose helps judges to see how strong and defined the horseshoe-shaped muscle is.
Not all of us can accomplish stage-level physique, yet the assistance of key bodyweight triceps exercises can enable us to achieve not only optimal physique but also great strength and power.
Bodyweight triceps exercises combine the best of motor control (your ability to move properly) and complete strength into a series of exercises.
If you’re like me and you appreciate bodybuilding and strength training, no other muscular system will help you to push your limits further than the triceps system.
In this article, we are going to help you to discover how you can build untamed triceps strength through bodyweight exercises and accessory triceps exercises.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty aspects of anatomy and exercises for optimal triceps strength, it is essential to understand why we want to focus on these muscles in the first place.
Yes, all muscles should be trained to regulate muscle balance in the body, but understanding the process of how to build triceps begins with understanding their importance and how they work.
The Triceps are Accessory in Pushing Exercises
Bench press, overhead press, California press – these are all chest-dominant exercises, but they would not be able to be completed without the strength and motor control from the triceps.
The triceps work as a synergistic muscle – meaning they assist in a lot of movements. This makes them an integral part of many pushing exercises. Anytime you need to extend weight above you or in front of you, the triceps will be the last muscle to work.
Think of all the times you got stuck in the middle of the bench press – this is because your triceps were not as strong as they could have been.
Bodyweight triceps exercises can help to build the strength you need to push heavier weights or develop into more complex bodyweight skills.
The Triceps Will Help to Balance out the Arms
Balance is always important – and I am not talking about one arm balancing or standing on one foot. I am talking about balance like on a scale.
Your body needs to sit in a balance or equilibrium – especially when we talk about muscle balance.
You cannot (or should not) only train the biceps – just to have big guns. This type of training will eventually lead to injury and muscle imbalance.
Training the triceps with bodyweight exercises will help to prepare your triceps through a full range of motion and enable you to build balance in the arms – avoiding injury and unnecessary pain.
Many people who experience elbow pain, especially medial epicondylitis have an over-stimulation of the biceps muscle (they train curls to often). Training and balancing out the strength in your biceps can help to remove this pain.
The Triceps Look Great
Naturally, when the triceps are well-defined, they look great. The greatest bodybuilders of all time have used unique bodyweight triceps exercises to build physique and strength in their arms. The likes of Frank Zane (famous for bodyweight exercises) use simple isolation exercises to develop a physique that can only be called godly.
Beyond how they triceps help to improve strength and balance, they are also an integral muscle in your development as a complete athlete. Understanding how these muscles work from the perspective of human anatomy can help you to best optimize your training.
How to Train the Triceps – Brief Anatomy
Understanding how to train the triceps is integral in your success as a bodyweight athlete. Yes, watching an exercise and performing the required number of sets and reps will help you to build strength in a couple of weeks – but understanding the muscle in its entirety will help you to be successful long-term.
Below we will break down the essential aspects of triceps anatomy and function that you will need to know to be successful as an athlete.
Triceps Muscle: Three Heads
The triceps is a three-headed muscle. Just as the biceps has two muscles, the triceps as three. Each muscle is defined by its origination. Although they all insert into the same area on the elbow, they differ by their muscle body and origination.
The three muscles, as seen in the image above, are the long head of the triceps, lateral head of the triceps, and the medial head of the triceps.
The most interesting aspect to note here is the origination of the long head of the triceps (the biggest of the three). The long head originates (attaches) onto the scapula (shoulder blade).
To target the entirety of the muscle body (including the long head), you must complete extension exercises that occur overhead. This will help to elevate the scapula and isolate the long head of the triceps.
This is why you see bodybuilders complete exercises where they have a weight overhead and press up. Not to worry, this is simple to complete in bodyweight only exercises.
The Triceps Work in Extension at Elbow
Extension at the elbow is the name of the game whenever you are looking to target and improve the strength of the triceps.
Extension means you are starting your arm in a flexed position, with your hand closest to your shoulder, and pressing out to move your hand furthest away from your shoulder – until your arm is a straight line.
This movement sequence will help to stretch and contract the triceps.
When you add resistance, like your bodyweight or actual weights, you will then train the muscle to work under stress and eventually adapt and grow stronger.
NOTE: Repetitive movements, like constant extension at the elbow, can lead to injury. Be sure to take care of your joints with simple recovery methods like ice, rest and accessory strength exercises. You may also want to ensure your diet has optimal levels of amino acids and joint supporting ingredients like glucosamine and potentially chondroitin.
Emphasize Overhead Exercises
As discussed above, overhead pushing exercises will also help to stimulate the long head of the triceps. The problem with many peoples training is that they forget that they NEED to train in an overhead fashion and they do not train the triceps correctly.
As long as you can extend the arm and have the scapula in an elevated position you will help to target the long head of the triceps will eventually lead to strength and size.
Do not forget, the long head of the triceps is the biggest and strongest muscle in this system. To get the biggest bang for your buck, you should always include an overhead triceps exercise in your workout – even if it is at a low volume to start.
NOTE: Although overhead exercises are recommended for complete strength, you can still complete a great workout without them. Overhead exercises also put more stress on the body so that longer rest times will be needed.
Best Bodyweight Triceps Exercises
Now that you have an understanding of how you can target the triceps and why they are essential in your development as an athlete let's delve into some of the best bodyweight triceps exercises.
1. Narrow Pushups
Sometimes called “diamond pushups” or “military pushups” any pushup where the hands are closer to the midline of your body will help to recruit more triceps activation. Here you can use explosive plyometric movements to develop power, or you can slow the movement down and complete volume training for size.
Trainers Note: Diamond pushups are best for developing strength and size in the triceps, but they should be completed at a low volume (no 10×10).
2. Bodyweight Extension
This exercise will require you to have an object that stands about chest-height (depending on your strength) and that you can hold. You will lower yourself to the bar, putting your arm into excessive flexion. When your arm is vertical with the bar or object, you will use your triceps to press into the bar and extend back to the top position.
Since this targets bigger muscles you will want to keep the volume low and maintain rep/set schemes that keep totals around 25-30 reps per workout.
This exercise will also require you to have some object you can hold onto. If you are at home, you can use chairs and a broomstick or a doorway pull-up bar.
Check out this video to see how you can complete this exercise for optimal strength.
3. Pike Press
One of the best exercises for developing the strength to move into a handstand, the pike press is also an excellent exercise for building strength in the triceps.
In these exercises, you assume a downward dog position and lower your body down to the ground in your pike position. When your head touches the ground, you press back into your pike.
NOTE: This exercise should target the triceps and the anterior shoulder muscles. If you are looking to develop your bodyweight movement like the handstand this exercise is a perfect starting point.
Here is a video showing how you can complete the pike press.
4. Parallel Bar Dips
Hands down the best exercise for building strength in the triceps. We have all done this exercise or seen it done, but it is essential to make note that this exercise is not a beginners exercise, nor should it be completed with high volume.
The parallel bar dips put your shoulder into a very compromised position (which can lead to injury). It is an excellent exercise for developing strength and power, primarily as a bodyweight triceps exercise, but you should not train it at a high volume.
We recommend using these exercises 1x per week and keeping the volume of the exercise below 25 total repetitions. Using a basic 6×4 rep scheme will be perfect as it allows for a moderate rep range with longer rest times throughout the four sets.
5. Hindu Pushup
Here you maintain a similar position to that of a pike press, but you will lower your body under an imaginary bar. See this video for a great demo on this exercise.
The Hindu pushup is another excellent exercise for developing complete strength in the triceps, but it is also great for the core and shoulder muscles. Keep the volume low and be sure to maintain tight form throughout the exercise.
NOTE: You can also use this exercise to get a good warm-up in the muscle and prepare your muscles for the range of motion you want them to go through. Make sure the movement is slow and controlled and keep the volume low.
Bodyweight Triceps Workout
Here we have included two workouts:
- an at-home workout that does not require any equipment.
- a gym workout.
At-Home Triceps Workout without Weights
- Five sets of Slow Hindu Pushups (warm-up), five reps each set (90 seconds rest time)
- Eight sets of Diamond Pushups (explosive), four reps (90 sec.)
- Six sets Bodyweight Extension, four reps (120 sec.)
- 12 sets of Pike Press, three reps (90 sec.)
Do not rush through this workout. If you are new to training the triceps, this will be more than enough to get your muscles to wake up. Be sure to have a complete diet and fuel up after the workout with adequate hydration.
Gym Triceps Workout
- Five sets of Slow Hindu Pushups (warm-up), five reps each set (90 seconds rest time)
- Six sets of Parallel Bar Dips, four reps (120 sec.)
- Six sets of Bodyweight Extension, four reps (120 sec.)
- 12 sets of Overhead Cable Extension, three reps (90 sec.)
What Exercise Is Good for Triceps?
Any exercise where you are pressing your body away from itself, extending the arms will help to train the triceps. You can specifically target the triceps with extension exercises at the elbow, especially while you have your arms overhead. If you’re starting, pushups are one of the best exercises to build a baseline amount of strength in the triceps.
Do Planks Build Triceps?
Yes, but they build isometric strength. Most exercises you train will be building isotonic strength, that is, strength through a range of motion – flexing and relaxing the muscle. Planks can build triceps strength, but only in a stable environment. You are stable in a plank, building isometric strength in the muscle, but not building strength that can translate to movements like the pushup.
How Can I Build Muscle in My Arms without Weights?
Building muscle is all about time under tension (TUT) or volume on the muscle. Weights do not “build muscle,” instead it is the amount of time you spend contracting the muscle underweighted resistance. If you substitute a bodyweight exercise for your weighted exercises, the results will be highly similar.
Where Are Your Triceps on Your Body?
The triceps are a large set of muscles on the posterior arm. They serve to extend the elbow and can help in some movements at the shoulder.