When it comes to arm muscles, most individuals concentrate on building biceps because they are primarily on display, but strong triceps are also vitally important.
These muscles are often overlooked by those who regularly exercise but are not heavily into bodybuilding. This is a surprising fact because the triceps contribute to 60 percent of the size of the upper arm.
The triceps should be an important part of your workout program, especially if you want to perform better at other lifts. The long head and lateral heads often get all attention but there’s also a medial head that needs some love!
Let me show how we can work these out with good form in order for them grow like gangbusters (and look great while doing so). So let’s dive into what specific exercises need to be part of your workout program to ensure this muscle gets worked how it deserves.
Table of Contents Show
- Anatomy of the Tricep
- What are the Benefits of Having Strong Triceps?
- What Exercises Work the Medial Head of the Tricep?
- Triceps Workout Program
- What Tricep Exercises Work All 3 Heads?
- Final Thoughts
Anatomy of the Tricep
Tricep muscles are located on the back of the upper arm, and they are mainly used to bend the arm at the elbow. They get their name because they are made up of three heads, and this makes the triceps the biggest of the arm muscles.
These three heads are known by the following names: the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head. As the name suggests, the long head is the biggest and stretches to the shoulder joint. The lateral head is smaller and more compact, while the medial is even smaller, making it the least visible of the three.
However, the lateral head is the strongest tricep head because it has the highest ratio of fast twitch fibers instead of slow twitch muscle fibers. Slow twitch fibers contain more myoglobin which means they can provide their own energy source and sustain force for an extended period.
On the other hand, fast-twitch fibers take a shorter amount of time to reach peak force and can generate higher amounts of force than slow-twitch fibers. However, they fatigue quicker than slow twitch fibers because of this.
Strength training, including bodybuilding and powerlifting, helps increase the recruitment of fast-twitch muscle fibers. But because they use up energy quickly, they need more time to recover. So you may want to think about spacing your tricep workouts through the week to give the lateral head more recovery time.
The medial is positioned at the back of the arm, below the long head, and just above the elbow.
This medial head muscle attaches to the humerus and is important in allowing forearm extension at the elbow, with or without resistance. Every time the arm is bent, the medial muscle is worked, making it vital for elbow stability and general arm function.
Despite its importance, it’s a muscle that is mostly hidden by the long head and lateral muscles. Therefore it can often be left out when exercising because the focus of most arm exercises is on building strong forearms and large biceps.
What are the Benefits of Having Strong Triceps?
Tricep muscles are used during a range of arm movements, such as bending the arm at the elbow, straightening the arms, pulling the arms backward, and moving the shoulders. If you do push-ups or pull-ups, then the triceps are put into action during both of these exercises.
Strong triceps make arm exercises and other activities, such as weight training, a lot easier. Increased tricep strength improves the flexibility and movement of the arms and stabilizes the shoulders. They can also help with pulling and lifting objects and even with sports that involve throwing and catching.
The triceps can also help with a range of upper-body exercises that involve gym equipment. Again, the stronger the triceps, the easier it is to complete these exercises.
What Exercises Work the Medial Head of the Tricep?
The following exercises are essential for making sure the medial head gets the attention it deserves and is properly activated. In order for this activation to occur, it is best for shoulder activation to be at 90, 135, and 180 degrees.
1. Cable Concentration Extension
The cable concentration extension exercise is known as an isolation exercise because it primarily targets the triceps. Therefore, it is ideal for strengthening and toning this set of muscles.
Equipment required: cable machine with a rope attachment
1. Attach a grip handle to a high cable pulley.
2. With your right hand, grip the cable and push down to a kneeling position with your left knee on the floor and your right leg stretched out in front of you with the sole firmly on the ground.
3. Rest the back of your upper right arm onto the inner thigh of the right leg.
4. Pull the cable down until your arm straightens, then slowly bring it back up. Breathe with each completed extension.
5. To alternate, get into the same position, but this time with your right knee on the ground and your left leg bent out in front of you. Place the back of the upper left arm against the inner thigh of the left leg and complete as many extensions as you are comfortable with.
2. Cable Rope Overhead Extension
The cable rope overhead extension targets the triceps with the focus being on the long head. However, this cable rope overhead extension exercise is also good for your core muscles, lower back, and glutes. These all act as stabilizers even though the rope extension is a tricep-specific exercise.
Equipment required: cable machine
1. Attach a rope handle to a high cable pulley machine.
2. Grab the rope with both hands and pull it downwards. While doing so, turn to face away from the machine.
3. Extend your arms with the elbows at head level and each arm bent fully at the elbow. With the palms of the hands facing upwards, pull the rope up until your arms are straight over your head, similar to a full-body stretching position that you would do as a warm-up exercise. Hold this position as it is the starting point of a cable rope overhead extension.
4. Slowly inhale and lower the rope behind your head. Keep the arms straight and parallel to each other, and only bend the arms at the elbow. Lower the rope level to the back of your head and then pull it upwards to the starting position. Exhale when the rope is pushed downwards. Do as many as you feel comfortable, but three sets of ten should suffice with a proper weight.
3. Cable Rope Pushdown
A cable rope push-down works all three tricep muscles. In addition, this easy exercise also activates the obliques, abs, latissimus dorsi, and trapezius muscles.
Equipment required: cable machine with adjustable weights
1. Make sure the cable is up at the top of the machine.
2. Adjust the weights to a level that suits you.
3. Face the machine and grab onto the bottom part of the rope arch with both hands.
4. Push your chest out and stand up straight with your legs together. Bend your arms with your elbows parallel to each other and tucked tightly by your sides. Push the cable straight down to the groin level. Hold the position, then slowly release up until your elbows are bent 90 degrees, and you are back at the starting position. Breathe out on the pushdown and in on the push upwards. You only need to push up to just below chest level.
4. Close Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
A close-grip bench press is a weight-orientated exercise because dumbbells are needed. However, this works the triceps and several other muscles as well, including the chest and shoulder muscles.
Equipment required: bench and dumbbells.
1. Sit at the bottom end of a bench with the dumbbells on your knees.
2. Kick each dumbbell up with your knees and lie on your back on the bench but with your feet still firmly on the ground and apart.
3. Raise your arms straight above you, and position the dumbbells parallel to each other. While keeping your back straight and firmly pressed against the bench, slowly lower the weights down to your chest by bending your arms and keeping your elbows by your side. Breathe out when you push upwards and in when pushing downwards—complete three sets of ten.
5. Diamond Push Up
Diamond push-ups are similar to standard push-ups, but they not only work the triceps but also engage the pecs, deltoids, and core. They can be done both at home and at the gym.
Equipment required: none
1. Get into the standard press-up position on your hands and knees.
2. Place your palms flat on the floor and create a diamond or triangle shape between both hands.
3. Tighten the core and straighten the back as you get into the push-up position, and keep your palms in the diamond shape firmly on the floor but level with your chest. Breathe in as you push down, and breathe out as you push up.
6. Dumbbell Reverse Grip Press
The dumbbell reverse grip press is an excellent exercise for the chest, shoulder muscles, wrists, biceps, and triceps.
Equipment required: bench and dumbbells.
1. Sit on a bench with your feet on the floor and your back and shoulders straight.
2. Hold a dumbbell firmly in each hand and lie flat on the bench. Reverse grip the dumbbells.
3. Push the dumbbells up until your arms straighten. Then bring the dumbbells down to your chest. Repeat this as many times as possible, and don’t forget to inhale and exhale with each completed press.
7. French Press
The primary focus of a french press is on the triceps. It is an overhead exercise, so care should be taken not to hurt the back and shoulder muscles by using heavy weights. Luckily, even light weights are effective in working the triceps.
Equipment required: bar, light weights, and a bench with back support
1. Take a seat on a bench with your bar.
2. Raise the bar over your head with a close grip on the middle of the bar with both your thumbs touching. Keep your core tight and your feet firmly rooted to the ground.
3. Push the bar behind your head until you feel your triceps stretch. The bar shouldn’t go any lower than your ear level.
4. Push back up until you straighten your arms, and repeat ten times. Three sets of ten are enough to work the triceps hard. Each press should be controlled and not fast. Remember to keep your neck pressed against the back support. Keep the elbows facing forwards and locked in at all times.
8. JM Press
JM Blakely invented the JM Press, and it is a tricep-focused bench press exercise. It is more for bodybuilders and powerlifters rather than those who visit gyms for general fitness routines.
Equipment required: weight training bench, bar, and weights
1. Lie down on a bench with your head level with the bar that will be used to complete each press.
2. With a close grip rather than a wide one, remove the bar from the support, keeping your arms straight.
3. Bring the bar down to chin level while keeping your elbows tight and facing slightly outwards. Then push up until your arms straighten.
4 Repeat each press as many times as possible but do not overload the bar. Remember to keep your back flat on the bench during each press.
9. Palm Out Bench Dip
A palm-out bench dip is a simple tricep exercise that requires minimal gym equipment. It is also helpful for engaging shoulder and chest muscles while strengthening all the tricep muscles.
Equipment required: gym bench
1. To start, sit on a bench edge and place your palms out on the bench so that the sides of your palms are in line with the edge. Then, while keeping your upper body straight, walk forward until your backside slides off the bench, but your lower back is still touching the edge.
2. Stand on your heels, and let your arms take all your body weight while keeping your elbows at 90-degree angles during each dip.
3. Lower your body into a semi-sitting position and return to the starting position.
4. Repeat this several times and get as low to the ground as you can, but remember to let your arms and elbows take all the pressure.
10. Reverse Grip Cable Pushdown
The reverse grip cable pushdown has slight variations, but all target the triceps. They can be done using straight or curved bars. A curved bar is best as it helps to reduce the stress inflicted on the elbows during each pushdown. Choosing light weights further decreases the pressure placed on the elbows and wrists. The weights can slowly be increased over time.
Equipment required: bar and cable machine
1. Face the cable machine head-on and grip the bar using an underhand grip on either side, with each hand placed where the bar curves inwards.
2. Keep your elbows slightly in front of your body.
3. Stand straight and then push your body slightly forwards at the waist.
4. Pull the bar down to below waist level until your arms are straightened. Remember to keep your elbows locked in the forward position. Then push up to chest level, and repeat up to ten contractions. Depending on the weights used, four sets of ten pushdowns should be more than adequate to work the triceps adequately.
11. Reverse Grip Floor Press
Another great tricep exercise is the reverse grip floor press, and all the force of this exercise is placed upon the tricep muscles and the upper arm. Keeping the upper arms stationary throughout this exercise does not mean that the forearm muscles are not being pushed and tightened.
Equipment required: bar and weights
1. Lie on the floor, keeping your back, neck, and head straight.
2. Remove the bar with the weights off the support rack using a reverse grip. Make sure you keep your arms wide apart to balance the weight bar.
3. While keeping your elbows parallel to each other and your arms straight, pull the bar downwards until your elbows are at 90 degrees and touching the floor.
4. Repeat the pushing down and pressing up motion of the weight bar several times. Remember to breathe during each press and to push up fully until the arms are straight.
12. Tate Press
The tate press mostly targets the medial tricep head and is one of the simplest medial-head triceps exercises to memorize.
Equipment required: bench and dumbbells
1. Lie down on a bench with your legs apart and soles firmly on the ground. Slightly arch your back and retract your shoulder blades.
2. Try to keep your core tight for the starting position, which is holding the dumbbells close to each other so that they are almost touching and straight up in the air with arms parallel at chest level.
3. Push the dumbbells from a horizontal position into a vertical position by twisting them down to slightly caress your chest. Execute this motion by pushing your elbows outwards. Then return to the starting position.
Triceps Workout Program
When it comes to toning the triceps, there are a lot of different exercises that you can do. But sometimes, it can be hard to know which ones to include in your workout program. Here are a few tips for combining different tricep exercises into a workout that will give you results.
First, choose a few exercises that target the triceps from different angles. This will ensure that you are working all of the muscles in the triceps, and not just one or two. Second, vary the order of the exercises. For example, start with an exercise that uses both arms, then move on to one that uses one arm at a time. This will help to keep your muscles from getting too bored with the same old routine.
Reps: 12-15 with lighter weight
Rest time: 90 seconds
- Cable rope overhead extension
- Cable rope pushdown
- Dumbbell reverse grip press
Reps: 10-12 with moderate weight
Rest time: 60 seconds
- Palms out bench dip
- Close grip dumbbell bench press
- French press
- Reverse grip cable pushdown
Reps: 6-10 with heavy weight
Rest time: 30 seconds
- Diamond push ups
- Cable concentration extension
- JM press
- Tate press
- Reverse grip floor press
What Tricep Exercises Work All 3 Heads?
1. Dumbbell Floor Press
The dumbbell floor press is a quick, simple exercise that engages all tricep heads.
Equipment required: dumbbells
1. Sit on the floor and place a dumbbell on each thigh, then roll back into a lying position but keep your knees bent. Hold each dumbbell with your palms facing outwards.
2. Make sure your feet are flat on the ground and that your back remains firmly on the floor as well. Your head should be straight and your neck relaxed with your head remaining in contact with the floor throughout.
3. Slightly tuck in the elbows and push the dumbbells upwards, keeping your arms straight and parallel to each other.
4. Bring the dumbbells down to the side of the chest and then push them up again. Do this for a predetermined amount of reps.
2. Overhead Tricep Extension
An overhead tricep extension is another comprehensive tricep exercise, but it is crucial to choose a safe weight as it has to be lifted to overhead height.
Equipment required: dumbbell
1. Take a dumbbell and grip one end with palms flat and thumbs locked around the base of the weight.
2. Stand up with your knees slightly bent and your spine in a neutral position. Face forwards and keep your head straight.
3. Pull the dumbbell behind your head to a 90-degree angle but remember to keep your wrists straight. Then bring it back upwards. Breathe in when you push the dumbbell downwards and out when you extend it forward until your arms are straight.
3. Tricep Pulldown
The tricep pulldown is a straightforward tricep exercise that works the lateral head and the other heads of the tricep.
Equipment required: V-shape bar and an adjustable cable machine
1. With your feet together facing the machine and knees slightly bent, arch your back and grip the V- shape bar.
2. Keep your elbows in front of your hips and pull the V-shape bar downwards until your arms straighten. Then release up until your elbows are at 90 degrees.
3. You will know if you have the correct posture because your triceps will do most of the work. Repeat as many pulldowns as you are comfortable with.
Several exercises are ideal for toning, strengthening, and growing the triceps. Not all need extensive gym equipment, and those that do are not overly complicated to complete. Getting the position of each exercise right does take some practice, though. Still, a decent pull on the triceps is usually a good indicator that you are doing the exercises correctly.
It is important to exercise all arm muscles evenly and not ignore those not on show. This helps to bring balance to the arm if all muscles are toned evenly.
The triceps are just as important as the biceps and count for much of the size of the upper arm, and this is why bodybuilders work these muscles extensively.
Even if you are not into bodybuilding, having strong triceps can help with everyday movements that we take for granted, such as bending and stretching the arms.
Suppose you play sports during your leisure time. In that case, strong bicep muscles can aid your performance here as well, especially if your sport of choice involves plenty of throwing and catching, such as basketball and baseball. So get those triceps activated and in shape by trying some or all of the exercises mentioned here!