Best Toning Triceps Exercises

The Best Exercises for Building, Strengthening and Toning the Triceps

triceps muscles men and women

Toning triceps is probably one of the top three most common fitness goals for women. While women are generally looking for more definition, men more often than not desire increased size and strength. If you’re looking to take your triceps to the next level, here are some of the best triceps exercises to improve muscle definition whether you’re a man or a woman.

Jump to the Triceps Exercises or continue reading to learn more.

Learning Some Basic Anatomy Will Help You Tone Your Triceps

The Triceps have Three Heads

This is why the muscle is called the “tri”-ceps. Each head has a different origin and attachment. This is important to know when choosing your triceps exercise selection. The origin of the lateral and medial head are both on on the humerus (upper arm bone) while the origin of the long head is on the scapula (shoulder blade).triceps anatomy 3 heads

The Primary Function of the Triceps is to Extend the Arms

The primary function of the triceps is to extend your arm at the elbow joint. If your touch your right shoulder with your right hand, extension is the motion of bending your elbow straight down away from your body.

All three heads of the triceps extend the arm, but the long head of the triceps is involved in shoulder flexion and abduction as well. This comes into play when choosing a complete triceps toning resistance training program.

To keep it simple, since the long head attaches to the shoulder blade, you must have your arms fully elevated above your head to get the most work for your long head. If you know this, you can get the most complete workout for your triceps.

Why is Toning Triceps so Difficult for Women? Toning = Reduce Fat, Maintain and Build Muscle

Women = Testosterone < Estrogen

Women tend to exhibit the gynoid pattern of fat distribution, which is due to more estrogen than testosterone.

The gynoid pattern of fat distribution is characterized by the “pear” shape with the excess fat primarily distributed in the hips and thighs, as well as the triceps.

This is why toning triceps is so difficult. Women’s bodies store larger amounts of fat in the triceps area than men. This common “problem area” for women is usually the one of the last places where fat loss (toning) is noticed during a weight loss exercise and nutrition program.

The reason why toning triceps tends to be difficult for women is the same reason why it tends to be very difficult for men with their signature “apple” shape to lose belly fat. Due to hormones, the largest amount of body fat is stored in problem areas and there is nothing you can do to stop this.

Toning Triceps Or Any Other Body Part Requires a Complete Fitness Program

Videos of the Best Exercises to Include in a Toning Triceps Workout Program

Remember, if you have excess body fat, weight training exercises will do little for reducing the fat in your problem areas. You must reduce your body fat with a fitness program complete with cardio, weight training, and a healthy balanced diet to achieve “toning” results.

If you do not have excess body fat and look to increase your muscle definition or build your triceps muscles, here are some of the best exercises to use to get a complete triceps toning workout.

Beginner Triceps Exercises

Bench Dips

Bench dips are a great toning triceps exercise which you can perform anywhere. You do not have to use a bench. You can use a stability ball, (click for video) a hotel bed, a counter, chair, etc.

Bench dips are are a effective way to work your triceps without added resistance. Bench dips are also great for advanced lifters to finish off the triceps workout.

Start: From a seated position on top of the bench, place your hands on the edge of the bench as close to your butt as you can.

Move your butt off of the bench. Keep your butt and lower back as close to the bench for the duration of the motion.

Begin the motion: Lower your butt toward the floor. Lower yourself as far as you can. If you feel any joint pain, limit your range of motion or do an alternate exercise.

Use your triceps to push yourself back up to the starting position, fully extending your arms and squeezing your triceps. Repeat.

Modifications: You can increase the difficulty by elevating your feet on another bench or stability ball. You can also hold a dumbbell or weight plate on your lap to increase the resistance and workload on your triceps.

High Cable Bar Triceps Extensions

High cable triceps extension or press downs are one of the most common exercises you see people do in the gym.

Start: Set a cable crossover or free motion machine to a level above your head. Stand up tall, keep your core tight, and retract your shoulder blades.

Your hands should be close your chest while you grasp the bar. Do not lean forward or let your shoulders fall forward at all during this movement.

Begin the motion: Extend your arms downwards as close to your body as you can. Make sure your elbows are close to your side.

Slowly lower the weight stack and bring your arms all the way back to your chest, moving your elbows as little as possible.

Modifications: You can modify the position of your elbows to change the emphasis on the triceps. If you change the angle of the elbows, make sure you keep your elbows at the same position for the duration of the motion.

If you move your elbows, you are most likely using your lats to create momentum, which takes work away from your triceps. You can also perform a partial range of motion set by only doing 1/3 or 1/2 of the full range of motion.

Cable Triceps Kickbacks

Triceps kickbacks on the low cable are superior to kickbacks with dumbbells because the whole range of motion is under the same resistance.

Triceps kickbacks are a toning triceps exercise which is usually used as the last triceps exercise during any workout for the triceps.

Start: Set a cable to its lowest position on a free motion or cable cross over machine. Kneel on the floor about a foot from the machine.

Grab either the ball attached towards the end of the cable or the handle and position your elbow against your side parallel with your back.

Begin the motion: Keep your elbow against your side and do not move it while you slowly fully extend your arm and squeeze your triceps.

Squeeze the triceps when your arm is fully extended for a second before you fully flex your arm forward and repeat the motion.

Modifications: If you do not have a gym membership, you can use a resistance tube or a dumbbell. You can find different types of kickbacks in the exercise video library under triceps workout videos

Intermediate Triceps Exercises

Lying French Press “21s”

Twenty ones are a classic version of the lying French press. This toning triceps exercise works the entire triceps.

There are many different ways to perform the lying French press, but “21s” are the most common. “21s” are actually 3 different motions.

Start: Get a straight bar or preferably an EZ curl bar and lay on a flat or low incline bench. Push the weight straight up to the ceiling.

Try to keep your elbows in this position for the first 7 repetitions. It may feel more comfortable if you put your thumbs on the same side of the bar as your fingers as it will take strain off your wrists.

Begin the motion: For the first 7 reps lower the weight slowly to your eyebrows or forehead. Try to keep your elbows pointing straight up to the ceiling and raise the bar back up to the original position.

For the second 7 reps, you can rock your elbows slightly backwards towards your head and lower the bar behind your head. Try to fully flex your arms before you extend your arms to raise the bar to its original position.

The final 7 reps are a close grip bench press. From the original position, lower the weight to your lower chest. Make sure to keep your elbows in towards your sides. Push the weight straight up and lower it straight down to make this the best arms exercise for the triceps. You may be able to perform more than 7 reps of this motion and may do so, but try to squeeze your triceps so much only make it to 7.

Modifications: You do not have to perform 21 reps. You can do whatever combination of reps you wish. You can also use dumbbells. To perform with dumbbells, have the dumbbells to the side of your body. The first 7 reps you will lower the dumbbells to your ears. The second 7 reps you will lower behind your head. The final 7 reps you will lower straight down next to your ribs.

Modified French Press

Modified French press is an isometric contraction of the triceps. This is a good way to strengthen your triceps to enable you to perform more advanced triceps exercises.

Modified French press is an exercise in which the triceps are contracted isometrically for the duration of the movement.

Start: Load either a straight bar or an EZ curl bar with a moderate weight. Take a slightly narrower than shoulder width stance.

Lie on a weight bench, the floor, or a stability ball in the supine bridge position.

Begin the motion: Try to keep bar as low as possible and extend your arms from your chest to above your head.

Hold at the fully extended position for a split second and return the bar to the starting position above your chest.

Try not to let the bar travel more than a couple inches above (towards the ceiling) your chest, face or head for the duration of the motion.

Advanced Triceps Exercises

Medicine Ball Triceps Push-ups

Close grip pushups with both hands on a single medicine ball are not only one of the best functional exercises, but one of the best exercises for triceps.

Start: Get a medium or large sized medicine ball and place it on a flat hard surface such as the gym’s rubberized flooring or a hardwood floor. Place both hands on the medicine ball.

This is best performed with your palms facing one another towards the side of the ball. Push yourself up until you are in a solid push-up position with your spine in neutral alignment.

Begin the motion: Keep your head up with your elbows close to your sides and lower your chest all the way to the medicine ball.

As you lower yourself down make sure you keep your core tight; don’t let your hips sag towards the floor.

Modifications: If you cannot perform these push-ups from a full plank, you can perform them from your knees. If you perform push-ups from your knees, start from your feet. Drop your knees straight down towards the floor and keep your back in the same alignment.

Power Ring Dips

If you have power (gymnastics) rings at your local gym or home you can perform one of the toughest exercises for your triceps.

Dips on the rings are advanced because they require very strong shoulder stabilizers as well as triceps.

If you have a protracted shoulders muscle imbalance, you should probably avoid ring or parallel bar dips.

Start: Set the rings high enough to where you can hold yourself up with your feet folded back behind you. Make sure you are close enough to the floor to where you will not fall and hurt yourself.

Grab the bottom of the rings and hold yourself up. If you are shaking violently, it is because your shoulder stabilizers are not properly trained.

You may want to stick to holding the position rather than doing the motion. If you are stable you can start the dips as soon as you are up.

Begin the motion: Keep your core tight and lower yourself towards the floor. You should go down all the way, as far as you can. If you have any shoulder or elbow joint pain, do not go so far down. Push yourself back up to the top position, squeeze your triceps, and repeat.

Modifications: Dips are a great exercise to tone your triceps whether you use the power rings or parallel bars. You can increase the resistance by using a dips belt, holding a medicine ball between your legs or using a weighted vest.

If You Want to Tone the Triceps, You Should Know the Following:

  • What Exactly is Muscle Tone?
    What exactly is muscle tone? Is there a scientific definition that can clear all the confusion about triceps toning? A complete, full body workout is always best for full body muscle toning and fat burning.
  • The Best Overall Exercises for Women
    Women have the exact same muscles as men and should perform many of the same exercises. However, check out this article to learn which exercises are best for women.
  • Best Cardio Exercises to Tone Up Your Body
    Learn the method behind the madness. Are all cardio exercises created equally? Is there one form of cardio you absolutely must do? Find out.
  • Effective Tips for Losing Weight Fast
    Is it truly possible to lose weight fast? Check out this article to learn exactly what you need to know, including quick weight loss tips and key exercises.
  • What Exactly is a Toning Diet?
    Proper nutrition is key when it comes to muscle toning. Find simple ways to burn fat with a healthy, smart, lifestyle-based nutrition program rather than a short term diet.

About Michael Behnken

Mike Behnken is a personal trainer who holds multiple NASM certifications and a MS in Exercise Science. Mike loves fitness, travel, and photography among many other interests.

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