You want to train your triceps to get those big arms filling out your shirt and that horseshoe shape on the back of your arms. How much triceps work do you have to do to get there the fastest? Here’s what you want to know.
While absolute beginners will see some growth of the triceps with only 4 working sets a week, for optimal growth, 6-16 sets per week of direct triceps work (warm-up sets and chest work doesn’t count) is necessary. 16 sets spread out over two workouts is the maximum most people can recover from.
Let’s take a look at the details of those sets, which exercises you should count and how many repetitions per set works well as well as if exercise alone is enough to grow the triceps.
How Many Sets Per Week Is Enough?
What is enough depends on your goals of coarse. In this post, we’re going for the optimal amount of muscle growth. Everyone understands that to grow a muscle, you have to train it. And there is a trend that people who go to the gym more often have bigger muscles. But is there a limit?
Too much of a good thing turns anything bad and working out is no different. You can go too far. While there are differences between people how much they can handle, there are some general guidelines for the optimal amount of sets that will get you to the optimal amount for most people.
Most people need 4 sets of direct triceps work a week to maintain the size. That’s for experienced weightlifters though. Beginners will likely see a little bit of growth even with this amount of sets.
However, for optimal growth aim for at least 6 sets of triceps work per week but up to 16 sets per week, spread out over 2 workouts (8 sets per workout) is best to grow your triceps. You want to pick 2-3 exercises and spread the 8 sets per workout over those.
As said, these are general guidelines that work for most people. There are always genetic outliers that can handle much more or less. Also, this is for people that train without chemical ‘help’. If you do use performance enhancers this goes out the window since most of what those compounds do is make recovery faster.
What Is A Set?
Maybe it’s good to quickly think about what a set actually is. When you go to the gym or anywhere else you work out, you do exercises in short bursts of roughly 5-20 repetitions. One of those bursts is called a set. A set consists of a number of repetitions and you usually perform more than one set of one exercise. Three sets per exercise is very common.
You do this because doing 100 repetitions in a row is not possible in most cases unless you use really light resistance and then it becomes less useful to begin with. Sets give you the time to recover a little and then you can put your muscles through more stress in total. The amount of sets in workout has a big impact as you can see above but also the amount of repetitions in a set.
In general, the lower the amount of repetitions is per set, the more the exercise focusses on strength, the more repetitions, the more focus on growth. However, that has to go together with the resistance. At the end of a set, you want to keep about 1-4 repetitions in reserve. That means for a set with higher repetitions, you use lighter weights (for you) and vice versa. Doing low repetitions with low weight isn’t going to do much and high repetitions with high weight will mean you fail prematurely.
For triceps growth, doing sets from 10-20 repetitions is the best. Most people do sets in the 10-15 rep range and this is a good balance between building strength and size. However, if you exclusively want to focus on size, high rep sets might work a little better.
Alternatively, you can do a high repetition (15-20 reps per set) workout once a week and a low repetition (8-12 reps per set) the second workout. The higher rep sets would be done with lower weight and vice versa. That way you focus on both strength and size but in different workouts.
Do All Sets Count?
So when you see the amount of sets above, do you count everything?
As already mentioned above, the sets outlined above for optimal muscle growth is the ‘working’ sets. That means warm-up sets don’t count. Warm-ups are just that. You’re not really stressing the muscle, you’re just warming it up and getting some blood flow to them. Warm ups prime the muscles to perform their best. So only count the sets you perform with the target weight for the exercise.
The amount of sets mentioned above is direct tricep work. That means isolation exercises like; overhead extensions, triceps kickbacks, skull crushers, close grip bench press, Tate press and more. The exercises that only target the triceps as the main mover.
That does not include bench pressing, chest pressing or shoulder presses. Yes, those exercises heavily rely on the triceps to be performed but usually the triceps are not the weakest part in those exercises so they don’t get the toughest workout. Those exercises will have an impact on the triceps but the amount of sets mentioned above already takes that into account.
Is The Right Amount Of Sets Enough For Muscle Growth?
If you do the amount of sets and repetitions described above with the right resistance, is that enough to grow your triceps? Most people will get good triceps growth if you follow the prescriptions above.
However, working out is the signal for your body to grow a muscle if you do it right. Doing the sets above is the optimal amount of signaling for most people. That way, the signal strong enough without becoming detrimental. While that’s a necessary part to grow your muscles, it’s not the only factor in play. One of those factors is already built into the amount of work described above and that’s; recovery. If you do too much, you break down the muscles so much your body can’t recover quickly enough and you have to wait longer for the next workout which works out sub optimally in the end.
But your body does not just have a set amount of recovery it can do. While there are some genetic and hormonal factors that are difficult to control, there are some things you can.
Recovery is also largely dependent on diet and sleep. The diet gives your body the fuel to grow muscle. Sleep is where most of the muscle repair actually happens.
Eat enough clean food that gives you a good amount of vitamins and other micronutrients. Eat about 200-300 more calories than you need on a given day. It’s difficult to build muscle in a calorie deficit. You can calculate your daily calorie needs although those calculators aren’t too accurate usually so it might take some precise tracking of calories, weight and muscle mass to figure out if you’re in the right ballpark. This is the most difficult part of growing muscle.
Besides enough calories, it’s a good idea to get enough protein. You don’t need to drink protein shakes the whole day although shakes can be good to supplement your diet sometimes. Most research papers seem to suggest that there is no benefit in consuming more than 0.8 gram of protein per lbs. of body weight and a bit less than that is perfectly fine for the majority of people. So if you weigh 100 lbs., consuming 70-80 grams of protein per day is plenty.
Sleep is very important to recovery and you should aim to get about 8 hours a night. Some high level athletes sleep a few hours more than that just because their body needs more recovery time. And if you don’t have time to sleep more, improving sleep quality will make a massive difference as well. Not only for muscle building but for your quality of life in general.
Best Home Gym Triceps Equipment
In a commercial gym you can use so much equipment, it can be hard to choose. But in a home gym, you often don’t have access to all those things. What is the best equipment to train your triceps at home?
Dumbbells are versatile and effective tools for training, allowing for unilateral exercises that can address strength imbalances and activate stabilizing muscles. They are also very common in home gyms since you can get affordable ones.
Here are some effective dumbbell triceps exercises:
- Dumbbell Tricep Extensions (Skull Crushers)
- Dumbbell Kickbacks
Why they’re effective: Dumbbells provide a greater range of motion than barbells and activate stabilizing muscles, helping to engage the triceps more effectively.
The barbell is another excellent tool for triceps training, allowing you to lift heavier weights and perform compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups. Many home gyms will have a barbell and weight plates.
Here are some effective barbell triceps exercises:
- Barbell Close-Grip Bench Press
- Barbell Overhead Tricep Extensions
Why it’s effective: Barbell exercises allow for heavier loads, helping to stimulate triceps muscle growth and overall strength.
Resistance bands are a portable and versatile tool that provides a different tension curve than dumbbells and barbells, making them a highly effective addition to those, for triceps activation and isolation exercises.
Here are some effective resistance band triceps exercises:
- Triceps Pushdowns
- Overhead Resistance Band Extensions
The Tricep Dip Station is a specialized piece of equipment designed to target the triceps (and chest) specifically. It is an excellent tool for bodyweight triceps exercises but it is a big piece of equipment. For home gyms, this usually comes in the form of a so-called ‘power tower’, which combines a pull-up bar and dip station.
Here are some effective Tricep Dip Station exercises:
- Tricep Dips
- Assisted Tricep Dips
Why it’s effective: The Tricep Dip Station isolates and targets the triceps effectively, allowing you to perform bodyweight exercises that build strength and size in the triceps.