Compound Triceps Exercises
Watch most people training their triceps, and you’ll probably see them doing things like pushdowns, skull crushers, kickbacks, and other isolation exercises. That makes a lot of sense because isolation exercises allow you really zero in on the muscle you want to work.
Isolation exercises involve movement at just one joint, allowing you to train your muscles from particular angles. In the case of the triceps, that means you can specifically target and emphasize the long, middle, or short heads, sculpting the upper arms of your dreams.
However, isolation exercises have some disadvantages too. For starters, they can be hard on your elbow joints. Elbow joint pain can be very debilitating, affecting your ability to train your upper body as hard as you might otherwise like. You may even need to take a break from training while your elbows heal.
Also, isolation exercises often mean that you can’t lift heavy weights, especially if you use good form. While you can definitely build massive muscles with light to moderate weights, if you want stronger triceps, heavy loads are what is required. Invariably, compound exercises let you lift heavier loads, exposing your muscles to more strength and muscle-building tension.
Finally, triceps isolation exercises can be time-consuming. After all, they only involve one small muscle. If you are short on training time, adding triceps exercises to your workout could be impractical.
The good news is that there are compound exercises that you can use to build bigger, stronger triceps, many of which are much more elbow-friendly.
The triceps brachii, or triceps for short, is a crucial muscle in bodybuilding and powerlifting. Located on the back of your upper arm, the triceps give your arms a lot of their size. In fact, they make up about two-thirds of your upper arm mass. Beefing up your triceps will give you the sleeve-busting arms you’ve always dreamed of!
Triceps brachii has three different heads:
The triceps are not just a good-looking muscle; they’re also responsible for extending your elbow joint. They’re heavily involved in all pressing exercises, including the bench press and overhead press.
As well as elbow extension, the triceps also play a part in the extension of your shoulder joint, working with your lats and posterior deltoid. However, this is a relatively weak muscle action compared to elbow extension.
Build your arm workouts around these tried-and-tested compound exercises to build triceps that are both BIG and STRONG!
Parallel bar dips are a classic bodyweight exercise that a lot of lifters use to train their lower pecs but, done with a more upright torso, they’re also a very effective move for overloading your triceps. Some of the best triceps in bodybuilding were built using dips!
If you can 10 or more reps, you are probably ready for weighted dips. Just strap on a weighted vest, a backpack, or use a chin/dip belt. You can also hold a dumbbell between your legs. Start off with about 10% of your body weight and increase after that.
Dips can be hard on your shoulders, so make sure you do them correctly for maximum benefit and minimal joint pain.
Check out our guide to dips to find out how to do them the right way.
If you aren’t quite strong enough to do full parallel bar dips, this exercise is a viable alternative. With your feet on the floor or a bench, you only have to lift about 50-60% of your body weight, making them better for beginners and helpful if you want to do some high-rep triceps training.
On the downside, bench dips are potentially even harder on your shoulders than regular dips. That’s especially true if you let your hips drift forward, increasing joint stress. If you’ve already got bad shoulders, this exercise may be one to avoid.
Learn how to do bench dips here.
According to a study done by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the diamond push-up is one of the best exercises for triceps activation (1). Placing your hands together turns chest-dominant push-ups into a triceps builder you can do almost anywhere and anytime.
Do diamond push-ups on your knees to make them easier, or raise your feet on a step or bench to put more weight on your arms and make them harder. You can also place your hands on a medicine ball for an even more intense triceps workout.
Find out more about this simple but effective triceps exercise here.
A lot of people risk their wrists, elbows, and shoulders by doing close grip bench presses with their thumbs touching. Don’t be one of them! Such a narrow grip puts a lot of stress on your joints and limits the amount of weight you can use, making the close grip bench press exercise less effective.
Instead, place your hands just slightly narrower than shoulder-width so you can lift more weight and avoid unnecessary joint wear and tear.
Learn how to do close grip bench presses for bigger triceps here.
No bench? No problem! You can still add bulk and power to your triceps with nothing but some weights and somewhere to lie down. Powerlifters use floor presses to increase triceps strength, and they’re an excellent bodybuilding exercise too.
You can do floor presses with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. As well as being great for triceps development, the floor press is also pretty easy on your shoulders.
Read more about floor presses here.
No, you haven’t opened a shoulder workout article by mistake! Studies show that the overhead press is a moderately effective exercise for the triceps, especially when done behind the neck style (2).
In fact, this was one of Robby Robinson’s favorite triceps builders. Robinson, also known as the Black Prince, had some of the best triceps in the golden era of bodybuilding.
This exercise is ideal for time-pressed lifters who want bigger shoulders and triceps but don’t have time to train these muscle groups separately.
Of course, behind the neck pressing is controversial and could lead to shoulder pain and injuries, especially if you have poor posture or lack the necessary shoulder mobility to do them correctly. Regular overhead barbell presses may be similarly effective while being more shoulder-friendly.
The JM press is named after JM Blakely, one of the best bench pressers in history. In fact, this was the only triceps exercise he used to bench 300kg (660lbs) at a bodyweight of 140kg (308lbs) to win the WPC world champs back in 1998.
This exercise is part skull crusher and part close grip bench press. If you want triceps that are bodybuilder big and powerlifter strong, this is the exercise you should use!
Read more about this popular powerlifting assistance exercise here.
The Tate press was invented by powerlifting coach Dave Tate. One of the founders of Westside Barbell, arguably the most successful powerlifting gym in the world, the Tate press is an unusual exercise that’s part chest press and part triceps extension. If you’ve never done this exercise before, start with light weights as it’s much harder than it looks!
Find out more about the Tate press here.
While there is nothing wrong with training your triceps with isolation exercises, you will probably make better progress if you combine things like pushdowns and kickbacks with some well-chosen compound triceps exercises.
Compound exercises allow you to lift heavier weights, so they’ll help you build size and strength simultaneously. Also, some compound triceps exercises are easier on your elbows than their isolation counterparts.
Either way, if you want thick, strong, rock-hard triceps, make sure you include at least a couple of compound triceps exercises in your arm workouts.
1 – ACE: ACE Study Identifies Best Triceps Exercises https://www.acefitness.org
2 – PubMed: Effects of Body Position and Loading Modality on Muscle Activity and Strength in Shoulder Presses https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23096062/
Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine, gym owner, and fitness qualifications tutor and assessor. In addition, Patrick is a freelance writer who has authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos. He’s not just an armchair fitness expert; Patrick practices what he preaches! He has competed at a high level in numerous sports, including rugby, triathlon, rock climbing, trampolining, powerlifting, and, most recently, stand up paddleboarding. When not lecturing, training, researching, or writing, Patrick is busy enjoying the sunny climate of Cyprus, where he has lived for the last 20-years.
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© Copyright 2010 – 2021 Fitnes Volt IBC. All Rights Reserved.
This article was written by one of our qualified writers, and fact-checked by our experts. The numbers in parentheses (e.g. 1, 2, 3, etc.) throughout the article, are reference links to peer-reviewed studies.
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