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The best tricep definition workout routines and exercises

Here are the 7 most effective movements for sculpting well-defined triceps.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd May 2022
A weight lifter doing a tricep definition workout

Sculpting well-defined triceps can dramatically enhance the appearance and aesthetics of your upper arms. Even if you don’t necessarily make your triceps any bigger, increasing your triceps definition can make your arms look much more muscular and impressive.

In addition to providing you with various tricep definition workout routines that you can follow, this guide also gives you a rundown of the best tricep exercises for definition, which you can program together in your own custom workout.

Related: Best tricep workout for women

The 7 most effective tricep definition exercises

Here are the best triceps definition exercises for building leaner triceps and more aesthetic upper arms.

1. Rope pushdowns

A man doing a standing cable tricep pushdown exercise with a rope attachment during his workout

The rope pushdown is an excellent exercise for building more defined triceps and truly ripped triceps because the rope attachment enables you to train your tris over a large range of motion.

Unlike the bar attachment, which can also hurt your wrists, the rope attachment lets you “split” the ends of the rope to intensify the peak contraction, which ensures that all of the muscle fibers in your triceps are getting thoroughly stimulated.

Locking your elbows out during pushdowns and indeed during all tricep exercises is important. This is for the simple reason that elbow extension is the primary function of the triceps.

So by avoiding lockout, you’re actually reducing the amount of tension that your triceps have to handle, which will ultimately lead to worse-looking, less defined triceps.

2. Cable overhead extension

A man doing an overhead rope tricep extension at the gym using cables

The cable overhead extension emphasizes the long head of the triceps because it puts your shoulders into flexion, which puts the long head under what can only be described as a skin-splitting eccentric muscle stretch.

Since the long head is the biggest head of the triceps, it’s arguably the most crucial muscle for getting better triceps definition. After all, if the long head of your triceps is flabby rather than firm, then your triceps certainly aren’t going to look lean and mean.

As with the pushdown, you want to get a full, tricep-taxing range of motion on overhead extensions so that you can recruit as many tricep muscle fibers as possible (more muscle fiber recruitment = more hypertrophy = better looking and more defined triceps).

In practice, this means lowering the rope behind your head—in a controlled manner—as deeply as you comfortably can. This is important because the eccentric portion of the rep is where most of the muscle fibers actually get broken down.

After that, make sure to lock your elbows out and squeeze your triceps. You can intensify the peak contraction by moving the ends of the rope away from each other.

3. Lying dumbbell extension

A man doing a lying tricep extension with dumbbells

What good are defined triceps if they’re not symmetrical?

If you want to perform the absolute best tricep workout for definition, then you need to include plenty of dumbbell exercises in your routine so that you can ensure that both of your triceps are getting equal amounts of work.

Sure, you could lift more weight with a barbell, but “weight” means nothing to a piece of muscle tissue that only responds to tension. So while using dumbbells might mean lifting lighter, lifting two independent weights may actually enable you to get a better stretch and contraction in your triceps and apply more tension to the muscle.  

Just make sure to lower the weights behind your head rather than to your forehead. Bringing the dumbbells behind your head will put less pressure on your elbows and put the long head of your triceps under a much stronger stretch, so there’s no good reason not to do it.

4. Tricep kickbacks

A man doing tricep kickbacks

If you ask a trainer how to get defined triceps, they’ll often recommend kickbacks because they have a reputation as more of a “shaping” and “toning” exercise rather than as a mass-builder.

And while dumbbell kickbacks can certainly help you to get defined triceps, they’re no better or worse than other exercises. Let me explain why.

Triceps definition comes down to two things; having a sufficiently low body fat level and having enough muscle mass.

All muscle mass is lean muscle, so it’s not like certain exercises will directly make your triceps look more defined.

Kickbacks do have one advantage to them, however, and that’s the fact that they train your triceps in a highly contracted position, which will help you to recruit a broader range of muscle fibers when performed alongside other exercises like pushdowns and overhead extensions.

5. Close grip bench press

A man performing a close grip bench press

Despite its reputation as a mass builder, the close grip bench press is actually one of the best tricep definition exercises that you can do.

This is precisely because the close grip bench press builds a ton of triceps mass, and sufficient levels of muscle mass are a prerequisite for having triceps that look defined.

I recommend starting your tricep definition workout with close grip bench presses if your triceps need more overall mass.

By doing this heavy compound movement at the beginning of your session, you’ll be able to take full advantage of the exercise’s high loading potential, which is great because the triceps are definitely a fast-twitch muscle group for most people.

6. Decline tricep extension

A man doing a decline dumbbell triceps extension

The decline dumbbell extension makes a great addition to any triceps definition workout because it really targets the long head of the triceps and also promotes the development of triceps symmetry.

By doing a tricep extension on a decline bench, your shoulders have a natural propensity to drift backward, which, in turn, puts the long head of the triceps under a greater stretch, seeing as this head of the triceps acts on the shoulder joint as well as the elbow.

The decline tricep extension is also a really safe exercise because you can just place the weights on the floor behind you if you fail on a rep.

7. One arm tricep pushdown

A man doing a one arm tricep pushdown with a single cable handle

The one arm tricep pushdown will help you to get horseshoe tricep development by ensuring that your arms are both muscular and symmetrical.

Although achieving perfect triceps symmetry is close to impossible, you can definitely make your triceps look more proportional by training them unilaterally at every opportunity.

With a single arm pushdown, you’re naturally afforded a stronger mind-muscle connection because you only need to focus on working one arm at a time.

This enhanced focus will enable you to put more effort into stretching and contracting your triceps, which will ultimately elicit a stronger muscle growth stimulus, and, if your body fat is low enough, more defined triceps as well.

The best tricep definition workout routines

These tricep definition workouts will all make your triceps look better. However, each routine has a different goal and caters to different weak points.

Perform each workout twice per week for the fastest and best results if you’re a well-trained intermediate or advanced lifter. If you’re already doing plenty of compound presses in your other training sessions, then once per week may be enough and could actually be better (more volume isn’t always better).

Tricep definition workout 1: Mass

A man showing how to get defined triceps

If your triceps need more mass in general, this is the best tricep definition workout for you. It starts with close grip bench presses to train the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your triceps and improve your pressing power.

After that, it’s onto dumbbell lying tricep extensions to build overall triceps mass (the long head is the biggest head of the triceps, remember?) and symmetry.

Finally, the workout finishes with the one arm pushdown, which will help to fatigue any remaining muscle fibers while also training the lateral head of your triceps.

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

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

3: One arm pushdown — 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps

Tricep definition workout 2: Lateral head focus

A man demonstrating two of the best tricep exercises for definition

The lateral head of the triceps is located on the outside of your upper arm, meaning that it’s an incredibly important muscle for sculpting well defined triceps.

That said, most lifters have a pretty well-developed lateral head already because it’s active during any kind of press, extension, and pushdown.

Still, you can never have too much tricep development if you want to build big and defined upper arms. Having well defined biceps, of course, is also very important.

This workout consists of two pushdown variations so that you can develop both mass and muscle symmetry, which will ultimately help your triceps to look more defined.

1: Rope pushdown — 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps

2: Dumbbell overhead extension — 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps

3: One arm pushdown — 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps

Triceps definition workout 3: Long head focus

A man performing a triceps definition workout

The long head of the triceps is a weak point for many lifters, which is especially significant considering that the long head is the largest head of the triceps brachii by far.

Having a firm, muscular long head can make your triceps look more muscular and less flabby, which will certainly improve your muscle definition.

Just make sure to take full advantage of these excellent exercises by using a full range of motion; lower the weight(s) as deeply as you can, and then extend your elbows for a full triceps contraction.

1: Dumbbell lying tricep extension — 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps

2: One arm overhead extension — 3-5 sets of 12-15 reps

3: Rope pushdown — 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps

How to get defined triceps

Learn how to get defined triceps so that all three tricep heads are visible.

Lower your body fat percentage

A bodybuilder with very well defined triceps

You can have as much triceps mass as you like, but if your body fat level isn’t low enough, then you’ll never have defined triceps.

While you don’t need to get shredded to have good tricep definition, you’ll still need to have a relatively low body fat percentage if you want your triceps to look as defined and muscular as possible.

Men tend to store more body fat on their stomachs than on their arms, so you might not have too much of an issue getting well defined triceps once your body fat level comes down.

Build more muscle mass

A bodybuilder with excellent triceps definition

While even skinny guys can have good triceps definition by reducing their body fat level, your triceps won’t look muscular unless you have enough mass.

This is why it makes sense to build a solid foundation of muscle mass with proven exercises before worrying about how defined and lean your triceps look.

That’s not to say that you should get fat. However, if you don’t have much size yet, then your definition won’t be that noticeable, so you may as well bulk up a bit before you try to reveal your hard work by lowering your body fat percentage.

Improve your lateral head

A muscular man with impressive tricep definition

The lateral head is the most visible head of the triceps because it’s located on the outside of your upper arm. It’s the head that everyone sees first when you flex your triceps, so you definitely want it to be a strong point.

Luckily, since the lateral head is a pure elbow extensor, it’s active in every tricep exercise that you perform. Still, you can emphasize it by putting the long head in a weaker position, which pretty much means doing pushdowns.

This is because the long head becomes more active when your shoulders are in flexion or extension. In a correctly performed pushdown, your shoulders are in a neutral position, which means that the lateral head does more of the heavy lifting.

Conclusion: What is the best tricep workout for definition?

A man demonstrating some good tricep definition exercises

There are many effective tricep definition exercises that you can perform. The best exercises for you depend on your individual weak points.

If you need more overall mass, perform a mix of presses, pushdowns, and either overhead or lying extensions.

If you need more lateral head development, make pushdowns a priority.

If your long head could use more size, perform lying extensions and overhead extensions first in your tricep definition workout.

References

  1. Jay. (2018, January 20). Training Each Muscle Group With A Twice Per Week Workout Frequency. A Workout Routine. https://www.aworkoutroutine.com/training-each-muscle-group-twice-per-week/
  2. Rubin, B. B. M. (2019, August 19). Secrets of weight loss are simple but not magic. Chicago Tribune. https://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/ct-x-weight-loss-secrets-20120111-story.html
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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