How many exercises do you really have to do for your triceps to see them grow and get stronger? Here are the basics.
Two triceps exercises per week is enough to see growth in beginners if done with 3-4 intense sets per exercise for 8-12 repetitions. It’s possible to do all the sets in one workout or spread them out over two workouts. Advanced lifters might need more sets (up to 20 per week) to see good results.
There are some caveats to the statements above and you might want to employ a different strategy if all you care about is strength. You can read more about that below.
Is Two Exercises a Week Enough For Triceps?
Yes and no. This question is a bit too open to answer. That’s because it really depends on what your goals are, which exercises you use, how many workouts you do, how hard you train and more.
If you’re asking this question, it’s likely you want to either grow your triceps, make them stronger or both. And you’re not looking to completely optimize growth but get the best bang for the buck of time invested vs. results. So you want the minimum effective dose for growth or strength.
Either way, counting exercises per workout is not a great way to base an answer on since there are too many open variables. The amount of sets per week is a much better way to get some clarity. After that we can circle back to the amount of exercises.
Amount of Sets Per Week For Triceps
To grow your triceps, you need at least 6 sets of direct isolation triceps work a week. Those are sets are best done with 8-15 repetitions. For beginners to intermediate lifters 6 sets is enough, for more advanced lifters adding a few sets might be necessary. Mind you, this is the amount of volume to get noticeable growth, not optimal growth.
This amount of sets is ON TOP of other exercises that use the triceps like bench pressing or overhead pressing. It also does not include warm up sets. Pressing movements often don’t put the most stress on the triceps but the chest or shoulders so you won’t take the triceps to (or close to) failure on those exercises. Isolation work is better suited to really push the triceps.
Suggested: Are triceps isolation exercises necessary?
Usually people do three sets per exercise. That means two or three triceps exercises per week is enough to get noticeable gains. You can do all those sets in one workout or split them up into two or even three workouts. Doing less than three sets per workout is probably not very useful though.
You can add more sets for more growth if you want but be aware that you’ll start seeing diminishing returns above 6-9 sets per week. You’ll spend much more time for only a little bit more growth. 6 sets might seem very low but again, it will create noticable results in beginners.
It is however important that you get ‘high quality’ sets. That means you use proper form and get close to failure at the end of the set.
For strength gains, you need fewer sets, fewer repetitions but at a much higher weight. If all you care about is strength, doing very heavy loads for 1-4 sets per week for 1-5 repetitions. You don’t need a lot of volume to build strength, you just need to lift heavy weights a few times a week.
If you care about both size and strength, you can simply combine both training strategies. Do 1-2 heavy sets as the first set of the exercise, and then do 2-3 sets more at a lower weight for more repetitions. Alternatively you can focus on strength one workout and muscle growth in the other.
Which Two Exercises For Triceps?
Since 6 sets is enough for beginners to grow the biceps (and a little bit more for more advanced lifters), you can easily split this over two exercises. 3 sets per exercise is what most people do anyways.
But which exercises should you pick? There are a ton of triceps exercises so you should experiment a little which ones you like and work best for you. There are two things to keep in mind when picking triceps exercises.
- There are three muscles in the triceps (lateral, long and medial heads), pick a combination of exercises that target all.
- These exercises should be different from your other pushing exercises like bench press and overhead press. (It’s best to do those before your triceps isolation work.)
Some of my favorite triceps exercises:
- Overhead Extension (targets all 3 heads)
- Triceps Pushdown (long head)
- Diamond Push-ups (medial and lateral head)
- Skull Crushers (medial and lateral head)
- Triceps Pulldown (targets all 3 heads)
- Triceps Kickback (long head)
Pick two or three of those and you will see good results. Weighted dips are also a great exercise for the triceps but my shoulders do not agree with them.
You’ll need some equipment to do these exercises. A functional trainer is a really good all-round machine for a full body workout. You can read more about functional trainers here. Of course dumbbells and/or barbells also work very well.
If you only have a kettlebell available, you can check out the 5 best kettlebell triceps exercises here.