A pair of well-defined and muscular triceps that look great in sleeveless attire and pop through the fabric of shirts is the goal 99% of lifters, men and women alike. The other one percent are just lying to themselves…With that in mind, we are going to cover the best tricep exercises for mass and strength, specifically using a barbell. We hope you will find this helpful in your journey to achieving aesthetically powerful horseshoe shaped triceps. 

The triceps make up two-thirds of the upper arm, but somehow the biceps seem to get way more attention. But that’s a story for a different day. The triceps are trained in all pressing variations so they’re not lacking in attention. But to bring out the size and definition of the triceps you need a mix of compound exercises (trains two or more muscles) and isolation exercises (one muscle) for best results. Here we will go into the anatomy and function of the triceps, the benefits of strong triceps, 6 barbell triceps exercises, and a sample program to build sleeve busting arms. 

Without further ado, let’s get into it. 

Anatomy And Function of the Triceps 

The triceps – or its Latin name triceps brachii, (which is Latin for three) – is a three headed muscle located on the back of the upper arm.

triceps

The medial head originates from the back of the humerus, inferior to radial groove, and inserts just across the elbow on one of the two forearm bones, the ulna. 

tricep exercises with barbell

The lateral head originates the back of the humerus, lateral and close to the radial nerve, and inserts on the olecranon process (lateral elbow).

best barbell tricep exercises

The long head and largest of the three muscles originates from the scapula near the glenoid fossa (shoulder joint) and attaches to just above the medial head of the triceps.  

best barbell tricep exercises

The main function of the triceps is elbow extension, but it stabilizes the humerus when your arm is by your side and the long head assists with the extension and adduction of your arm at the shoulder. For example, when doing lat pulldowns and chin-ups.  

Benefits of Training The Triceps

Besides looking great in a form-fitting shirt, T-shirt, or sleeveless dress, there are important benefits of having a strong and well-defined pair of triceps. 

Shoulder Health: All the muscles that attach in and around the shoulder joint help with the stability, mobility, and strength of your shoulders. Because the long head attaches to the shoulder blade, this helps with most movement of the shoulder especially movements that involve the extension and adduction of the shoulder.  

Lockout Strength: Any chest or shoulder pressing variation the triceps extend and lock out the elbow joint. There is a point in these variations when it is less chest and shoulders and mostly triceps. If your triceps are weak, you’re going to struggle to lock out your elbows and this will limit the amount of weight you can lift. Commonly known as a sticking point. Prevent this by using the exercises below. 

Elbow Health: Because the triceps attach in and around the elbow and assist with the stability of the humerus, strengthening the triceps strengthens the tendons and bones around the elbow joint too, to help keep your elbows healthy and firing on all cylinders.  

Better Sports Performance: Sports that require you to extend your elbow powerfully to hit or throw a ball or fend off an opponent need triceps strength and endurance. For example, a quarterback, pitcher, and football players being tackled or the ones doing the tackling.

how to build big triceps

6 Barbell Triceps Exercises For Size And Strength

When you’re looking to add mass to your triceps or improve your lockout strength take these six-barbell triceps out for a spin. You’ll be please the next time you flex in the mirror. 

1. Barbell Close Grip Bench Press

close grip bench press for triceps

The close grip bench press has you shift your usual hand placement to your hands set shoulder-width apart. Doing this loads the triceps more but the trade-off is you will not be able to lift as much weight as the flat bench press. Plus, this close grip is easier on the shoulder joint while adding strength and mass to your triceps. Plus, this variation has great carry over to the lockout portion of the standard bench press.

Here’s how to perform the barbell close grip bench press:

  1. Set yourself up as you would for a flat bench press.
  2. Set your hands set less than shoulder-width but this is adjustable according to your shoulder and elbow health.
  3. Tuck your elbows and your elbows into the body. 
  4. Unrack the bar and stabilize it over your chest. 
  5. Pull the elbows inwards as the bar descends to the chest. 
  6. Just before you touch the chest, press up until lockout and give your triceps a good squeeze.  
  7. Repeat for appropriate reps.

Watch demo on Youtube

Best Rep Range: 6-15 

Difficulty: Medium 

Progression: Slow the eccentric, lift with tempo, or add load and reduce the reps. 

Regression: The flat bench press with a standard grip is a good place to start for beginners and it will also do a good job to build up the triceps. Also, dumbbell close grip bench presses.

Related: Bench Press Variations

2. Floor press

barbell triceps

When the bench presses are all taken and there is a spare barbell, the floor press is a great option. This is a great accessory move to strengthen the lockout position of the bench. Because you’re press from the floor, you’re reducing the range of motion which is right in the triceps wheelhouse This limited ROM means you can lift more weight to further strengthen the triceps and improve your lockout strength. Plus, you have little to no assistance from your lower body making it more difficult to press. 

Here’s how to perform the floor press:

  1. Lay down in front of a power rack either with your legs extended or feet on the ground.
  2. Extend your arms and get under the barbell. 
  3. Grip the bar with your usual bench press grip.
  4. Lift the bar out of the rack and lower the barbell slowly until your upper arms touch the ground. Keep your elbows tucked at around 45 degrees. 
  5. Press back up and repeat for reps.   

Watch demo on Youtube

Best rep range- 6-12 

Difficulty: Medium-Hard 

Progression: Pausing at the bottom of the lift will take the stretch reflex away making it harder to press up. This helps to further your lockout strength.

Regression: Single-arm floor presses or landmine presses work well here.  

3. Single-Arm Landmine Press

landmine triceps

Barbells can be tough on your elbows and shoulders because the barbell locks your joints into a certain range of motion. So, not everyone can train the triceps pan-free, and this is where the single-arm landmine press comes in. The single-arm, neutral grip, and gripping the fat end of the barbell make it easier on your elbow and shoulder joints while training the triceps hard and heavy.  

Note: You don’t need a landmine attachment, all you have to do is wedge the barbell in the corner of a wall or even between a couple plates up against the wall. 

Here’s how to perform the standing single arm landmine press:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart in front of the landmine holding the end of the barbell (you can also kneel like the picture above). 
  2. Hold the end of the barbell just in front of your shoulder. 
  3. Brace your core and lats and grip the end of the barbell tight. 
  4. Then press to lockout by extending the elbow and reaching forward at the end of the movement.
  5. Slowly lower back down and reset and repeat for reps. 
  6. Repeat with other arm. 

Watch demo on Youtube

Best rep range- 8-15 reps

Difficulty: Easy to medium. 

Progression: Bench press or overhead press. You can lower the eccentric slowly to increase the time under tension.

Regression: Side to side landmine press or dumbbell floor press are great options. 

4. JM Press 

barbell exercises for triceps

When JM Blakey worked out at Westside Barbell and was crushing every bench press record in sight, his counterparts notice he was doing an unusual lift that no one had seen before. And it was his go-to accessory move to improve his bench.  The lift is part close grip bench press; part skull crusher but the exercise didn’t have a name. Then the JM Press was born. Due to this combo and the reduced ROM, this is a real triceps killer.

Here’s how to perform the JM Press:

  1. Start this the exercise same way as close grip bench press except make sure the barbell is directly above the upper chest. 
  2. Set up with a narrow grip of 16 inches apart using your preferred grip either false or regular grip. 
  3. Keep the elbows are 45 degrees from the body as you’re bringing the barbell towards you and cock the wrist to hold the bar in place. 
  4. Lower the barbell until the forearm touches your bicep. 
  5. Let the bar roll back about one inch to keep the elbows pointed forward and up. 
  6. Then press the bar back up and reset and repeat  

Watch demo on Youtube

Best rep range: 4-8

Difficulty: Hard  

Progression: None. This exercise is as hard as it gets. 

Regression: Skull crusher or close grip bench press are your go-to’ here.  

5. Skull Crusher

skull crushers

You can’t do an article on triceps and leave out the classic bodybuilding exercise the skull crusher. Now skull crushers are performed with dumbbells, cable pulley, or kettlebells but the granddaddy of all skull crushers is the barbell version. You’ll be able to load the most weight and really isolate the triceps with the barbell variation. The real beauty of the skull crusher is you’re stronger in the skull crusher position than most other triceps exercises so, you’ll gain more strength.  

Here’s how to perform the skull crusher:

  1. Lie down, with the hands supporting the barbell in a bench-pressing position.
  2. Set up as you would for a barbell bench press, back, hips, and hands set. 
  3. Pull the elbows back so that they are pointing behind you. 
  4. Unrack the bar and lower the barbell towards your forehead or slightly behind your head.
  5. Feel the stretch on the triceps and lats and extend your elbow to the lockout position.
  6. Reset and repeat for reps.

Watch demo on Youtube

Best rep range: 6-12

Difficulty: Medium-Hard. 

Progression: The JM Press and lifting with tempo.

Regression: The close grip bench press.

6. Side to side landmine press

how to do tricep exercises with a barbell

The side-to-side landmine press is like the standing variation above except it is performed going from side to side, shoulder to shoulder. Because of the close grip and being done with both hands, you will lift more weight than the single-arm version to hit the triceps harder while taking it easier on your wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints. 

Here’s how to perform the side-to-side landmine press:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart in front of the landmine holding the end of the barbell with both hands.
  2. Brace your core and lats and grip the end of the barbell tight. 
  3. Lower the barbell to your left shoulder and press up until the barbell is directly in front of you.
  4. Lower the barbell to the opposite shoulder and press up again in front of you.
  5. Alternate shoulders with each press.

Watch demo on Youtube

Best rep range: 8-20. 

Difficulty: Easy

Progression: Single-arm landmine press, more load, and lifting with tempo.

Regression: Any dumbbell floor press variation. 

Related: 11 Best Landmine Exercises

How to warm up for triceps training

By now you know mobility and core work are important parts of your warm-up before you train. The purpose of the warm-up is to get the blood moving from your abdominal area to your working muscles and tendons. This ensures smoother training and is you’re less likely to hurt yourself. 

If you have no time for a warm-up or would like to extend because you’re not as young as you use to be, ramp-up sets are great. You’ll warm up the working muscles while finding your workout weight for the day. Here is an example.  

Close grip bench press ramp up sets:

  • 10 reps – Empty barbell
  • 8 reps – Add 50 pounds (95)
  • 6 reps – Add 20 pounds (115)
  • 5 reps – Add 10 pounds (125)
  • 4 reps – Add 20 pounds (145)

After, you will start your working sets, which should be around 2-4 sets. Typically, one ramp up exercise is good and you’ll be able to go into your next tricep exercise right at your working set rather than needing to do ramp up sets for each exercise. Ramp up sets are usually done just for the first big compound exercise of a targeted muscle group. 

Training the triceps

Although the triceps are bigger than the biceps, they are still a smaller muscles group compared to other muscle groups, so there is no need to go crazy with volume. Anything from nine to 14 sets using a variety of rep ranges works well. Because they assist with pressing exercises it is better to pair with the above variations after your main pressing move for better triceps development. 

Full body training with a triceps focus

This is a full-body training with a focus on building the triceps. It’s an A B training and alternate between the two trainings two to four times per week for four to six weeks. The sets, reps, and exercise variations are adjustable to your goals. 

TRAINING SESSION A

1A. Goblet squat variation 8-15 reps
1B. Close grip bench press 12-15 reps
– Repeat for three to four sets of each

2A. Hip thrust variation x 12-15 reps
2B. Chin up/Pull up x 4-10 reps
– Repeat for 2 to 3 sets of each

3A. Overhead triceps extension x 15-25 reps
3B. Single arm row variation x 12-15 reps
– Repeat for 2 to 3 sets of each 

TRAINING SESSION B 

1A. RDL variation x 6-8 reps
1B. Single-arm landmine press x 12 reps per side
– Repeat for three to four sets

2A. Split squat variation x 8-15 reps per side
2B. TRX Row x 15-25 reps
– Repeat for 2 to 3 sets of each 

3A. Skull crushers x 6-12 reps
3B. Single-arm row variation x 12-15 reps
– Repeat for 2 to 3 sets of each

Let us know what your favorite tricep exercise is in the comments below. And if you have any questions for us, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Related: The Ultimate Chest & Tricep Workout

tricep workout with barbell

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