Don’t get carried away thinking it’s just biceps that make for bigger more defined arms. When it comes to arms, the greatest portion of the upper arm is the triceps. You might not be able to see them, but the triceps actually make up around two-thirds of your upper arm! So, if you’re looking to fill out those sleeves, with well-developed arms, it’s important to activate all three tricep heads.
The anatomy of the triceps
The triceps are located at the back of the humerus, between your elbow and shoulder, and consist of three muscle heads — long, medial and lateral.
The lateral head of the triceps is found on the outer side of the humerus. This is the horseshoe shape that shows on the upper part of the back of your arm.
The medial head of the triceps is found in the middle of the back portion of the upper arm. Originating from the humerus and finishing at the elbow it lays opposite the long head.
The long head of the triceps is the largest part of your triceps and is found running down the back of your arm. The long head is different from the medial and lateral heads, as it crosses the shoulder joint and assists in shoulder extension.
While it's important to know where each is located on your arm, it's vital you know how best to target and each of the tricep heads. We're going to focus primarily on the long head, which makes up most of the mass in your triceps.
Exercises for the long-head
Check out these exercises you'll need to target it...
1. Overhead Dumbbell Extension
For this exercise, you'll be using both hands and one dumbbell. It can be done standing, sitting or lying down and using incline/declines — it's so versatile. You can even use barbells or an EZ-bar too.
It's important to choose a weight that you're comfortable with so you can use the full range of movement, to work the triceps correctly. So, don't ego lift. Struggling with a weight that’s too heavy will disrupt your form and potentially cause an injury.
- Take a dumbbell and place each hand on either side of the plate.
- Bring the weight to your upper chest and press it up above your head.
- Lower the weight behind your head, bending your elbow as far as you feel comfortable.
- Press the weight back up, ensuring your elbows don't flare out to the side.
- Repeat for your set.
2. EZ Bar Overhead Tricep Extension
The EZ bar tricep extension is one where we can really get a good pump! You can stand, sit, or lie down for this exercise, hold the e-z bar using a pronated grip (palms facing forward) with your hands closer than shoulder-width apart.
- Press the bar above your head with full extension, make sure your elbow stays in and not flared out to the side.
- Keep your arms close to your head and slowly lower the bar behind your head until your forearms and upper arms (bicep) touch one another.
- Only your forearm should be moving here, the upper arm remains still.
- Once your forearm touches your bicep extend the weight back up into the starting position squeezing the muscle.
- Repeat for your set.
3. Overhead Rope Tricep Extension
This is another great exercise which hits the long head. You’ll need a rope pulley and the cable cross over machine, set on the lowest setting, directly behind you.
- Take the rope and extend it up above your head.
- Extend the rope up in a straight line
- Keep your elbows closed and flare the triceps out at the top, this will activate the muscle even more.
4. Tricep kickbacks
Tricep kickback defiantly should not be overlooked, this is one that really hits the long head well. Take 2 lightweight dumbbells, ones that you can hit 10-12 reps with and hold them in each hand.
- Keep your palms facing towards each other and bent your knees just a little.
- Keep your spine straight and hinge forward at your waist, your chest should be almost parallel to the floor.
- Make sure your arms stay close to your body, almost tucked into your sides.
- Extend the arms back by straightening your elbows and squeeze the tricep upon extension and pause for a second
- Make sure your upper arms are still and don’t drop down, we are only moving the forearms.
- Bring your arms back to the starting position.
Not activating all three tricep heads
The most common mistake is not hitting all three heads during your workout. Remember, training the triceps will really enhance the look of your arms. And, who doesn’t want bigger arms? One exercise per head will be enough and should see some good results.
Form is so important as it’s easy to maneuver your body into different positions and recruit more muscles so take the focus on the triceps. Arching your back is one of the common ones.
Take Home Message
Don’t think it's all about biceps to get good arms, just doing curls won’t burst your arms out of your t-shirt. Your range of motion is also a factor in isolating the back of your arm. Remember to target the long head while it is stretched.
When exercising the triceps, you need to bear in mind muscle fatigue and see that chest and shoulders exercise days do not fall the day before on your weekly plan so that your triceps are at their best.
Many people incorporate tricep workouts into shoulders or chest days, but it might be time for you to consider arms only day so that they aren’t worn out when focusing on other muscle groups. You can mix it up by changing the rep ranges, but I find reps over 10 get a great mind-muscle connection and pump. Training twice per week is more than enough for your triceps, so don’t neglect them and focus solely on biceps!
Plus, stronger triceps will help improve your bench press. And, who doesn’t want that?