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The best barbell tricep workout routines and exercises

Build slabs of mass with this heavy-duty barbell tricep workout.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd May 2022
A weight lifter demonstrating two of the best barbell tricep exercises for mass

If you want an extensive list of the best barbell tricep exercises for building muscle, then this is the article for you. You'll learn the pros and cons of each major barbell tricep exercise and then get access to 3 barbell tricep workout routines that you can get started with today.

Related: Kettlebell tricep workout

The 7 best barbell tricep exercises

Here are the best barbell tricep exercises for building muscle. Learn the pros and cons of each exercise and discover how to execute each movement with the correct tricep-building technique.

1. Lying barbell extension

A man doing a lying barbell tricep extension

The lying barbell extension is an excellent mass-building addition to any hypertrophy-focused tricep barbell workout because it trains the biggest muscle in your upper arms—the long head of the triceps.

This is important because if you want big arms, then there are no two ways about it; you have to build the long head of the triceps to a decent size. The lying barbell extension is one of the best tricep barbell exercises for doing just this.

Sure, when you do tricep exercises with dumbbells, you might get a better pump and contraction. But barbells arguably have more mass-building potential because you can very easily gain strength rapidly by adding small weight plates to the bar.

With dumbbells, on the other hand, the weight jump can often be 5 lbs or more per side, which makes gaining strength quite challenging on isolation exercises such as tricep extensions.

  1. Load some weight onto a barbell and grab it with an overhand grip. For more convenience, use a preloaded bar.
  2. Lie back on a bench and press the bar up so that it's directly over your face.
  3. Lower the bar behind your head by breaking at your elbows and allowing a moderate amount of backward shoulder movement.
  4. Keep going until you feel an intense stretch in the long (inner) head of your triceps.
  5. Flex your triceps forcefully to reverse the motion. Keep going until your elbows reach full extension.
  6. Perform 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps in total.

2. Barbell overhead extension

A man performing an overhead standing barbell tricep extension during his workout

If there's one tricep barbell exercise that puts your triceps under a skin-splitting muscle stretch, it's the barbell overhead extension.

Often performed standing for greater convenience, the barbell overhead extension is actually best done seated so that you don't have to put so much effort into stabilizing your core—you want to train your triceps, not your abs.

Performing tricep exercises with a barbell can put a lot of strain on your wrists and elbows if you lift too heavy. That's why it's imperative to use a controlled lifting tempo and squeaky clean training technique if you want to keep your triceps growing and your joints injury-free.

  1. Load a moderate amount of weight onto a barbell and grab it with a pronated grip.
  2. Sit on a bench with your back against the pad, and then press the bar over your head so that your arms are completely straight.
  3. Lower the bar behind your neck by bending your elbows. Keep going until you feel a strong stretch in your triceps.
  4. Reverse the motion by forcefully flexing your triceps until your elbows are once again locked out.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

3. Barbell close grip bench press

A man performing a close grip bench press

The close grip bench press is one of the best barbell exercises for triceps development because it enables you to lift loads of weight, which is great for a fast-twitch muscle group like the triceps brachii.

The key with this exercise is to keep your elbows tucked in so that the emphasis stays on your triceps rather than your chest.

I like to touch my chest with the bar on any kind of bench press so that I can create a standardized lifting technique. However, since this is basically a triceps bench press, there's no harm hypertrophy-wise in stopping a few inches short from your chest when you're lowering the barbell. [1]

Just make sure to do the close grip bench press at the start of your tricep barbell workouts where possible. The reason being is that, unlike the other exercises, you want to perform the CGBP for low reps, which is best done when your triceps are at their freshest and strongest.

  1. Load a decent amount of weight onto an Olympic barbell.
  2. Lie on the bench, pin your shoulders back, stick your chest out, and brace your core.
  3. With your elbows tucked into your sides, grab the bar just inside shoulder width and lower it to your chest.
  4. Keep going until the bar touches your chest. Alternatively, you can stop a few inches short to keep the tension on your triceps.
  5. Press the weight back up forcefully by pushing your hands into the bar and extending your elbows.
  6. Repeat the movement for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.

4. Barbell JM press

A man doing a JM press

If you want to improve your bench press lockout strength while simultaneously building your triceps, then look no further than the JM press. [2]

This underrated barbell mass-builder really loads the elbow joint, which can be uncomfortable for some lifters. However, if you can get past the initial discomfort, this movement will serve your pressing power faithfully for years to come.

The JM press basically blends a tricep extension with a close grip bench press, which are two of the best BB tricep exercises in their own right. Just make sure to warm up your elbows thoroughly before loading the JM press with any kind of decent weight.

  1. Load some weight onto a barbell and then grip the bar with a close grip.
  2. Unrack the bar, and then lower it toward your chin. Your elbows will naturally travel forward and should be flared out to around 45 degrees.
  3. Just before the bar reaches your chin, press it back up by pushing your hands into the bar and extending your elbows.
  4. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps.

5. Decline barbell extension

A man doing a decline barbell triceps extension

The decline barbell extension is one of the most underperformed BB tricep exercises because of its reputation for having a complicated setup, a characterization that does have some truth to it.

Sure, you'll need to find a decline bench and then reach down to grab the bar, but the trade-off is that your triceps get put under a greater pre-stretch. In other words, your shoulders are further back, which means that the long head of your triceps gets a growth-stimulating muscle stretch during the eccentric portion of the rep.

Obviously, some lifters find decline exercises altogether uncomfortable. However, this particular movement is pretty safe because the barbell is much closer to the floor than on the flat bench version of the exercise. This means that you can easily and safely release the barbell if your triceps reach failure, so you won't need a spotter.

  1. Grab a barbell and lie back on a decline bench (preferably one with foot holders).
  2. Lower the weight behind your head so that your triceps get a deep muscle stretch.
  3. Bring the bar back up by extending your elbows forcefully. A moderate amount of forward shoulder movement is also fine if it takes some pressure off your elbows.
  4. Keep going until your elbows reach full extension.
  5. Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps.

6. Incline barbell tricep extension

A man doing a barbell incline tricep extension

The incline BB extension is a barbell tricep extension that comes with some definite pros and cons. In other words, it's a great tricep barbell exercise if you know what you're doing, but it's definitely not for everyone.

First off, the positives. The incline barbell extension puts your triceps under a tremendous eccentric stretch, which is the most important part of the rep for hypertrophy (because it's where most of the muscle fibers are broken down).

Also, as with most other tricep bar exercises, you can microload the incline barbell extension with small plates to increase your strength at a faster rate. All else being equal, getting stronger is a good thing because it's a sign that your triceps are actually getting bigger.

Now for the not-so-good part. This exercise is not for beginners without a spotter. Let me explain why.

Say your triceps reach failure while your triceps are stretched. How are you going to get the bar back over your head?

You're not! If you don't have a spotter, you'd have to drop the bar (which could be dangerous for people working out nearby) or shout for help (embarrassing).

Of course, if you're an experienced lifter who knows your own limits, then you can safely make gains from the incline barbell extension. Just try to avoid training to complete failure (if you can) so that you don't get stuck with the bar in a potentially compromising position.

  1. Set an incline bench to a 30 or 45-degree angle.
  2. Grab a bar with an overhand grip and press it over your head.
  3. Lower the weight behind your head by breaking at your elbows.
  4. Descend until you feel an intense triceps stretch.
  5. Come back up by extending your elbows forcefully (keep going until your arms are locked out).
  6. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps.

7. Barbell floor press

A man doing a barbell floor press

No bench, no problem. The barbell floor press is one of the best tricep barbell exercises for those without a bench or for those who want to boost their bench press lockout strength. [3]

The great thing about the floor press is that if you perform it correctly, you can't cheat the weight up with momentum because your legs are flat on the floor.

Also, don't worry about touching the bar to your chest. The most important thing is that your elbows touch the ground. If that entails the bar touching your chest, that's fine.

However, unless you have short arms or a massive chest, or both, it's likely that the bar will naturally stop a few inches above your chest. This is actually ideal because the floor press is meant to focus on the final phase of the press anyway.

  1. Place the bar in a low position in the rack and add some weight.
  2. Lie on the floor with your legs fully stretched out.
  3. Retract your scapula and brace your core.
  4. Unrack the bar and lower the bar toward your chest. Keep going until your elbows touch the floor.
  5. Reverse the motion by forcefully pushing your hands into the bar and extending your elbows.
  6. Once your elbows are locked out, begin your next rep.
  7. Do 3-5 sets of 4-12 reps in total.

Barbell tricep workouts for muscle growth

Each tricep barbell workout routine focuses on a different goal; strength, hypertrophy, and pump. Choose the workout that best aligns with your goals, or feel free to do two workouts but on different days of the week.

You can also perform each routine alongside a BB bicep workout (in a superset fashion) if you want to save gym time by training the entirety of your upper arms together.

Tricep barbell workout 1: Strength development

A man doing some tricep exercises with a barbell

Performing a tricep workout with a barbell is a great way to gain strength quickly because you can add small or even fractional plates to the barbell to increase the resistance in really manageable increments.

Additionally, barbells enable you to maintain a consistent training routine regardless of where you're training (virtually every gym has a barbell and some weights). Therefore, you're not relying on particular pieces of gym equipment to keep up your progress.

This particular routine combines heavy pressing with higher rep overhead work so that the lateral, medial, and long head of your triceps all get plenty of strength-increasing stimulation.

If the JM press feels uncomfortable for any reason, then you can do a floor press instead.

For rest periods, 2-3 minutes is recommended. But if you've been training for a while, then you'll likely know when you personally feel recovered and ready to begin your next set.

1: Close grip bench press — 4-5 sets of 5-7 reps

2: Barbell JM press — 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps

3: Overhead barbell extension — 3 to 5 sets of 10-15 reps

Triceps barbell workout 2: Maximum muscle mass

A man performing some tricep barbell exercises at the gym

Using a barbell for triceps development and hypertrophy is similar to using one for increasing your pressing power. Since you can lift higher absolute loads with barbells compared to dumbbells, barbells are arguably the superior choice for building overall triceps mass.

These triceps barbell exercises are varied so that you can train every head of your triceps and also stimulate all of the muscle fibers in your triceps by performing different rep ranges.

Try to rest around 2 minutes between sets so that you have plenty of energy for your subsequent sets. This way, you'll be able to perform more total tonnage/training volume than if you only had really short rest periods, which is beneficial for muscle growth.

1: Close grip bench press — 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps

2: Lying barbell extension — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

3: Barbell overhead extension — 3-4 sets of 12-20 reps

Barbell tricep workout 3: Pump

A man performing the absolute best barbell tricep workout for building muscle mass

Although performing a triceps cable workout or doing a ​​tricep workout with bands is arguably the best way to get a pump, barbell exercises can work as well if you stick to high reps and utilize constant tension training.

As you can see, we're not dipping below 12 reps in this high rep triceps barbell workout.

This will ensure that a) your triceps get plenty of growth-stimulating time under tension and b) that the pump-inducing metabolites get plenty of opportunities to accumulate in your triceps muscles.

As for whether you should lock your elbows out when training for the pump, it's your call. I usually do because elbow extension is the primary triceps function. But if you get a better pump by only going three-quarters of the way up, then be my guest to use constant tension.

Rest periods should ideally be 30-45 seconds so that you can maintain a strong muscle pump. Don't worry about how much weight you're lifting with this barbell tricep workout; just focus on the pump and contraction.

1: Overhead barbell extension — 3-5 sets of 12-20 reps

2: Incline barbell extension — 3-5 sets of 15-25 reps

3: Lying barbell extension into close grip press — 2-3 sets to failure

The verdict: Which barbell tricep exercise is the best for building muscle?

A weight lifter performing a tricep barbell workout

So, which barbell tricep exercise is the best for building bigger arms? It depends on which head of the triceps you want to work. For example, if you want to develop the long head of your triceps, which is by far the biggest head, then an overhead extension or lying extension is the best choice.

If you want to increase your pressing power and focus on the lateral head, then the close grip bench press is the best barbell tricep exercise.

Of course, movements like the JM press combine a press with an extension, meaning that they work all three heads fairly well.

As always, the best way to make the most of your barbell tricep workouts is by performing a variety of exercises and utilizing different rep ranges. This usually means combining some kind of overhead extension or lying extension with a heavy press.

References

  1. Beardsley, C. (2021, April 18). Does a full range of motion always produce more muscle growth? Medium. https://sandcresearch.medium.com/does-a-full-range-of-motion-always-produce-more-muscle-growth-5bf7fc6e4b55
  2. Pollack, B. (2021, March 8). The JM Press Is Your Secret Weapon to Bigger and Stronger Triceps. BarBend. https://barbend.com/jm-press/
  3. Harris-Fry, N. (2021, December 11). How To Do The Floor Press. Coachmaguk. https://www.coachmag.co.uk/chest-exercises/8000/how-to-do-the-floor-press
James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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