Triceps Dip Alternatives: How to Take Your Triceps Workouts to the Next Level

Let’s face it: the triceps are perhaps one of the most underrated muscles of all time. They pale in comparison to the biceps, but without your triceps, you wouldn’t have half the strength you’ll need to even flex, left alone lift a barbell. Yes, they’re not as “sexy”, but they’re a doubly important muscle group that you need to bulk up, not only so you have aesthetically-pleasing arms, but also to give you raw strength and power.

Most people limit their triceps workout to a few triceps dips every now and then, and while this mainstay exercise is effective, there are other ways to maximize your workout and get the most out of your day. There are so many triceps dip alternatives out there, but I chose these workout sets because I feel like they give you the most bang for your buck.

Each of these triceps dip alternatives are based on your goals as well as how much experience you have working out. They also try to include as much movement from the three main heads of triceps: lateral, long, and medial. While you can’t necessarily isolate any one particular head, you can emphasize your efforts on one using a variety of body and hand positions (like press-downs, skullcrushers, and yes, even dips).

The best way to go about this list is trying out one set of workouts for at least 4 to 8 weeks. If you see no improvement, or if it’s too difficult, try a different one from the list and go at it again.

Pick a routine you like, try it for 4-8 weeks wherever it makes sense in your split, then go back to your regular workout or try another from the list.

Do This If You’re Just: Starting Out

If you’re a gym newbie, it’s important for you to try as many different movements as possible. This allows you to get a better feel for each exercise, not to mention ensure that you’re working out all the triceps heads. Don’t be afraid to use machines when you’re starting out: these allow you to get used to the basic motions and provide you with proper muscle memory, not to mention prepare you for free weights. When using a machine, however, make sure that you adjust it according to your body’s dimension in order to reduce the risk of injury and to maximize your workout.

Once you’ve developed good muscle memory and gotten a feel of each workout, it’s time to jump to free weights. Free weights are a little more challenging as they can test your coordination, but they are, by far, the best tool for building muscles in the long run. When starting out with free weights, don’t worry too much about how heavy you can carry: focus on proper form first. Start adding weights only when you’ve perfected your form and can fully control your motions when doing the workout.

  • Machine Triceps Extension

3 sets, 12 reps (60-90 seconds rest)

  • Dip Machine

3 sets, 12 reps (60-90 seconds rest)

  • Triceps Pushdown – V-Bar Attachment

3 sets, 12 reps (60-90 seconds rest)

Do This If Your Goal Is: Greater Triceps Definition

A big fad nowadays is using light weights combined with high reps in order to build better definition. While it does provide results, it’s not the best way to build definition because it simply doesn’t engage your muscles as well as it should. Instead, use a workout that has straight-set multi-joint exercises because these provide your muscles with a bigger size and strength stimulus. Once you’re used to the weight, switch to supersets that involve huge volumes of reps. In this way, you’ll be moving better, faster, and you’ll start seeing results (in this case, better definition) in a shorter amount of time.

  • Dip Machine

4 sets, 10-12 reps (90 seconds rest)

  • EZ-Bar Skullcrusher

Superset with Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press

3 sets, 10-12 reps (no rest)

  • Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press

3 sets, 10-12 reps (60-90 seconds rest)

  • Triceps Pushdown – Rope Attachment

Superset with Triceps Overhead Extension

3 sets, 10-12 reps

  • Triceps Overhead Extension with Rope

3 sets, 10-12 reps

Do This If Your Goal Is: Overall Triceps Mass

Training your arms, and in this case, your triceps, in order to build mass follows the same principle as training your chest, shoulders, back, or legs: start with the exercise that you have the most difficulty with and push yourself to lift the heaviest weights with that move.

While it’s tempting to go on the cable press-down machine, please don’t: remember that multi-joint exercises are the best way to lift heaving weights. This is because multi-joint exercises engage more muscles to carry weights, which also means you workout more muscles with a single move. Efficient and effective! For triceps, there are only a limited number of multi-joint workouts you can do, including (but not limited to) bench dips, machine dips, closed grip bench presses, weighted parallel bar dips, among others.

A few more things to think about: the triceps long head sits just above the medial, and thus attaches both at the elbow and above the shoulders. Because of this, you’ll need to raise your upper arms over your head completely in order to maximize the range of motion. Remember: muscles that aren’t completely stretched out won’t be able to contract as strongly as it could.

To further maximize your triceps’ long head development, always include an exercise that makes you move your arms above your head. For lateral head development, employ movements that move your arms from side to side.

Make sure you tuck your elbows in and not allow them to stick out whenever doing elbow extension maneuvers. This ensures that you further isolate your triceps and reduces the help that your deltoids and pecs might give during workout.

  • Triceps-Mass Workout

Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press

4 sets, 6, 6, 8, 10 reps (60-90 seconds rest)

  • Dip Machine

3 sets, 8, 8, 10 reps (60-90 seconds rest)

  • Seated Dumbbell Press

3 sets, 8, 10, 12 reps (60 seconds rest)

  • V-Bar Pulldown

2 sets, 10, 12 reps (60 seconds rest)

Do This If Your Goal Is: Emphasis On Lateral Head

The lateral head is the largest head in your triceps. It’s located away from your midline, which means that definition of this head will appear in the outermost portion of your arm. Lateral head workouts also provide you with a wide variety of workouts.

While both single-joint and multi-joint workouts both work, exercises that involve having your arms as close to your sides as possible are the best, especially if you’re employing an overhand grip.

  • Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press

3 sets, 8 reps (60-90 seconds rest)

  • Parallel Bar Dip

Note: Keep your body as upright as possible—don’t lean forward. Also, try to keep your elbows from flaring out as you do the move.

3 sets, 8-10 reps (60-90 seconds rest)

  • Decline EZ Bar Triceps Extension

3 sets, 10 reps (60 seconds rest)

  • Tricep Dumbbell Kickback

3 sets, 12 reps (60 seconds rest)

Do This If Your Goal Is: Emphasis on the Medial Head

The medial head is an important part of your triceps because it is responsible for stabilizing your elbow joint when it’s extending. It’s also a very small part of your triceps, as compared to the other heads. As such, it’s near impossible to isolate this head during a workout routine. However, these triceps dips alternative workouts will use it as much as possible via direct stimulation.

  • Reverse-grip barbell bench press

3-4 sets of 8 reps, 60-90 sec. rest

  • Reverse-grip cable press-down

3 sets of 8-12 reps, 60 sec. rest; this can be done bilaterally or one arm at a time

  • Reverse-grip cable kick-back

3 sets of 10-12 reps, alternating arms without resting

Do This If Your Goal Is: Emphasis On Long Head

As one of the more complex heads in your triceps, working out the long head of your triceps involves having your arms engaged in the overhead position as much as possible. This ensures that your triceps are using maximum effort without interference from your other muscles.

It’s one of the better triceps dip alternatives you can find because it provides you with a great change of pace from the usual routine.

  • EZ-Bar Skullcrusher

Use slightly inclined bench

3 sets, 8 reps (60 sec. rest)

  • Standing Overhead Barbell Triceps Extension

Perform seated with and EZ-Bar

3 sets, 8-10 reps (60 sec. rest)

  • Cable Rope Overhead Triceps Extension

3 sets, 10 reps

  • Standing One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extension

3 sets, 12 reps (alternate arms without resting)

Tips for all workouts:

  • Don’t count your warm-up sets in the total amount of sets to do. During warm-up, only do as much as you need and never work out to failure.
  • When choosing your weights, choose one that will let you reach muscle failure by the time you hit your target amount of reps. This may take some experimentation, but don’t be afraid to fail! In fact, rep failure is the goal.
  • Your first two sets should be the heaviest; lighten the load after each successive set, but increase the reps.
  • On your heaviest sets, try to do a couple of forced reps, as many as you can, without going into muscle failure. This is easier if you have a spotter, but if you don’t, try to get as close to failure as possible without actually failing.

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