Proving that age is no barrier to achieving great shape, 56-year old Chris Zaremba has qualified as a personal trainer and has won fitness model competitions. However, Chris wasn’t always into fitness – six years ago he was overweight and very unfit.

In this series, Chris describes his favourite exercises for each body part – ones that have helped him make the transformation from fat to fit. This issue, it’s Six of the Best exercises for triceps.

The triceps have three heads (sections)


This gives the muscle its name. These heads spread from locations at the top of the arm to a single point below the elbow joint as they insert into the ulna bone of the forearm.

Most triceps exercises work all three heads, although some require a greater contribution from one of them. It should be noted that triceps exercises often involve contributions from the chest and shoulder muscles and some from the forearms too.

Press-type exercises

Conversely press-type exercises (such as press ups and bench presses) involve a substantial contribution from the triceps as the elbow straightens.

I have not included these exercises in my selection instead I’ve plumped for much more triceps specific exercises, which involve a variety of equipment, such as cable machines and dumbbell, barbell and seated machines exercises.

Six rules for the Six

These guidelines apply within each set for all these exercises:

1. Do the exercise correctly, don’t sacrifice good form to reach the numbers.

2. Only move those parts of the body that are meant to move in the exercise.

3. Lower slower – the weight can go up quickly, but should come down slowly – resist gravity.

4. ExOnEx – Exhale on Exertion.

5. Keep the weights moving, don’t stop at any point.

6. Don’t lock out your arms – doing so takes the effort away from the muscles.

1. Rope Pushdown

Pushdowns are a fundamental triceps exercise and can be performed on a cable machine with various cable attachments. Using the rope allows a neutral grip at the start and then a palms downward one at the end. This targets the outer head.

best tricep exercises_5

How to perform

– Begin with your elbows tucked into your sides and forearms parallel to the floor, holding the rope with knuckles almost touching each other. I use a short lunge stance.

– Ensuring no movement at the shoulder, or indeed anywhere else apart from the elbow, push your hands downwards. At the lowest point, flare the hands outwards so they end in a pronated (palms downwards) position.

– Return the weights to the starting position much more slowly than the downward movement – try to resist gravity.

It’s fine to finish the movement with your forearms inclined upwards, but ensure this doesn’t bring the elbows forward as this takes the effort away from the triceps.

2. Dip Machine Dip

Dips can be done in many places – on a dip/chin-up machine, on the edge of a bench or even between two chairs. I’m going for a seated machine variant as this provides total focus on the triceps. You can vary your grip width and it’s easy to introduce progressive overload through incremental increases in resistance.

best tricep exercises_2How to perform

Ensure the seat height is correct. For most, this is when the wrists are level with the chest (above horizontal for the upper arms can bring the chest into play and too low a position would reduce the range of movement).

Most machines have a choice of handle positions – a wider one focuses the movement on the triceps’ long head, whilst a narrower one favours the lateral head.

– Keep your body upright and in contact with the back pad and seat cushion throughout.

– Push the handle down quickly whilst not fully locking out the elbows.

– Return to the start position much more slowly, ensuring the weights don’t quite touch. Keep the elbows pointed more rearwards than out sideways, to avoid recruiting too much chest.

3. Drills

This exercise takes its name from a pneumatic drill and the action needed to operate one – it’s a cable pushdown variation that although recruits quite a lot of chest muscle reaches all parts of the triceps.

 best tricep exercises_3How to perform

Using a short bar, grip the bar toward the middle with an overhand grip. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.

– The start position requires a positioning movement where you pull down until the point where your upper and lower arms are parallel to the floor and elbows out to the sides.

– Next push down in a pneumatic drill movement quickly until the arms are near fully extended – resist the temptation to lean forwards.

– Then reverse the movement back to the start position – the bar should reach neck-height.

– At the end of the set, raise the bar higher to let the weights come to rest.

Keep your body position still throughout. The weight used on this exercise will be higher than on other triceps cable exercises, due to the chest’s contribution.

And Chris has not finished there… Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of the route to great triceps.

Connect with Expert Chris Zaremba

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