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Smith machine tricep exercises: Do these 5 proven mass builders for bigger arms

By Lee Thomas
Last Updated on 8th July 2020

Since the triceps brachii makes up two-thirds of human arm size, direct triceps training must be a part of your Smith machine workout routine—if you want to build big arms.

bodybuilder doing the side tricep pose

And performing your tricep exercises on Smith machine systems is a brilliant method for adding arm mass. Why?

Because the machine removes the stabilisation factor from the equation.

Your arms will naturally receive a better workout and become bigger because you don’t need to waste physical energy or mental focus on balancing the bar.

So with that said, let’s explore the various types of Smith machine tricep extensions and presses that get the fastest results.

Top 5 Smith machine tricep exercises

1. Close-grip bench press

Forget all the fancy Smith machine extensions for a minute. If you want enormous arms, then you need to give the Smith machine close grip bench press the attention that its mass-building reputation commands.

No other exercise in the history of bodybuilding has produced more pairs of attention-demanding arms than the close-grip bench press. And that’s because no other movement lets you overload your fast-twitch triceps with so much resistance.

Yeah, the triceps love heavy weight. They’re 67% fast-twitch, and they just thrive off explosive lifting. So if you want to grow your tris to their fullest potential, then you need to hammer them with low rep sets.

The Smith machine is the safest way to do this.

"Since the close grip bench press enables us to easily overload it and lift very heavy weights, I suggest starting with this exercise."
Jeremy Ethier

Step 1: Lie on a bench and grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip. Gripping any narrower won’t increase the triceps activation, but it will severely strain your wrists.

Step 2: Squeeze your shoulder blades together and arch your lower back slightly.

Step 3: Tuck your elbows into your sides and then lower the bar to your upper abs.

Step 4: Once the bar touches your body, press it back up as explosively as possible by pushing your hands towards the ceiling. I like to pretend that I’m throwing a two-handed punch—it helps me to lift forcefully.

Tip: Always wear wrist wraps so that your joints don’t take any unnecessary strain (or fatigue before your pushing muscles).

2. Bodyweight tricep extensions

Performing a tricep ladder on Smith machine bars is one of the best ways to ignite new muscle growth for people with stubborn arms. What’s a tricep ladder?

Essentially, it’s where you train your triceps to absolute failure by resisting decreasing amounts of your bodyweight. Once you hit failure at a low bar position, you simply raise the bar to reduce the resistance.

By the time you’ve finished one round, you’ll have fatigued virtually all of your triceps muscles fibres, and your arms will have no choice but to get bigger. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Set the bar to mid-thigh level and grab it with a shoulder-width overhand grip.

Step 2: Shuffle your feet back and place all the weight onto your arms by leaning into the bar. Make sure that your back and neck are completely flat.

Step 3: Stretch your triceps by lowering your head under the bar (works the long head). Imagine that you’re performing a bodyweight skull crusher—but at the last moment, you decide to save your forehead from getting crushed (wise move) by ducking under the bar.

Step 4: Push yourself back up by extending your elbows to just shy of lockout. Repeat until failure and then raise the bar to reduce the resistance. Keep doing this until your triceps are in bits.

Tip: One round is enough at first. But two or three is better if you’re more advanced.

3. Smith machine skull crushers

Doing the lying tricep extension Smith machine style (aka the skull crusher) is a unique way to bulk up your arms while keeping your forehead safe from impending doom. As a result, you’ll naturally grow your arms faster than with free weights. How so?

Because you’ll have the courage to push yourself harder since you know that the safety stoppers have always got your back. Here’s what I mean:

Step 1: Lie down inside the Smith machine and set the safety catches to head height.

Step 2: Grab the bar with an overhand grip just inside shoulder width.

Step 3: Lower the bar towards your forehead while keeping your elbows as straight as possible.

Step 4: Pause for a split second and then raise the bar back up by extending your elbows. Make sure that you actually lock your elbows out since this (elbow extension) is the primary function of the triceps.

Tip: Wear a simple pair of elbow sleeves to protect your joints from the inevitable wear and tear that comes with triceps training.

4. Smith machine tricep press

The Smith machine tricep press is essentially the upright variation of the tried and tested Smith machine incline tricep extension. Both versions require the same form, and both exercises absolutely destroy the long head of your triceps because your arms are so stretched.

I can virtually guarantee that this mass building movement will give you some serious DOMS if you haven’t done it before. I do it once a week, and it still tears my triceps up. So you better keep those BCAAs handy if you want to recover on time...

Step 1: Position a flat bench in the Smith machine and set the bar to head height.

Step 2: Grab the bar with an underhand shoulder-width grip and unrack it by pressing it over your head.

Step 3: Lower the bar behind your head by bending your elbows. Come just below 90 degrees and then extend your elbows all the way back up—enjoy your DOMS.

Tip: The Smith machine tricep press/Smith machine incline tricep extension bothers my elbows when I lift heavy. So I’ve started performing it as a high rep arm finisher (30-15-15-30) while wearing occlusion cuffs.

And my arms have never looked bigger.

5. Smith machine bench dips

Did you know that performing your bench dips on Smith machine bars is one of the most effective techniques for burning out your triceps, while also preventing wrist strain?

I overlooked this bodyweight exercise for ages, and I wish that I hadn’t. Because it’s an incredibly versatile movement. Here’s what I mean:

You can perform bench dips for high reps to ensure that you recruit all of your stubborn muscle fibres.

Yet, you can also elevate your feet, put weight plates on your lap and use it for mass-building purposes. It’s like a bodyweight close-grip bench press. And I definitely recommend trying it out for yourself during your next Smith machine triceps workout.

"Triceps looooove the stretch and because locking out the elbow is one of their primary functions in the human body, all of the reps you do should be locked out as well."
Dr. Mike Israetel
Renaissance Periodization Co-Founder

Step 1: Set the bar to knee height and face away from the machine.

Step 2: Grab the bar with an overhand shoulder-width grip and place your legs out in front of you. Keep your feet together and dig your heels into the ground. Also, make sure that your back is straight.

Step 3: Descend towards the ground by bending at your elbows until there’s a 90-degree angle between your upper and lower arms. Push yourself back up by flexing your triceps.

Tip: Superset with bodyweight bicep curls for one heck of an arm pump. Then you’ll understand why callisthenics guys are so muscular.

Smith machine tricep exercises: The bottom line

I enjoy lifting barbells as much as the next fella. But when it comes to tricep hypertrophy, Smith machines are one of the best training tools that you can have in your arsenal.

And, for the fastest gains possible, I suggest performing a sequence of 3 Smith machine tricep exercises: a heavy press, an overhead movement and a high rep finisher.

With this tricep trio, you’re hitting your muscles for every conceivable angle, and your arms will grow like weeds. All you need to do is lift consistently and consume enough protein, and you’ll be rewarded with plentiful muscle growth.

Talk to you next time.

Lee Thomas
Ey Up! I'm Lee, a Leeds-based strength and conditioning coach who's been helping serious trainees achieve their physical potential for the past 20 years. In my time, I've been a competitive physique athlete and a national powerlifter. I hope you enjoy my exercise guides.
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