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The best unilateral tricep exercises (one arm and single arm tricep workouts)

Sculpt symmetrical arms with these unilateral tricep exercises.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd May 2022
A man performing some unilateral tricep exercises

If you want to develop triceps that are symmetrical as well as muscular, then be sure to include some of these unilateral tricep exercises in your workout routine.

In addition to learning the most effective single arm tricep exercises, you'll also get access to my done-for-you one arm tricep workouts so that you can start making great gains straight away.

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The 6 best unilateral tricep exercises

Here are the 6 best unilateral triceps exercises for building muscle size and symmetry. These movements are ideal if you have one tricep that's bigger than the other.

1. One arm overhead tricep extension

A man doing a one arm overhead extension

The one arm overhead tricep extension makes a truly excellent addition to your unilateral tricep workouts because it trains the long head of the triceps, which is larger than the lateral and medial heads put together.

Even though one arm tricep exercises have a reputation for being secondary movements—something you'd do after close grip bench press or barbell extensions—the single arm overhead extension is a mass builder in the truest sense of the word.

By training each of your triceps muscles separately, you'll naturally be able to achieve a better pump, stretch, and contraction, which, in turn, will lead to greater hypertrophy.

Just make sure to use a full range of motion if you want to maximize your results. Don't be shy of lowering the weight behind your head as deeply as you comfortably can to really give your triceps that skin-splitting muscle stretch. Also, you definitely want to lock your elbow out because elbow extension is the main job of the triceps brachii.

2. One arm tricep pushdown

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

If you want to intensify the pushdown peak contraction and get a better pump, then be sure to include the single arm pushdown in your one arm tricep workouts.

For this underrated exercise, you can use either a single triceps rope or no attachment at all. Avoid using just one end of a regular triceps rope because it will likely prevent you from getting a full range of motion (specifically, the weights will probably hit the stack before you finish the eccentric portion of the rep).

The great thing about doing a one arm pushdown is that you can palpate your triceps with your spare arm to improve your mind-muscle connection. I know that it sounds overly simple, but sometimes just touching the working muscle can really help you to contract it because you have something to focus on.

3. One arm skull crusher

A man performing one arm skull crushers with a single dumbbell

The one arm skull crusher is similar to the one arm overhead extension in that it emphasizes the long head of your triceps. The only real difference is that you're doing a skull crusher in a lying position on a weight bench.

Now, if you're strong on skull crushers, then you might feel a bit off balance when you do them one arm at a time. For this reason, I usually prefer single arm overhead extensions because you can make better use of your core muscles to maintain your balance when you're standing up.

Of course, you can remedy the balance issues by using two dumbbells, but then it wouldn't be a unilateral tricep exercise. Rather, it would be an isolateral exercise.

Note that for the best possible triceps stretch, you want to bring the dumbbell behind your head rather than directly to your face.

4. One arm tricep kickback

A man doing a one arm tricep kickback

You can do a one arm tricep kickback with dumbbells, cables, and bands. All of these equipment types play well with kickbacks, so I recommend just picking your favorite.

The great thing about one arm kickbacks is that you can hold onto something with your spare arm to improve your balance, which, in turn, will enable you to establish a stronger mind-muscle connection with your triceps.

Before you perform the kickback, make sure to bend over and get your torso as close to parallel with the ground as possible. This will enable you to get your shoulders into full extension, which will then enable you to maximally contract your triceps in their shortened anatomical position.

In terms of muscle activation, the kickback is the polar opposite of an overhead extension (it works your triceps when they're maximally contracted rather than fully lengthened).

5. Single arm floor tricep extension

A man doing a one arm floor tricep extension with a dumbbell

If you don't have a bench but still want to sculpt symmetrical triceps, be sure to include the single arm floor extension in your one arm triceps workout.

This exercise is a lot like a skull crusher, except that the range of motion is a bit smaller.

That said, if the dumbbell hits the floor before you get a proper triceps stretch, then I recommend moving your shoulder forward and lowering the weight to the side of your face rather than behind your head.

Yes, this modification will reduce long head activation a bit. But you're better off getting a full range of motion than you are trying to achieve a maximal triceps stretch. And besides, you can always do overhead extensions for the long head of your triceps because they don’t require a bench either.

6. Cross body tricep extension

A man doing a single arm cross body tricep extension with a dumbbell

While the cross body tricep extension is definitely a good exercise, it's not one of the best. The simple reason for this is that the dumbbell can often make contact with your body before you've enjoyed a proper triceps stretch.

Considering how important the eccentric portion of the rep is for muscle growth, you might want to make the cross body tricep extension a secondary exercise or skip it altogether.

Single arm tricep workouts

These single arm tricep workouts will help you to develop balanced triceps and proportional upper arms. That said, I went ahead and created 3 different unilateral tricep workouts so that you can follow a routine that's as closely aligned with your goals as possible.

While the exercises in all 3 single arm tricep workouts are similar, it's the rep ranges that really make each program unique.

Single arm tricep workout: Strength

A weight lifter demonstrating some single arm tricep workouts

If you want to strengthen your triceps in order to improve your pressing power while still developing size and symmetry, then this is the single arm tricep workout for you.

Building strong and balanced triceps will help you to keep the bar straight during the bench press and overhead press.

As you can see, this is a low to moderate rep routine that works your triceps from different angles. This variation will strengthen the different heads of your triceps while getting you used to training with different equipment (dumbbells and cables).

Rest 1-3 minutes between sets or until you feel properly recovered.

1: One arm overhead extension — 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps

2: One arm tricep pushdown — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

3: One arm skull crusher — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

One arm tricep workout: Muscle growth

A man performing some one arm tricep workouts

If you want to maximize your muscle growth while getting a good pump, then this is the unilateral tricep workout that you need to follow.

The exercises are similar to those in the above routine, but the reps are higher and much more varied. High reps, while challenging for your triceps, are great for building your arms in general, and they always produce a really potent muscle pump.

Rest 1-2 minutes between sets or until you're sufficiently recovered.

1: Single arm overhead extension — 3-5 sets of 10-12 reps

2: Single arm tricep pushdown — 3-5 sets of 12-15 reps

3: Single arm tricep kickback — 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps

Unilateral tricep workout: Pump

A man demonstrating some good unilateral tricep workouts

If you want to get the strongest triceps pump possible while building plenty of muscle in the process, then look no further than this intense one arm tricep workout.

High rep training works wonders when paired with unilateral tricep workouts because you can really focus on working each arm separately by stretching and squeezing the muscle.

Keep the rest periods between 30 and 45 seconds to maximize your muscle pump.

1: One arm tricep kickback — 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps

2: One arm tricep pushdown — 3-5 sets of 20-30 reps

3: Single arm overhead extension — 3-5 sets of 20-30 reps

Conclusion: How effective are single arm tricep exercises?

A man doing a one arm tricep workout

Single arm tricep exercises are highly effective for sculpting balanced and proportional triceps. While you're unlikely to ever have 100% triceps symmetry, you can definitely improve your physique by performing unilateral tricep exercises.

Of course, you should still do heavy compound presses and extensions to overload your triceps with that fiber-tearing tension that they respond so well to.

Still, even if you're a novice lifter, you can still benefit from doing one arm tricep exercises because the movements will help your triceps to develop proportionally from the get-go.

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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