Three Heads Are Better Than One: How To Hit Different Parts Of The Tricep

There are different ways to work the different heads of your triceps.

Three heads are better than one, right? Before I continue, get your mind out of the gutter, as I am obviously referring to the tricep muscle.

The tricep is composed of three heads: the long head, the lateral head and the medial head.

Now let’s look at each head in more depth:

Triceps

1) The Long Head of the Tricep

The long head of the tricep is attached to the shoulder and goes all the way down to the elbow joints (hence the long head), and is located at the back of your arm.

Best Workouts for the long head:

The optimal workouts for the long head would be exercises that consist of a full range of motion and a good contraction, and with the arms overhead both of those things come into play. So the best workouts for the long head of the tricep would be overhead extensions and skull-crushers. 

2) The Lateral Head of the Tricep

The lateral head is the most visible and sits on the outside of your arm. When you get extremely lean, it can almost portray an almost “feathered” look on the tricep. Take a look at a picture of Lee Priest’s triceps to see what we mean.

Best workouts for the lateral head:

The optimal workouts for the lateral head would be the ones with your arms by your side with a pronated grip (overhand). So exercises such as cable extensions, kickbacks, and overhand grip press downs are ideal for this part of the muscle.

3) The Medial Head of the Tricep

This is the least visible of the three and sits lower down than the long head closer to the torso, but just because it is the least visible does not mean you can slack off on it. It adds a good amount of mass and gives the arm a fuller, more complete look. 

Best Workouts for the Medial Head:

The optimal workouts would be ones with the hands by your side with a supinated grip (underhand), so exercises such as reverse grip cable push downs would be best suited.

Now some exercises will undoubtedly target more than one head at one time, so exercises such as skull crushers actually target the long head and lateral head, and exercises such as close grip bench press, kickbacks, press downs (pushdowns) and even diamond push ups will actually hit all 3 heads.

So now you know how the triceps are broken down, and below I have listed a series of exercises that will ensure all 3 heads are hit during your next triceps workout.

Three heads

  1. Close Grip Bench 

Now this is a multi joint compound exercise that will hit all 3 heads and will allow you to build up more strength as you can go heavier. 

Tip: Position the hands approximately 7-8 inches away from each other, so just a bit further apart than the centre knurl on the barbell (which is usually about 5 inches), as going too close could risk injury.

  1. Dips

This compound exercise is one of the favorite weightlifting techniques used by the Chinese weightlifters, especially when done with extra weight (either a dipping belt or a dumbbell in between your feet). This will not only help you build more strength, but it also hits all 3 heads of the tricep simultaneously, with the medial head being activated at the top of the extension.

Tip: Keep the body upright if trying to target the triceps, as leaning forward during the movement will put more emphasis on the chest.

  1. Cable Tricep Pushdown/ Press Down

This exercise will hit all 3 heads of the tricep, but by changing the cable attachment you can and stress to specific heads.

Tip: Do not stand too close to the cable tower, take a step away and lean forward into the pulley, and then begin your set with the arms away from the torso.

You want to make sure that your forearm and triceps are at a right angle (90 degrees) at the loading phase of the movement.

best triceps exercises

Cable Attachment Variations

Wide grip bar attachment: This grip would be a wider than shoulder width grip and would focus on the medial head.

Rope attachment: This grip would add stress to the medial and lateral heads.

Straight bar attachment: The bar will add stress on the long head of the triceps. 

V bar attachment: This bar will add more stress on the lateral head of the triceps.

  1. French Press

Some of you may think the french press is the same as the lying down tricep extension, but the difference is that the french press is done either seated or standing up, and is preferably done with an EZ bar.

The french press also targets the long head, as it is done overhead.

Tip: Try to perform the reps without shifting stress into the elbows or shoulders and do not lock out at the top of the movement.

  1. Reverse Grip Press Down

The reverse grip press down may not be as popular but it is great for targeting the medial head.

Tip: Similar to the standard version, keep the elbow and triceps at 90 degrees at the eccentric portion of the movement and try to eliminate your elbows from flaring out.

Tricep

Common Mistakes of Training Triceps

Elbow movement:

Some common mistakes people make when doing the standard version pushdown and reverse grip press down, is too much elbow movement. Keep the elbows nice and tight and close to the body and eliminate that motion, this will allow the triceps to do more of the work.

Elbow Flare:

When performing tricep exercises, your arms can look like chicken wings, as they may flare out too much. For overhead movements like the french press or the overhead dumbbell tricep extension or even skull crushers, minimize elbow flare, as this takes away stress from the triceps and adds more stress to the joints, and increases risk of injury. If your elbows are flaring then the weight may be too heavy.

Fatiguing too soon:

Start the workout strong by beginning with compound exercises like the weighted dips and close grip bench, and then move onto the isolation movements. This will allow you to get the most out of your workout.

FAQs

Do I need to hit all of these exercises every workout?

No! You can easily pick 1-3 tricep movements that target each head, and go from there. Doing too much risks overtraining and can compromise the recovery.

Should I target each head within one workout?

When hitting your triceps, you may not want to leave any part of the muscle untouched. This does not mean you have to do multiple exercises for each head, but maybe pick one or two exercises that target all 3 heads, or one exercise per head.

How often should I hit triceps?

Frequency of training depends on the intensity of each lift. For example, if you do mediocre sets where you are just going through the motions rather than feeling the connection, you may need to train more frequently. If you are going all out in your training, then maybe 2-3 sessions per week at most is a good amount for tricep training.

Always take your workout split into consideration as well!

Tricep Heads Wrap Up

After reading this you have zero excuse now, so be sure to target all 3 heads of the tricep muscle, so the long, lateral, and medial are all hit.

Be sure to add the overhead and reverse grip movements into your routine. 

So there you have it, by the time summer comes around your triceps should be bursting through your Generation Iron tee’s.

So until next time, keep pumping! 

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Mehmet Edip is a fitness writer, actor, and model who has worked in the industry for over 8 years. He focuses on achieving his physique through an all natural plant-based diet and shares his insight via his workout & nutrition guides.