In the eternal struggle to fill up our clothing with more and more muscle mass, it’s often the biceps and the sleeves that take center stage in our training. The biceps, after all, steal the show when it comes to our arms and physique from the front. But all too often we forget about the muscle that goes the furthest in getting us massive arms; the triceps.
While the tricep is worked in most pressing movements—such as the classic bench press—it deserves some TLC of its own. And we all know tricep extensions and skullcrushers, but it’s just as easy and beneficial to get in a good bodyweight tricep workout.
Especially since an open gym is never guaranteed, having a good triceps exercise routine at home is essential—even if you don’t have a dumbbell or barbell.
The triceps’ name comes from the words “three” and “head,” which tells us basically everything we need to know about it.
There are three heads of the tricep which all join together at the elbow. While the primary responsibility of all three heads is extending the elbow joint (pushing movements), the muscle is necessary for much more than that. For one, it fixates the forearm when you want to do fine movements (such as write). Furthermore, each head specializes in outputting low-force or high-force movements either occasionally or over a sustained period.
Developing strong triceps will benefit your functional and athletic ability to push while keeping your arm joints healthy as well. Focusing your training on this muscle group will also benefit your shoulder stability and the range of motion you can work at.
So, how exactly does one get powerful triceps without any equipment?
While programming movements into your workout routine will ultimately depend on your goals and your fitness level, a good place to start is usually 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps with the exercises below.
While we’ve offered several different movements to choose from, it’s best to pick 4 or 5 each time you’re focusing on the triceps—plus, it’ll help to switch things up regularly in order to hit the tris from every angle possible.
Of course, some movements might be much too difficult to do with the recommended set of reps, so do what works best for you.
Push-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do to strengthen the upper body. Other than engaging practically your entire body, the push-up is also extremely versatile since your hand placement can dictate which muscles are worked more than others.
The narrow grip push-up tends to be more difficult for most people since more of the emphasis is placed on the triceps. But proper form is necessary, so the correct muscles get worked.
1. Place your hands on the floor slightly less than shoulder-width apart, slightly turned out or whatever is most comfortable. Feet should be stretched out behind you and together while bracing your core and squeezing the glutes. While the legs should be together, they can be slightly wider than normal to allow for better balance.
2. Maintaining a flat back and engaged core, slowly lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor. You can also look straight ahead and go down until your chin is almost touching.
3. Keep your elbows close to your body throughout the movement—this will put more emphasis on the triceps. Make sure that your butt’s not sagging as well.
4. Once you reach the bottom of the exercise, reverse the motion by pushing through with your triceps and returning to the starting position. Lock out at the top and repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Hopefully, you don’t have anything against push-ups, because this won’t be the last variation.
Much like the narrow push-up, the diamond push-up takes things another step further. While they work your pecs and anterior delts as well, the major focus is on the triceps. These are often compared to dips when looking at tricep activation—and if you know anything about dips, they’re a terrific way to develop triceps. And diamond push-ups put even more emphasis on your triceps than the shoulders when compared to the dip.
1. Get into a push-up position, but this time take your hands and form a triangle or diamond with your index fingers and thumbs. Once again, place your legs in a position where you can maintain stability throughout the movement.
2. Keep your back completely straight and engage the core and glutes. Slowly lower your body down until your chest almost touches the ground. Pause at the bottom of the movement for a count.
3. Maintain an elbow positioning that’s close to your body, while making sure that your body isn’t sagging anywhere. Reverse the movement by pushing down with your triceps and continue until you lock out at the top. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Continuing on our push-up binge, we have the pike push-up. This is a more advanced exercise and it can build serious strength if done properly. Along with building up your triceps, you’ll also get a terrific workout in for your shoulders and your core. Furthermore, it’s a great preparatory exercise for training up to the handstand—and then the handstand push-up. We really can keep going with the push-ups.
1. Begin in a plank position on the ground, with your hands on the ground beneath your shoulders. Your toes should be pressing into the ground. Maintain a tight core while also engaging your glutes and hamstrings during the exercise.
2. With your muscles braced, lift the hips up and back until your body is forming an upside-down V. Your arms and legs need to be completely straight—properly engaged muscles will help with this.
3. Initiate the movement by bending your elbows and slowly lowering your upper body towards the ground.
4. Once your head is almost touching the floor, pause for a count, and hold the position. Then, reverse the movement slowly to the starting position.
Also known as the tricep bow, the dive bomber, or the bodyweight skullcrusher; whatever you decide to call it, it’s one of the most popular movements out there for developing the tris. Based on the very popular conventional triceps extension, it’s bodyweight version can be just as effective in building big and powerful tris.
You will either need a bar on a smith machine, a bench, or for an increased range of motion, use suspension straps. Along with being a great triceps workout, this movement is also a good anti-extension core exercise—in a similar vein to the ab wheel rollout. Just avoiding piking the hips during this move and you’ll be hitting the core and the tris.
1. If you’re using the suspension straps, grab a hold of them with your feet planted behind you. You should be in a plank position leaning forward. The greater the angle of the lean, the more difficult the movement will be due to your arms having to support more of your bodyweight.
2. Brace your entire body and keep your elbows in as you slowly bend them and begin leaning forwards more. Make sure to go through with the full range of motion, but don’t overextend your shoulders.
3. Once you’ve reached the bottom of the exercise, pause for a count and then slowly straighten your elbows to return to the starting position.
The walking plank adds a twist to the plank hold, adding in some dynamic motion into the mix. Not only a great core workout, the walking plank will also engage your shoulders, chest, and triceps—along with the core and other stabilizing muscles.
1. Begin in a plank position with your hands beneath your shoulders. Your core and glutes should be braced, making sure that your butt isn’t sagging and your back is flat.
2. Initiate the movement by lowering your right forearm onto the ground while keeping your elbow right under your shoulder. Then, do the same with the other side by lowering the left forearm. You’ll end up in a plank position.
3. Continue by placing your right hand flat on the ground underneath your right shoulder, and then doing the same with your left hand and left shoulder. You’ll then be back in the starting position.
4. Repeat for the desired amount of reps, alternating the leading side after each set.
The bench dip is one of the most valuable exercises you can add to your tricep bodyweight workout repertoire—and all you need is a bench (or other elevated surface). Along with the triceps, you’ll also feel a burn in your chest muscles and shoulders.
1. Begin by sitting down on a bench and placing your hands beside your thighs. Move your hands forward to rest with palms on the edge of the bench, fingers facing down.
2. Slide or walk your feet out so your legs are extended and your butt is just barely off the bench. Hold yourself in this position with your elbows locked out and your core engaged. Your body should be maintaining a straight line.
3. With the elbow, hinge and slowly lower your body down until the elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Pause at the bottom of the movement.
4. Reverse the motion slowly and lock out back at the top of the exercise, in the starting position.
If you’re looking for even more of a challenge, then spice up the bench tricep dip by also raising your legs up on a bench or some other kind of surface.
Raising your legs will work that much more of your arms since more of your bodyweight will be resting and being supported by your tris. And the higher the elevation of your legs, the more of your body weight you’ll have to support—so try going for an equal elevation of both the benches you’re using.
We had to give you guys a break with the push-ups, but we’re back! This time we’re combining the cobra stretch with a pushing motion, hence the name. This movement can help to increase mobility in our lower backs, help with general flexibility, and it’ll also strengthen our chest, shoulders, and triceps. It’s both a good way to warm up for a more robust workout or to use as a stand-alone tricep workout if you’re looking to give them a little more work.
1. Begin by lying face down on the ground with your chest flat on the floor. Then, place your hands down on the floor underneath your shoulders.
2. Unlike with a regular push-up, you won’t be raising your lower body—it’s to be kept in contact with the floor.
3. Breathing out, extend the elbows to raise your upper body off the ground. However, don’t let your hips or torso do any of the work. Extend until your elbows are locked out.
4. Hold at the top of the position for a few seconds, and then breathe out as you slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
In terms of difficulty, this is a bit of a jump from the cobra push-up—but getting to this level is 100% worth it.
L-sits are primarily known as a challenging core workout, being more effective than the plank, crunch, and sit-up. However, L-sits are a full-body workout and are also great for developing the hip flexors, quads, delts, pecs, lats, and of course, the triceps. You’ll definitely get a huge bang for your buck by including this exercise into your workout routine. However, if you’re a beginner it’s more than likely you’ll have to work your way up to this exercise. And since it’s an isometric exercise, you’ll be expected to hold it for at least several seconds.
In terms of equipment, you’ll either need some parallettes (curved bars you can set on the ground to hold on to), which are also known as dip bars. However, you can also do this on any two equally elevated surfaces that are close together, or even just on the ground.
1. Beginning with arms straight, place your palms flat on the floor or holding onto whatever equipment you’ve chosen to use.
2. Initiate the exercise by lifting up your legs and pointing them directly forward. They should form a perfectly straight line, and your body should form an L shape.
3. As you're drawing your legs out, bring your shoulders backward and down while keeping your back straight along with your neck. You should be looking straight ahead, and your core will need to be engaged.
Dips are one of the greatest upper body movements that you can be doing. They especially hit your triceps and most of your upper body muscles. If you lean into the dip, you can activate your pecs to a great degree as well. You’ll need either dip bars or some other stable, parallel bar to perform this movement. They should be about shoulder-width apart.
1. Grab onto the bars and straighten your arms out, locking at the elbow. Lean forward at about a 45-degree angle while pulling your shoulders back. Your legs should remain vertical to the ground and your toes should be pointed upwards. This is the starting position and the one you should maintain throughout the entire movement.
2. Initiate the exercise by slowly bending your elbows while keeping them close to your body. Your core should be engaged to prevent any swinging.
3. Bottom out the exercise when your upper arms are parallel to the ground, or your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Once you hit the bottom, pause for a second and then straighten your arms to return to the starting position. Lockout at the top and repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Incorporating the above exercises into your training routine is the first step towards getting that sexy horseshoe shape in your back arm muscles—but it’s far from the only step.
Nutrition is key whether you’re trying to build muscle to show off the guns, or shed the fat that’s hiding the guns. Either way, you’re going to want to stick to balanced and healthy diets that put high-quality protein front and center, along with healthy carbs and fats.
If you’re having trouble getting that sculpted look to your arms, then you should also consider adding in more cardio to your routine. While the treadmill isn’t what most of us look forward to, it can be a boon for shedding any fat that’s getting in the way of elevated definition.
And lastly, you’re going to want to get enough rest to allow your muscles to heal and grow. Yes, you want to train hard for the best results—but you need to be backing that up with a holistic approach that puts nutrition and recovery front and center.