Get Toned and Tight Triceps Through Triceps Workouts and Smart Full-Body Fitness Planning
The triceps, or the rear side of the upper arm, is an often-cited “trouble area” among female exercisers. Well, let’s turn that trouble into terrific triceps instead. Aside from the most obvious benefit of looking stellar in short sleeves, working on tricep endurance and strength will add to your overall functional strength by adding to your ability to PUSH things using your upper body.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there regarding how to effectively train and tone the triceps, so I will make sure that by the end of this article, you will have the complete picture of everything you need to know to not only get a great workout for your triceps muscles but also how to reveal that muscle tone you’re working to build by shedding the excess fat layer that too often keeps them all covered up.
We’ll explore not only the best movements for building the triceps muscles, but also tips and tricks for getting the most out of your triceps workouts, cardio rules to follow to lose the most body fat, as well as nutritional guidelines for supporting muscle gain and fat loss.
Triceps & Body Fat Loss Disclaimer!
Some women may come across this article in hopes of burning upper arm fat directly off the triceps area. As women, we are genetically predisposed to store fat on top of the triceps as well as the thighs and booty. This so-called “trouble area” leaves many even very fit women frustrated and hungry for fast change in terms of fat burn. Spot reduction is a physiological impossibility. When you burn calories and lose body fat, the fat will leave all areas of the body at a fairly even pace while lingering on the triceps, thighs, and booty. So be patient and don’t expect overnight results from triceps exercises.
Please know that triceps isolation exercises are NOT the best way to burn upper arm fat. In fact, triceps isolations done alone can actually worsen the situation by building muscle beneath the fat layer which will just push the fat outward. So your approach to toning the triceps must be two-pronged: build and tone the muscles underneath while maintaining focus on full-body fat loss through strength training, cardio, and nutrition. More on that later. First, let’s get going on the workout itself.
Tips & Guidelines for the Best Triceps Workout for Women
- When starting this workout, aim for rep range of 15 for the first month or so to build muscle endurance and stability
- Ensure that you keep making progress and avoiding plateau by cycling into a heavier weight/lower rep scheme after about a month or so; 8-10 reps works well
- Cycle your rep range between lighter weight/more reps and heavier weight/lower reps every month to two months to avoid plateau
- To get great results, work your triceps twice or three times a week max
- Give your triceps (and any other muscle) 48 hours off in between training sessions to allow recovery
- Complete two sets of every triceps exercise, resting 60 seconds or so between sets
- When selecting a weight, shoot to fatigue your muscles within the desired rep range
- You’ll want a weight that is challenging enough to produce fatigue…
- …but not so challenging that your form is compromised at any point
- You will need to “guess and check” with the weight to find your starting point when beginning
- Safety first; always start on the low side to prevent injury from a weight that is too heavy
- Be tender to your triceps…don’t go too heavy or aim for total fatigue as it’s easy to injure structures around your elbows
Overview of the Terrific Triceps Workout for Women
- Elevated Push Ups – 2 sets of 12-15 reps, rest 1 minute between sets
- Quadruped Kickbacks – 2 sets of 12-15 reps, rest 1 minute between sets
- Skullcrushers – 2 sets of 12-15 reps, rest 1 minute between sets
- Cable Rope Pressdown – 2 sets of 12-15 reps, rest 1 minute between sets
Further Details On The Perfect Execution of Each Terrific Triceps Exercise
Please read this section in detail to learn how to do each triceps exercise correctly, safely, and for maximum effectiveness. Doing any exercise with bad form puts you at risk for injury so take the time to get everything right.
#1. Elevated Close Grip Push Ups – 2 sets of 12-15 reps, rest 1 minute between sets
Your chest muscles, or “pecs” are the prime movers in a push up while the triceps are the main synergist. I like to lead off a triceps workout with two sets of push ups to activate large muscles so that metabolic rate is increased throughout the workout and you will be burning more calories. Push ups are also one of the most important functional exercises out there. They give you a lot back in terms of overall upper body strength while also effectively targeting the relatively small triceps muscles. Therefore, they’re a great use of your time during triceps workouts and any upper body or full body workout.
You can enhance recruitment of the triceps during push ups by changing to a more narrow hand position. Also, start push ups from an upper body-elevated position to regress the basic move. There’s no need to start full-on push ups from the floor. Most women will lack the upper body strength to do a good set of standard floor push ups and that’s totally normal. You will get much stronger with time.
How to do push ups:
Choose an appropriately elevated starting point. You want a surface that is low enough to give you a good challenge but high enough to allow you to complete your entire set with perfect form. This could be a weight bench, a plyo box, a table or countertop, or even just the wall if you find push ups particularly challenging.
Once you have your surface selected, place your hands no more than shoulder width apart. The goal is for your hands to be right in front of your chest muscles at the bottom of the movement. Engage your abdominals and squeeze your glutes together so that your whole body stays absolutely straight throughout your set.
Keep your elbows very close in to your ribcage at all times. Do not allow the elbows to flare out even a little bit. They should even scrape your ribcage on your way past. It helps if you keep your “elbow pits” facing forward. Envision pushing your selected surface away from you and breathe as you rise on each rep. Avoid letting your head reach forward on the way down. Avoid hunching your shoulders. If you find it impossible to maintain form until the very last rep, choose a higher surface. Respect your own personal starting point!
Complete 15 reps, rest for around 60 seconds, and repeat.
#2. Quadruped Kickbacks – 2 sets of 12-15 reps, rest 1 minute between sets
Quadruped kickbacks are an effective move for targeting the triceps as well as your core and even shoulders. They are performed from hands and knees using a dumbbell. Start with perhaps 5 pounds and if that’s too easy, get a heavier dumbbell next time.
How to do quadruped kickbacks:
With your dumbbell at your side, get down on hands and knees and assume a tabletop position with a flat back and a tight core. Grab the dumbbell in one hand and lift your elbow up past your ribcage. Keep your elbow high and close in to your ribcage throughout your set. Don’t let it flare out to the side. Purposefully contract your triceps as you straighten your elbow. At the top of the movement, your straight arm should be rising slightly above the plane of your flat back. Speaking of the back: keep it flat and keep your spine stable by pulling your abs up and in throughout your set. You will notice that when you press your arm straight at the top of the movement, your spine will want to arch, sagging your tummy toward the ground. Don’t let that happen!
Complete 15 reps on each arm, and then repeat so that each side is worked twice. Ensure about 60 seconds of rest for each arm in between sets.
#3. Cable Rope Pressdown – 2 sets of 12-15 reps, rest 1 minute between sets
Since the triceps have three parts (“triceps” literally meaning “three heads”), it’s important to target them from different angles for a balanced triceps workout. The cable rope pressdown emphasizes a different part of the muscle than push ups or kickbacks, so it’s a helpful move to include. Performed from a standing position at the cable machine, you’re also forced to engage your core to maintain good form, which adds up to further core muscle development as well.
How to do cable rope pressdowns:
Set the cable machine origin as high as it will go and use the forked rope attachment. It looks like a two-tailed robe with nubs on the end. Grip the rope above the nubs and pull your elbows down to the sides of your body so that your upper arms are flush with your ribcage. Keep your elbows “pinned” in this position throughout the entire set to effectively target the triceps and not take the movement into other muscle groups such as shoulders and back.
Before you begin, pull your core inward and stack your ribcage directly over top of your pelvis. Always keeping elbows “pinned”, maintain your wrists as straight as possible as you press your arms straight, pull the nubs of the rope down to your hips. This movement can cause undue wrist stress if you allow your wrists to be too loose. As you pull downward, the two forks of the rope will need to separate to get the rope nubs down to your hips. Just don’t let your elbows flare or your wrists to deviate as you complete the movement.
Do 15 reps, take a minute to rest, and then repeat.
#4. Skullcrushers – 2 sets of 12-15 reps, rest 1 minute between sets
A dramatic name, but a great triceps exercise. Skullcrushers are also known as lying triceps extension, but how boring is that?! There are variations on this move using a barbell, an EZ curl bar, even the cable machine, but the most elbow joint-friendly variation uses dumbbells so that your arms can move independently and find the most comfortable range instead of having their position forced.
How to do skullcrushers:
Get two dumbbells and lay on your back on a flat bench. Straighten your arms up in the air, bringing the dumbbells above your face. Maintain control of your core as you bend your elbows, letting the weights travel past the top of your head on their way down. As you might imagine, that’s where the exercise gets its rather dramatic name. Squeeze your triceps tight as you press back up to the starting position. Keep your elbows and hands spaced about equal with your shoulder joints throughout your set. If you find it more comfortable on your elbows to flare them ever so slightly, that’s OK. Just don’t allow the flare to become extreme. If your elbows hurt after your set, that’s a good indication that your form was off or you have chosen too heavy a weight. Revisit both of these variables before continuing. If your elbows hurt no matter what, skip skullcrushers altogether and consider adding more kickbacks and/or rope pressdowns if that treats your joints better.
Complete 15 reps, rest one minute, and repeat.
How to Fit Triceps Workouts Into Your Total Fitness Plan
Since they are a small muscle in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make sense to spend a ton of time and energy on the triceps themselves. That’s why my best triceps workout for women includes one functional exercise (push ups) and only three triceps isolations (kickbacks, pressdowns, and skullcrushers).
Although you can benefit from doing push ups and push up variations more often, you only need to do triceps isolations twice a week to see great results in these little guys. Usually a lack of triceps tone in women who work out is due to excess body fat remaining in the area masking the muscle beneath…not necessarily from underworking the muscles themselves. So don’t overfocus on the triceps even if you are super serious about your upper body and arms. Focus on full body movements during strength training and solid cardio sessions with triceps exercises mixed in a couple times a week.
There are a few different options for integrating these moves into your total fitness plan. It all depends on how you have your weight training split set up, or whether you have a split set up at all. Different options work best for different goals, so consider how each option I will describe applies to you.
First, you can do triceps on chest day if you do chest, back, and legs on different days. Since the triceps synergize with the chest in most chest exercises, it makes sense to work them together. This split works best if you already have low body fat and are looking to seriously define and tone your muscles. Do the larger, more essential chest exercises such as bench press, flies, and push ups first before moving on to triceps isolations.
Second, you can do triceps as part of your upper body day if you have an upper body/lower body training split set up. Do all the moves requiring big muscle groups such as your pull ups, rows, bench press, etc before transitioning to any triceps or biceps isolations if you have this type of training plan. This scheme works well for ladies who are wanting to build and tone muscle while losing some or a lot of body fat. It can also work for women who already have lower body fat and are working on overall muscle tone and strength.
The third option, which is the best choice for beginning exercisers and ladies who seek to burn body fat, tone muscles, and become more fit overall, is to do full body strength training 3-4 days per week. The reason behind this recommendation is that full body strength training is the most functional and will burn the most calories when compared to isolating small muscle groups such as the triceps. And as I mentioned before, if you wish to reveal your strong toned muscles beneath, you need to focus on fat loss if you are carrying extra weight. If this describes your main fitness goal, slip in the three triceps isolations twice a week or so but don’t make triceps work a huge priority.
Cardio Tips for Toned Triceps
As women, our body’s top three spots to store extra body fat are the thighs, booty, and over top of the triceps. In order to reveal the triceps tone you’re building during the best triceps workout, you’ll need to burn the extra body fat that may be lingering in that area. As I’ve said before, triceps exercises alone cannot accomplish this aim. Two powerful weapons in your arsenal include cardio exercise and proper nutrition. First, let’s talk about how to burn body fat through cardio training.
Fat loss comes about through burning more calories than you’re eating. Cardiovascular exercise (in balance with full body strength training, of course) burn lots of calories and can help keep your metabolic rate higher throughout the day and throughout the week.
So what’s the best type of cardio to do, and how much should you aim for each week? Most people will see the best results in terms of losing body fat while keeping your muscle mass if you do shorter, more intense cardio sessions spread throughout the week rather than slow-burn marathons. Interval training is also effective for fat loss. During interval training, you work vigorously for short periods of time, allowing recovery periods in between. A simple sample interval scheme would be to sprint for 30 seconds, walk for 30 seconds to let your heart rate go back down, and then sprint again, alternating in this way for your desired amount of time.
And how much time each week should you devote to vigorous cardio training? Healthy adults need 90 minutes each week to maintain health and fitness. To lose body fat, you will want to aim for more like 120-150 minutes per week. Spread your sessions out over the course of the week instead of going for super long, less intense cardio sessions only once or twice a week.
Nutrition Guidelines for Terrific Triceps
The importance of nutrition can’t be overstated when you want to maintain muscle while burning body fat. There are a ton of specific nutrition plans out there, and we won’t spend much time going over specifics here. I just want to emphasize the importance of recognizing the role nutrition plays and giving you some tips for building more effective eating habits.
Like I’ve been saying, if you’re looking to burn fat, you need to restrict your calories within a range that allows that to happen. This range will be different for everyone based on your metabolic rate and your level of physical activity. It’s important, though, that you don’t restrict calories too much or you will quickly run out of energy for exercise, and moreover, your muscle mass will waste. When your muscle mass fades out, you burn fewer calories. Muscle is “hungry” tissue; the more of it you have, the less effort you have to expend to burn calories and body fat.
So eat in a way that supports muscle maintenance and fat burn: adequate protein, adequate carbs, and adequate healthy fats, fewer calories than you burn. You don’t need to cut out all of your favorite foods. You do need to exercise portion control and realize the trade off when you’re indulging. Sometimes the scoop of ice cream is worth it…and sometimes you need to say NO and crunch on some cucumbers instead. As long as you’re on more cucumbers than ice cream scoops, so to speak, fat loss WILL happen as you exercise your body and your patience. It will not happen overnight, but it will be worth it. “Slow” weight loss progress at the rate of 5 or so pounds of fat per month tends to be the most realistic and sustainable.
Best Triceps Workout for Women: The Bottom Line
Now you’ve learned everything you need to know to get toned and terrific triceps. Through smart application of triceps isolations, you can absolutely achieve your upper arm goals. We enjoy dialogue with our readers, so tell us how this triceps workout treats you! Did we forget any of your favorite triceps exercises or triceps training tips? Let us know in the comment below! Thanks for reading!