Your triceps are a tricky spot to target. They're generally weaker than your biceps, and when you do work them out, you're definitely sore the next day. Yet, strengthening the triceps is important, as they assist all your arm movements.
Unfortunately, you might be doing some pretty common triceps exercises that are simply a waste of time, either because they make you more likely to have poor form or they're just not designed to make the most of all the effort you're putting into them.
To help clear up the confusion on these exercises and give safer alternatives, we've asked trainers to weigh in on which triceps exercises you should skip and which ones you should replace them with.
Read more: 8 Exercises to Tone Your Triceps
1. Triceps Dip
"One of the worst triceps exercises is a triceps dip," says Kat Wiersum, Interval Instructor at Studio Three in Chicago. "Ninety-nine percent of people have a really hard time doing them correctly, and therefore actually do nothing for their triceps."
The main mistake people make is collapsing into their shoulders, making it less effective at targeting your triceps.
Instead: "A triceps push-up, even on your knees, is a great alternative to practice staying lifted and not collapsed in the chest and shoulders and also get some great core work too," she says. Another easy swap is a crush press.
- Lie back on a bench (or on the floor) with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Bring your elbows to your side with the dumbbells lifted up in the air over your elbows. This is essentially a dumbbell chest press with the dumbbells held squeezed together.
- Press the weights up and fully extend your arms at the top.
- Lower back down to the start.
2. Overhead Triceps Press
"Holding a dumbbell with both hands and lowering it behind your head has high potential to harm your neck and shoulders," says Caleb Backe, CPT, fitness expert for Maple Holistics.
This is especially true if you overestimate your strength and use a weight that's too heavy for your shoulders, which can lead to injury.
Instead: Replace this with diamond push-ups. Your goal is control throughout this exercise, so take time if you need. Don't worry about speed, but rather focus on your form.
- Start in a high plank (or drop to your knees) and place your hands in a diamond shape in front of you, with your index fingers and thumb forming the diamond.
- Bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the floor while keeping your back flat.
- Press back up to the start.
3. Triceps Kickback Plank
"I often see a triceps kickback with a dumbbell happening while in a plank, and there is just too much going on," Wiersum says. That lowers the chance that you get any benefit from either exercise. Plus, if you're weak or fatigued, the tendency will be for your lower back to arch or twist, which can result in injury.
Instead: Separate these two exercises out so that you give yourself a chance to hold a solid plank, then do a standing or quadruped triceps kickback.
- Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand, then hinge at the hips.
- Row the weights up your chest, elbows pointing up.
- Straighten your arms and extend your elbows back behind you.
- Bend your arms back in toward your chest/armpits.
4. TRX Triceps Extension
Suspension training is great because it forces you to work against your own body weight. But unless you have perfect form, doing a triceps extension on this equipment isn't going to get you very far, and it could strain your neck, setting you up for injury.
"It's similar to a plank in the sense that you need to make sure that your body is fully aligned and engaged otherwise it's really not doing much," Backe says.
Instead: Replace this with kneeling triceps pressdowns, which require less focus on form and more on strength.
- Begin holding a bar, rope or band that's anchored high above your head.
- Keep your elbows bent and tight at your sides, slightly peeking behind your body.
- Keeping your upper arms stable, straighten your elbows by moving your palms toward the floor, face down.
- After your elbows are fully extended, bend them again to 90 degrees, returning to the starting position.
5. One-Arm Triceps Push-Up
"Another move I have seen floating around that is not effective is a one arm triceps push-up," Wiersum says. "Essentially, you're lying on your side and pushing your body up with one arm." There are so many ways for your alignment to get thrown off, which means you're not targeting the triceps effectively and putting yourself at risk for injury.
Instead: Just put that other arm down! "I would recommend, instead, a triceps push-up, even with knees down," Wiersum says. You can do a modified triceps push-up, then work your way up to knees off the ground and in plank over time. This will give you better results than trying a complex move — like the one-arm triceps push-up, which is too complex to be productive. Here, simpler is better!