The tricep, also known as the triceps brachii, is a three-headed muscle that makes up the rear of the upper arms. Its primary function is elbow extension (straightening of the arm) (1).
Two of the tricep heads (the medial and lateral) originate from the humerus (upper arm bone) and insert into the elbow (1).
The third (long) head originates from the scapula and inserts into the elbow. Aside from contributing to elbow extension, it assists with shoulder stability, flexion, and adduction (1).
Contrary to popular belief, the tricep is larger than the bicep, making up roughly two-thirds of the upper arm muscle volume. Therefore, developing the muscle group is crucial for big and muscular arms.
Read on to learn about the best isolation and compound exercises for triceps strength and development.
Compound vs. Isolation Exercises
Compound exercises train and develop several muscle groups and involve two or more joints.
One notable tricep compound exercise is the close-grip bench press, similar to a flat bench press, but your hands are closer (roughly shoulder-width apart). A narrower grip emphasizes the triceps while also developing the chest and shoulders (2).
Isolation exercises emphasize one muscle group and involve a single joint, and one of the best tricep isolation exercises is the overhead dumbbell tricep extension. The activity develops your triceps and involves the elbows.
When to Do Compound or Isolation Exercises
You should prioritize compound multi-joint exercises in your training. These are more challenging to perform, and the risk of technique breakdown is greater.
Doing compound exercises early allows you to maintain proper technique and leads to better performance, resulting in a larger disruption and more predictable progress.
In contrast, doing compound movements later in your training limits your performance due to muscle fatigue. You can’t do as many quality repetitions, and you’re more likely to use compensatory techniques (excessive body swinging, using momentum, etc.) to do more reps.
For example, if you start a workout with triceps isolation exercises and move on to compound lifts like the close-grip bench press, you won’t be able to lift as much weight or do as many reps.
Isolation movements are beneficial, but it is best to leave them for the end of your workouts. The risk of technique breakdown is smaller, and high-rep training is excellent for getting a muscle pump before wrapping up your session.
Create your own tricep workout on the Hevy app, to easily log and track your workouts.
Here are three common scenarios and how you might organize your tricep exercises in each:
Scenario 1: Upper/Lower Split
An upper/lower split is a common way of organizing your weekly training. The objective is to split your training into upper and lower-specific workouts. During an upper workout, you would train the shoulders, chest, triceps, back, and biceps.
Here is an example:
|Incline Bench Press (Dumbbell)||3||6 to 10||Compound|
|Bent Over Row (Barbell)||3||6 to 10||Compound|
|Bench Press – Close Grip (Barbell)||3||8 to 12||Compound|
|One Arm Dumbbell Row||3||10 to 12||Compound|
|Triceps Rope Pushdown||2-3||12 to 15||Isolation|
|Concentration Curl||2-3||12 to 15||Isolation|
|Lateral Raise (Dumbbell)||2-3||12 to 20||Isolation|
We have two tricep exercises, performing compound lifts first, then finishing with isolation work.
Scenario 2: Push/Pull/Legs Split
A push/pull/legs split is another popular way of organizing your weekly training. The objective is to train your chest, shoulders, and triceps during a push workout.
Here’s what it might look like:
|Bench Press – Close Grip (Barbell)||3||8 to 10||Compound|
|Incline Bench Press (Dumbbell)||3||10 to 12||Compound|
|Seated Shoulder Press (Machine)||3||12 to 15||Compound|
|Diamond Push Up||3||Close to failure||Compound|
|Chest Fly (Dumbbell)||2-3||12 to 20||Isolation|
|Lateral Raise (Cable)||2-3||12 to 20||Isolation|
Similar to an upper/lower split, we introduce the tricep movements alongside those that emphasize the chest and shoulders.
Scenario 3: Bro Split
A bro split is where you dedicate each workout to one to three muscle groups. Training frequently enough would allow you to have an arm day where you only focus on your biceps and triceps.
Here is what an arm day might look like:
|Bench Press – Close Grip (Barbell)||3||8 to 10||Compound|
|Chin Up||3||5 to 12||Compound|
|Bench Dip||3||8 to 20||Compound|
|Hammer Curl (Dumbbell)||3||12 to 15||Isolation|
|Triceps Pushdown||3||12 to 15||Isolation|
|Concentration Curl||3||12 to 15||Isolation|
There is an exception for compound exercises that have become too easy. For example, if you can easily bang out a set of 20, 30, or 40 bench dips, you can leave the movement for near the end of your session.
It is a compound exercise, but doing it late would allow you to challenge your muscles adequately without resorting to incredibly high-rep sets.
In the above example, instead of doing the bench dip as a second tricep exercise, you can do it last.
Related article: Killer Chest and Tricep Workout to Obtain Large Sculpted Muscles
7 Compound Triceps Exercises
1. Close Grip Bench Press
Close-grip bench presses are one of the best tricep compound exercises to overload the muscle group and build pressing strength.
The objective is to lie on a flat bench and grab the barbell with a close grip, having your hands roughly shoulder-width apart. Brace your body, retract your shoulders, inhale, and slowly lower the barbell to your lower chest. Press the weight in a straight line back to the starting position and exhale.
You can also perform the movement with a pair of dumbbells by having your hands neutral (palms facing one another) and keeping the weights glued together from start to finish. The variation is known as a crush press.
2. Diamond Push Ups
Diamond push-ups are also among the most effective compound exercises for building tricep strength and mass.
To perform the variation, assume a push-up position with your body straight, elbows extended, and hands together, making a diamond shape between your index fingers and thumbs.
Brace your core, inhale, and lower your body, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Descend until your chest is a few inches from the floor and press yourself to the starting position, exhaling near the top.
Diamond push-ups are more challenging than the regular version, but you can make them easier by supporting yourself on your knees.
3. Bench Dip
Bench dips are among the best tricep compound exercises you can do at home and in the gym without equipment.
All you need is a sturdy object, such as a chair or flat gym bench, to set yourself up on while doing the movement.
Face away from the object and place your hands on the edge with your wrists rotated back. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Extend your body forward, inhale and dip by bending your arms. Keep your elbows steady and descend until you feel a stretch in your triceps. Press through your hands to bring yourself to the top position.
You can make the movement more challenging by raising your feet on an object with the same height (e.g., a second gym bench).
4. Triceps Dips
Triceps dips are among the more advanced compound exercises for muscle and strength gain.
Like a classic dip, you must suspend yourself in the air on a pair of parallel bars. But instead of leaning your upper body forward, you must maintain an upright position. Doing so keeps your chest muscles less engaged, forcing the triceps to do most of the work.
Begin with your arms fully extended and dip by bending your elbows. Go down until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle, and press yourself to the starting position as you exhale.
You can make the exercise easier by using a dip assist machine, where you place your knees on a platform to remove some resistance. In contrast, you can make the movement more challenging by attaching a weight to yourself via a special belt.
5. Seated Dip Machine
Seated dips on a machine are among the more beginner-friendly compound movements for triceps growth.
Unlike triceps dips, you don’t have to suspend yourself in the air but can perform the movement pattern seated. The machine has a pair of handles you hold and repeatedly press down.
A notable advantage is that you can adjust the resistance to the desired level and do the movement even if you’re not that strong yet.
Similarly, stronger individuals can use more weight to overload their muscles to a greater degree. As an added benefit, you don’t have to worry about stability and can instead focus on training your triceps.
6. Close Grip Floor Press
The close-grip floor press is another effective exercise that strengthens and develops the triceps.
To perform these, you must set a barbell inside a squat rack and lie on the ground underneath. Reach up, place your hands on the bar (shoulder-width apart), brace your upper body, and unrack the bar.
Position the bar over your chest, inhale, and slowly lower it until your triceps are on the floor. Press the weight to the starting position and exhale.
The exercise has a slightly shorter range of motion, but it allows you to overload your triceps with more weight, especially compared to isolation tricep exercises.
Related article: Top 5 Tricep Stretches to Ease Tight Arms
7. Floor Triceps Dip
Floor triceps dips are a lesser-known exercise, but it works great, and you can do it without any equipment.
Assume the starting position by sitting on the floor, leaning your torso back, and putting your hands flat on the floor. Bend your knees, engage your abs and inhale. Straighten your arms to lift your buttocks several inches off the floor. Bend your arms slowly and exhale.
The floor triceps dip works great for high-repetition sets near the end of your workouts. You can use it as a finisher once you’re done with the other exercises.
7 Isolation Triceps Exercises
1. Triceps Rope Pushdown
Rope pushdowns are among the classic isolation exercises for triceps strength and growth.
Prepare the cable machine by selecting the appropriate load, setting the cable pulley to the highest position, and attaching a rope. Grab both ends of the rope, straighten your body, bring your elbows to your sides, and inhale.
Once in position, extend your elbows in one fluid motion and slowly bend them as you exhale.
You can make the movement even more effective by spreading the rope at the bottom.
2. Triceps Extension (Barbell)
Barbell triceps extensions are a more challenging isolation exercise that allows you to overload the muscle group with more weight.
The objective is to bring a loaded bar overhead and repeatedly bend and extend your elbows to train the triceps.
Lowering the bar behind your head causes a significant tricep stretch, whereas extending your arms leads to a strong contraction.
3. Skullcrusher (Dumbbell, Barbell)
Skullcrushers are similar to triceps extensions, apart from one difference:
Instead of doing the exercise from a standing or seated position, you must lie on a flat gym bench. Doing so makes it easier to maintain your balance.
To perform the movement, grab a bar, sit on the edge of a gym bench, raise the weight to your chest, and carefully lie back. Straighten your arms to bring the bar above your face, retract your shoulder blades, brace your upper body, and inhale.
Bend your elbows, bringing the bar close to your forehead or behind your head. Fully extend your arms and exhale.
You can also use dumbbells, forcing both triceps to work independently.
4. Triceps Pushdown
The tricep pushdown is similar to a rope cable extension, apart from one difference:
Instead of using a rope attachment, you’re working with a straight bar, V handle, etc. Doing so allows you to train with slightly more weight and overload your triceps effectively.
One drawback of the movement is that trainees often use more weight than they should, resulting in ego lifting and poor form.
5. Triceps Extension (Dumbbell)
Dumbbell triceps extensions are an exercise where you lift a weight overhead and support it with both hands while doing repetitions.
The objective is to lower the dumbbell behind your head, stretching your triceps, and follow up with powerful elbow extension.
Lifting your arms overhead puts the long head of the triceps in a stretched position, which can lead to slightly better development in the long run.
You can perform the exercise standing or seated and train one side at a time if you prefer.
Related article: Incredible Tricep Dumbbell Workouts to Grow the Back of Your Arms
6. Triceps Kickback
Triceps kickbacks are a classic dumbbell exercise designed to isolate and inflate the rear of your upper arms.
The objective is to grab a dumbbell, lean your torso forward, straighten your back, and lift your elbow to your side. Once in position, extend your elbow, squeezing your tricep at the top. Slowly bend your arm and exhale.
You can train both arms together or focus on one at a time.
An excellent way to increase triceps activation is to extend your shoulder by a few degrees just as you straighten your arm. In other words, raise your arm up slightly at the top of each rep. Doing so can shorten the long tricep head more.
7. Triceps Extension (Suspension)
Triceps extensions on a suspension kit are more challenging than other isolation exercises because you must support a large percentage of your weight.
The objective is to grab the handles of a suspension kit, straighten your body, extend your elbows, and lean forward slightly. Slowly bend your arms to lean your body forward, pause, and extend your elbows, bringing your body to the starting position.
In addition to being an excellent triceps-builder, performing the movement on a suspension kit leads to greater core activation.
Everyone interested in building impressive arms should add triceps compound exercises to their training and do enough isolation activities.
A good combination of compound and isolation lifts will provide a varied training stimulus, leading to balanced development and strength.
Other articles from the series:
- The Top 7 Isolation And 7 Compound Ab Exercises
- 10 Compound and 4 Isolation Back Exercises for an Impressive V-Taper
- 8 Isolation and 7 Compound Bicep Exercises For Big Arms
- 8 Compound and 6 Isolation Chest Exercises for Strong Pecs
- 5 Isolation and 9 Glute Compound Exercises for a Head-Turning Behind
- 7 Isolation and 8 Compound Leg Exercises for a Strong Lower Body
- 8 Isolation and 9 Compound Shoulder Exercises