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?
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All three heads of the triceps don’t work in unison through elbow extension . 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 .
Based on muscle activation research, the shoulder position heavily influences the contribution of each muscle head . Here is how to effectively target each muscle head of the triceps based on shoulder position:
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 . 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 .
Here’s how to do it:
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 . 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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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