12 Exercises to Build Massive Triceps for Your Bench Press

TAGS: SSB JM Press, Incline Tate Press, Cross Body Tricep Extension, Supinated Cable Pressdown, Push-Up Hell, triceps, Brandon Smitley, dips

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Say what you will, but the triceps are the evil twin of arm development. Rarely will you have someone ask you, "What do you do for triceps?" It's more likely to be, "What do you do for arms?"

We all know by now that your triceps make up the vast majority of your size in your upper arm (or at least they should). If you want shirt splitting arms, plus a bench press to match, you better have massive triceps. In my gym, we call them Tricepticons. You know, the antagonists to the Autobots that get so much love (biceps), but we know that Megatron is the almighty.

This article is aimed at improving your triceps, so your bench press will benefit too. These are primarily accessory based exercises that would follow after your main bench press work. I purposely left off the close grip bench press and board press work so we could have exercises for a variety of situations and programs—giving you something you might not have considered.

Rolling Tricep Extension

Rolling Tricep Extensions are my personal favorite accessory movement when it comes to the triceps. When I need my bench press to move, I dust this exercise off and abuse it. It's great for developing the long head of the triceps, but also starting strength due to the dead stop on the floor for each repetition. Make sure you keep your elbows high and try to throw those dumbbells across the room.

I prefer programming this more on the heavier side of things for 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps. These fall in great after your supplemental work.

EZ Bar Skull Crusher

Skull crushers are a classic tricep exercise that most people probably recognize. They tax the medial and long head of the tricep very hard and should probably be a staple in most beginner training programs for direct tricep work. I like to think of these as my supplemental exercise for a close grip bench press. The main issue becomes elbow pain management once you get strong enough. These can wreak havoc on your elbows if you don't take care of them. For my example, I'm using the elitefts Zig Zag bar, which is thicker and angled to help reduce some of the elbow strain. I would also recommend adding chains if you're a veteran lifter that still wants to get these in to decrease the load on the elbow when in the bottom.

You'll probably see these programmed for 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps for best progress. The key is to ensure you're keeping technique emphasized over the weight used. That will save your elbows in the long run.

Other Skull Crusher Variations

With our main skull crusher exercise out of the way, we now have different ways we can load this exercise for some variety and slightly different training effects.

DB Skull Crusher: These are wonderful for an accessory exercise when you're short on time. All the bang of the barbell versions, but less wear and tear. Nonetheless, you can also crank the volume on these if desired.

I think 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps is a good sweet spot, but I've done as much as 6x20 in workouts when I'm short on time.

KB Skull Crusher: Just like the dumbbell version, these are great for accessory work when you're short on time. But the mechanics of the kettlebells mix things up as the bell moves in your hand as you lower and extend the weight. These are one of my personal favorites as I feel the best stretch in the bottom without much elbow discomfort.

Another 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps should do the trick for these.

Bodyweight Skull Crusher: If you're someone with minimal equipment or training in your garage, this is a fantastic version that you can quickly set up in your rack with just your bar. You'll place the bar in your rack at a moderately challenging height, and lower your body with your triceps as you move your body (specifically your head) towards the bar. Then extend back up to the top. Think of these as the inverse option to the barbell.

Performing reps a tad bit higher is probably ideal if you're limited on equipment, somewhere in the 8-15 rep range for 3-4 sets.

Zercher Tricep Extension: While it doesn't have skull crusher in its name, it certainly has its roots from the dumbbell skull crusher variation with a minor twist (literally). Set up as you would with your standard DB Skull Crusher, but as you come down, rotate your palms toward your face, and then as you extend, rotate them back. This will hit the medial head of your tricep like no other. With the position our hands are in, we definitely want to have reps on the lighter side here so that we can keep a good hold of the dumbbells but also feel a good stretch and contraction.

Knowing that, stick with 10-15 reps for 3-4 sets.

SSB JM Press

If you're reading elitefts, you should know of JM Blakley and his contribution to powerlifting, especially the bench press. While I love the JM Press, I think it's one of the worst exercises for long term elbow health. This is where I think the elitefts SS Yoke Bar comes in to help negate that fact. You'll need to take the handles out of the bar for these, but because of the camber of the bar, it will do the "rolling" aspect for you and help force you to keep your elbows up on the higher side of things. It's best to think of these as your rolling tricep extensions with the safety squat bar, except much heavier.

The JM Press is one of the few exercises listed that could be a main movement for your training day, but it likely fits in better as a supplemental movement after your main bench press work for sets of 6-10 reps.

Incline Tate Press

The Tate Press has some great history here with Dave, but I enjoy the incline version. I think the increased range of motion lends itself to better hypertrophy and tricep training (especially if you have short arms like myself). The key here is to have the dumbbells constantly touching and squeeze the tricep at the top while lowering the dumbbells back to the start position. You can typically get rather heavy on these, so control the tempo a bit and don't overextend at the elbow. You should feel these at the elbow joint versus the "meat" of your tricep, compared to other tricep exercises.

Since this is an accessory exercise, place it where it fits best for you after your main work. Typically 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps will get the job done.

Cross Body Tricep Extension

This is a classic bodybuilding isolation exercise, but I believe it's a great option for those with elbow issues that want massive triceps. Having our elbow supported with our opposite hand will provide some feedback and give up something to press the crook of our elbow into as we extend (think about how this is done with a Sissy Squat). This is certainly an exercise where you want to focus on the stretch and contraction. Bringing the working arm across the body as much as possible will help keep time under tension on the triceps, even at the end range of motion. An added benefit is that you can bring up a weaker side or pick up on a weaker side very quickly with this exercise.

Perform these for 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps and focus on the stretch and squeeze before slinging around heavy weight.

Dips

Look back in time at some of the greatest bodybuilders and powerlifters, and they did a plethora of dips to aid chest and tricep strength. When you're trying to pick exercises that give you a ton of bang for your buck, it's hard to argue against dips. The only thing to be aware of is shoulder discomfort or problems, especially when loaded heavy. But if that all checks out for you, dips should probably be a part of your training program in more cases than not. For our tricep development, an option with parallel handles/bars would be preferred, but you'll see progress regardless of which option you choose. When your hands are on the bars, keep the elbows tucked and drop down to roughly 90 degrees and press back up into lockout.

With these being a bodyweight exercise, I typically like to program 3-4 sets of max reps, and if the athlete/lifter can get 20 reps on all three sets, then we can begin adding some weight to drop down into the 10-15 reps range. While I think heavy dips can have some merit, I would avoid the reps dropping below eight, just for shoulder and pec health in the long run.

Supinated Cable Pressdown

How could I go without having a pressdown in the process of building the Tricepticons? While I love pressdowns as much as the college gym bro, when it comes to building thick, meaty triceps worthy of benching massive weights, we need to do more supinated work here. The supinated version hits the medial head tremendously better, especially compared to the rope variation, which hits the lateral head (or lazy head). I would suggest performing these with a handle that rotates for the sake of your wrists, and an EZ bar/angle bar attachment would be ideal. Like your standard pressdown, keeping the elbows in and extending long is the name of the game. With this being a lighter exercise, you can crank the sets and reps to your heart's desire. Pressdowns are an exercise that I think you can perform multiple times per week if needed, and still recover.

Push-Up Hell

This is my favorite tricep finisher, with ties back to Dave Tate's board press hell. I work with a lot of kids, so I prefer the push-up for many programming reasons, but I do believe when this is used as a finisher, it will blow your arms up with minimal time. You'll need a couple of board press boards, and then you will perform five repetitions of a push-up, then do them to a one-board, two-board, three-board, four-board...and then all the way back down. This would be a total of 45 reps for the set, and with a close-grip option, it makes it challenging for even some of the strongest. One to two sets is all that's needed.

Tricepticons Unite

If you're looking to have massive arms, a respectable bench press, and just fill out that elitefts T-shirt, these should get you well on your way. You can use a variety of the exercises and approaches in here to mix up training and keep things fresh, but stick with some of the basics as well. I'd recommend training your triceps twice a week in some fashion, but not destroying them in the process. Oh, and don't forget your couple sets of curls for elbow health and Optimus Prime.

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