The triceps make up the bulk of your upper arm. Safe to say, if you want to build massive arms, prioritize your triceps. Common terms for big triceps are horseshoes, fishtails, and even anacondas. The long and lateral head of the triceps are responsible for this shape.
Interestingly, we can target different heads of the triceps with different exercises. Therefore, targeting muscle heads like the long head becomes extremely important to maximize triceps development. But how do you do this so you can get big triceps?
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Long head of the triceps generates the most significant forces at 0° shoulder elevation, or a vertical upper arm, compared to the medial or lateral head . The long head lies on the inside of the upper arm closest to the body. This and the lateral head are responsible for the bulk of your triceps.
However, since this study, exciting research has demonstrated the power of training at long muscle lengths for hypertrophy .
As the long head of the triceps crosses the elbow and shoulder, it is highly susceptible to stretch and extreme muscle lengths. The lateral head and medial head of the triceps only cross the elbow joint extending the elbow.
The triceps long head also extends the elbow but also extends the shoulder. To show how effective training the triceps at long muscle lengths is, a recent study took 21 healthy young adults and had them perform 5 x 10 for 12 weeks.
They had one arm perform overhead triceps extensions, and the other perform triceps pushdowns. They found the overhead triceps extension condition led to a 1.5 greater difference in long head triceps muscle growth than the triceps extension (28.5% vs. 19.6% respectively) .
It’s speculated that increased metabolic stress or build-up of anaerobic by-products within the muscle turning the environment acidic, is a key mechanism of the increased muscle-building response.
This shows that while EMG muscle activation data can provide a clue as to which exercises may result in better hypertrophy of a muscle group, it is not the only data point we can use. Based on the current research and my own experience, I have listed the best long head triceps exercises.
6 Best Long Head Triceps Exercises
Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press is my top triceps exercise. Not just my top long head triceps exercise. But wait, didn’t I state that training the triceps at long muscle lengths is the key to bulging horseshoe triceps?
I did. But endless 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 long head triceps activation compared to the wide grip bench press .
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.
Overhead Triceps Extension
As per the latest research, placing the triceps under stretch while extending the elbow leads to greater long head triceps growth. By holding the arms overhead, you stretch the long head of the triceps at the shoulder.
Then, as you flex the elbow lowering the weight behind your head, you stretch the long head at the elbow resulting in extreme muscle lengths. Even though the long head isn’t as “activated” in this shoulder position, the intense stretch is such a potent stimulus it leads to extraordinary muscle growth.
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.
Lying Triceps Extension w/ Extra ROM
The skull crusher is a common triceps exercise. But a slight modification makes it an absolute beast of a triceps builder. By taking the bar behind your head like a pullover, you get a similar stretch to the overhead triceps extension.
Except you can use much heavier loads. I credit this exercise with a combination of a few others for blowing up my triceps. Here’s how to do it:
- Holding an EZ bar above and slightly behind your head, perform the skull crusher motion by bending the elbows. Lower the bar behind your head by moving your shoulders as it gets close to your head.
- Once you feel a deep stretch, simultaneously extend the shoulders and elbows to find the starting position.
Dips will never go out of fashion. But if you want to do them to target your triceps, you need to stay vertical when performing the movement . Lean forward for the chest, and stay upright for the triceps. You’ll feel your long head screaming the following day.
When I refer to dips here, I’m referring to the parallel bar dip. It’s a good idea to avoid using the bench dip as it places your shoulders into a precarious position with the ball of the shoulder rolling forward, placing shear forces on the tendons and ligaments. Here’s how to do it:
- 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.
If you’re looking for an isolation triceps exercise you can do to get an epic mind-muscle connection and use relatively heavy loads, the triceps pushdown is what you need. Further, the upper arm position allows the triceps long head to generate the most force.
- 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.
Incline Triceps Kickbacks
The fitness community shunned the triceps kickback for being an exercise reserved for soccer moms in pump class. However, interesting research shows the incline triceps kickback elicits the most significant muscle activation of the long head.
Now, I wouldn’t take this data and conclude this is the best exercise for the triceps long head. There are severe limitations with this exercise. Mainly being the loads used are limited. However, it can make a great finishing movement at the end of your triceps workout. Here’s how to do it:
- Lying face down on an incline bench, pull your arms back so they are behind your body. From this position, flex and extend the elbow squeezing the triceps at full extension.
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:
- 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.
Best Long Head Triceps Workout
A1) Close Grip Bench Press 3 x 8
B1) Overhead Triceps Extension 3 x 12
C1) Lying Triceps Extension w/ Extra ROM 2 x 10-15
C2) Decline Close Grip Push-Up 2 x Fail
The best exercises to target the long head of the triceps are those that place the long head under extreme stretch and those that allow heavy loading with a vertical upper arm. It’s essential not solely to rely on isolation exercises but to get stronger on big compound triceps exercises like the close grip bench press.
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