Study Finds 3 Best Exercises to Cut Upper Arm Flab & Strengthen Tricepts

Best Tricepts Exercises - Triangle Push-Ups A study conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin has isolated the three most effective tricepts exercises – which are most effective in eliminating upper arm flab.

The study was sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a non-profit organization that fashions itself as “the Nation’s Workout Watchdog,”

The study, conducted by John Porcari, Ph.D. and Brittany Boehler, B.S., and colleagues, from the University of Wisconsin/ La Crosse Exercise and Health Program, examined eight of the most common upper arm exercises prescribed by trainers:

  • Triangle Push-Ups
  • Triceps Kickbacks,
  • Dips
  • Overhead Triceps Extensions,
  • Bar Push-downs,
  • Rope Push-downs,
  • Closed-grip Bench Press and
  • Lying Barbell Triceps Extensions.

Test Method

The study included 15 healthy female participants, ages 20 to 24, recruited from the local La Crosse community. All of the participants had prior weight-training experience, to ensure proper exercise technique and limit potential for injuries.

After abstaining from weight training for 48 hours, the participants initially were tested to determine each participant’s “one-repetition max (1 RM) for each of the following exercises: triceps kickbacks, overhead triceps extensions, bar push-downs, rope push-downs, closed-grip bench press and lying barbell triceps extensions. Dips and triangle push-ups were excluded during this first round since both of those exercises use body weight as resistance instead of weights, making the 1RM test inappropriate.”

After “one-repetition max (1 RM)” was determined for each subject, the women returned for a second day of testing.

Following is ACE’s description of the testing method then applied:

“Researchers applied two sets of electromyographic (EMG) electrodes on the long and lateral heads of each subject’s triceps brachii (the back of the upper arm) to record real-time muscle activity. To set a baseline for EMG comparison, subjects first performed a pair of maximal voluntary isometric contractions (MVIC) for the triceps muscle. They then completed one set of seven repetitions of each of the eight different exercises. The exercises were completed in random order with a five-minute rest between each exercise to insure proper muscle recovery. Subjects lifted 70 percent of their previously determined 1 RM for the bulk of exercises; body weight was used for the dips and triangle push-ups. The EMG data from each exercise was recorded and presented as a percentage of the highest EMG readings obtained during the two MVIC trials.”

The Results

Best Tricepts Exercises - Triangle Push-Ups
Triangle Push-ups are Best Upper Arm Best Exercise. Based on an analysis of the EMG data gathered by the above tests, the researchers determined that “muscle activity was greatest while subjects performed the triangle push-ups, which made it the gold standard of triceps exercises,” according to an ACE Report on the research.

The extent of muscle activity found in the tricepts muscle indicates the effectiveness of the exercise in strengthening the muscle and burning off upper flab, the ACE report explains.

“All across the board, the triangle push-ups elicited the most muscle activity in our subjects,” said the study’s co-author Brittany Boehler, B.S.

3rd Best Tricepts Exercises - Dips
Triceps Kickbacks and Dips are Second and Third Most Effective Upper Arm Exercises. “The dips and triceps kickbacks weren’t that far behind either,” co-author Brittany Boehler said.

2nd Best Tricepts Exercises - Tricepts Kickbacks
Essentially, all three exercises could be used interchangeably,” she concluded.

“Because the triangle push-ups elicited the highest average EMG activity, data for the remaining seven exercises were then represented as a percentage of the EMG activity of the triangle push-up,” the ACE Report explains.

The following table from the Research Report presents these findings:
Findings of ACE-Sponsored Study by U of Wisconsin on Extent of EMG Activity in Tricepts (Upper Arm) Muscle Generated by 8 Different Exercises

* Significantly lower than the Triangle Push-up (p < 0.05)
† Significantly lower than the Long Head (p < 0.05)

Conclusions; The Three Best Upper Arm (Tricepts) Exercises

The bottom line, according to the study, is that “You can quickly and effectively tone and strengthen the triceps using triangle push-ups, triceps kickbacks and dips,” according to the study report issued by the ACE.

Why are those exercises so much more effective than the others tested? ” Study author Porcari explains that these exercises are most effective “because your body weight is used in the push-ups and dips, and because it’s easier to “cheat” (using momentum to more easily complete reps) while doing the other exercises, specifically the bar push-downs and rope push-downs.”

“Many women are concerned they don’t have time to get to the gym or they don’t have the necessary exercise equipment at home to get fit,” study co-author Boehler said. “But this research essentially eliminates those excuses,” she said.

Very Little Equipment is Necessary. “The über -effective triangle push-ups require zero equipment, while all you need to do dips is a sturdy household chair,” the ACE study Report states. “The triceps kickbacks are best performed with dumbbells, but any sort of weight would work, such as a jug of water or canned food.”

“Most people’s triceps are relatively weak, especially if you isolate them,” author Porcari noted. “If you’re doing the kickbacks correctly, it doesn’t really take a whole lot of weight to get a good workout.” (See the video demonstrations, below.)

Very Little Time Required. The exercises do not require a lot of time, author Boehler pointed out. “I think the takehome message is that if somebody really wants to work their triceps in a short amount of time, they’ll get the most bang for the buck from these three exercises,” he said.

How to Do the Three Best Upper Arm Exercises

Following is a Video produced by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), summarizing the study’s findings, and demonstrating how to do the three most effective upper arm exercises — Triangle Push-ups, Tricepts Kickbacks, and Dips:

More Information

For more information on exercises for seniors and caregivers, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Exercise: Physical Wellness.

For broader information on maintaining a healthy weight, healthy diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors that promote wellness and prevent diseases, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Wellness/ Healthy Living for Seniors & Caregivers, including:


Copyright © 2020 Care-Help LLC, publisher of HelpingYouCare®. All rights reserved.


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