You know when you go to lift something and it feels like your arms are so tight and sore that you immediately put them down at your sides and consider never reaching for anything again?
That upper arm pain may be a sign that you went a little too hard at the gym the day before, but it’s also a sign that you need to do some triceps stretches, like, yesterday.
Your triceps are incredibly important when it comes to upper-body strength, so when they feel achy enough to be down for the count, you’re gonna find it tough to get pretty much anything done. Blow-drying your hair? Forget about it. Lifting your child? LOL.
Luckily, soothing that soreness is possible. A few good stretches could be just the thing to loosen them up and take away some of the pain.
Stretching is easy and fast and you can do it anywhere, but there are still some rules to follow. Before you try any of these moves, warm up and loosen your muscles a bit. Do a few minutes of brisk walking, a light jog in place, or a few jumping jacks.
The idea is to warm up your body a few degrees so static stretching (stretching while standing in place) doesn’t cause an injury.
Remember that stretching isn’t a competition. It’s not supposed to hurt, so if it feels like you’re about to snap something off, stop! Don’t push yourself so hard that you’re in more pain than before you started.
Oh, and one more thing: If you’re dealing with an injury, talk to a doctor before doing these stretches.
1. Overhead triceps stretch
You can do this stretch while either sitting or standing. It’s a great one to do at your desk during work, too.
- Reach your right arm toward the ceiling, then bend at elbow and reach for your upper back. Try to place your right hand toward the middle of your back, middle finger on your spine.
- Place your left hand on top of right elbow and gently push right arm down so your hand slides down your back a bit.
- Hold for about 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Repeat 3–4 times as needed.
Make it easier: If you can’t place your hand in the middle of your back, that’s OK. Place it on the back of your head instead and proceed with steps 2 and 3.
2. Towel stretch
This one requires a prop — a rolled-up towel or something similar — and offers a deeper stretch than the overhead option.
- Holding one end of a rolled-up towel in your right hand, reach right arm toward the ceiling. Bend at elbow, letting towel hang down your back.
- Reach left hand behind you and grab the other end of the towel. Try to keep the back of your left hand against your back.
- Use left hand to pull the towel as far down as you can without pain.
- Hold for 20–30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Make it easier: There’s no real modification for this stretch, so if it feels too deep, try the modified version of the overhead stretch above.
3. Cross-body stretch
This is another easy stretch that can be done anywhere, whether you’re sitting or standing.
- Raise your right arm to about shoulder height, then reach across to left side of your body.
- Bend left arm at elbow and use left arm to gently pull right arm toward your body, which will deepen the stretch.
- Hold for about 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Repeat a few times as needed.
4. Leaning stretch
Do this stretch using a chair, couch, ottoman, or bench — basically, something you can lean on that won’t slide forward.
- Kneel far enough away from a chair so you can bend forward and be parallel to the floor without your head touching the chair.
- Lean forward so you’re parallel to the floor. Place your elbows on the chair, above your head. Bend elbows so they support you, and be sure not to strain your lower back.
- Look at the floor, lining up your head with your neck and back. Make sure elbows are the only part of you touching the chair.
- Bring forearms toward your neck and place hands on the back of your neck.
- Press torso toward the floor while exhaling slowly.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then carefully bring arms down and return to a kneeling position. Repeat as needed.
Make it easier: This is a pretty deep stretch. You can modify it by doing it standing instead of kneeling. Instead of placing your hands on the back of your neck, simply lean forward so your body is parallel to the floor and press your torso down to stretch your arms gently.
5. Wrist pull
While not specifically a stretch for your triceps, this one will stretch your whole arm and is easy to do anywhere.
- Extend your right arm in front of you. Grab right fingers with left hand and gently pull right arm down a bit until you feel a stretch.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Make it easier: If holding your fingers is too deep of a stretch, try holding your wrist.
Stretching feels amazing, especially when you’re sore, but it’s also incredibly important to prevent injury and relieve muscle tension.
Plus, stretching can actually make you a better athlete or gym-goer: Stretching during or right after a warmup can increase flexibility, giving you a better range of motion. It can also boost blood flow and prevent that annoying tight feeling.
Stretching is beneficial for many people but not for everyone. If you’re dealing with an injury or recovering from one, talk to your doctor or physical therapist before doing any of these stretches.
Stretching can be uncomfortable at first, but it shouldn’t cause significant pain — don’t do any stretch that hurts. Don’t bounce or pulse while holding a stretch, because it can lead to injury. Make sure to breathe normally to keep oxygen flowing to those muscles.
If you have any doubts about whether you’re doing a stretch correctly, check with your healthcare provider or a trainer at the gym.