3 Push ups Tips for Bigger Triceps (That Actually Work)
To build bigger arms with push ups we need to know how to shift the emphasis of the exercise from the chest, as the primary mover to the triceps with enough tension to trigger an adaptive response to increase muscle mass.
So which push up variations are best for targeting the triceps? Diamond push ups are the most effective push up to focus the workload on your triceps to stimulate muscle growth. To increase the intensity of the exercise, you can progress to decline diamond push ups, followed by diamond push ups with a weight vest to consistently increase in strength and size.
The key to continually building muscle is to increase the stress and stimuli on the target muscle as you get bigger and stronger, so I have listed the push up variations in the correct sequence so you can progressively overload the triceps with more challenging exercises to consistently add muscle mass to your triceps.
Why Diamond Push ups are the Best Exercise for Triceps
The primary movers of push ups are the triceps and the chest, with shoulders also having a significant contribution to the movement.
With diamond push ups, your hands are placed close together, which focuses more of the workload of from the exercise on to the triceps. The chest and shoulders are still engaged, but the emphasise of the movement is concentrated more specifically on the triceps to handle the majority of the workload.
Push ups with your hands further apart, place more tension on the chest.
The closer your hands are together the more the tension is focused on the triceps.
So to target the triceps we need to keep the hands close together, ideally with your hands in a diamond shape and your elbows should be kept tight to the body throughout the exercise.
With a conventional push up (where you hands are shoulder width apart) the workload is evenly distributed between the chest and the triceps.
So when you adopt the position for a diamond push up, by drawing your hands in close, you are putting your triceps at a mechanical advantage to do most of the work and therefore there is less workload and less tension on the chest.
So not only is the chest less able to contribute in diamond push ups, the triceps are also a much smaller muscle group then the chest and therefore they are not able to produce as much force then the larger pectoral muscle.
This is why diamond push ups are noticeably more difficult then conventional or even wide grip pull ups.
So the number of diamond push ups you can do per set will be significantly less then normal push ups. This will help you equalise your triceps pushing strength (in relation to your chest) and presents a huge opportunity for adding muscle mass to your triceps.
The Correct Form for the Diamond Push up
It is important that your get your form right correct to really get the most muscle growth out of the exercise. The most important part of the technique to get right is the diamond formation with the hands.
Your thumbs and forefingers of your hand should meet to make a diamond shape. As I’ve said this is a deceptively difficult exercise so if it is too difficult to achieve around 8 reps with this hand formation then don’t worry at all…
Start doing push ups with your hands relatively close together, perhaps slightly narrower then shoulder width and gradually work your way in as you become stronger over the course of several workouts.
Do not flare out your elbows out wide. This is a common mistake and is often caused by the difficulty of the exercise. Elbows often flare out wide, away from the torso to compensate for the lack of strength from the triceps in order to gain more stability or recruit the chest more into the exercise.
This puts your shoulder and elbow joints at an unfavourable angle and can potentially lead to unnecessary injury.
Your arms and elbows should be kept close to the side of your body. This helps to increase the focus of the exercise on the triceps and prevents any potential injury to your joints.
If you can’t help but flare your elbows out to the side, do not persist anyway in the hope you will get stronger to be able to cope with the exercise or think that its not important.
Elbow flaring is your body trying to keep balance and recruit the chest more into the exercise, in which case you need to go back a step and practice push ups with a relatively close hand placement to build the required strength and stability for a full diamond push up.
You should always have the mindset of proactively avoiding injury by not compromising on your form.
Because the diamond push up places such a substantial amount of tension on the triceps I recommend that you work towards a goal of 8-12 reps for 3-5 sets with each set lasting approximately 45- 70 seconds as this is the optimal framework for muscle growth.
Only when you can comfortably achieve the ideal number of reps and sets with good form should you progress onto tip number 2…
Incline Diamond Push ups for Triceps
Incline diamond push ups offer us a way to increase the intensity on our triceps using just our body weight. With normal diamond push ups you will be pushing roughly 70% of your bodyweight.
But by elevating our feet with incline push ups we can increase the proportion of bodyweight that is supported by our arms and pushed through our triceps for a greater level of muscular tension.
In order for our triceps to grow it is important to progressively overload the muscle with a greater level of stimulus then it is currently accustomed to in order to trigger that hypertrophy (muscle building) response.
If you can do more then 15 diamond push ups quite comfortably then you will have exceed the optimal rep range for increasing muscle mass and the emphasis of your training will be more on developing endurance strength.
This is why we have to increase the difficulty of the exercise in order to keep the muscle growing consistently.
The optimal rep range for muscle growth is around 8-12 reps for around 3-5 sets with the goal of being at or near ‘failure’ on your last rep
Therefore when you do your set of incline push ups you can experiment with how much to elevate your feet as the greater the elevation the harder the exercise.
Incline push ups are a great way to maintain a progressive overload as once you become comfortable with push ups from a certain height all you have to do is increase the elevation to up the intensity so you can consistently gain muscle on your triceps.
If you are training at home, this is as simple as graduating from a bench to a taller chair or table. Whenever I am travelling without a gym I will use the hotel bed for a better angle so you can workout on the road.
Increasing the angle of decline just slightly can really increase the difficulty of the exercise as more of your weight is concentrated on the triceps. Its important to keep your hand tight or in a diamond formation to keep the focus on the triceps.
Muscles worked: Upper chest
Whilst decline, close grip push ups will emphasise the triceps more then any other muscle group, the upper chest will also contribute significantly to the movement.
The pectoral (chest muscle) is one muscle however with a normal push up the sternal portion (lower chest) of the chest contributes a significant amount of force, but with a decline push up the upper cavicular portion (upper chest) will participate more in the movement.
In fact, the higher you elevate your feet the more tension there is on the upper chest and therefore more potential for muscle growth in this hard to target area.
Think of the decline push up as the bodyweight equivalent of the incline bench press, except you have more control on the specific angle of push so you can effectively target the chest from all angles.
Weighted Push ups for Triceps
With weighted push ups you can combine the benefits of calisthenics with the scalable potential of weightlifting.
Push ups are an excellent compound exercise that recruits every major muscle group in the body to either contribute to the pushing motion or participate in maintaining full body stability throughout the exercise.
With the benefit of adding weight we can precisely control the level of resistance so that you can always maintain enough tension on the triceps in order to trigger the adaptive response of an increase muscle mass to cope with the increased workload.
With the ability to add weight you can always ensure that you stay within the optimal rep range for hypertrophy (muscle growth) which is around 8-12 reps for 3 to 5 sets.
As soon as bodyweight reps become too comfortable then you can a some weight (start of small and in increments of only 5 lbs) so that the intensity of the exercise is now enough for an adaptive response to build muscle.
Ideally you want to be hitting near failure on the last rep of the set. This is a good indication that the weight you are pushing is the right intensity to build muscle.
If you incorporate a set of weighted diamond push ups in the right rep range with an optimal time under tension (45-75 seconds) into your workout regime and keep you scaling up the weight as you get stronger then you have the perfect recipe to add inches to your triceps.
How to Add Weight to Push ups: Weighted Vest vs Backpack
With a standard push up you are already pushing approximately 70% of your bodyweight.
As you are already pushing a substantial weight relative to your body size this means you don’t necessarily have to add much weight to the exercise before it becomes challenging again to put you back into that 8-12 rep range that is optimal for building muscle.
So if you are just starting out then you can use a good fitting backpack and add in books or perhaps a sandbag to act as resistance.
This is a good cost effective solution at if you are only adding fairly modest weight.
However if you plan to take your weighted push ups to the next level then I would personally recommend that you purchase a weight vest. This is because…
With a weight vest the additional weight is distributed evenly around your torso which effectively simulates a higher bodyweight. Whereas the backpack will concentrate the weight more on your back which can be problematic for maintaining the correct body alignment when performing push ups.
The weight vest tends to also be more comfortable and more likely to stay in place around your body whilst you are doing your push ups. With a back pack the weight can slide over to one side which can interrupt your set as you have to stop and readjust the weight.
You can add or subtract weight easily form a decent weight vest so you have precise control over how much weight you are pushing. Having an exact numerical value can serve as great motivation as you can measure your progress from week to week as you get bigger and stronger triceps and chest.
Why Weighted Push ups are Better then the Bench Press for Triceps
The weight lifters equivalent to diamond push ups to target the triceps is the narrow grip bench press
Weighted diamond push ups are more effective and safer for targeting the triceps then the bench press.
Let me explain…
With the diamond push up you can bring your hands closer together then you can with a bench press to more effectively target the triceps and still maintain balance and posture very easily.
If you adopt a narrow grip with a barbell then this will take a lot of concentration and coordination to keep the bar on an even keel so that it doesn’t tip one way or the other.
The more energy and intensity you expend fighting the barbell for balance, the less concentration there is on the purpose of the exercise which is to target the triceps.
Bench press is better suited for a wider grip as this will make it easier to keep the bar balanced level.
The fact that your bodyweight is providing most of the resistance means it is far safer to go to failure with weighted push ups then it is when bench pressing.
When it comes to building muscle it is important to have a high resistance and to be approaching failure at the end of a set. With bench pressing you always need a spotter to avoid injury whereas with weighted diamond push ups you can train at home and without assistance.
With weighted diamond push ups you need minimal equipment and a weighted vest is much cheaper safer, and takes up less room if you plan on training at a home gym where every square foot counts, not to mention that you can do multiple exercises with a weighted vest such as pull ups, dips and box jumps.
So there you have it. A recipe for consistently increasing the size and strength of your triceps with different variations of push ups.
One thing I want to reemphasise that you should do when working out is to make sure that you are working out with optimal time under tension for each set (45-70 seconds) and within the ideal range of reps and sets (8-12 reps for 3-5 sets).
What this translates to is around 4 seconds for each rep, with 2 seconds of pushing (concentric phase) and 2 seconds of lowering (eccentric phase).
Just pushing up and down as quickly as possible will not necessarily stress the muscle long enough to stimulate muscle growth and you will be leaving gains on the table.
Slow down your reps and really divide an equal amount of time for both the concentric and eccentric phases as they both are crucial for strength and muscle increase.
Do all this and you have a framework that where you can consistently build muscular triceps in the most effective way possible.
If you have any further questions of anything you would like to add then drop a comment below and I will be happy to get back to you ↓ ↓ ↓