Spring is around the corner, which means you'll be bringing your short sleeved and sleeveless tops out of storage in no time. Speaking of baring your arms: Are yours in tip-top shape? If not, you could help build strength and muscle tone in the most common problem area of the arms—the triceps—by adding some additional triceps exercises to your workout plan.
The primary function of the triceps brachii muscle is to extend (straighten) the elbow. It has three heads, or bundles (hence the name triceps), all of which connect at the elbow joint. And while this muscle plays a pretty important function in our daily activities, it also tends to be a body part we’re most motivated to focus on right around tank top season!
Whether you want to build strength or look great in a sleeveless shirt (or both), here are some of my favorite moves for toning up your triceps. The bonus with these is that many of them also target the shoulders, which can give you an even more defined and sculpted look.
#1: Posterior Triceps Press with Band
The movement of this exercise engages the muscles in the back of the shoulder and the back of your arms (triceps). In this position, the triceps kick in to help lift your arm behind your body.
Start standing on a resistance band with right foot and hold onto other end with left hand. Stand closer to the handle you're holding for more resistance; further for less. Bend right knee and take a wide step back with left leg, hinging forward slightly from the hips with a straight back. Keeping the arm straight and palm facing behind you, press your arm back toward your hip. Hold for one count, and then lower. Try for 3 sets of 20 reps with each arm before switching sides.
#2: Overhead Triceps Extension with Band
A variation on a triceps extension (move #3), this exercise uses a band at an overhead angle to challenge the arm without stressing the joint.
Start in a split stance with left foot forward, right leg back, with the end of band under right foot. Stand closer to the handle you're holding for more resistance; further for less. Holding onto the end of band with your right hand, bend the right elbow and lift arm up by ear (band should be behind body). Extend arm up overhead, palm facing away from body, then bend to lower. Try for 3 sets of 15 reps with each arm.
#3: Overhead Triceps Extensions with Dumbbell
Another version of a triceps extension, this single arm overhead extension changes the angle of the arm slightly and is a great move to try when you are ready for heavier weights.
To do it, start standing with feet slightly wider than hips, holding one dumbbell overhead, palm facing away from body. Supporting elbow with opposite hand, bend arm and lower dumbbell in front of head and towards the front of the opposite shoulder. Extend arm back up to complete one rep.
Try up to 3 sets of 12 reps on each arm.
#4: Triceps Dips
Triceps dips are an efficient exercise that doesn’t require any additional equipment to work your arms, so you can do this one anytime, anywhere (even off the edge of the couch, chair, desk, counter or stairs!
To do it, start seated on the edge of a stable surface with hands on the edge just outside of hips. Walk feet slightly out and lift hips (keeping them close to edge). The further your walk the feet away from your hips, the harder this exercise will be. Bend elbows and lower hips toward the floor until arms are bent at about 90 degrees. Extend arms and press body back up to complete one rep. Try up to 3 sets of 15 reps.
#5: Single-Arm Triceps Kickbacks
Triceps kickbacks (or extensions) can be done in numerous angles, but one of my favorite positions for this move is from a quadruped (all fours) posture. Why? It encourages good form by allowing you to keep your back flat and supported during the arm extension so you get a lot more benefit (from challenge to support) from a single move.
To do it, start kneeling with a dumbbell (or end of an anchored resistance band) in one hand. Bend elbow up by side of the ribcage, keeping arm close to the body. Without moving the upper arm, straighten the elbow, reaching weight toward your hip. Return to bent position to complete one rep. Avoid swinging the weight and try to keep elbow in the same position (close to the side of the body) during the entire exercise. Try up to 3 sets of 15 reps on both sides.
#6: Kneeling Triceps Tap
This exercise that is an excellent body weight alternative to some harder moves like triceps push-ups. But don’t let it fool you, if you do enough reps, you’ll really challenge your arms!
Start on all fours and bend elbows to touch the floor just beneath the shoulders, keeping palms pressed flat on the floor. Brace abs in and press away from floor, straightening the elbows to complete one rep. Try up to 3 sets of 20 reps. Too easy? Make it more challenging by bringing knees further away from arms (as if in a modified push-up position).
#7: Bodyweight Triceps Presses
I love this multi-tasking move that not only will target your triceps but your abs too! It’s also a nice equipment-free alternative if dips are too tough for your shoulders or your wrists.
To do it, start seated with knees bent and together, feet flat on the floor. Lean back onto elbows, forearms and hands flat on the floor, and upper body propped up so that shoulders are directly over the elbows. Brace abs in tight and straighten the elbows, pressing back up into full seated position. Bend elbows and lower arms back to floor to complete one rep. If it’s too tough to go all the way back to the ground, simply bend elbows and lower as far back as possible and then press up from there. Try up to 3 sets of 20 reps.
#8: Triceps Skull Crushers
This triceps-targeting move can be done with a dumbbell or a weighted bar, and really adds the extra resistance of gravity with the angle of this extension.
Start lying on back on the floor or a weight bench, with knees bent, feet flat, holding ends of one heavier dumbbell or a bar (keep hands close together if using a bar). Bend elbows and lower weight towards forehead, making sure elbows stay above shoulders as they bend. Extend arms back up to complete one rep. Try up to 3 sets of 15 reps.
#9: Triceps Push-Ups
This push-up variation, common in Pilates and yoga, puts more emphasis on the triceps, though the chest and shoulders are also activated in this movement.
To do it, start in a modified (or full) push-up position with hands placed under shoulders. Keeping spine straight and abs tight bend elbows and lower chest towards floor, keeping elbows close to the ribcage and pointing them back—not to the sides. Press back up to complete one rep. Try for 3 sets of up to 12 reps.
Basically an upside down triceps push up, this move can be a great way to build up strength for tougher moves such as push-ups and dips. A closer grip on a weight or bar helps target the triceps more than a traditional (wider grip) chest press.
Start lying on back on the floor or a weight bench, with knees bent, feet flat, holding dumbbells with palms facing away from body. Bend elbows in by sides (arms should touch the sides of your torso as they bend) then press back up. Try up to 3 sets of 15 reps.
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