The triceps are a prime mover in the bench press and are crucial at lockout.
But while the bench press trains the triceps, many lifters wonder whether the bench press is good enough for triceps or whether they should also include other exercises.
Here’s my quick answer:
Is the bench press good enough for triceps? For advanced lifters, those who have time restrictions, or lifters who struggle with recovery, the bench press will be enough for triceps. However, lifters with a weaker bench press lockout, physique goals, or are early in their training journey should include added exercises such as overhead extensions.
Also, if you are someone who is just going to bench press for their triceps, then you’ll want to stick to the close grip bench press, as studies have determined that a narrower grip will produce the greatest activation of the triceps out of any bench press grip.
But before deciding on just using the bench press to train triceps, here are the pros and cons:
Only Doing Bench Press For Triceps: Pros and Cons
- You Save Time: Only benching for triceps saves you time. The time you may have put into 2-3 other triceps exercises can be used for other areas of your training, or invested into other aspects of your life.
- You Can Recover Better: For those with higher training frequencies you will recover better and feel ready for your next session quicker. For powerlifters benching 3 or more times per week this can be helpful as you won’t have under recovered or sore triceps coming into that next bench session.
- You Could End Up With Weaker Triceps: If you are a beginner with a shorter training history, you may be leaving your triceps as a weak point. If you have strength goals within the bench press, stronger triceps can massively benefit your lock out.
Check out my article on the 16 Best Tricep Exercises To Increase Bench Press.
- You Are Neglecting Your Long Head: The long head makes up the largest part of your triceps. For those with physique goals, training or neglecting this has a large impact on the size of your triceps.
Check out my article on the 10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises.
Who Should Only Bench Press For Triceps?
There are several cases where you should only bench press for triceps:
- Lifters With Time Restrictions
- Lifters With Equipment Restrictions
- Those That Struggle With Recovery
- Advanced Lifters
Lifters With Time Restrictions
Sometimes external factors mean that our time to train is more restricted than others.
In these scenarios, dropping the 2-3 other exercises you may usually do for triceps may be optimal.
Maybe you are an accountant at the end of the financial year, or a student coming up to final year exams.
Saving time can be crucial for individuals, and in these cases the bench press is good enough for triceps.
Remember, it’s a lot easier, and takes far less work to maintain muscle hypertrophy (size increases) or strength than it does to build it initially.
Lifters With Equipment Restrictions
Training at home and garage gym setups are increasingly popular options for many.
Gyms also vary in the equipment available, with many gyms often focusing on specialist equipment for their target sports rather than extensive ranges of machines or cable set ups.
This can lead to a more limited list of exercises you can do for your triceps.
However, there are several exercises you can do with a barbell and bench set up or no equipment at all:
- Skull Crushers
- Overhead Extensions with a Plate
- Narrow Grip Push Ups
Those That Struggle With Recovery
If you are coming into your next bench press session with sore triceps from the previous session, then this can be a sign you are doing too much.
If you are not recovering between sessions from the additional triceps work, then the bench press is enough for your triceps training.
This is especially noticeable in powerlifters that bench press with a higher frequency (3-5 times per week).
Time between sessions is shorter and therefore so is the recovery period.
The extra triceps work you are doing after your bench press may be doing more harm than good.
Bench press can be enough for triceps for more advanced lifters.
Those with longer training histories, a stronger bench press and a more developed physique.
While these lifters may need more to drive hypertrophy at an advanced level, they may not need to focus on their triceps development and maintaining with the bench press will be sufficient.
Advanced lifters will commonly know their own weaknesses as well.
If their triceps are not a weakness in the bench press, or physique, then they can invest this training into addressing other areas.
If you’re wondering whether you can just bench press to work your chest, check out my article on Is Bench Press Good Enough For Chest?
Who Should Do More Than Bench Press For Triceps?
There are several cases where you should do more than bench press for triceps:
- Lifters That Fail The Bench Press At Lockout
- Lifters With Physique Goals
- Beginner Lifters With Less Training Background
Lifters That Fail The Bench Press At Lockout
Failing your bench press at lockout commonly happens due to weak triceps.
Towards lockout the loading demands shift heavily to the triceps and therefore having strong triceps is crucial to a strong bench press.
It won’t matter how strong your chest and shoulders are if you can’t lock out the lift.
If your triceps are your weak point, then you want to be addressing them with further direct work.
Lifters With Physique Goals
The lateral and medial heads of the triceps cause the elbow extension in the bench press.
However, the long head is the largest of the three heads and thus has the largest impact on your aesthetic goals.
This is important when it comes to exercise selection.
You will want to include exercises that specifically target the long head, such as overhead extensions or skull crushers.
Beginner Lifters With Less Training Background
As a beginner lifter your goals should be around developing overall size and strength.
Training your triceps with more exercise variation and volume will ensure these do not become a weak point in your lifts or physique early on as discussed above.
Below are my top 3 recommendations for additional triceps training.
- Overhead Tricep Extensions: These are a personal favourite of mine, and they specifically target the long head of the triceps, addressing the gap left by the bench press. You can do these with a barbell, dumbbell or cable set up.
- Dumbbell Skull Crushers: Great for those with time or kit restrictions as they use the kit you have just benched with. Similar to the above, these also target the long head of the triceps while requiring a little less shoulder mobility.
- Tricep Cable Pushdowns: These are best done with higher repetitions, so you are not having to stay stable with as much load.
Start with 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps and over the following weeks look to progress the load while reducing the repetitions down to 8-10 reps per set.
3 Considerations For Only Doing Bench Press For Triceps
If you are only going to bench press for triceps, then you need to consider these 3 variables:
- Grip Width: A narrower grip, shoulder width apart, will target your triceps more than a wider grip bench. If you bench multiple days a week, you can include a narrow grip session to capitalise on this.
- Rep Ranges: Use a variety of rep ranges. Have a heavier day of 6-8 reps and a lighter day of 10-12 reps.
- Use Variations That Target The Triceps: The triceps are used most in the top range on the bench press so you can use variations that overload and target this area. In addition, changing your grip width can result in greater tricep activation.
Check out my other article discussing Are Rows & Pull-Ups Enough For Back?
4 Bench Press Variations That Target Your Triceps More
1. Close Grip Bench Press
The Close Grip Bench Press is my favourite bench press variant for the triceps.
Rather than setting up with your normal bench press grip, you should bring your grip in 3-5 inches. The wider your normal grip, the more you’ll need to adjust.
A grip just outside of shoulder width apart works best for most.
The increased range of motion and extended demands of the triceps at lockout compared to a normal bench press make this great for training your triceps, but also developing your strength at lockout.
Related Article: Can You Train Triceps 2 Days In A Row? (Pros & Cons)
2. Board Press
The Board Press is a variation you can use to overload the middle and top of your range of motion.
By reducing the range of motion you can use heavier loads.
This benefits the triceps as you are lifting heavier loads through the lock out phase where the triceps are most active.
You can use specific bench boards for this if your gym has them, but if not you can use plenty of other things.
A foam roller, water bottle, or even wrapping wrist wraps around the centre of the bar will all work as a board.
Get a friend, or someone else in the gym to hold a board over your chest throughout your set.
Train alone in an empty gym? You can use a band to strap the board in place if needed.
3. Slingshot Bench Press
The Slingshot Press is another variation used to overload the top of the range of motion.
When wearing the Slingshot it greatly assists you in lifting the weight off of your chest and through the middle of the lift.
However, this effect is far less present at the top of the range of motion and lockout which causes the triceps to work harder due to the increased load compared to a normal bench press.
4. Floor Press
The Floor Press is used to limit the range of motion and overload the lockout phase.
Instead of using a bench as usual, you will need to set a barbell up in a rack that is low enough for you to lift out from lying on the floor.
The range of motion of a floor press is reduced as your upper arm will reach the floor before the barbell reaches your chest.
This means you will be pressing through the top end range of motion and lockout phase where the triceps are most active and also be able to use more weight.
You can read our article, 10 Bench Press Accessories To Improve Strength And Technique for even more variations to help your bench press.
Beginner lifters, those with a weak bench press lockout or lifters with physique goals should do more than the bench press for triceps.
The bench press is good enough for triceps for advanced lifters, those with time or kit restrictions or lifters that struggle with recovery between sessions.
However, they should consider manipulating grip width and rep range across their sessions and look to include variations that target the triceps more at the top of the range of motion.
About The Author
Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.