The world’s largest natural (well, to an extent) biceps once belonged to the Austrian Oak, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s 22” pythons led him to six consecutive Mr. Olympia victories.
(Don’t get us started on those ridiculous 31” oil or cement-filled biceps that currently hold the record and make even Popeye look well-proportioned.)
But these biceps measurements don’t only include everyone’s favorite muscle to flex. In fact, the often-forgotten horseshoe-shaped triceps account for about ⅔ of your upper arm mass.
If you want beastly arms and tight-fitting sleeves, here’s how to build aesthetic triceps:
The Anatomy of the Triceps
The triceps are something of a triple-threat muscle, with three distinct heads positioned along the back and sides of the upper arm.
That’s also exactly where their unfair reputation for being painfully stubborn growers comes from. No matter how many kickbacks, pushdowns, or French presses you try, they refuse to grow!
But, here’s the hard truth.
Unless you’re intentionally targeting all three heads, you’ll find yourself looking for something to blame for the inevitable scrawn that follows (genetics, expired supplements, the AC, your ex).
So the #1 “secret” to aesthetic triceps is being more selective with your exercises.
This table explains the difference between the lateral, long, and medial heads of the triceps, where they sit on your upper arm, and how to emphasize them through training:
|How to Emphasize It
|Sits along the outside of the upper arm
|The largest triceps head positioned along the back of the upper arm
|Above-the head, arms-extended exercises with the shoulders flexed
|The smaller triceps head just below the long head
|Close-grip, arms-down exercises
Now, keep in mind that just about every triceps exercise will target all three heads in some way or another. For example, cable pushdowns will still activate the triceps’ long head, and so on.
But building a general aesthetic arm workout or a routine (like the one below) with individual emphasis on all three heads is more efficient. It can guarantee well-defined, pronounced triceps without any head lagging in growth.
Keep scrolling to learn more!
What is the Ultimate Aesthetic Triceps Workout?
Compound chest exercises like the bench press are reliable for building foundational upper-body strength and mass. That’s especially true when you’re riding high on the Noob Gains’ cloud nine.
Case in point …
Stronglifts 5×5 calls for just five compound lifts 2–3 times per week. The program can yield about two pounds of lean mass per month while doubling (or tripling) your Big Five PRs in a year.
The Ultimate Aesthetic Triceps Workout delivers a pure triceps focus.
Twice a week, you’ll lean on science-backed exercises to help you target the triceps’ three heads with three exercises apiece. With proper nutrition and supplements, this program should help:
- Thicken and add definition to your triceps
- Improve your bench press performance
- Keep you on a regular training schedule
- Build upper arm strength and power (while supporting your lower arm)
Now, all that’s left is penning this program into your schedule.
Aesthetic Triceps Workout Details
Are you ready to pump up your triceps and add some much-needed mass to your upper arms? The journey begins right here, right now; here’s a look at our aesthetic triceps program:
What Equipment Do You Need?
This triceps workout requires basic gym equipment, including free weights. (Let’s pour one out for the Planet Fitness homies who’ll have to completely modify this program from top to bottom.)
Once you have the following gear, you’re all set:
- A pulley machine with straight bar and rope attachments
- Dumbbells (or an adjustable dumbbell set to save space in a tight home gym)
- A barbell and weight plates
- An adjustable bench
- An EZ bar
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Day 1 – Triceps I
If your current triceps routine is praying that bench press variations will trigger gains, you’re in for a rude awakening. Our day 1 will leave your triceps burning in places you never knew existed.
Click off the Athlean-X YouTube channel, get some sleep, gulp a little pre-workout, roll up to the gym, and follow this routine:
- Long Head: Dumbbell kickback – 2 sets x 8–10 reps (30–60 seconds)
- Medial Head: Cable rope pushdown – 2 sets x 8–10 reps (30–60 seconds)
- Lateral Head: Barbell skull crusher (partial reps) – 2 sets x 8–10 reps (30–60 seconds)*
- Long Head: 1-arm overhead dumbbell extension – 1 set x 12 reps (30–60 seconds)
- Medial Head: Diamond push-up – 1 set x 12 reps (30–60 seconds)
- Lateral Head: Straight-bar cable pushdown – 1 set x 12 reps (30–60 seconds)
* What You Need to Know About Day 1
Slow, controlled, and complete reps are widely regarded as “ideal” for hypertrophy.
However, research published in 2017 comparing full and partial reps on the skull crusher exercise discovered something quite eye-catching.
The group training in the partial-rep (45–90-degree) range experienced nearly double the triceps growth as the traditional full rep group.
While it’s not the only way to thicken stubborn triceps, we know that genetics, muscle fiber type, and experience play a role in what works. So it was definitely worth adding to day 1!
Day 2 – Triceps II**
Even after 2–3 days of rest, the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) could still leave you feeling sore, achy, or weak. Of course, that’s completely normal given the training volume!
On day two, you’ll take it easy on your tris with the following workout:
- Long Head: EZ bar overhead extension – 2 sets x 5–8 reps (30–60 seconds)
- Medial Head: Weighted bench dip – 2 sets x 5–8 reps (30–60 seconds)
- Lateral Head: Close-grip bench press – 2 sets x 5–8 reps (30–60 seconds)
** What You Need to Know About Day 2
A 2018 study investigating the link between volume and frequency makes a case for both sides: high frequency/low volume and low frequency/high volume.
In the study, the 3x-a-week group ended the 11-week period with more strength and near-equal growth as the 1x-a-week group.
Other research published in 2016 settled on 2x-a-week as the hypertrophy “sweet spot.”
In other words, the 1–3-day frequency can all “work” depending on your approach. That leaves you with a few choices here:
- “Double up” and squeeze both of these triceps workouts into one triceps-only session. Although the research supports a 1x-a-week frequency, that assumes you can outlast 15 sets without sacrificing good form and having the pre-workout boost to finish strong.
- Follow this routine as intended and combine it with a biceps specialization routine. Be sure to leave the recommended 48–72 hours of rest in between arm workouts. Of course, since compound chest exercises like the bench press recruit the triceps as synergists, avoid scheduling arm & chest workouts on back-to-back training days.
- Use this program as a “finisher” to your usual chest or upper-body workouts. Close-out chest day #1 with triceps day #1, and so on. This is the path we recommend!
Ultimately, the best schedule is the one you can stick to long-term and at as close to 100% of your maximum potential as possible. All three of these methods can work.
Diet, Supplement, & Training Tips for Aesthetic Triceps
Diet, supplements, and training are all equally important when beginning any resistance training routine. But for a more aesthetic physique, letting even one slip can stall or ruin your results!
To chisel away at perfectly horseshoe-shaped triceps that bulge whenever you extend your arm, follow these five tips:
1. Take Control of Your Calories & Macros
This statement might come off as completely controversial, but it’s time to get rid of the “Protein good, carbs and fat bad” mindset that’s sweeping the lunkhead community.
The truth is, your body needs enough of all three macros to ensure muscle growth and all-around health. The table below describes the role each one plays and how much you need:
|What It Does
|How Much You Need
|Provides your body with energy & responsible for almost every process within the body
|To build muscle, add 250–500 to your TDEE.
To trim the fat, subtract 250–500 from your TDEE.
|Maintains & builds muscle mass
|0.8–1.2 grams per pound (ACSM)
|Energy maintenance & blood glucose control
|30–50% of your total calories
|Hormone control (including testosterone) & energy
|0.4–0.6 grams per pound
As long as you’re avoiding dirty bulking and crash dieting, an aesthetic bodybuilding diet like the one laid out above should ignite gradual results in your triceps (and across your entire body).
2. Stock Up on Supplements (That Actually Work!)
Amateur bodybuilders swear by certain fitness supplements to climb out of plateaus, accelerate gains, and recover completely before the next workout.
For aesthetic triceps, add these three supplements to your routine:
- Creatine (5+ grams per day): Research shows that regular creatine dosing can improve weightlifting performance by 14%, bench 1RM by up to 45%, and strength by an additional 8%. With ramped-up creatine stores in your body, you can lift heavier, yield more muscular tearing, and encourage more noticeable growth.
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- Pre-workout powder: On that same note, further studies suggest that pre-workout powders can naturally boost both anaerobic and mean power during training sessions. Many powders also contain caffeine, creatine, and BCAAs, which — when combined — can improve your mid-workout focus, recovery time, and energy levels.
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- Whey protein: If you’re following a well-portioned nutritional plan, whey protein powders are simply “nice to have.” But these massive tubs sure are convenient when you’re refueling on the drive from the gym to the office or struggling with a low appetite.
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Keep in mind that neither of these will replace a well-balanced and protein-heavy diet or a strategic triceps routine. It’s diet, exercise, and supplements … not or.
3. Put “Good Form” At the Top of Your To-Do List
Ego-lifting runs rampant in the amateur bodybuilding community, especially for the younger crowd that likes to brag about PRs like anyone outside of the locker room cares.
While the gym crowd might seethe with envy, it almost always comes at a cost:
- Lack of control
- Half-ass and unintentional partial reps (with not enough time under tension)
- Pain and injury
- Wasted time and energy
- Potential embarrassment
If the only way you can muscle up that weight is with full-body lurching, swinging, or minimal range of motion, dip down to a lower — and more realistic — weight.
You also won’t make quite as many enemies at the gym this way!
4. Practice Progressive Overload
When your #1 training goal is hypertrophy, the weight on the bar matters just as much as the number of reps you’re performing.
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, 65–85% of your 1RM — paired with 60 seconds of rest and 6–12-rep sets — triggers the greatest growth hormone release.
Once you can cap off your rep goals at a particular weight, don’t forget to add 2.5 pounds to the bar. The only way to strengthen your muscles is to force them to take on heavier loads.
5. Stay In Tune With Your Body
Even with impeccable form, you might notice lingering pain and discomfort in the elbow. Even more so during isolation exercises like skull crushers and single-arm overhead presses.
If swapping in an EZ bar or lighter dumbbell doesn’t help, find a replacement exercise. A safer, pain-free exercise is always better than one that causes tendonitis or long-term damage.
One will hurt your ego. The other could sideline you for good.
Frequently Asked Questions
Sculpting Phil Heath-level triceps requires a ton of training, a little kitchen know-how, and a bit of training expertise. So for the true newbies out there, here’s a little extra information:
Can Triceps Be Worked Out Every Day?
Triceps can be worked out every day, though the lack of recovery time between workouts could put hypertrophy at risk. The ACSM recommends at least 48 hours of rest between triceps workouts to repair microscopic tearing in the muscles while allowing you to return to the gym at full strength.
Will Triceps Grow From Bench Press?
Triceps will grow from the bench press, especially the lateral head along the outside of the upper arm. But to build a more pronounced, well-defined tris, isolation exercises like kickbacks, pushdowns, and skull crushers are a must. The close-grip bench press is the most tricep-friendly bench variation.
Are Triceps Push or Pull?
Like the pecs and anterior deltoids, the triceps are among the upper-body “push” muscles. That means the triceps contract when pushing the weight (or resistance) away from your body. These upper-body push muscles stand opposite the upper-body pull muscles, which include the back and biceps muscles.
Why Are Triceps Hard to Build?
Triceps are hard to build because of common training misconceptions. Some falsely believe that exercises like the bench press or pushdowns are enough to spur growth. Poor form, incomplete reps, and saving triceps training for the end of a workout (once they’re already fatigued) can stall growth too.