8 top trainers name their favorite triceps exercises—and there’s not a dip in sight


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Photo: Getty Images/Watchara Piriyaputtanapun

Can we get a show of hands from those who despise triceps exercises? Oh, cool, everyone? Out of all the different ways you can work out your arms, there’s really no burn like a triceps burn. But there’s no need to continue doing dips day after day to work the back of your arms, and your favorite trainers have proof.

I asked a crew of exercise pros to share their favorite moves for tight, toned tris, and they more than delivered. Whether you’re doing a round of skull crushers or using nothing but a jumprope, read on for the triceps exercises that will leave your arm muscles sore until further notice—and will keep you from getting bored on upper body day.

1. Dumbbell pushups into skull crushers

“I like this combination because it starts with a big muscle group working to total fatigue. Then, after your arms feel like noodles, we move right into the triceps skull crushers, which are a safe way to set the triceps on fire.” Ashley Borden, celebrity personal trainer

How to do dumbbell pushups:

  1. Use a pair of dumbbells that are 15 lbs. or heavier for your grip. The heavier dumbbells have thicker handles, which are easier on your hands.
  2. Place the dumbbells on the floor vertically, a little closer than your shoulder width. Angle the top of the dumbbells inward about five degrees.
  3. Grip the dumbbells hard to engage your biceps, triceps, and lats.
  4. Keep your elbows at a strict 45 degree angle as you lower your body, making your body look like an upward arrow. When you’re at the bottom of the pushup, your thumb should be in line with bottom of your chest.
  5. Keeping strict form, complete as many pushups as possible until failure.

How to do dumbbell skull crushers:

After completing as many pushups as you can, immediately turn over onto your back and complete the following using a light-to-medium pair of dumbbells.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms directly over your shoulders.
  3. Grip the dumbbells hard and bring the tops of the dumbbells down to the tops of your shoulders. Keep your elbows facing inward.
  4. Push back up to the top, and once you’re there, squeeze the living daylights out of your triceps.
  5. Repeat until your arms can’t complete another rep with great form.

2. Resistance band triceps extensions

“I love triceps exercises, and right now my favorite move uses a resistance band. I love using bands because they’re a nice break from weights.” Abbey Woodfin, trainer at ModelFit

How to do it:

  1. Taking a resistance loop or ankle band (the small kind, which is typically used for the legs) in your hands; position your arms like you’re holding a tray out in front of you, with your elbows tight to your body. Flip your left palm down (the right palm is face-up).
  2. Bend at the left elbow and extend your left arm, feeling your triceps pressing down. Don’t let the resistance on the band pull your right hand to the center.
  3. Do 15 reps and finish with tiny pulses at the bottom. Bonus points if you keep your left arm straight and do a few right arm bicep curls before switching sides.

3. TriDives

“This weightless exercise is great for lengthening and strengthening the triceps without requiring any equipment or props. Eliminating weights allows you to focus on form and target your triceps rather than cranking your wrists to keep up with the motions.” Samantha Jade, senior instructor at SoulCycle and creator of BODY by SJ at Project by Equinox

How to do it:

  1. Gently bend your knees and hinge forward at the waist, keeping your back flat and core engaged.
  2. Roll your shoulders open, expand through the chest, and fly your arms back, taking a modified diver’s pose.
  3. Pull your arms back and upward, with your palms facing the ceiling.
  4. Slowly pulse your arms up and down, carefully lifting from the upper arms—not your hands and wrists.
  5. Take 10 to 20 pulses and reposition, rolling your shoulders back and open again.
  6. This time, lift your arms higher and further back for 10 to 20 pulses.

4. Triceps kickback in plank

“I love this move because not only does it work your triceps, it works the entire body—shoulders, back, core, and triceps. You’ll even feel your heart rate climb while holding the challenging position.” Autumn Calabrese, creator of 21 Day Fix and 80 Day Obsession

How to do it:

  1. Start in a high plank position with both hands directly under your shoulders, feet hip width apart, and abdominals held in tight.
  2. Move your left hand to the center of your body to help stabilize you. Have a light-to-medium dumbbell next to your right hand.
  3. Row the dumbbell into your right armpit, maintaining a flat back and keeping your hips parallel to the ground.
  4. This is your actual start position. From here, extend the weight back, squeezing your triceps as you do.
  5. With control, return to the start position.
  6. Perform two sets of 12 to 15 reps on each arm.

For a full-arm workout, try the 15-minute resistance band sequence below:


5. Triceps torch

“I love the triceps torch because it activates and engages your triceps while leaning them out. It’s also low-impact, so it’s perfectly balanced if you have any shoulder injuries. I have my clients do this six times a week to keep their arms lean and toned.” Isaac Boots, celebrity personal trainer and creator of Torch’d at Soul Annex

How to do it:

  1. Use a medium-strength resistance loop and place it around your wrists.
  2. Lengthen your arms in front of you, palms facing one another, spreading your fingers wide—to activate every fiber in your arm—and pulse out as intensely as you can. Do four sets of 25.
  3. Then face your palms down toward the ground, keeping the band between your wrists. Pulse out intensely again. Do four sets of 25.

6. Narrow elevated pushups

“I love narrow elevated pushups because you can do the exercise anywhere, and putting it on an incline is an attainable way for anyone to execute it. Plus, you’re also getting some core work in.” Betina Gozo, Nike global master trainer

How to do it:

  1. Start with your hands on a bench or box in a high plank position, then move your hands so they’re only a few inches apart and facing the same way.
  2. As you lower yourself into a push-up, pretend there’s a wall on each side of you so your elbows don’t flare out and they stay close to your body.
  3. Lower yourself in one straight line, then exhale and push yourself back up. Start with 5 to 10 reps, then decrease the incline over time. (The lower the box, bench, or incline, the more difficult this exercise is.)

7. Triceps bar pushdowns

“The tricep accounts for two-thirds of your arm, so when it comes to toning or building the arms, they should always be the main focus. My favorite exercise for the triceps is a superset of bar pushdowns.” Christian Castano, trainer at Dogpound

How to do it:

  1. Attach a straight bar to the cable exercise machine at the gym. Standing facing the machine, stand up straight, shoulders back, and hips slightly back.
  2. Slowly press the bar down with both hands, making sure to keep your elbows tucked in at your sides. Once your arms are fully extended, hold for a second, then slowly return to your starting point. Do three sets of 15 reps.

8. Jump rope triceps

“My favorite way to tone my triceps is using nothing but a jump rope.”Amanda Kloots, creator of AK! Rope, AK! Dance, and AK! Body

How to do it:

  1. Put both handles in your right hand and fold the jump rope in half. Now, take the rope behind your lower back, holding the handles in one hand and the end of the rope in the other. Keep the rope taut and above your back, never touching your back.
  2. Lift the rope up to the ceiling and down over your booty with your palms facing the ceiling. This exposes the tricep muscle. Complete 16 reps.
  3. Finish by holding at the top and doing 24 small pulses.

Now, it’s time to take things to the next level: Grab your kettlebells, or go for the badass upper body blast Ashley Graham swears by.

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