The 8 Most Effective Triceps Exercises

Strong arms are important for almost every upper body movement you do each day and your triceps are often the heavy lifters. Anytime you push something—whether it be a door, a stroller, a lawnmower, or a barbell—you're using your triceps.

Strength is important and, for many people, so is having toned arms. The triceps, as the name suggests, has three different heads: the long head, lateral head, and the medial head. All of these heads contract during triceps exercises, but some moves emphasize different parts of the triceps. The best way to build strong, firm triceps is to choose the exercises that hit all those muscle fibers from every angle.

The Best Triceps Exercises

Some triceps exercises are more effective than others, according to the ​American Council on Exercise (ACE). In an ACE-commissioned study, researchers took exercisers through eight of the most common triceps exercises and recorded muscle activity by attaching EMG electrodes to subjects' triceps.

With this information, they were able to rank the eight best triceps exercises. The top four moves are as follows:

  • Diamond push-ups: This exercise emphasizes all three heads of the triceps muscle and is the most effective move for that. 
  • Kickbacks: This move also targets all three heads of the triceps, but not quite as much as the diamond push-up. This exercise is also easier, so may be more user-friendly than the push-ups.
  • Triceps extensions: Including this exercise means you have a move that emphasizes the long head of the triceps muscle, a nice complement to the other exercises. 
  • Triceps pushdowns: This move emphasizes the lateral head of your triceps, again a nice complement to the other exercises.

Rather than doing all of these moves in the same workout, focus on choosing a combination of exercises that emphasize all the different areas of the triceps.

Diamond Push-Ups

The diamond push-up is probably the hardest triceps exercise in this list. It requires tremendous upper body strength, so you may need to try this move on your knees and slowly work your way up to the toes.

How to Do a Diamond Push-Up

  1. Begin the move by positioning the hands on the mat directly under the chest with the fingers spread and the thumbs and forefingers touching, making a diamond shape.
  2. Straighten the legs into a plank position, or keep the knees on the floor for an easier version.
  3. Make sure the back is flat and the abs are engaged as you bend the elbows, lowering until your chin or chest touches the mat. If you can't go that low, go as low as you can—then work to build enough strength to lower all the way down over time.
  4. At the bottom of the movement, your elbows should stay in close to your sides.
  5. Press back to start, keeping the torso rigid, and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.


Triceps kickback

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The triceps kickback is the second most effective triceps exercise and not far behind diamond push-ups, coming in at about 88% of muscle activation, according to the ACE study.

By bending forward, you really have to work against gravity to move the weight up and down. The key to this move is to use your shoulder to stabilize the upper arm, allowing the forearm to extend behind you. If you feel your elbow drifting down, use a lighter weight to maintain good form.

How to Do a Kickback

  1. Prop the right foot on a step or platform, resting the right forearm on the thigh to support the back, or allowing the arm to drop directly below the shoulder.
  2. Hold a weight in the left hand and pull the elbow up to torso level.
  3. Keeping the elbow in that position, extend the arm behind you, focusing on contracting the triceps muscle.
  4. Lower the forearm down to about 90 degrees and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
  5. Focus on keeping the upper arm stationary against the body throughout the exercise.


Triceps dips

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Triceps dips are the third most effective exercise and a tough one depending on how you position your feet. In this version, the knees are bent, making the exercise easier. Extending your feet out will increase the intensity of the exercise.

The key to keeping this move safe is to keep your hips close to the chair or bench to avoid straining the shoulders. Make sure you keep the shoulders down and away from the ears and, if you feel any discomfort in the shoulders, skip this exercise.

How to Do a Dip

  1. Sit on a chair or bench with your hands just outside of the hips and the knees bent or the legs extended straight out (harder).
  2. Lift up onto the hands and, keeping the hips very close to the chair or bench, bend the elbows, lowering down until they're at about 90 degrees.
  3. Keep the elbows pointing behind you, the shoulders down and the abs engaged.
  4. Push back to start and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
  5. Avoid this exercise if you feel any pain in the shoulders.

Overhead Triceps Extensions

Woman doing overhead tricep extensions

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The overhead triceps extension is the fourth most effective triceps exercise, coming in at about 76% of muscle activation. The key to this exercise is to keep the arms next to the ears as you lower the weight behind you. Make sure you can contract the abs to keep your back from arching.

You can do this exercise seated or standing. Believe it or not, this move actually feels harder when you're sitting, and sitting on an exercise ball adds an element of core strength.

How to Do an Overhead Triceps Extension

  1. Sit on a chair, bench, or ball, or stand; keep back straight. Hold a weight in both hands, extending it up overhead.
  2. Keep your biceps close to your ears and elbows pointing forward as you lower the weight behind your head until the elbows are at about 90-degree angles.
  3. Straighten the arms, contracting the triceps, and then repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
  4. Keep the abs engaged throughout the exercise and avoid arching the back.

Rope Pushdowns

Triceps rope pushdown

Verywell / Ben Golstein

The rope pushdown, normally done on a cable machine with a rope attachment, comes in at number five, eliciting about 74% muscle activation. The idea is to spread the rope at the bottom of the movement to really fire up the triceps muscle.

If you don't have access to a cable machine, you can use a resistance band. Attach it to the top of a doorway and tie a loose knot in the band about halfway down.

How to Do a Rope Pushdown

  1. At a cable machine with a rope attachment, hold on to the rope near the knotted ends and begin the exercise with the elbows bent at about 90 degrees, elbows next to the torso.
  2. Extend the arms, taking the hands down towards the floor, spreading the rope slightly out on either side as you contract the triceps.
  3. Bring the forearms back to start and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.

Bar Pushdowns

The bar pushdown is similar to the rope pushdown but slightly less effective at about 67%. This exercise is usually done on a cable machine at the gym using a small bar attachment, although you can also do this exercise at home with an exercise band and a small pole or bar threaded through the handles.

The key to this move is to keep the elbows stationary as you push the weight down. If you lift the bar too high (say, higher than neck level), your elbows may come forward, making the exercise less effective.

How to Do a Bar Pushdown

  1. Stand in front of a cable machine, holding onto the bar with the elbows bent to about 90 degrees.
  2. Keeping the elbows stationary, push the bar down, contracting the triceps as you extend the arms.
  3. Bring the bar back up to about chest level without moving the elbows and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.

Lying Triceps Extensions (Skull Crushers)

Triceps skull crushers

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Triceps extensions performed lying down (also known as skull crushers), come in at a surprising number seven, eliciting about 62% muscle activation. Some exercisers will find this comparatively low activation rate surprising, because this exercise is known for being challenging.

The muscle activation data doesn't mean you shouldn't do these anymore, but rather that you should work them into a program that includes some of the top exercises as well. Using a variety of exercises that tackle different muscles at different intensities will lead to better results and stronger triceps.

How to Do a Skull Crusher

  1. Lie on a bench, step, or floor and hold a barbell or dumbbells with your hands about shoulder-distance apart.
  2. Begin the exercise by extending the weight up over the head with your palms facing out and thumbs next to the fingers.
  3. Bend the elbows and lower the weight until the elbows are at about 90-degree angles. This would be the part of the exercise where you wouldn't want to crush your skull by going too low.
  4. Squeeze the triceps to straighten the arms without locking the joints.
  5. Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.

Close Grip Bench Presses

The close grip bench press comes in eighth as an effective triceps exercise, eliciting about 62% muscle activation. This move also involves quite a bit of chest, which may be why the triceps don't work as much as in other exercises.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't do this exercise. In fact, this can be a great exercise if you're working both the chest and triceps in the same workout.

Doing this move at the end of your chest exercises can warm up the triceps before you move on to more targeted moves.

How to Do a Close Grip Bench Press

  1. Lie on a bench or step holding a barbell with hands about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Begin the exercise with the elbows bent and the barbell hovering just over the ribcage.
  3. Press the weight straight up over the ribcage, focusing on contracting the triceps.
  4. Lower and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
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  1. Boehler B, Porcari JP, Kline D, Hendrix R, Foster C, Anders M. ACE-sponsored research: Best triceps exercises. American Council on Exercise. 2011.