Ask any exerciser to flex a muscle, and invariably, they’ll throw up one or both arms and show you their biceps. We get it; big biceps are cool!
However, the real star of the gun show is actually the triceps. Located on the back of your arm, the triceps make up a more significant proportion of your upper arm mass. Just because they’re behind you doesn’t mean you should pay them less attention.
When it comes to training triceps, most people double down on exercises like triceps pushdowns and skull crushers. While such exercises are effective, they’re not the only –
or the best – way to bulk up your tris.
In fact, if you are one of a number of growing exercisers who focus primarily on bodyweight exercises, the classic pushdown/skull crusher combo may be off the menu entirely.
The good news is you can beef up your triceps with calisthenics. In this article, we reveal the ten best calisthenic triceps exercises and share a workout for you to try.
- An Introduction to Calisthenics
- Triceps Anatomy Basics
- The Ten Best Calisthenic Triceps Exercises
- Calisthenics Triceps Workout
- Calisthenic Triceps FAQs
- Closing Thoughts
An Introduction to Calisthenics
Calisthenics, also known as bodyweight training, is an ancient form of exercise that is currently enjoying a massive resurgence in popularity. While going to the gym will never go out of fashion, more and more exercisers are staying home or going to the park to do their workouts.
Popular calisthenic exercises include:
- Planches and planch push-ups
- Air squats
- Reverse Nordics
- Front and back levers
People have been practicing calisthenics for centuries, and the word itself comes from the Greek for beauty and strength – kallos and sthenos. We combine these words to form “kalisthenes,” which is anglicized into the more familiar word calisthenics.
Calisthenics is a common form of training in many arenas, including martial arts, gymnastics, and the military. It’s a very versatile training system that can be used to achieve almost any fitness goal, including building muscle, gaining strength, increasing fitness, and burning fat.
Bodyweight training offers several advantages, including the following:
- Cost-Effective: Calisthenics primarily relies on body weight, eliminating the need for expensive gym memberships or equipment.
- Convenience: You can perform calisthenics anywhere, from parks to your living room, making it easy to fit into any schedule or setting.
- Full-Body Workout: Calisthenics exercises engage multiple muscle groups at once, offering a comprehensive workout for overall strength and endurance.
- Functional Strength: The movements in calisthenics mirror natural, everyday actions, building strength that’s practical in daily life.
- Flexibility and Mobility: Exercises like lunges enhance joint flexibility and mobility, reducing injury risks.
- Lean Muscle Development: Calisthenics promotes lean muscle mass, leading to a toned and athletic physique.
- Enhanced Core Strength: Many exercises, such as push-ups and planks, target the core muscles, strengthening the midsection.
- Improves Coordination and Balance: Movements like handstands enhance body coordination and balance, which is beneficial in various activities.
- Adaptable to All Levels: Calisthenics exercises can be tailored to any fitness level, ensuring continuous progression.
- Mental Toughness: Overcoming the challenges in calisthenics can boost mental resilience and discipline.
Of course, there are a few drawbacks to calisthenics, too…
- Challenging for Beginners: Some foundational calisthenics exercises, like pull-ups or push-ups, can be challenging for beginners, potentially leading to discouragement.
- Requires Good Technique: Poor form in calisthenics can lead to injuries, and without proper guidance, it’s easy to develop bad habits.
- Limited Resistance Progression: Without weights, it can be harder to progressively increase resistance, which might slow down strength gains for some individuals.
- Potential for Plateaus: As you become more advanced, the lack of resistance variety might lead to plateaus in strength and muscle growth.
- Not Ideal for Bulk Building: Those looking to build significant muscle bulk might find calisthenics limiting compared to traditional weightlifting.
- Difficulty Isolating Certain Muscles: Unlike weightlifting, where you can target specific muscles, calisthenics can make it challenging to isolate and work on individual muscle groups.
Triceps Anatomy Basics
While you don’t need a degree in anatomy and physiology to build great-looking arms, understanding how your muscles work can be helpful. If nothing else, you’ll find it easier to pick the most effective exercises for your goals.
The full name of the triceps is triceps brachii, meaning three-headed arm muscle. This refers to how the triceps is composed of three distinct parts, which are commonly called heads.
- The Long Head: This is the innermost head of your upper triceps and closest to your body. It’s responsible for the thickness of your upper arms.
- The Lateral Head: This is the outer triceps head and gives the triceps their unique horseshoe shape.
- The Medial Head: This is the lower part of your triceps, located just above your elbow. It’s also the smallest head.
All three triceps heads work to extend your elbows, but the long head also crosses your shoulder joint, so it plays a part in shoulder extension.
While it is impossible to isolate any of the triceps heads, it is possible to emphasize each one by adjusting the position of your arm relative to your torso:
You can emphasize the long head of your triceps by performing exercises with your arms raised overhead. This places the long head in a stretched position, which increases triceps muscle engagement.
The lateral head is most active when your arms are next to your torso, e.g., during triceps pushdowns. The lateral head is especially active as you reach full elbow extension.
The medial head is involved in all triceps exercises as it works as an elbow extensor and stabilizer. However, it’s especially active when your arms are extended out in front of you, e.g., during push-ups.
In summary, the position of the arm relative to the torso and shoulder can shift the emphasis between the triceps heads. However, it’s essential to note that all three heads are somewhat active in all triceps exercises. The position mainly determines which head is most emphasized.
This means you should try to include a range of exercises in your triceps workouts to hit this muscle from multiple angles. This will help build the most aesthetically pleasing arms possible.
The Ten Best Calisthenic Triceps Exercises
So, you want to beef up your arms with bodyweight training? We hear you! These are the ten best calisthenic triceps exercises for shape, mass, and strength.
1. Bench Dips
Bench dips are a great place to start your triceps-building journey. You can adjust the load on your arms by moving your feet, so they’re ideal for beginners as well as more experienced exercisers. However, they can be hard on the shoulders, so take care with this exercise if it causes shoulder pain.
- Sit on a bench with your legs bent and feet flat. Place your hands next to your hips, fingers pointing forward. Press your shoulders back and down, and brace your core.
- Lift your butt and hips forward so they’re clear of the bench. Move your feet out to put more weight on your arms.
- Bend your elbows and descend until your upper arms are roughly parallel to the floor.
- Push yourself back up and repeat.
- The further you extend your legs in front of you, the more challenging this exercise becomes.
- Experiment with the width of your hands to see what feels the most comfortable and effective.
- Place a weight in your lap to make this exercise harder.
2. Close-Grip Push-Ups
Push-ups are typically viewed as a chest and shoulder exercise, but they also work your triceps. Adopting a closer, shoulder-width hand position emphasizes your triceps and takes a little of the work away from your bigger pecs and delts. This is the bodyweight equivalent of close-grip bench presses, which are a popular triceps exercise.
- Kneel down and place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Walk your feet out and back until your body is straight.
- Bend your elbows and, keeping your upper arms close to your sides, lower your chest to within an inch of the floor.
- Push yourself back up and repeat.
- Bend your legs and rest on your knees to make this exercise a little easier.
- Raise your feet on a bench to make it more challenging.
- Use push-up bars to take the stress off your wrists and increase the range of movement for a more demanding workout.
3. Diamond Push-Ups
Diamond push-ups are so-called because of the shape you make with your closely-positioned fingers. Having your hands so close together means your chest cannot provide much assistance, and your triceps must bear more of the load. However, this exercise can be hard on the shoulders, so feel free to skip it if it hurts.
- Kneel down and place your hands on the floor so your fingers form a diamond shape. Brace your core and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Walk your feet out and back until your body is straight.
- Bend your elbows and lower your chest to touch the backs of your hands.
- Push yourself back up and repeat.
- Maximize triceps engagement by keeping your upper arms close to your sides.
- Make this exercise harder by wearing a weighted vest.
- Bend your legs and rest on your knees to make this exercise more manageable, or place your feet on a bench to make it harder.
4. Pike Push-Ups
Pike push-ups are a popular calisthenics shoulder exercise. But, with their overhead action and more weight on your arms, they’re also a great triceps exercise, especially for the long head. This exercise is a big step up from regular horizontal push-ups, so don’t worry if it feels pretty hard. Remember, it’s those hard reps that build muscle.
- Adopt the push-up position with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and pull your shoulders back and down.
- Lift your hips up so your body resembles an inverted V.
- Bend your arms and lower your head down to the floor between your hands.
- Push back up and repeat.
- Place a folded mat between your hands for safety and comfort.
- Keep your upper arms close to your body to maximize triceps engagement.
- Make this exercise harder by putting your feet on a bench and putting your body into a more vertical position:
5. Bodyweight Skull Crushers
Skull crushers are a classic freeweight triceps exercise. Performed with a barbell, EZ bar, or dumbbells, skull crushers feature in almost every great triceps workout. However, they’re an exercise that many people love to hate, as they can be hard on the elbows. This bodyweight version is no less effective but may be a bit more joint-friendly.
- Adopt the push-up position with your hands slightly in front of your shoulders and about shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and pull your shoulders back and down.
- Bend your arms and allow your elbows to travel backward until your forearms rest on the floor. Your head should be between your hands.
- Push down through your hands and return to the starting position.
- Allow your hands and wrists to rotate naturally for comfort and joint safety.
- Keep your core tight throughout; do not lift or drop your hips.
- Experiment with the width of your hands to see what feels most effective and comfortable.
6. Bodyweight Triceps Extensions
This exercise is amazing for hitting the long head of the triceps and will provide an intense core workout, too. You can do it on a straight bar or the edge of a bench, but it works best with a suspension trainer, such as a TRX or similar. But be warned, this exercise is much harder than it looks!
- Set your suspension trainer to around waist height. Hold the handles and walk your feet back so your hands are slightly in front of your shoulders and your body is straight. Brace your core.
- Bend your elbows and lower your head down between your hands.
- Extend your arms and push yourself back up.
- Shorten your straps and raise the angle of your body to make this exercise easier.
- Lengthen the straps to put your body in a more horizontal position and make this exercise more challenging.
- Turn this exercise into a drop set by walking forward as your muscles begin to fail to take the weight off your fatiguing arms.
Dips are a champion chest builder, but done with a more upright torso, they’re also great for bulking up your triceps. In fact, any type of dip is an effective triceps builder. This exercise is why gymnasts have such muscular arms. It works for them, and it’ll work for you, too!
- Using shoulder-wide parallel bars, support your weight on straight arms and your palms facing inward. Push your shoulders down and back.
- Keeping your torso relatively upright, bend your arms and lower your shoulders down toward your hands. Make sure you bend your elbows to at least 90 degrees.
- Push yourself back up and repeat.
- Bend your legs to ensure your feet do not touch the ground between reps.
- Use a weighted vest or dipping belt and dumbbell to make this exercise more challenging.
- You can also do dips using a straight bar:
8. Plank to Push-Up
Don’t let the name of this exercise put you off – as well as being a well-known core exercise, the plank to push-up is also a legit triceps builder. However, unlike almost every other calisthenic triceps exercise, this one works one arm at a time, so it’s a great way to spot and fix any left-to-right strength imbalances you are developing.
- Adopt the forearm or low plank position. Brace your core and ensure that your body is perfectly straight.
- Shift your weight onto one arm and then plant your unloaded hand on the floor beneath your shoulder.
- Push yourself up into the high plank position.
- Return to the low plank position and then repeat by leading with your other arm.
- Alternate arms for the specified number of reps.
- Try to use your moving arm as much as possible and only use your other arm for gentle assistance.
- Do not rock your hips and shoulders from side to side; keep them as level as you can.
- Keep your core tightly braced throughout.
9. Handstand Push-Up
Very few calisthenic triceps exercises put as much weight on your arms as handstand push-ups. This challenging exercise will bulk up your arms and add slabs of muscle to your shoulders. It’s also a great way to improve your balance and agility. However, this exercise is strenuous, so only attempt if you have a) mastered handstands and b) already have pretty strong triceps.
- Standing in front of a wall, lean forward and place your hands on the floor so they’re about shoulder-width apart, fingers pointing forward.
- Kick up and into a handstand so your heels are resting against the wall. Your body should be straight and not excessively arched.
- Bend your arms and lower your head to lightly touch the floor.
- Push yourself back up and repeat.
- Use a narrow grip to maximize triceps recruitment.
- Place a foam pad, folded exercise mat, or cushion between your hands for comfort and safety.
- Raise your hands on push-up handles, boxes, or parallettes to increase your range of motion:
10. Isometric Triceps Extension
While isometric or static exercises aren’t strictly calisthenics, they require no weights, so they are in keeping with bodyweight training. This simple yet effective exercise is a great way to activate your triceps at the start of a workout or finish them off at the end. Either way, all you need for this exercise is a towel and somewhere to lie down.
- Lie on your back on the floor. Place a towel behind your neck and grip the ends so your elbows are bent to around 90 degrees.
- Extend your arms as hard as you can against the towel. Your hands won’t move, but there will be a lot of tension in your arms.
- Continue for the specified duration or until your muscles fail.
- Move your hands up or down your towel to hit your muscles from different angles.
- Push as hard as you can to exhaust your muscles quickly, or apply less pressure for longer for more of a slow burn. Both options work, so see which you prefer.
- Superset this exercise with close-grip push-ups for a killer, no-frills triceps workout.
Calisthenics Triceps Workout
While any of these exercises could help you build bigger, stronger triceps, you’ll progress faster if you follow a structured plan. Do this workout 1-2 times a week as part of a body part split routine, where you train different muscles on different days, e.g.:
But, before you begin, prepare your body for what you’re about to do with a thorough warm-up. Begin with a few minutes of light cardio followed by dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises for your shoulders, elbows, and upper back.
Please note: Repetitions are listed for illustrative purposes only. Depending on your current strength and fitness, do as many reps as you can, stopping 1-3 reps short of failure. Try to gradually do more reps as you get stronger.
|1||Bodyweight skull crushers||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|3||Diamond push-ups||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|4||Bench dips||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|5||Isometric triceps extension||2-4||20-40 seconds||60-90 seconds|
Calisthenic Triceps FAQs
Do you have a question about our calisthenic triceps exercises and workout or bodyweight training in general? No problem, because we’ve got the answers!
1. How many times a week should I train my triceps?
While you may get reasonable results from training your triceps once a week, most people do best if they hit each major muscle 2-3 times per week. This provides the best balance between training and rest/recovery.
However, it’s important to remember that your triceps are involved in most chest and shoulder exercises, so you may already be training them a couple of times a week. As such, you may only need one direct triceps workout per week to achieve your goals.
Experiment with lower and higher training frequencies to see what works best for you.
2. What is the best rep range for building muscle?
Many exercisers believe the optimal rep range for muscle building is 6-12. While this can be effective, the reality is you can build muscle with almost any rep range, right the way up to 30 or above.
The main driver of muscle growth is taking your sets to within a couple of reps of failure. Provided you do this, you can build muscle with almost any rep range. That’s good news for bodyweight training, as it’s often hard to fine-tune the exercises and fatigue your muscles within a precise rep count.
3. Can you really build muscle with calisthenic training?
As amazing as your body is, it cannot really tell the difference between doing barbell bench presses and push-ups. All it knows is tension and work. So, provided you train hard and often enough, your muscles will get bigger and stronger no matter how you challenge them.
However, there aren’t many isolation calisthenic exercises, so it’s a little harder to achieve localized hypertrophy. This may affect your overall aesthetics and explains why even very muscular gymnasts are shaped differently than bodybuilders.
4. What is the best diet for successful calisthenic training?
The best diet for calisthenics is the one that matches your fitness goal and that you can stick to. As such, you should align your diet to your training goal. So, create acalorie surplusand consumemore proteinto build muscle, or lower your calorie, carbohydrate, and fat intake to lose fat.
5. Can you share a calisthenics biceps workout to go with this one?
We sure can! Here is a calisthenic biceps training plan designed to complement the body weight triceps workout in this article. Do both programs, preferably on different days of the week, to build your best-ever arms without touching a weight.
More on Calisthenics:
- The 11 Best FREE Calisthenics Programs
- The 12 Best Calisthenics Biceps Exercises and Workout
- Hardcore Calisthenics Arm Workout To Build Muscle Mass and Strength
- Calisthenic Shoulder Exercises and Workout
- The Best Calisthenic Leg Workout
- A Routine for Daily Calisthenics Training
- Weighted Calisthenics Best Exercises and Workouts
- Calisthenics Back Workout for Size and Strength
- Savage Calisthenics Abs Workouts For Beast Gains (All Levels)
- Calisthenics Workout Plan: A Beginner’s Guide
You’re now equipped (see what we did there?) with a selection of the best calisthenics exercises for your triceps. Include these muscle-building moves into your triceps training plan or harness their collective power with our tried-and-tested calisthenics triceps-building workout. Either way, you’ll be on the gains train in no time.
Don’t believe you can achieve the chiseled arms of your dreams with just calisthenics? You’re in good company! But one glance at the triceps definition of top-tier male gymnasts should change your mind. Those guys are BUILT!
There really are no barriers to building a body you can be proud of. Take what you have learned from this article and put that knowledge into action. Your success depends on your application and commitment. So, like they say at Nike – just do it!