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The best bodyweight tricep exercises and calisthenics workouts

Level up your calisthenics workout with these brilliant bodyweight tricep exercises.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd May 2022
A man showing how to do two of the best bodyweight tricep exercises

Despite not using any weights, bodyweight tricep exercises can still build a ton of muscle if you train consistently and with the proper technique. However, when it comes to hypertrophy and strength, certain bodyweight triceps exercises are much better than others.

So, if you’re looking for some good calisthenic tricep workout routines to follow, then this guide is for you. It contains an extensive list of exercises to give you some bodyweight training inspiration and then outlines 3 full routines that you can get started with today.

Related Bodyweight Workouts:

The 7 best bodyweight tricep exercises for building muscle

These are the best bodyweight tricep exercises for building muscle and developing strength for calisthenics. Learn the pros and cons of each movement and find out how to perform every exercise with the optimal form.

1. Diamond push-ups

A man doing diamond push ups

Although diamond push-ups train the chest and front delts as well, they’re definitely a tricep-dominant exercise—one with a lot of potential.

Since your chest is in a weak position during diamond push-ups, your triceps have to pick up the slack and do the vast majority of the work. The key is to tuck your elbows close to your sides so that you don’t recruit too much of your pectoral muscle fibers.

Diamond push-ups are also ideal as a primary exercise. This is because they’re great for external loading via a weighted vest, which means that you can keep making gains even when the bodyweight version becomes too easy.

  1. Kneel on the floor and put the fingers and thumb of each hand together so that your hands form a diamond shape.
  2. Extend your legs back and tighten your core.
  3. Lower your chest toward the ground by breaking at your elbows.
  4. Descend until your chest touches the floor.
  5. Press yourself back up by forcefully pushing your hands into the ground and extending your elbows.
  6. Flex your triceps as your elbows reach full extension.
  7. Repeat for 3-5 sets and do anywhere from 8-30 reps per set.

2. Bodyweight tricep extension

A man performing a bodyweight tricep extension during his calisthenics workout

This underrated movement is one of the best tricep bodyweight exercises that you can do because it takes your chest out of the movement. In other words, your triceps receive almost 100% isolation because this exercise is essentially a single-joint movement.

Although this exercise requires no equipment, you might want to perform it on a mat or a padded surface so that your elbows aren’t pressed directly into the hard ground.

If you want to have the best tricep workout at home that you possibly can, then I highly recommend including the bodyweight tricep extension in your routine. It’s a challenging calisthenics exercise that will give your triceps extra volume while putting less tension on your elbows than the likes of the body weight skull crusher—more on that in a minute.

  1. Get into a push-up-style position; forearms and hands in contact with the ground and further forward than usual.
  2. Ensure that your core is tight and that your back is straight. Don’t let those hips sag!
  3. Tuck your elbows into your sides and then push through your hands until your forearms come off the floor. Keep going until your elbows are locked out.
  4. Squeeze your triceps as your elbows reach full extension, and then lower your body back down to the ground for your next rep.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-20 reps.

3. Bench dips

A man doing bench dips

Although you can actually do pull ups for triceps because the long head of the triceps acts on the shoulder joint, you’re best off performing isolation exercises if you want to maximize your triceps development.

The bench dip, also called the tricep dip or the chair dip, is an excellent, beginner-friendly calisthenic tricep exercise that you can do with virtually no equipment.

But just because the movement is great for novice lifters doesn’t mean that bodybuilders can’t benefit as well. Indeed, by performing a bench dip with two benches (or chairs or sofas), in which your legs are completely extended, you can actually make the exercise harder by forcing your triceps to lift a higher percentage of your body weight.

You can also add external resistance to bench dips to increase the difficulty and challenge your naturally fast-twitch triceps muscles even more. Putting weight plates on your outstretched legs is the most common way to make bench dips harder, but it’s actually the worst external loading method.

Let me explain why. When you put the weight plates on your legs, the resistance is really far away from your elbows joint, which means that even though the plates might be heavy, your triceps aren’t actually receiving much resistance from those weight discs.

The better option is to wear a weighted vest so that the extra resistance is going directly through your elbow joint and thus challenging your triceps to a much greater extent.

  1. Sit on the floor with your back against a weight bench, chair, or sofa.
  2. Place your hands and fingers on the edge of the surface and tuck your elbows into your side.
  3. Put your legs out in front of you and ensure that your back is straight.
  4. Lower your hips down to the ground by bending your elbows.
  5. Descend until you feel a stretch in your triceps (likely when your elbow joint forms a 90-degree angle), but avoid going too deep as an excessive range of motion can compromise the shoulder joint.
  6. Reverse the motion by pushing your hands into the bench and extending your elbows.
  7. Perform 3-5 sets of 10-30 reps.

4. Bodyweight skull crusher

A man doing a bodyweight skullcrusher to work his triceps

All of the most challenging body weight tricep workouts should include a skull crusher because it’s the exercise that uses the highest percentage of your body weight as resistance.

It’s also an extremely customizable exercise. Let me explain.

You can lower your forehead directly to the bar, or, for a greater triceps stretch, you can actually bring your head under the bar. The first option is easier, but it doesn’t give the long head of your triceps that skin-splitting eccentric stretch that’s oh so important for hypertrophy.

You can technically do a bodyweight skull crusher on any stable surface, such as a kitchen countertop or a window sill. However, if you want to take advantage of that extra triceps stretch by extending the range of motion, you’ll likely need to use either a barbell in the squat rack or a Smith machine bar.

  1. Place your hands on a barbell just inside shoulder-width.
  2. Tuck your elbows in, tighten your core, and lean your body weight directly into the bar.
  3. Lower your head under the bar by bending your elbows.
  4. Once you feel an intense triceps stretch, forcefully press your hands into the bar and extend your elbows to return your body to the starting position (but avoid shifting the weight onto your feet).
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

5. Ring tricep extension

Not everyone has access to rings. Still, the ring tricep extension, which you can also do on a suspension trainer, is a great way to challenge the long head of your triceps, which is actually the biggest muscle in your upper arms.

Out of all the body weight exercises for triceps, the ring extension is one of the most customizable. For example, you can lower the rings to increase the resistance (which will make you lift more of your body weight), or you can raise them to make the movement easier.

In general, the further your feet are away from the rings, the harder the exercise will be. When you lower the rings, your feet naturally have to move backward because your torso becomes more horizontal.

  1. Grab the rings with an overhand grip and tuck your elbows in.
  2. Brace your core and make sure that your spine is straight.
  3. Shift your weight onto your hands rather than your feet (you can still pivot on the balls of your feet, just not your heels).
  4. Lower your head between the rings until your head is in front of them (you should feel a strong triceps stretch).
  5. Push your hands into the rings to reverse the movement. Keep pushing until your elbows are completely locked out.
  6. Perform 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps in total.

6. Close-grip push-ups

A man performing close grip push ups

Close-grip push-ups are very similar to diamond push-ups. But I decided to include both triceps bodyweight exercises because some people find close grip push-ups easier on their wrists than diamond push-ups (which is a significant advantage if you decide to use external resistance).

Of course, you’re bound to feel some shoulder and chest activation when you do any kind of push-up. But the trade-off is that you get to put a ton of tension through your triceps, which is especially beneficial considering that the triceps are a fast-twitch powerhouse.

If you don’t have access to a weighted vest to make the movement harder, then you can always elevate your feet or slow down your reps. Progressive overload doesn’t always need to come from extra weight; you can use various intensity techniques to put more tension and torque through your triceps, which is what counts.

  1. Place your hands out in front of you just inside shoulder width.
  2. Extend your legs back and keep your feet closer together.
  3. Tighten your core and keep your back straight.
  4. Tuck your elbows in and then lower your chest toward the floor.
  5. Once your chest touches the ground, push your hands into the floor to press yourself back up. Keep going until your elbows are locked out.
  6. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-30 reps.

7. Close grip bar dips

A man doing tricep bar dips

Out of all these weightless tricep exercises, parallel bar dips are perhaps the most challenging. This is because you’re using a big proportion of your body weight as resistance, seen as your feet are elevated off the floor.

You can see our chest dip vs tricep dip comparison for all the info, but essentially, to keep the focus on your triceps, you want to maintain an upright torso and keep your elbows tucked in a bit. Also, don’t go too deep.

Dips also lend themselves nicely to external loading, which you can do via either a dipping belt or a weighted vest.

  1. Grab a pair of dipping handles with a neutral grip and elevate your feet off the ground.
  2. While maintaining an upright torso and tucked elbows, lower your hips toward the ground in a controlled manner.
  3. Once your elbows form a 90-degree angle, press your hands into the handles to push yourself back up.
  4. Squeeze your triceps as your elbows reach full extension.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 6-15 reps.

Bodyweight tricep workout routines

Each of these bodyweight tricep workout routines has a different goal, although they are somewhat similar since a bigger muscle is often also a stronger muscle.

There’s a body weight triceps workout for strength gain, maximum muscle growth, and also a circuit routine for simultaneously strengthening your muscles and improving your cardiovascular fitness.

Body weight triceps workout 1: Strength

A man demonstrating some tricep bodyweight workouts that you can do

If you want to maximize your triceps strength development while building bigger arms, this is the bodyweight triceps workout for you.

Built around proven tricep calisthenics exercises, this low and moderate rep routine targets the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your triceps so that you can become more explosive.

Aim to leave 1-2 reps in the tank on each set so that you don’t lose strength too early on in your workout.

As for rest periods, you should rest 2-3 minutes or until you feel recovered.

1: (Weighted) upright dips — 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps

2: Bodyweight skull crusher — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

3: Close grip push up — 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps

Bodyweight triceps workout 2: Muscle growth

A man performing a good body weight tricep workout during his calisthenics routine

If you want to get jacked triceps with just your body weight, then this is the calisthenics tricep workout that you need to follow.

Although you can increase the difficulty of these exercises by adding external resistance via a vest, these intense tricep bodyweight exercises are challenging enough by themselves.

No head of your triceps will be left understimulated if you follow this routine. And no muscle fiber will be left untapped because this workout utilizes a variety of rep ranges.

With regard to exercise 3—the superset—do as many reps as you can while leaving 1-2 reps in reserve.

1: Bodyweight skull crusher — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

2: Bodyweight tricep extension — 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps

3A: Diamond push-ups — 3 sets (leave 1-2 reps in reserve per set)

3B: Bench dips — 3 sets (leave 1-2 reps in reserve per set)

Calisthenics tricep workout 3: Circuit

A man performing a good bodyweight triceps workout

If you want to pump up your triceps and supercharge your cardiovascular fitness while enjoying a time-efficient workout, then this routine is the way to go.

Perform 1 set of each exercise in succession. After that, rest for 2 minutes and repeat this 4-exercise circuit another 1-2 times.

This challenging calisthenic tricep workout will definitely improve your muscular endurance, but it’ll also build muscle by hammering your triceps with plenty of training volume and time under tension.

1: Bar dips — 2-3 sets of 6-12 reps

2: Bodyweight tricep extension — 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps

3: Close grip push-ups — 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps

4: Bench dips — 2-3 sets of 20-30 reps

How to get the most from your calisthenics triceps workout

Follow these training tips to get the most from your tricep bodyweight workouts.

Add external resistance

A man doing a bodyweight tricep workout

Although you can get great results by performing your triceps exercises without weights, you can likely make even better gains by adding external resistance.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s no need to start wearing a weighted vest on day one. But if you can already do high rep bodyweight push-ups and tricep extensions, then adding extra weight could help you to keep getting bigger and stronger.

Of course, some people just do calisthenics for fun, general fitness, and to build a certain level of muscle mass that they’re happy with. In other words, not everyone wants to get as big as possible, and that’s fine.

Indeed, bringing extra equipment into your calisthenics training would make your workouts more complicated, especially if you train outside.

Use intensity techniques

A man doing a weightless calisthenics tricep workout

Understand this: Your triceps respond to tension, not weight.

As such, you don’t necessarily need to add external resistance to make your bodyweight tricep workouts more challenging. Using intensity techniques like slow negatives and supersets will put additional tension and torque through your triceps without you actually increasing the resistance.

You can also start with harder exercises, such as bodyweight skull crushers, and then immediately transition into easier movements like diamond push-ups and bodyweight tricep extensions off the floor. In this sense, going from hard exercises to easy exercises is like doing a drop set.

Perform a variety of exercises

A man demonstrating two of the best bodyweight triceps exercises

There are countless bodyweight exercises for triceps that you can perform. The trick is knowing which movements to combine together in a routine.

Essentially, every bodyweight tricep exercise works the lateral and medial head because these heads act on the elbow.

However, since the long head of the triceps acts on the shoulder joint as well, you need to involve the shoulder to maximally stimulate this muscle. This usually means bringing your arms behind your head, which you can do via a bodyweight skull crusher, whereby you lower your head under the bar.

Of course, the more bodyweight triceps exercises that you combine in your workout, the more likely you are to recruit a broad range of muscle fibers and see real results. So not only does exercise variety make your sessions more interesting, it often leads to greater hypertrophy as well.

Read More: Isometric tricep exercises

Conclusion: Which bodyweight triceps exercises are the most effective?

A man doing some calisthenics triceps workouts

Although there is no single best exercise, there are certain movements that are better for different people. For example, if you need to work on the long head of your triceps, then some kind of bodyweight tricep extension/skull crusher is your best bet.

If you just want to tone your triceps without adding too much mass, then pick exercises that use a lower percentage of your body weight as resistance. Bench dips are a great exercise in this regard.

For best results, combine multiple bodyweight tricep exercises in your routine so that you can train your triceps from a variety of angles.

References

  1. Geiger, B. (2021, September 21). Build Strength For Maximum Muscle Gains! Bodybuilding.Com. https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/build-strength-for-maximum-muscle-gains.html
  2. Fonseca, R. M., Roschel, H., Tricoli, V., de Souza, E. O., Wilson, J. M., Laurentino, G. C., Aihara, A. Y., de Souza Leão, A. R., & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2014). Changes in Exercises Are More Effective Than in Loading Schemes to Improve Muscle Strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(11), 3085–3092. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000000539
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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