Triceps Exercises To Banish Those Dreaded "Bat Wings"

Look, having a little fat accumulate on the backs of your arms is completely normal. In fact, it's a common place for women, in particular, to store fat. But that doesn't mean you have to like it. While a well-rounded nutrition and total-body exercise plan are your first lines of defense for keeping excess body fat in check, if you're concerned about developing "bat wings," it doesn't hurt to focus a little extra work on building the muscles of your triceps.

The triceps muscle group runs along the backs of your upper arms between your shoulders and elbows, and while building strong triceps won't help you "spot reduce" body fat in this area, it can help you create definition, making your arms look stronger and leaner. Just don't overdo it.

As a certified exercise physiologist with a master's degree in exercise science, here's my best piece of advice: incorporate two to three of the following triceps exercises into your workout two to three times a week, and use as much resistance as possible. With consistency, your hard work will pay off and those bat wings will be banished!

Floor dips

Floor dips are an awesome option if you don't have access to any equipment or if you're looking for a compound movement that's appropriate for most beginners.

Sit on the floor, your knees bent, your feet flat, and place your palms on the ground behind your hips, your fingers pointing forward. Engage your abdominal muscles and lean back slightly. When you're ready, press through your palms and lift your hips from the floor. Check to make sure your palms are directly under your shoulders and your heels are roughly aligned with your knees, although it's fine if your heels are positioned slightly in front of your knees.

From this position, bend your elbows backward and slowly lower your hips toward the floor, squeezing your arms in toward your body to prevent your elbows from splaying outward. Just before your glutes touch down, tighten your triceps and press through your palms, extending your elbows to return to the starting position. This is one repetition. Complete two to three sets of 15 to 20 repetitions, aiming to complete as many as you can per set with good form.

Bench dips

Bench dips are very similar to floor dips, but they're more challenging, allowing for a greater range of motion and additional bodyweight resistance.

Sit tall on the front of a bench or sturdy chair, your chest up, abdominals engaged. Grip the edge of the chair with both hands, positioning your palms so they're just outside of each hip. You can either keep your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, with your feet flat on the floor, or you can extend your legs, placing your heels on the ground so your legs form a straight, diagonal line.

The exercise is easier with your knees bent, and more challenging with your legs straight. From your chosen position, press through your palms and lift your hips from the chair, so your arms are fully extended. Bend your elbows straight backward and lower your hips toward the ground, keeping your torso perpendicular to the floor so your back almost grazes the front of the chair as you lower yourself. Squeeze your upper arms in toward your body throughout the movement. When your elbows form a 90-degree angle, press through your palms and extend your elbows, returning to the starting position. Aim to perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions, so the last repetition of each set is difficult (but not impossible) to perform with perfect form.

Triceps push-ups

The triceps push-up is another excellent bodyweight exercise that targets your triceps while simultaneously challenging your chest, shoulders, and even your abs. You can perform the exercise on your knees or on your toes, just as you can modify a traditional pushup.

If performing the push-up on your toes, set up in a high plank position so your body is fully supported by your palms and feet. Check to make sure your palms are positioned directly under your shoulders, but just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and that your body forms a straight line from heels to head.

When you're ready, bend your elbows straight back, keeping them close to your sides as you lower your chest toward the floor. When your chest is about an inch or two from the ground, press through your palms and extend your elbows, returning to the starting position. Unlike a traditional push-up, that places more stress on the muscles of the chest, the triceps push-up requires greater engagement through your triceps because of the position of your arms throughout the exercise. Make sure you keep your upper arms "affixed" to your sides to maintain the laser-focus on your triceps. Aim to perform two to three sets of six to ten repetitions.

Close-grip bench press

If triceps push-ups are too challenging, close-grip bench presses are a great alternative because the motion is very similar to the push-up, but you can select a load that's lighter than your body weight. You can use a traditional bench press to perform the exercise, or if you need a little more assistance with control, try using a Smith Machine or opt for lighter-weight dumbbells.

Lie back on the bench with your feet flat on the ground. Grip the bar with your arms extended directly over your chest with roughly four to six inches between your hands. Steadily lower the barbell toward your chest, keeping your elbows tucked in toward your sides, rather than splaying outward.

This control places more stress on the triceps rather than the chest. When the barbell is about an inch or two from touching your chest, reverse the movement and press up, extending your arms completely. Perform two to three sets of ten to 12 repetitions. Select a weight that makes the last one or two reps of each set challenging (but not impossible) to complete with good form.

Triceps overhead extensions

Probably one of the most popular triceps exercises around, the triceps overhead extensions require only a dumbbell to add resistance to the exercise.

Stand tall, your feet roughly shoulder-distance apart. Hold a dumbbell vertically between your hands and extend your arms over your head, so your palms are "cradling" the top head of the dumbbell, your palms pointing toward the ceiling. Squeeze your upper arms in toward your ears.

When you're ready, bend your elbows, keeping your upper arms as steady as possible, and lower the dumbbell behind your head. When you've lowered it as far as you can, reverse the movement and press your arms back to the starting position, fully extending your elbows. Perform two sets of ten to 15 repetitions, so the last one to two repetitions of each set are challenging to perform with good form.

Triceps press-downs

If you have access to a cable machine at your gym, the triceps press-down exercise is a great way to mix up your workout. Attach a straight bar to the cable machine and adjust the cable pulley so it's at the top of the machine. Grab the bar with both hands and pull down so your upper arms and elbows are tucked into your sides, your elbows are bent, and the bar is positioned in front of your chest. Stand tall, your shoulders back, and your core engaged. Bend your knees slightly. This is the starting position. Keeping your upper arms fixed, engage your triceps and press down, extending your elbows until the bar is just in front of your thighs. Reverse the movement and, with control, return to the starting position. Perform two to three sets of ten to 12 repetitions.

Skull crushers

Skull crushers are a fun way to mix up your workout, but they do require good form and stabilization through the shoulder to keep your upper arms steady throughout the exercise. You can perform the movement with a pair of dumbbells or a barbell, but it's typically easier to learn the exercise using a barbell rather than two dumbbells.

Lie on your back on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Hold a barbell in both hands and extend it over your chest as if you were about to perform a bench press. Make sure your arms are perpendicular to the ground, your wrists straight, directly over your shoulders. You'll keep your upper arms fixed in this position throughout the exercise.

When you're ready, bend your elbows and lower the barbell backward toward your head, as if you were going to crush your skull with the weight. Just before you touch the barbell to your head, tighten your triceps and reverse the movement, extending your elbows and returning your arms to their fully-straight position. Perform two sets of eight to 12 repetitions so that the last one to two reps per set are challenging to complete with good form.

Triceps kickbacks

The triceps kickbacks exercise is another popular dumbbell move that does a good job of isolating each arm independently. Kneel on a sturdy bench, placing your left palm directly under your shoulder, and your left knee directly under your hip. Extend your right leg behind you, with the ball of your foot on the floor, and allow your right arm to hang down from your right shoulder, grasping a dumbbell in your right hand.

Bend your right elbow and draw your arm to your body so your upper arm is "fixed" to your right side. From this position, your right elbow should be bent at a roughly 90-degree angle. Keeping your upper arm close to your side, extend your elbow, pressing the dumbbell backward past your right hip.

When your right arm is fully extended and aligned with your body, reverse the movement, bending your right elbow, bringing the dumbbell toward your right shoulder. Perform eight to 12 repetitions before switching sides. Complete two sets per arm.

Adding triceps work to your total body routine

Of course these eight triceps exercises aren't the only triceps moves you can add to your routine, but they're a great place to start. When selecting exercises, include at least one compound movement that engages multiple muscle groups in addition to the triceps, such as triceps dips or push-ups, then perform one or two exercises designed to further isolate the triceps, such as overhead extensions, kickbacks, or skull crushers.

The trick to developing strong muscles through the backs of your arms is to really focus on selecting the right weight. When in doubt, increase the weight you're lifting, and decrease the total number of repetitions you complete. By challenging your muscles, you force them to adapt to the stress you place on them, ultimately resulting in muscle growth. Goodbye, bat wings!