Big, bulky triceps are the secret to powerful looking arms…
And you know that in order to get great looking triceps, you need to train all the three heads: a lateral, a medial and a long head.
But if you are doing 14 different exercises to hit them… Stop!
You can get the same (or better) results with just a few carefully selected exercises.
In this article, you’ll learn how to train all three tricep heads with the best triceps exercises for each one… and an exact training plan you can start today to see fast results.
Let’s dive in.
The Glorious Triceps
The triceps, or the triceps brachii, is a three-headed muscle on the back of your upper arm.
The muscle itself connects to both the elbow and the shoulder joint and its primary function is to extend the elbow.
It also contributes to shoulder extension, which is an important fact we’ll get back to later.
But before we get into the specific exercises for each head… What is the best way to train the triceps as a whole?
The Fundamentals of Tricep Training
Here’s a fact: 80 percent of your results will come from the “simple” basics.
When it comes to the triceps, the basics are heavy, compound barbell movements.
That means the bench and the overhead press (and since they’re so cool, dips go in there as well – especially once they’re weighted).
These two are the foundation of your upper body pressing strength and size – they should never leave your training program.
Barbell variations of the two exercises mentioned above activate the triceps more strongly compared to the dumbbell version.
Next is a anatomy-backed tip that almost no one knows about:
Go to Full Extension!
I can already feel the angry eyes of so called “fitness experts” on my back as I say this, but it’s true.
“The triceps are primary elbow extensors, having large elbow extensor moment arms. The moment arm length remains relatively high throughout elbow extension and increases as elbow joint angle decreases (as the arm straightens). This suggests that exercises that challenge the triceps close to full extension (such as bench press lockouts) are likely to be highly beneficial.”
Now here’s an important distinction: I didn’t say to go beyond full extension.
Some people’s elbows naturally hyperextend. In unweighted exercises like planks, that’s not a problem (it can even be a great way to train the biceps).
But when weight is involved, only go to full extension where you upper and lower arms are in a straight line, not beyond.
Finally, if you’re a fan of tempo training, the triceps is where you’d want to avoid it.
In most people, the triceps have more Type II muscle fibers, which are also known as fast twitch.
Fast twitch fibers respond better to…
Higher Speeds and Higher Loads
If you stay in the 3-5 x 3-5 range, with some complemental speed work (which can easily be done during your warm-up sets), you’ll cover all your bases nicely.
Those are the three fundamental truths of triceps training. Now, let’s take a look at each of the tricep heads.
Long Head Tricep Exercises (Crucial tip!)
The long head is the largest of the three triceps heads and therefore the most important to build up.
But it is also special in another way. Like I said before, it crosses the shoulder.
That means that in order to put the maximum stress on it, we need to stretch or lengthen it.
That doesn’t mean to actually statically stretch your triceps, but it means to manipulate the angle of the exercise to lengthen the long head and put more stress on it.
A lot of people say that if you want to train the long head, you need to go overhead.
However, the science disagrees.
A 2010 study found that the muscle activity of the long head appears to be greatest when the shoulder is at around 90 degrees of shoulder flexion (as when performing a bench press).
OK, but you already know that you need to bench. So:
Is there an even better exercise for targeting the long head of the triceps?
Yes – the skull crusher.
A big benefit these have over say, overhead triceps extensions, is that you can go heavy on them.
However, here’s one important tip:
PRO TIP: Instead of holding the bar or dumbbells directly over the shoulder in a straight line, hold the ez bar over your forehead. This slight change of angle will stretch the long head and put more tension on it.
That way, you will have tension on the long head throughout the triceps exercise.
Now, here’s’ a common problem:
A lot of people can’t really feel their long head of the triceps.
And the exercises that work it best aren’t so good at getting you to really feel it.
So if you have this problem, there’s a simple solution to activate your long head and develop your mind-muscle connection:
Triceps Dumbbell Kickbacks
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I can’t possibly use enough weight to grow anything with these!
While that may be true, they are the best activation exercise for the long head of the triceps.
Before your triceps days, warm up with a few sets of ten… but don’t go too heavy, because trust me, you’ll feel it.
Lateral Head Tricep Exercises (Can You Guess?)
The lateral head of the triceps lies on the outside of your upper arm. It’s often called the “horse shoe” for its look.
Here’s the truth:
Most triceps exercises (the ones that extend the elbow) work both the medial and the lateral heads.
But, there is a way to put a little bit more on each one of them
That is pronation and supination.
In layman terms, those are turning your arm in (pronation) and turning your arm out (supination).
If you want to target the lateral head of the triceps, you need to pronate your arm – turn your arm in.
Triceps pushdowns with a rope are perfect for this.
The end part of the exercise where you slightly pull the rope apart is the key because it turns your arm in and activates the lateral head more.
You could also do diamond pushups: the triangle position of the hands creates a very similar load to the triceps pushdown.
Medial Head Tricep Exercises (Simple!)
The medial head of the triceps in like a forgotten brother: no one seems to care much about it.
And why would you? It’s a small head hidden on the inside of your elbow and you’re going to hit it anyway with other exercises, right?
I’m just kidding – I know you care.
So, just like with the lateral head, you can target the medial head of the triceps by manipulating the rotation of your arm.
Just in this case, you will turn it out (supinate) instead of turning it in.
You can do triceps pushdown with a straight bar and an underhand grip.
Simply grab the bar from below with your palm up (supination, remember?) and you’re good to go. A word of caution: you’ll probably need to use less weight for these.
Another exercise you can use is the underhand grip bench press.
Some people swear by it because it allows them to bench without shoulder issues, but we want to use it to target the medial head of the triceps.
The grip is the same as in the first exercise, and again, much less weight. Don’t break your face.
A Simple Training Plan For All 3 Heads of The Triceps
Now that you know all the necessary bits about triceps training, here’s your action plan to set in motion:
(I’ll only program the upper body pushing work. Add pulling work and leg exercises of your own choice. If you want to build muscle, here’s a hypertrophy focused workout)
This will be a two-day split.
As for triceps training frequency, they respond well to twice a week training, hitting them both with heavy weights and high rep isolation training.
On both days, warm up a few sets of with triceps kickbacks. Repeat them before long head specific exercises if necessary. You know what, just do them anyway.
|Day 1: Triceps Workout|
|Bench press||5||3||Use the warm-up sets for speed work. Go to full elbow extension.|
|Dips||8-12||3||With weight if possible.|
|Skull crushers||12-15||3||Remember to lean the bar or dumbbells over your forehead.|
|Day 1: Triceps Workout|
|Diamond pushups||Failure||3||Do three sets to failure|
|Triceps pushdowns||12-15||6||3 sets with a rope, 3 sets with a bar and underhand grip.|
Training the triceps is one of my favorite part of gym time. I just love that pump you get after a good session – especially if you throw in some biceps work. Mercy…
The exercises and tips in this post will help you build all heads of your triceps, but remember that nutrition also plays a very important role.
If you have any questions about triceps training, ask them below – I’ll answer them ASAP.
To reiterate, here’s what you need to do:
- Train your triceps twice per week
- Hit the big lifts hard & heavy
- Build the long head with specific exercises
- Target the lateral and medial heads by arm rotation
- … anavar… I mean, and never give up!
Eddie Johnson is an ex-bodybuilder, fitness addict, writer, editor and founder of Anabolic Bodies. Also a proud father of two boys and passionate about bodybuilding, nutrition, and the science behind modern-day supplementation.