About the author
Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. Click here to email him.
Most people focus on the biceps to give their arms that buffed look, but it's the triceps muscles that get the job done. Whenever you extend the elbow to push something away from you, throw a ball, take a power swing in golf, swim, or do pushups or bench presses — to name a few — the triceps are at work. Task your triceps in your workouts and you will see overall improvement in everything. For the following, do 10 reps per set, choosing weight and sets based on fitness level.
These exercises work all three heads of triceps muscle at once.
• Triceps kickback: Stand with your left leg extended, left hand on your knee, knees flexed, bent forward at the waist with your back straight. Grasp a dumbbell in your right hand, keeping your right upper arm tight against your side. Bend your right arm 90 degrees, keeping your elbow pressed against your ribs. Straighten your arm back along your trunk line, squeezing the triceps at the end of the movement. Repeat with your left arm.
• Bench dips: One of the best if you don't have shoulder issues. Place your hands on the edge of a bench and your heels on another bench, legs fully extended. You'll be bent 90 degrees at the waist. Your arms should be extended directly behind you, not at an outward angle. Bend your elbows, lower your body, but do not let your upper arms go past parallel to the bench. Straighten your arms and return to the starting point. Beginners can start with their heels on the floor.
Try these to work individual triceps muscles.
• Long head — Dumbbell overhead extensions: These work the muscle at the bottom of the upper arm. Stand holding a dumbbell in one or two hands (a heavier dumbbell if you're using two hands), with your arm or arms extended straight upward. Your upper arms must stay in the vertical position. Bend at the elbows, lowering the dumbbell behind your neck. Return to the starting position.
• Medial head — Reverse push-downs: Use a cable machine and a small straight bar attachment. Working with a lighter weight, face the machine, grasp the bar with both hands, palms up, arms flexed to 90 degrees, elbows tight against your ribs. Straighten your arms and return to the start.
• Lateral head — Push downs with a rope: Use a cable machine with an attached rope separated into two handles. Face the machine with each hand grasping one of the rope handles, elbows tight against your ribs. Straighten your arms, and as you approach the bottom, spread your hands to the sides so the rope handles finish in a wide inverted V.