Do Pull-Ups Work Triceps?

September 22, 2022

After searching this question recently, I was dumbfounded. The entire first page of Google is telling you the same false information. That information relates to pull-ups working the triceps.

No, the pull-up does not work the triceps. The soreness you may experience on the back of your arm is the teres major, which is stretched eccentrically with the lats.

If pull-ups don’t work the triceps, then what are you working? And how can you best target the triceps?

Do Pull-Ups Work Triceps?

Pull-ups don’t work the triceps as they involve elbow flexion and shoulder adduction. None of which the triceps are prime or assisting movers. The lats are the prime movers during the pull-up, which are the large wing-like muscles of your back.

The primary assistance muscle other than the biceps is the teres major. A small little helper to the lats helping adduct the shoulder. Also known as bringing the elbow towards the ribs during the pull-up.

Sometimes, if you haven’t performed pull-ups regularly, you’ll feel soreness in the back of your arm the following day. Many people mistake this for triceps muscle soreness and assume the pull-up worked their triceps.

However, it is biomechanically impossible to work the triceps significantly during the pull-up. Instead, this soreness often arises from the teres major being eccentrically stretched. This quickly subsides after your next pull-up workout due to the “repeated bout effect.”

The repeated bout effect describes the reduced muscle soreness and damage resulting from repeated eccentric contractions [1]. This is why you may feel soreness one day, but future workouts don’t create the same soreness.

Are There Any Pull-Up Variations That Work The Triceps?

Best Pull-Up For Triceps

There are no pure pull-up variations that work the triceps. But if you’re an advanced lifter, the muscle up is the closest you’ll get. The second portion of the muscle up involves a dip where the elbows must extend as you push against the bars or rings.

However, using the muscle-up to get big triceps is a fool’s errand. You use momentum to finish the dip, and if the muscle-up is done efficiently, you have very little range of motion at the elbow. To add further insult to injury, you have little eccentric contraction, which is a key to maximizing muscle growth.

How To Work The Triceps

The triceps have three muscle heads. Hence why they are called the triceps. All three heads of the triceps don’t work in unison through elbow extension [2].

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 long head maintains a constant capacity to generate force at a wide range of elbow angles [3].

Based on muscle activation research, the shoulder position heavily influences the contribution of each muscle head [4]. 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.

Use a combination of triceps exercises to maximize muscle growth. My favorite combination is the close grip bench press, triceps pushdown, and lying triceps extension with extra range of motion.


Nobody got massive triceps by doing pull-ups. Pull-ups are for developing pulling muscles of the back and arms. Instead, focus on pushing exercises like bench press, overhead press, and elbow extension exercises like triceps pushdowns.


1. McHugh, M. P., Connolly, D. A., Eston, R. G., & Gleim, G. W. (1999). Exercise-induced muscle damage and potential mechanisms for the repeated bout effect. Sports medicine27(3), 157-170.

2. 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 medicine34(11), 1839-1843.

3. Landin, D., Thompson, M., & Jackson, M. (2018). Functions of the triceps brachii in humans: a review. Journal of clinical medicine research10(4), 290.

4. 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 turcica52(3), 201-205.

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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