Attention Ladies! Solve Your Upper Arm Issue With These 3 Tricep Movements.

It's no secret that the weight room section of the gym is made up primarily of men.  If I had to estimate, half of those men are pumping away at their arms in hopes of getting those sleeves to fit a little tighter.  While this article will certainly work for them, I wanted to call on the ladies here to get them over to the iron and reap some of the awesome benefits. The purpose of this post is two-fold, on one hand it’s a how-to article detailing the way to systematically build the best pair of triceps allowable by your own genetics.  On the other hand, it’s self-serving as it answers the most nauseating question (primarily posed by females with little strength training experience) that every fitness professional gets at least once per day.  Here’s an example of the specific dialogue:

Fitness Pro: What would you like to focus your training on?

Newbie: I want to get rid of this (pointing to a low hanging piece of skin from the upper arm)

Fitness Pro: Have you tried lifting weights?

Newbie: No, I do cardio and abs.

Fitness Pro: Let me show you how to lift weights.

Newbie: But I don’t want to get bigger and scarier.

Fitness Pro: (Fitness Pro immediately sprints to the closest wall and plows into it with the top of their skull to relieve the intense pain of the interaction).


Different versions of this conversation are far too frequent as most women are terribly concerned that as soon as they even look at a weight or feel heavy resistance from a barbell they are going to morph into Dwayne The Rock Johnson.  It ain’t happening.  Putting on a significant amount of muscle is probably the hardest thing to do in the fitness arena and it sure as hell doesn’t happen as soon as you pick up a weight.  It takes years and years of targeted nutrition, effort, intensity, and in some cases drugs to pack on enough lean mass to look “bulky”.  Resistance training for woman who are on a reasonable diet and living an active lifestyle will help build strong and toned muscles that function as awesome as they look.  If you want the low hanging skin from the tricep, then keep over doing the cardio.  If you want a toned and strong tricep, read on and get lifting!

Photo from Delavier's Women's Strength Training Anatomy Workouts

Photo from Delavier's Women's Strength Training Anatomy Workouts


A Quick Look at The Triceps

The triceps consists of 3 heads

·        Medial

·        Long

·        Lateral

To effectively train the triceps, all 3 heads must be hit hard.  A common mistake is to do the same ol’ 3 sets of 10 reps tricep kickbacks routine with little to no intensity 2x per week and wonder why you aren’t getting results.  A good tricep routine will not only include exercises that target each head but also use high intensity from multiple angles to build strength and create hypertrophy (muscle size).  This routine in tandem with a proper nutrition and strength training program will help you lose fat in the upper arms and everywhere else while building muscle to give you the look you want. 

The Exercises

Close grip bench press: lateral, medial, and long head

3-4 sets x 6-8 reps

Nothing beats heavy pressing for tricep strength and muscle fiber recruitment.  When under a heavy barbell, your triceps have no other resort but to call in every fiber available to keep you from getting crushed under the weight.  This movement is where you get stronger and should be performed first if you are doing all three movements in one training session.  Hold the bar with your hands just inside shoulder width and tuck your elbows in so they pass along your lats as you lower the bar.  Use a controlled descent and then fire the bar up explosively after it touches your upper abdomen.  When in the locked-out position at the top of the movement, flex your triceps hard to maximize their involvement.  Find a trustworthy spotter and perform 4 sets of 6-8 reps.  If the speed of the bar didn’t slow down on the way up at all on the last few reps then you didn’t go heavy enough! GO HEAVY!

Alternatives: Dips on parallel bar style dip station (assisted is fine), close-grip push up (if modified, use the smith machine)


Rope Pushdown: medial and lateral head

3-4 sets x 12-15 reps

Now it’s time to pump a whole bunch of blood into the muscle and work on creating some serious tension.  Grab the rope and squeeze it with your best version of a death grip.  Lock your elbows in at your sides so they don’t move back and forth during the movement.  Push the rope down and pull the rope apart slightly at the bottom when your elbows are totally locked out.  Hold that position for 1 second and squeeze your triceps with every ounce of energy that you have.  Then, under control, allow the rope to travel back to the top and repeat the movement.  Perform 4 sets of 12-15 reps.  You should choose a weight that is light enough that you can perform each rep with correct form but heavy enough that it feels like someone applied a blow torch to the back of your upper arms for the last 8 reps or so, if you don’t feel that, increase weight or squeeze harder!

Alternatives: Any other type of pushdown, single handed, reverse grip, v-bar, etc.


Dumbbell Skull Crusher: long head

3-4 sets x 10-12 reps

This movement is primarily to hit the usually forgotten long head of the tricep.  This should provide a wonderful stretch to the muscle.  It will feel particularly stretched if you pumped a bunch of blood with the rope pushdowns directly prior.  Grab a pair of dumbbells, go light and increase as tolerated, this is a deceptively hard movement. Lay on a bench and hold the dumbbells over the body with locked elbows.  Allow the dumbbells to descend in a controlled manner all the way to the shoulder without changing the position of the elbows.  Tap the shoulder and move the dumbbells back to the starting position.  If performed correctly, the stretch should be glorious and require a sincere effort to get the dumbbells back to the lockout without changing elbow position.

Alternatives: Overhead tricep extensions with cable or dumbbell.  Bent over, overhead rope pushdowns.


Implement this into any program

You got 2 options:

1)     Perform each exercise in one session 2x per week.

2)     Perform one exercise per day 1x per week and make sure to use all out intensity (close to failure). For example: Mon- CG bench, Wed-rope pushdown, Fri- skull crusher

Get to it and let me know what you think of the lifts!      


Click below to head over to my online programming page if you are interested in a custom 6 week strength and cardio program.  I only take limited clients to assure quality so hurry now if you want a spot!