Building the lateral head triceps makes your upper arm look wider and gives you a thicker appearance – rapidly making you look bigger.
Today we’re looking at the best lateral head tricep exercises with [x] of our favorites from weight lifting to bodyweight exercise so you can get bigger triceps anywhere!
Let’s get into how the triceps brachii work and what you need to get them bigger in your workout routine.
Lateral Head Anatomy: How do the triceps work?
The triceps brachii – the triceps as you know them normally – are the main extensor of the elbow joint. There are 3 heads: lateral head, medial head, and long head. The medial and lateral heads are the ones on the side that are always used, while the long head is connected across both the elbow and shoulder joint.
This is important because isolation exercises for the tricep depend on the position of both the elbow and the shoulder. Changes to either – or both – change what you’re focusing on, and can be used to change your focus and improve different aspects of each muscle group.
Triceps exercises involve keeping the elbows tucked and extending the elbow like a hinge. This is the main part of upper body push exercises, too, which make them a perfect contributing exercise to performance in things like the bench press or overhead press – compound exercises.
The role of the lateral head in the elbow joints
The specific action of the lateral head of the tricep is important for elbow extension, obviously, but specifically in the end portion. Elbow extension at lockout in exercises like the bench press and overhead press are key to building bigger lateral heads of the triceps.
This means you want to spend more time extending the elbow with the elbows tucked. This is key for keeping shoulder width relatively narrow which will improve the focus on the lateral head of the tricep and reduce conflation with the shoulders or chest, for example.
You want to combine these kinds of exercises with slow, patient, higher-rep exercises that focus on end-range tricep extension to build the lateral head. Exercises like cable tricep pushdowns – an isotonic exercise – are perfect for building the triceps.
The mechanism: How do lateral head tricep exercises work?
During exercise, the lateral head of the tricep is always working in both elbow extension and in the elbow flexion that puts it under eccentric load. Then, when the elbows are locked or locking at normal shoulder width, the lateral head is working harder.
This is more important for non extended shoulders – unlike the long head, which is best during overhead triceps extensions and similar. The lateral head works better in the bench press or cable pushdown, where the arms are lower relative to the body and the elbows tucked.
So for lateral head tricep exercises, we’re looking for lower arms, more focus on extending outwards from internal or neutral shoulders, and closer shoulder width. This makes it a simple choice for some of the most popular triceps exercises – both with weights, cable machines, or resistance bands.
Easy enough, but how do you get the best results from lateral head triceps exercises?
Putting your lateral head tricep exercises to work: priorities and tricep workout structure
You can’t just hit tricep exercises that isolate the lateral head. You want to build big triceps overall and this means loading the whole system with at least one big elbow extension exercise first.
Heavy compound exercises let you hit the whole tricep with huge loads to ‘get the most’ from your muscles. this lets you focus on the high-force fast-twitch muscle fibres immediately, which also pre-fatigues them and gives you access to more effective ‘stimulating reps’ earlier on in a set when you’re using lateral head triceps exercises.
This means your sessions should look something like this:
- A lighter weight exercise for stretching and activating the whole tricep – like slow, paused overhead tricep extensions
- A heavy compound exercise like the close grip bench press with lots of weight for fewer reps
- Amid-level exercsie for around 8-15 reps to really pump the glycolytic system and overload the tricep muscles
- 1-3 Isolation lateral head exercises to build up the specific muscles on top of the general tricep exercises to work on your weaknesses and priorities
This allows you to hit the muscle one system at a time and never leave any effective work ‘on the table’. These allow you to get maximum mechanical tension with heavy weights (2 and 3) and then metabolic change to spur more wet-weight growth and muscle gains (3 and 4).
What do we look for in the best lateral head tricep exercises?
There are a few things that make the best triceps exercises – and we’pre going to let you in on them. We’re going to show you some of our favourite choices but you can use these principles to find – or build – your own tricep workout routine.
Factors in the best tricep exercises for lateral head muscle mass:
- Length: longer exercises are generally better for building muscle, especially if they stretch the muscle in the end ranges. Use at least some full-range exercises.
- Ability to pump the end: a good end-range pump is a perfect way to activate the lateral head and isolate it for better upper arms.
- Load style: loading with elastic resistance, free weights, isotonic cable resistance, and others are all important. Variety can break plateaus and help you move forwards.
- Movement type: use different types of exercise with different isometric hold options, heavy slow-eccentrics (2-up, 1-down exercises like seated overhead press on a smith machine), and ‘normal’ exercises.
- Unilaterals: using one-arm tricep exercises is perfect for strengthening the lateral head and building more control around the elbow joint. Dumbbell bench press is a perfect example, especially incline variations with the elbows tucked – or single arm versions!
- Speed/Power: using chest throw passes with a med ball is a great way to strengthen the whole tricep and specifically the fast-twitch muscle fibres of the lateral head – especially at the start of a workout or in a ‘finisher’ circuit, contrasted with slower pump exercises.
If you can combine these and keep them in mind, they’re going to let you get the best from your tricep exercise routine. Individually, doing any of these things well can be a perfect way to get more results from less time – and we’ll look at how these apply in the best lateral head triceps exercises…
The best lateral head triceps exercises
The best lateral head tricep exercises are down to what you need at the time. These are just the best lateral head tricep exercises for most people most of the time. You can get a great tricep workout just using these, and being smart about how you use them!
Close grip bench press
The close grip bench press uses all the best benefits of the bench press, but with the shoulder width grip that emphasizes the elbow extension from the lateral head. This makes it one of the best lateral head triceps exercises, since it has a long range, heavy loading, and perfectly adapts to the way the lateral head controls the elbow.
The 1 and a quarter rep scheme for the close grip bench press is one of the best lateral head triceps exercises. You can use this as your heavy or moderate weight exercise for a tricep workout, and it’s going to be perfect to smoke the whole tricep and isolate the lateral head.
The perfect option? Maybe! The close grip bench press is also perfect for contrast training, with the med ball chest throw to get massive upper arms that perform well – as well as looking good!
Narrow Grip bench press
The narrow grip bench press is like the close grip bench press – but closer. It’s a super narrow grip that emphasizes the triceps and cuts out the shoulders and chest completely to really focus in on elbow extension and has the neutral-to-internally rotated shoulder position that the lateral head of the tricep really responds well to.
This is one of the best options for lighter bench press training for the triceps and offers a lighter version than the close grip bench press. We love this in the middle of a workout or at the end, supersetted with other types of lateral head triceps exercises as a pump finisher.
Tricep Dips: Length for the shoulder and elbow joints
We think chest dips are better than tricep dips in general, but the tricep dip is a perfect choice for hgeavy bodyweight exercise for the lateral head. It plays the same kind of role as the close grip bench press, with a mildly internally rotated or neutral shoulder position, heavy loads, and perfect at the start of a workout.
It’s all elbow extension, the elbows tucked to emphasise the triceps, and as much weight as you can add to your body with a dip belt. The result? A simple exercise that loads the muscle heavily in eccentric and concentric phases with a beautiful stimulus and a disgusting tricep pump.
Cable Tricep Pushdowns: Lateral Head Isolation Exercise
Tricep pushdowns can do all sorts of things, focusing on lateral head tricep development, the long head, or the medial head – depending on how you set them up. This makes them the perfect option in your toolkit to develop, with a massive role in lateral head tricep building.
They’re perfect for the upper arm, however you do them. We particularly like the overhand grip, on a triceps rope, flaring the handles out while keeping the elbows tucked.
This is classic bodybuilding tricep pushdowns, but prevents compensating in the elbow and can use the same “1 + 1/4” rep scheme as the close grip bench press.
The result will be both an excellent total tricep exercise and a fantastic lighter choice for high reps to isolate and build the lateral head of the tricep.
Single Arm Reverse Grip Cable Pushdown
This is another ‘small ‘exercise that isolates the triceps very closely. It’s a simple but effective option that forces you to stablise the elbow directly. Keeping your elbows tucked is part of the challenge, and this is an exercise where it pays off in the muscle growth.
The medial head has to work extra hard in the single arm variation – producing more results. This is perfect for combining with 2-arm exercises to hit your tricep from every angle.
You can throw this at the end of your upper body session to get a great pump. It’s also perfect for any upper arm workout that supersets bicep and tricep exercises together!
The diamond push up is one of the best options for bodyweight training. The whole tricep is developed in the narrow grip push up. The starting position uses a narrow position to emphasize the hinge of the elbow, instead of the chest or shoulders.
This helps you directly stimulate the triceps without shifting the load off to other, stronger muscles. This is also what makes diamond push-ups a more challenging exercise for beginners!
If you’ve got enough strength to use diamond push-ups, you can get tons of results. If not? Try incline diamond push-ups for the same benefits, without as much of a challenge to get started. This develops all triceps heads, but the odd elbow angle is perfect for the medial triceps, in particular.
Lying Dumbbell Skull Crushers
Dumbbells make this a perfect choice for pushing your stabilizing medial heads to work harder. The lying position lets you lengthen the tricep to the max, and the slightly-overhead position with elbows tucked to your sides makes it even more medial head dominant.
This is a perfect choice for all-purpose tricep building but is most useful in the medial head, where it builds length, strength, and control. These are perfect for the end of a workout or tricep workout supersets, where they are long but light – an important type of exercise.
You can also use these to prime your triceps if used with light weights before heavier movements. It’s an excellent exercise to feel the medial head tricep!
These are a simple options that lets you perform tricep dips when less experienced or when more fatigued.
They’re just a less challenging exercise than the normal tricep dip on bars, but with all the same fantastic training effects that make dips so good. The length and constant loading are perfect for the medial head and its lock-out role.
Bench dips are easy to perform anywhere, requiring only your own body weight and a raised surface to place your hands on. You can scale them by either adding weight to your body or raising the feet to put more weight through your upper arm.
Focus on bending and extending the elbows – instead of dropping the chest through the arms. This emphasizes the upper arm mass and stops you from compensating into your chest and delts.
Fitting these lateral head tricep exercises into your triceps workout routine
Remember that you’re going to need to fit lateral head tricep exercises into a complete exercise routine. Here’s one example of a tricep-focused upper body ‘push’ day that can be used in push/pull, full body, or routines easily and with great results:
- 2 sets of 10 slow, light overhead tricep extensions to warm up the triceps
- 3 sets of 8 close grip bench press with 1 rep ‘in the tank’ (heavy!)
- 2 sets of 15-20 Cable tricep pushdowns on the triceps rope
- 3 supersets of 10 med ball chest throw straight into 10 dumbbell bench press
For a full-body workout, you just need to squat first, do your heavy bench press, then perform a lighter Romanian deadlift, face pulls, and core after the lighter triceps exercises. This is an easy scheme and you can complete it in 20-30 minutes if you’re willing to really push the pace and take a small reduction in weight!
Medial Head Triceps FAQ
Can you isolate the three triceps heads?
Yes – some workouts can be designed to hit the different heads of the tricep. A triceps workout can include any or all of these, and variety can be a great way to add more medial head mass training to your workouts.
Consider using a different bar – ez bar and straight bar activation are different. Try different exercises. Change your grip position – like using an overhand grip, reverse grip, or narrowing your grip during a push-up (for example).
The best triceps exercises can be adapted to hit the three heads and probably trains the whole upper arm too. Each tricep head can be emphasized, but any triceps workout will build the whole muscle group!
How do I train the medial head of the triceps?
You train the medial head of the triceps any time that you’re actually using the triceps. They’re almost always working, and they have a secondary role in keeping the elbows tucked while hinging. This is perfect for training the medial head.
You want to train the medial head with different types of loading. This means at least some heavy tricep push exercises like the reverse grip bench press or tricep dip. You also want to include some smaller exercises that dial into the specific functions like the reverse grip cable pushdown or overhand grip variation.
Mixing ‘big’ and ‘small’ exercises lets you train from the heaviest to the lightest and the fewest reps to the most reps. This is the natural development of fatigue and lets you squeeze out the most results for the medial head tricep!
What exercises train the medial head of the tricep?
Any exercise that trains the extension of the elbow will develop the medial head of the tricep. However, the best lateral triceps exercises involve keeping the elbows tucked and a long range of elbow tracking.
Exercises like the JM press and the reverse grip bench press are perfect examples. Others using bodyweight include the diamond push-up and bench dips. These lengthen and shorten the tricep at full range.
A tricep workout needs to mix different kinds of tricep exercises, and you should also have isometric holds or paused reps. These should involve squeezing the triceps at the end range to really improve the performance of this stabiliser muscle in locking the elbow joint!
Can I perform medial head triceps exercises without weights?
Yes – you can build the medial head of the tricep with bodyweight exercises and other types of home training. These include bodyweight exercise, resistance bands, gymnastic rings, or other options. There are options for getting bigger and stronger upper arms no matter what you have access to!
In fact, the triceps are the easiest muscle to develop with body weight. even simple things like push-ups are a great way to build triceps at home. If you have enough space to move, you can build bigger triceps.
The exercises we’ve listed above are the best medial triceps exercises and they include lots of bodyweight exercises. You can experiment with your own options and variations, but these are the most important exercises to start with. You’ll get a great feel for developing the medial head and the mind-muscle connection required for the best results!
The lateral head of the tricep is an important area to build your upper arm and make those upper arms look thick and strong. They’re also a key player in many of the most important triceps exercises and this makes them perfect for building functional strength and great lifts!
Focus on these best lateral triceps exercises – and putting them in the mix with your normal upper body strength exercises. Smart sequences like those above give you more reasults in less time, saving you effort and making sure that every rep contributes to bigger upper arm muscles, specifically lateral head tricep muscle mass!
This isn’t the whole guide to building triceps but – combined with our guide to the medial head – it’s a great place to start and helps you get more from your tricep exercise!
- Bodyweight Tricep Exercises
- Isometric Tricep Exercises
- Lateral Head Tricep Exercises
- Medial Head Tricep Exercises
- Tricep Pushdown Alternatives
- TRX Tricep Exercises
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