Last updated on November 10th, 2022 at 12:27 pm
The bench press is often viewed as the king of upper body pressing exercises.
(Although, I’d argue the case for the overhead press).
And the triceps certainly get worked hard whenever you bench press.
However, is simply bench pressing considered a good enough tricep workout, or should you add other movements?
Let’s find out.
Is Bench Press Enough For Triceps?
The triceps will definitely get a decent workout with the bench press. However, it’s important to remember that the triceps are typically the weak point in the bench press. So, further tricep work could actually help to improve your bench press. If you are regularly performing other compound pressing movements, e.g overhead press, weighted dips, and close grip bench press, this should suffice.
1. The Triceps Are Often The Weak Point In the Bench Press
The main thing that typically holds most of us back from benching more weight is the triceps.
There’s no two ways about it, the triceps tend to be the “weak point” in the bench press.
This will also explain why many people feel bench press in their triceps and their arms in general.
If you think about it, there are plenty of other exercises that are limited by our “weak points”.
So, in effect, it’s not the target muscle that is getting fatigued first, but the secondary muscles that are being worked.
A prime example of this with other exercises include your grip or forearms giving in first when doing pull ups or the deadlift.
And it just so happens that it’s the triceps that typically limit how much we bench.
You know yourself after a heavy bench press session you’re more likely to “feel it” in your triceps than anywhere else.
Perhaps later in the day, or even the following day, you finally feel that lovely soreness in your pecs.
The triceps are obviously a far smaller muscle than the pecs so you would expect them to fatigue first.
However, your triceps could be weak in relative comparison to your chest.
So, rather than holding your bench press back, it would be a good idea to work the triceps some more.
2. It Depends on Your Workout Split
How you train will have a big impact on whether the bench press is enough for triceps.
The two most popular workout splits are probably the “bro-split” and push/pull/legs.
If you’re working the bro-split then this really isn’t an issue.
You’ll be training 5 days a week and your schedule will typically look something like:
- Monday – Chest
- Tuesday – Back
- Wednesday – Legs
- Thursday – Shoulders
- Friday – Arms
So, you’ll have a specific day dedicated solely to biceps and triceps.
Additionally, the two further days of pressing (chest and shoulders) will give the triceps plenty of work to do during the week.
Push/Pull/Legs May Not Be Enough For Triceps
I think where the problem lies is when you do a push/pull/legs split.
I guess most of us will either do a 3-day workout week:
- Monday – Push
- Wednesday – Pull
- Friday – Legs
Then again, you may look to train Monday through to Saturday and hit each training protocol twice.
If you are looking at this type of split the likelihood is that your triceps will feel pretty fatigued by the time you have done chest and shoulders.
For many of you this may involve the bench press and either an incline bench or dumbbell chest press variety.
Next up, possibly some dips.
You’ll then follow this with an overhead shoulder press and perhaps a seated shoulder press.
You may even finish off with your shoulders with some lateral raises.
So, by the time it comes to working your triceps you won’t have much left in the tank.
However, with this type of workout split you will have completed a lot of pressing movements already.
If you are training 6 days a week, this will probably be more than enough for triceps.
However, on a 3-day split, irrespective of how fatigued you feel, the triceps could probably do with at least one isolation exercise a week.
The Best Science-Based Push Workout
3. You Won’t Be Hitting the Long Head of the Tricep
If you are focusing all your tricep work around the bench press then you won’t be hitting all three heads of the tricep.
I guess the importance of this does very much depend on your training experience.
As someone fairly new to working out then hitting the big compound movements for a few months is pretty much all you need.
In fact, I’ll go as far to say that you can build a pretty decent physique with just 5 or 6 exercises.
However, as you become a more experienced lifter you will start to hit plateaus.
You’ll get a point when you can’t keep adding 2-5lbs to all your lifts every single week.
This is the ideal opportunity to bring in some isolation work, which in turn could help to improve your big lifts.
An example of this would be to work the triceps in order to improve your bench press.
The main issue with relying solely on the bench press for triceps is that you won’t be hitting the long head of the triceps.
A Bit of Science and Mathematics
The long head of the tricep is the biggest of all three tricep muscles.
I think Jeff Cavaliere explains about training the long head of the tricep extremely well in the video below.
Basically, the tricep is the bigger muscle of the upper arm.
In fact, the tricep muscle accounts for two-thirds of the upper arm (the bicep makes up the remaining one-third).
So, realistically if you want big arms, you should be doing twice as many tricep exercises as bicep exercises.
Furthermore, the long head of the tricep is two-thirds of all the tricep muscles.
Therefore, four-ninths (two-thirds x two-thirds) of your arm workout should be focused on the long head of the tricep.
So, if you perform 9 exercises for your arms in total, four of these should specifically hit the long head of the tricep.
Apologies for getting all numerical and science-based on you, but I think it’s the best way to explain exactly how much work the triceps require.
Here’s Jeff to go through this in more detail.
Triceps Size “Secret”
4. Use Other Compound Pressing Movements
I guess I’ve already kinda covered this in my explanation of the “push” day above.
As I’ve mentioned, if you are doing a lot of pressing movements this may suffice.
For me, I would add 3 specific exercises to the bench press to properly work the tricep muscles too.
My recommendations would be the overhead shoulder press, close grip bench press, and weighted dips.
The overhead press is probably my favourite “heavy” compound pressing movement.
I know most of you will typically favour the bench press, but to be honest I’ve never really been a fan.
Nowadays, a test of bro-strength will typically mean asking someone, “Yo bro, how much do you bench?”
However, the old-time strongmen used to test their strength by hoisting an extremely heavy load overhead.
Plus, the fact that you’re actually lying down during the bench press doesn’t make it a very athletic movement in my eyes.
The overhead press wins for me all day long.
As for the close grip bench press, well this is considered to be the best tricep mass builder, and with good reason.
I’d still count this as a compound movement, as there is still plenty of work for the chest and shoulders to do.
Although, you can definitely limit the amount of shoulder activation with good technique in the close grip bench press.
And finally we have the weighted dip.
Possibly one of the best mass and size builders for the upper body.
Often referred to as the “upper body squat”, you’ll definitely hit the triceps very hard with weighted dips.
So, if these 3 exercises form part of your weekly repertoire, along with the bench press, then you may be forgiven for not targeting the triceps further.
So, is the bench press enough for triceps?
As with most things, it depends.
I guess the main thing to consider is the type of workout split you’re doing.
With certain splits you’ll be hitting the arms anyway.
Whereas, other workout splits may leave your triceps lagging behind.
And as we know, this could be your potential weak point when it comes to bench pressing.
If you want to try some “alternative” tricep-building exercise, simply download the PDF below (it’s completely free, NO email sign up required).
This is 8 arm exercises (that you’ve probably never heard of).
The guide is part of a series created by Nick Nilsson aka “The Mad Scientist of Muscle”.
You’ll be introduced to 4 bicep and 4 tricep exercises, all of which I’m guessing will be completely new to you.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.