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

It is comprised of the long head, the lateral head and the medial head.

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

Triceps

Long Head

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

Best Workouts:

The optimal workouts for the long head would be exercises that consist of a full range of contraction and with the arms overhead, so the best workouts would be overhead extensions and skullcrushers. 

Lateral Head

The lateral head is the most visible and sits on the outside of your arm.

Best workouts:

The optimal workouts would be the ones with your arms by your side with a pronated grip (overhand). So exercises such as bench dips, cable extensions, kickbacks and overhand grip press downs are ideal.

Medial Head

This is the least visible of the three and sits lower down than the long head closer to the torso. 

Best Workouts:

The optimal workouts would be ones with the hands by your side with a supinated grip (underhand), so exercises such as reverse grip press 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 approx 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 is another compound exercise and great when done with weights (either dipping belt or dumbbell in between your feet). This will also help you build more strength and also hits all 3 heads simultaneously, with the medial head being activated at the top of the extension.

Tip: Keep the body upright, as leaning forward will put more emphasis on the chest.

  1. Cable Tricep Pushdown/ Press Down

This exercise will hit all 3 heads, 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.

Triceps

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

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:

For overhead movements like the french press or the overhead dumbbell tricep extension or even skull crushers, minimise elbow flare, as this takes away stress from the triceps and adds more stress to the chest. If your elbows are flaring then the weight may be too heavy.

Fatiguing too soon:

Start the workout strong and start the workout with compound exercises like the weighted dips and close grip bench and then move onto the isolation moves. This will allow you to get the most from your workout.

Not Targeting All 3 heads

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! 

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.