Strong arms are sexy arms, and learning how to most effectively work the triceps -- the muscle group at the back of the arm -- is crucial to a streamlined appearance. If you're feeling a lack of tone in this area, take heart; specialized but simple exercises performed a few times a week will get your triceps in gorgeous shape and make your arms a vision of strength and beauty.
The Triceps, Explained
Officially called the triceps brachii, the triceps muscle group is composed of three parts -- the long, medial and lateral heads, which join into a single tendon that inserts into the elbow joint. The triceps allow the arm to extend (straighten) at the elbow joint. Because the triceps are a relatively large muscle group, lack of tone can result in an unappealing appearance. The good news is that the triceps are typically quick to respond to targeted exercises that jump-start the formation of new muscle fiber and in turn bring definition and shape to this part of the body that is often on display. You don't need a lot of special equipment to get your triceps in shape; a few sets of dumbbells in varying weights and your own body weight are enough to sculpt your triceps. Pay close attention to how your body feels as you work your triceps. If you feel any unusual pain or tension, stop immediately and make an appointment with your doctor or physical therapist so you can rule out potential strain or injury before continuing.
Triceps Pushup: A True Arm Blast
A modification of the traditional pushup, the triceps pushup involves a similar movement, but the positioning of the hands relative to the shoulders is narrower. To perform the triceps pushup, straighten your arms in front of your body and place your hands on the floor, fingers together and pointing forward. You can do this exercise either with bent knees or straight legs; the bent-knee version is easier, so stick to that if you are just starting out and advance to the straight-leg version as you get stronger. Lower your body slowly until your elbows are bent, keeping your elbows tucked into the sides of your body; do not allow your elbows to "wing" out. Return to the start position and repeat. You'll find that with this exercise, sometimes less is more. It won't take many reps before your triceps are burning with the effort. Build up reps as you go, but don't favor reps over good form.
Triceps Extension with Dumbbell
Start with a lower weight if you're new to this exercise -- 3 or 5 pounds, for example. Stand up straight with your feet at shoulder-width. Hold one dumbbell in both hands and reach your arms above your head. Dip the dumbbell behind your head, allowing your arms to bend. Focus the movement on the triceps region. Keep your body steady and don't rock your hips. In this exercise, forget about momentum and make smooth, steady movements your goal. Don't lock your elbows, and keep your chin parallel to the floor.
Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet at hip-width. Place your hands behind your body with your fingers facing forward. Dip backward, allowing your elbows to bend. Keep your elbows tucked into your body if possible to prevent any winging, which can cause loss of stability. This exercise is one of the most effective for honing in on the entire triceps region. For added full-body benefit, tighten your abdominal muscles (your core) and keep your leg muscles active.
- Anatomy of Movement; Blandine Calais-Germain
- Pilates; Rael Isacowitz
- ShapeFit.com: Triceps Exercises -- Dumbbell Extensions
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.