Ask most people the way they train their triceps in the gym, and the answer you get is more or less the same.
Skull crushers, pressdowns, and maybe some close-grip bench presses for good effect. Some overhead triceps presses if feeling sexy.
While you will get a decent amount of work done in the triceps, there comes a time when you need to add some finesse to your training to milk each muscle for what they’re worth.
One area that might need some more loving is the lateral head of the triceps.
If this entire concept of “heads” sounds foreign to you, then how about we embark on a crash course into how to really grow your arms by targeting this area?
Then let’s go!
Where Is The Lateral Head Of The Triceps Found?
As previously alluded to in our article on skull crushers, the triceps brachii consists of three heads or attachments to bone.
Each of these heads is given its own name due to where it attaches. The medial head, for instance, attaches to the medial side of your humerus bone (the upper arm bone).
The lateral head attaches to the lateral side of your humerus. To be exact, the lateral head originates at the posterior surface of the humerus just above the radial groove.
And, last but not least, we have the long head which is found at the very back of the arm and attaches on two separate areas: one closer to the elbow joint and one further away.
This part forms the posterior surface of the triceps (on the posterior humerus).
The medial and lateral heads are innervated by the radial nerve, while the posterior circumflex humeral artery gives blood to the long and lateral heads.
For most people, the lateral head of the triceps brachii muscle is the most easily identifiable of the trio, since it tends to pop out laterally “to the side” when viewed from the side.
In order to accomplish this, however, it needs to be stimulated sufficiently with an appropriate workload.
This is because the lateral head is actually the largest of the triceps muscle and requires the most work. It is virtually impossible to train one part along, however, as they tend to function together as one unit for the most part.
With that in mind, there are still a number of ways to emphasize them and really beef up your guns, even if this group is considered one of your weak spots.
How To Torment Your Triceps For Growth
1) Training Frequency Is King
How often do you train a body part/ muscle group?
For most people, the answer is one time per week. While this approach may yield some amount of progress, you really don’t need to allow 6 days for recovery.
In fact, it’s counterproductive.
It is a much better approach to train each muscle group twice every 8 days. So, say for instance you lift weights 3 times per week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
You split workouts into Push/ Pull or Upper/Lower. So on Monday, you train push muscles, Wednesday you do pull, and Friday you’re back at push.
This way, you virtually double the frequency of training each muscle, and in turn, have double the stimuli for growth.
This works very well with the lateral head of the triceps, which might otherwise not be capable of performing 9+ sets in one workout per week.
2) Multijoint Exercises Are The Way To Go
Isolation movements have their place in workouts, but if beefing up the upper extremity muscles is a priority, they need to take a backseat to the heavy compound movements.
Compound exercises, otherwise known as multijoint movements, involve multiple muscle groups and joints being worked at once.
Most triceps head exercises are multijoint since they might recruit multiple muscles such as the forearm, deltoid muscle, and occasionally even the core and chest.
Isolation type exercise limits involvement from other muscle groups.
Close grip bench presses or triceps dips are excellent choices for really fatiguing the triceps and adjacent muscles.
And the best thing about compound movements?
You are really able to pile on the weight. You will never be able to do 100Lb dumbbell kickbacks, but you can do 200, or even 300lbs close grip presses or bench dips.
You can thank the help of many supporting muscle groups for this feat.
Go hard- as little as 8 reps completed in good form with moderate to heavy resistance can be used to really ignite the entire triceps.
3) Go Beyond Failure
Who says muscle failure has to be the end?
Yes, muscle failure is an undefeatable foe, but do you know what its biggest foe is?
Muscle failure is a measure at which point muscle contraction is no longer possible, or rather, the conditions within the muscle at that time are not favorable.
Rest a minute or two, and what happens?
The conditions are once again suitable for contraction.
Of course, the speed at which you can do more reps is dependent on individual factors, such as how fast positively charged H+ ions are cleared from the blood, how fast ATP regenerates, and oxygen delivery.
“Standard” workout guidelines state that you can rest anywhere between 30-60 seconds and then do another full set- but nowhere does it say that you CAN’T rest less and just do a few reps.
This is the basic premise of rest-pause training, where you perform a set to muscle failure, rest 10-15 seconds, and do another one or two reps.
This way, not only are you able to stimulate the triceps more often because of increased training frequency, but each set will have the high degree of intensity needed for major growth.
You are effectively doing 1 or a few more reps than you would be able to.
Another way to accomplish this is with drops sets, where after working out to muscle failure, you reduce the weight by 25% or so and do another set for 1-2 more reps.
This can be repeated 2-3 more times until you are unable to perform any further reps.
The one caveat about using high-intensity training techniques is that you need to reduce the overall training volume per muscle group.
The likelihood is high that you will experience an injury or CNS burnout if you overdo the training volume.
4) Eat Enough Calories
This rule applies to basically any muscle group. Most people undereat when they are trying to gain muscle.
If muscle building is the goal, there must be a calorie surplus.
This will improve your chances of gaining lean mass and that elusive triceps horseshoe shape.
To avoid overdoing it, however, it is best to slowly increase your calorie intake. 500 calories extra per day is a good rate to consistently increase lean muscle without too much fat gain.
The 6 Best Tricep Exercises for Building Strong Arms
As previously mentioned, there aren’t true isolation movements for the triceps.
However, there are some triceps exercises better than others at targeting the lateral head- and those are the ones you should primarily be focused on.
There is an easy “hack” to identify which exercises are best suited for the lateral head of the triceps. How do you identify them?
From the position of the elbow joints.
Most of them tend to have the elbows down to the sides during execution.
With that in mind, these are the best ones to really get those muscles popping in a rush.
Watch Video > https://youtu.be/vi1-BOcj3cQ
Dips take on a number of variations, ranging from the standard dip bar, to the bench dip, and the seated dip machine.
If you’re new to these movements, here are some tips to execute them:
2) Bar Dip
Watch Video > https://youtu.be/1cvGnmDYoXk
This is the most common manifestation of the dip, which may emphasize the chest over the triceps depending on the angle of execution.
In general, to tailor for triceps training, you need to maintain a fairly erect torso.
- Place yourself between the bar handles at a dip station.
- Push yourself up from the handles, torso upright, and legs dangling freely. You should not bend your knees as this changes the biomechanics of your torso and recruits more chest.
- Keeping your elbows near to your body, slowly lower your torso between the bars so that your upper arms are roughly parallel with the floor at the bottom of the movement.
- Forcefully contract through your triceps and achieve near-maximal elbow lockout at the top. Just be careful to not exert too much force on this joint as you do so or you can develop inflammation of the triceps brachii tendon.
- Aim to perform 8-10 reps for 3 working sets.
- When you find it easy to do this, it’s time to use a belt and added resistance. Perform this movement early in your workout when muscle fatigue is low.
3) Bench Dip
Watch Video > https://youtu.be/c3ZGl4pAwZ4
An easier option for novice athletes that do not have the strength to support their entire body and struggle to perform standard dips.
- Using either one or two benches (torso supported on one, next for leg support), place your hands gripping the edge of the bench as you push your butt up and off the bench.
- Slowly lower your torso and butt to a level that your upper arm is parallel to the bench.
- Forcefully press up into the bench to straighten your elbows.
- The one bench variety is easier to do as the legs are recruited in the movement, while the two bench version allows you to load plates on your thighs for resistance.
4) Machine Dip
Watch Video > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPRi_PNgHQo
The easiest of the bunch to do, you are seated with movable dip bars to your sides which have an arm that can load plates.
In effect, your triceps will be able to “push” that amount of weight as you perform the pseudo-dip.
- Sit on the bench, and secure your thighs with the attachment. This is necessary to prevent you from lifting up from the bench when using heavy resistance (close to, or more than your body weight)
- With elbows close to your sides, and palms wrapped around the dip bar handles, press downward until your elbows are straight.
- Aim for 8-10 reps, doing 2-3 sets.
Personally, I find this movement too easy to perform. It scarcely gives the impression that you have achieved sufficient stimulation even from higher reps and more sets.
5) Close Grip Presses
Watch Video > https://youtu.be/wxVRe9pmJdk
Close-grip presses are a great overall tricep builder, so why are we including it here?
The variation we are interested in actually isn’t performed on a flat bench. Rather, it requires a decline bench.
99.9% of athletes have never done a decline bench close grip press.
The angle of this movement shifts the emphasis primarily on the medial and lateral heads since a lot of shoulder joint recruitment is taken out of the mix.
Plus, it is less intensive on the elbows, making it perfect if you deal with issues from time to time.
- Lie on a decline bench with attached pins for a barbell
- Grab the barbell with a narrow grip (use thumb measurements from the center) as you slowly descend the weight to the area of your lower chest.
- Press through your triceps to full extension- you should feel a difference in tension on the lateral head when compared to the flat bench variety
- Do 8-10 reps for 2-3 working sets.
6) Machine Tricep Pressdowns
Watch Video > https://youtu.be/2-LAMcpzODU
A classic exercise since time immemorial, the machine press down is great at hitting the lateral and medial heads.
To get the most of this exercise, pay attention to the tips referenced below:
- Attach the short v-bar attachment to a high pulley station
- Grab the attachment, and bring the handles down to your lower chest area
- Bend slightly at the knees and lean slightly forward
- This creates a greater range of motion and takes stress off of the back when compared to standing perfect upright
- Really squeeze at the bottom of the movement; almost as if you are driving the bar into and past your thighs.
- Feel free to use higher rep ranges in the vicinity of 10-20. Use as a finisher for 2-3 sets.
No one part of the three triceps heads is trained alone and in isolation. You will stimulate other parts of the triceps as well- but this isn’t a bad thing either.
One final note- the triceps aren’t as “big” as the chest, back, or legs.
For this reason, please don’t attempt to do in excess of 2-3 of the movement and likely not more than 6 working sets. Rather, do fewer sets, but more frequently to get the most of the growth spikes.