Best Lateral Head Triceps Exercises (1.4x Greater Triceps Growth!)

February 11, 2023

The triceps make the bulk of your upper arm. And when looking from the side, the lateral head of the triceps makes your arms look huge. It forms part of the fishtail or horseshoe look. So, how do you target the lateral head to get bigger triceps?

Triceps Anatomy

All three heads of the triceps don’t work in unison through elbow extension [1]. For example, the medial head of the triceps only becomes fully involved in the movement when the elbow is flexed past 90° (think the bottom of a skull crusher). In contrast, the triceps long head maintains a constant capacity to generate force at a wide range of elbow angles [2].

Anatomy Triceps

Based on muscle activation research, the shoulder position heavily influences the contribution of each muscle head [3]. Here is how to effectively target each muscle head of the triceps based on shoulder position:

  • Long head – arms straight down (0° angle of the shoulders). This would involve exercises such as the triceps pushdown.
  • Lateral head – arms directly overhead (180° angle of the shoulders). This would involve exercises such as the overhead triceps extension.
  • Medial head – arms directly in front and the overhead position (90-180° angle of the shoulders). This would involve exercises such as the overhead triceps extension or the close grip bench press.
Shoulder Elevation Angle Triceps

The overhead position is where lateral head training is maximized. Research shows the lateral head grows 1.4x greater using the overhead triceps extension vs. the triceps pushdown [6]. However, using a range of shoulder angles will maximize triceps development.

Best Lateral Triceps Exercises

Close Grip Bench

The close grip bench press is my favorite triceps exercise. Not just my top lateral head triceps exercise. It’s a heavy compound movement that I credit for packing mass on my triceps.

Isolation exercises will only get you so far. Have you ever seen someone who could close grip bench press over 225 lbs with small triceps? That’s my point. Further, the closer grip elicits the most significant triceps activation compared to the wide grip bench press [4].

Here’s how to do it:

  • Lying on the bench, find your close grip position. I find just on the edge of the knurling is where my grip feels best. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pin them against the bench.
  • Unrack the barbell and slowly lower it to your chest. Your elbows should pass next to your ribs. Press violently to the top.

Decline Close Grip Push-Up

The decline close grip push-up is essentially a close grip bench press turned upside down. However, elevating the feet supports more bodyweight over your arms and generates higher forces [5]. I’ve found this is best used within a superset to completely trash the triceps after a stretching triceps exercise.

For example, an overhead triceps extension paired with the decline close grip push-up. Here’s how to do it:

  • Elevate your feet on a bench and place your thumbs under your shoulders. Lower your chest to the floor with your elbows moving past your ribs.
  • Maintain a straight line from your feet to your head and push to the starting position locking the arms out.

Overhead Press

Getting stronger in the compound lifts do wonders for the lateral head of the triceps. The overhead press fits in that category, and you can do these seated or standing. You’re not limited to the barbell. You can use dumbbells or kettlebells for variation or one- or two-handed presses. Here’s how to do it:

  • Unrack the barbell with a slightly outside shoulder-width group. Have your elbows slightly in front so your triceps are "resting" on your lats.
  • Create a big chest and press the barbell vertically. As you get past your forehead, push your head and body through.
  • Finish with the straight arms overhead so your biceps align with your ears.


Dips are a bodybuilding staple. You can load them or pump out reps with your bodyweight. When doing dips, do them on parallel bars. Not a bench. Bench dips internally rotate your shoulders and, at the bottom position, place a lot of stress on the tendons in your shoulder. It's not worth the risk.

Some lifters will have sternum pain when performing dips. I get it myself. In this instance, avoid the exercise altogether. There is no hard and fast rule that you have to perform dips to get big triceps.

I've tried building up my volume from one rep. Even starting with partial reps and progressing a little more range of motion each session. Nothing has stopped me from getting sternum pain that lingers for a month and stops be doing other exercises.

There are plenty of other exercises you can do instead. If you can tolerate dips, then go after them! A mixture of loaded and bodyweight dips will smoke your triceps. Turns out, dips are one of the best exercises for activating the lateral and medial head of the triceps.

  • Extend your arms and support your body on the parallel dip bars. Maintain an upright body position as you bend your elbows during the descent.
  • Depending on your mobility, stop at or go below parallel. Push to the starting position with the arms locked out.

Triceps Pushdown

The triceps pushdown favors triceps long-head activation because of the shoulder position. However, the pushdown allows heavy loading of elbow extension without irritating your elbows. I use this often, and it makes the perfect triceps isolation exercise after heavy compound movements.

Through experimentation, I’ve found the rope attachment to fit the lateral head better than the straight bar or V-handle. It must be due to the neutral vs. pronated hand position. Here’s how to do it:

  • Attach the V-handle or rope attachment to the cable. Stand as close to the cable as possible without it rubbing your face.
  • Keep your elbows by your side as you extend and straighten your arms. Squeeze your triceps at the bottom and slowly bend your elbows to stretch the triceps. Importantly, keep your elbows in the same position by your side.

Overhead Triceps Extension

As mentioned, the overhead triceps extension is the most effective exercise for the lateral head of the triceps. You can vary the implement you use for the overhead triceps extension with cables, EZ bars, dumbbells, bands, and even plates. Here’s how to do it:

  • From a standing or seated position, hold the weight behind your head with your arms elevated and elbows bent.
  • Keeping the same elbow position, extend the arm until they are straight. Squeeze the triceps at the top and slowly lower the weight behind your head to get a deep triceps stretch.

Skull Crushers

The skull crusher is not my preferred lateral triceps exercise. It nails the triceps medial head more and tends to cause elbow issues long term. However, when done sparingly with lighter loads, you can reap the benefits from this exercise. Here’s how to do it:

  • Lying on a bench, hold an EZ bar at arm’s length. Maintain the position of your upper arm as you flex at the elbow to lower the bar to your face.
  • Stop an inch from the nose/forehead and reverse the action extending your elbows.

DB Incline Skull Crushers

Using dumbbells on an incline for skull crushers increases the stretch of the triceps. During the traditional skull crusher, the shoulder is angled at 90°. On the incline, it’s closer to 135° and places more stress on the triceps.

Because of the angle, your triceps are under constant tension even when locked out. It makes a very effective triceps lateral head exercise because of this. Here’s how to do it:

  • Lying on an incline bench, hold dumbbells with straight arms in a neutral position.
  • Maintain the position of your upper arm as you flex at the elbow to lower the dumbbells next to your head.
  • Pause at the bottom and reverse the action extending your elbows.

JM Press

This is a Powerlifting staple. The JM press is essentially a close-grip bench press and skull crusher hybrid. It was created by Powerlifter JM Blakely, but it's not an exercise you'll see in the commercial gym.

It allows you to perform a tricep extension-like movement but at heavier loads because you are also pressing.

  • Your setup will be the same as a regular close-grip bench press. You won't be keeping your elbows under the bar when you lower the bar.
  • You'll lower the bar to your chin, nose, or forehead. Your elbows will be in front, not out to the side like a guillotine press. From the bottom position, press the weight back to the starting position.

Rolling DB Triceps Extension

This is the most elbow-friendly lying triceps extension variation. Instead of pumping the brakes with your elbows, you're rolling the dumbbells by your head, making it a shoulder instead of an elbow motion. Here’s how to do it:

  • Lying on a bench, press the dumbbells to support the weight with your arms extended. Lower the dumbbells as you would when bench pressing.
  • Once near the bottom, maintain a flexed elbow position and roll the dumbbells by either side of your head.
  • Reverse the action by pulling your elbows forward and extending them simultaneously. It’ll be like a press with momentum.

Best Lateral Triceps Workout




A1) Close Grip Bench Press

4 x 8


B1) Overhead Triceps Extension

3 x 10-12


C1) Triceps Pushdown

3 x 10


C2) Decline Close Grip Push-Up

3 x 15-20



While the lateral head of the triceps growth is more significant with overhead extensions, using a mixture of triceps exercises will maximize triceps size. Use various rep ranges with low reps on large compound exercises and higher reps on isolation exercises.


1. Madsen, M., Marx, R. G., Millett, P. J., Rodeo, S. A., Sperling, J. W., & Warren, R. F. (2006). Surgical anatomy of the triceps brachii tendon: anatomical study and clinical correlation. The American journal of sports medicine, 34(11), 1839-1843.

2. Landin, D., Thompson, M., & Jackson, M. (2018). Functions of the triceps brachii in humans: a review. Journal of clinical medicine research, 10(4), 290.

3. Kholinne, E., Zulkarnain, R. F., Sun, Y. C., Lim, S., Chun, J. M., & Jeon, I. H. (2018). The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta orthopaedica et traumatologica turcica, 52(3), 201-205.

4. Barnett, C., Kippers, V., & Turner, P. (1995). Effects of variations of the bench press exercise on the EMG activity of five shoulder muscles. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 9(4), 222-227.

5. Ebben, W. P., Wurm, B., VanderZanden, T. L., Spadavecchia, M. L., Durocher, J. J., Bickham, C. T., & Petushek, E. J. (2011). Kinetic analysis of several variations of push-ups. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(10), 2891-2894.

6. Maeo, S., Wu, Y., Huang, M., Sakurai, H., Kusagawa, Y., Sugiyama, T., ... & Isaka, T. (2022). Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position. European journal of sport science, 1-11.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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