If you’re looking to tone and strengthen your upper arms, you’ll want to focus some attention on the triceps muscles in order to sculpt a balanced and powerful physique. Your initial thought may be to pick up some dumbbells and get pumping. However, don’t overlook the incredible benefits of the trusty barbell that you can use to train the triceps.
The barbell is the bar where weight plates are added. They can be used in conjunction with other equipment or on their own. Some barbells are weighted and can be enough without adding any additional weight for beginners and certain exercises.
Bear in mind that barbell workouts do require a certain base level of strength. If you’re a complete beginner or someone that has known strength imbalances, start with resistance bands, dumbbells, or bodyweight for triceps training before graduating to the triceps workout with a barbell.
In this article, we’ll go through how to workout triceps with a barbell and five triceps exercises that can be implemented into a 5 day workout routine or used as a standalone workout. We’ll also discuss tips on how to get the most out of your triceps barbell workout.
What Are The Best Barbell Triceps Workout & Exercises?
The idea is to incorporate both isolation and compound exercises to strengthen the tricep muscle, which tones the upper arms and contributes to healthy elbow and shoulder joints. The best barbell triceps exercises are:
- Close-grip bench press.
- Overhead triceps extension.
- Skull crushers.
- Floor press.
5 Best Barbell Triceps Workouts & Exercises
As a general rule of thumb, any upper body exercise with an overhand grip will work the triceps more. Dumbbells will give you a greater range of motion (ROM) for working triceps, but a barbell will allow you to lift more weight. Here is some inspiration to craft an effective triceps barbell workout.
1. Close-Grip Bench Press
This move is exactly as it sounds. Set up for a normal bench press, but narrow your grip. This will prevent you from lifting as much weight, but it targets the triceps more than a normal bench press.
First, you’ll lie flat on a weight bench with the barbell racked with the appropriate weight. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground on either side of the bench. Then, you’ll grab the bar with an overhand, narrowed grip and bring the weight down towards your chest. On an exhale, press the bar up as you extend your arms straight to complete the rep (also known as lock out).
- Keep your elbows in towards your ribcage as much as you can as you lower the bar.
- Practice with an empty bar first to get your grip placement right to effectively target the triceps without placing unnecessary strain on the wrists or shoulders.
2. Bench Press
The barbell bench press isn’t just for your chest, it works nearly every muscle of the upper body including the pecs, deltoids, serratus anterior, biceps, and triceps. The triceps are more so assisting with this exercise rather than the active movers.
But just because triceps aren’t the star of the show doesn’t mean they aren’t important in building strong triceps, specifically the lateral head. In fact, they are especially used at the top of the press towards lock out when the elbows are extending.
- If you want to feel it more in your triceps, don’t fully lock out your arms at the top before lowering the bar back down. This will keep tension on the triceps muscles.
- Use a spotter to perform this move safely, especially if you are a beginner.
3. Overhead Barbell Triceps Extension
This move specifically targets the triceps. Grip the bar with an overhand grip with hands shoulder-width apart then place the barbell to where it’s behind your head and your elbows are pointed toward the sky, then extend the arms until you’re back to the starting position to complete a rep.
- These can be done sitting or standing, but standing will engage the core more.
- If doing them sitting, do the same movement while sitting on a flat gym bench.
- Make sure to keep the elbows stationary so that the only movement is in extending the arms.
4. Skull Crushers
Skull crushers are a popular addition to any workout routine for women looking to tone the upper arms, but that’s not to say that both genders can’t benefit and build strength from this unique movement. They are commonly done with dumbbells, however, they can be done with a barbell to really isolate the triceps for optimal muscle growth.
Skull crushers are basically another name for a lying barbell triceps extension. You can lie down on a flat-weight bench and bring the barbell over your head. Start with the bar above your chest, grip the barbell overhand with your hands slightly narrower than shoulder width, and lower the bar behind your head by bending at the elbows. Extend the arms again to bring the weight back to the starting position.
- Keep your elbows in and don’t let the weight drop fast.
- These can also be done on an incline bench if this is more comfortable.
- Similarly to the triceps extension, make sure to keep the elbows as stationary as possible.
5. Floor Press
This exercise is essentially a barbell chest press on the ground. Since the range of motion is limited, it targets the triceps more. This is also a modification for those that have a shoulder injury. Bear in mind, you may not be able to lift as much weight from the floor, since you won’t have the same lower body help as in a standard bench press.
To do this exercise, you’ll take your barbell to the floor with you, lie down on your back, grab the barbell with a overhand grip slightly farther than shoulder-width apart, and bring the barbell above your chest. Slowly lower the bar toward your chest and exhale as you bring the weighted bar back to the starting position to finish.
- You can either keep your legs straight or bend them so that your feet are placed on the ground.
- This is a particularly good move to help improve lockout strength (which you especially need if you do bench presses often). Ultimately, the lockout is the last part of the press when the move is complete.
Functions Of The Triceps
The triceps brachii are muscles of the upper arm that attach from the scapula and extend to the elbow. The primary function of the triceps is to extend the elbow and straighten the arm. They also help stabilize the elbow and shoulder joints.
As implied in the name, the triceps are made up of three heads: long, medial, and lateral. The long head is the largest and is mostly used in overhead movements. The medial and lateral heads are smaller and mainly recruited for pressing movements. The lateral head gives the triceps a horseshoe appearance on the back of the arm.
Benefits Of Training The Triceps With Barbells
There are clear benefits to improving upper body strength, and the triceps are a large part of this. The main advantages of using a barbell is that, by design, it doesn’t allow for any strength imbalances and you can lift more weight with a barbell.
1. Elbow Health
The tendon of the triceps protects the capsule of the elbow joint, which is what gets inflamed when someone has tendonitis. To avoid tendonitis, or tennis elbow, it’s important to maintain a healthy and stable elbow joint.
The triceps brachii have a large role to play in this since they are the primary movers of the elbow. Stronger triceps make for a stronger and more stable elbow joint that is less prone to injury.
2. Shoulder Health
The shoulder joint has the largest range of motion (ROM) of all the joints in the body, making it relatively unstable and prone to injury. While it plays a smaller part compared to other muscles, the triceps helps stabilize it because the long head actually attaches at the scapula and extends past the shoulder joint.
Upper body exercises can be straining for this joint. While it’s okay to isolate muscles like triceps, be sure to balance out your training with other muscle groups with front delt workouts, bicep exercises, and upper back workouts.
3. Strength Gains
The main advantage of training the triceps with a barbell is the ability to maximize the amount of weight used. With the stability provided from a barbell, you are able to lift more weight that simply cannot be achieved with dumbbells or other resistance exercises.
This is critical for weightlifters and athletes in sports that require power from the triceps such as a quarterback in football or a pitcher in baseball.
Tips To Make Your Triceps Workouts More Effective
If you’re taking the time to exercise, you’d probably like to reap the greatest benefits possible. Here are some things to keep in mind to have the best barbell triceps workout and stay safe while doing so.
1. Concentrate On Form And Technique
To avoid injury and protect shoulder and elbow joints specifically, it’s always best to avoid lifting more than you’re trained for, otherwise known as “ego lifting”. If you’ve never performed a barbell triceps workout before, start with just the bar to practice your form and get the movement pattern down first.
Taking the time in the beginning to focus on the mind-muscle connection will actually allow you to go up in weight much faster. Once the form is established then start adding weight. You will get much more out of your training this way.
2. Slow Progress
Employ progressive overload to build muscle effectively. All this means is to increase weight by 10% or less each week. This gradually loads the muscles over time, leading you to gain muscle mass while avoiding injury.
As with any strength training routine, you should not train the same muscle group on consecutive days. Consider following a workout split routine that incorporates both training and rest days.
Warm Up & Stretch
A dynamic warm up before any workout helps activate muscles for mind-muscle connection. It doesn’t take much, but stretching the upper body after a workout is a good way to prevent soreness and encourage muscle recovery. Set aside enough time for a workout that includes both a warm-up and cool-down stretch.
How To Include Barbell Triceps Exercises In A Workout Routine
A barbell can be found in any basic set of gym equipment. As mentioned above, some are weighted so that they can be used without the need for bulky weight plates, which can be especially beneficial for a triceps workout at home with a barbell.
A set contains a number of repetitions (or reps) of an exercise performed consecutively. You typically rest between sets.
- For beginners, aim for 3-5 sets per workout by strength training twice a week. Ideally, this will total 6-10 sets per week.
- For intermediate exercisers, try to complete 4-8 sets in a workout depending if you strength train 2 or 3 times per week. This will total 12-16 sets per week.
Reps are the number of times you’ll do an exercise within a set.
- Complete 6-12 reps for 3-5 sets to see muscle growth.
- Aim to do 12-20 reps for 1-3 sets to focus on muscle endurance.
3. Compound + Isolation Movements
The best thing for overall fitness, strength, and stability is to diversify your strength workouts. This is why the five barbell triceps exercises described above are a combination of compound and isolated movements.
Compound movements involve multiple muscle groups to complete an exercise and are typically more tiring. Isolation exercises specifically target one muscle group, in this case the triceps.
Barbell triceps exercises are an excellent addition to any workout regimen to build muscle mass and enhance overall upper-body strength. Incorporating barbell exercises like the close grip bench press, bench press, overhead triceps extensions, skull crushers, and floor press can significantly impact your triceps development.
However, it’s crucial to remember that proper form and safety should always be a priority. Be patient with your progress and gradually increase your weight to avoid injury. With consistency, you’ll be well on your way to achieving strong and toned upper arms.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are a few exercises you can use a barbell for like triceps extensions, skull crushers, and bench presses.
What is optimal will depend on an individual’s goals.
You can get bigger triceps with a barbell by targeting the triceps with both compound and isolation exercises while gradually increasing the barbell weight over time.
A close-grip bench press will actually hit all three triceps heads since it both targets the long head with a close, overhand grip and the medial and lateral heads from the pressing movement.