Big biceps look great, but if you want amazing arms, they can’t be your only focus. Your triceps are just as important! Here are some of the best triceps exercises that emphasize the lateral or outer head of this critical muscle.
Take a look at many bodybuilders’ arm workouts, and you’ll see they are heavily weighted toward biceps exercises. This is hardly surprising given the appeal of big biceps. In fact, this muscle is probably the most well-known in the human body. Ask a non-exerciser to name a muscle, and they’ll probably say “biceps.”
Ironically, it’s the triceps that make up more of your upper arm mass. The triceps account for about 60 percent of your arm size. This means they deserve at least as much attention as your biceps, and smart bodybuilders should do MORE training for their triceps than their biceps.
Triceps Anatomy 101
Your triceps are located on the back of your upper arm. Their full name is triceps brachii, which means three-headed arm muscle. The triceps have three different origins and one insertion point, which creates the horseshoe shape of this muscle. While all three heads work together, it is possible to emphasize one head of the triceps at a time by choosing specific exercises.
The primary function of the triceps is the extension of your elbow joint. This means it straightens your arm. The secondary function is the extension of your shoulder joint, which means the triceps help push your upper arm backward.
The three heads of the triceps are:
The lateral triceps head adds a lot to the appearance of your upper arm. That’s because it’s visible from both the back and the side. When well-developed, it helps to give your upper arm that horseshoe shape, which is so appealing.
So, while all three triceps heads are important for arm size and strength, emphasizing the lateral head will give your arms an even more pleasing shape. It’s really worth spending some extra time on this part of your arms.
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The Best Lateral Head Triceps Exercises
All triceps exercises involve your triceps’ lateral head, but some are better than others for emphasizing this muscle. Here are ten of the best exercises for your lateral triceps.
According to a study by the American Council on Exercise, this is one of the best lateral head triceps exercises you can do (1). Best of all, it doesn’t require any equipment, so it’s ideal for gym-goers and home exercisers alike.
Also known as diamond push-ups, this exercise can be hard on your wrists and elbows, so take care if you have any joint issues. But, if you want to preferentially target the outer head of your triceps, this is the exercise to do it.
A lot of people make a real mess of this exercise! They use too much weight, swing the weight up instead of keeping their muscles under constant tension, and curl the weight forward before extending it backward. Needless to say, all these mistakes make this move a whole lot less effective.
But, done with moderate weights and strict form, this is another of the best lateral head triceps exercises. So, check your ego, use a little less weight, and concentrate on keeping your triceps under constant tension. You can do this exercise with dumbbells or cables as preferred.
Lots of bodybuilders do parallel bar dips as part of their chest workouts. And while dips DO work your pecs, they’re also a great triceps exercise that’s especially good for adding size and thickness to the lateral head.
Yes, they ARE a challenging exercise, as you’re going to have to lift your body weight using just your arms. But, if you’ve got the stones, you’ll efforts will be rewarded!
Take care when doing dips as they can be hard on your shoulders. If you’ve got joint issues, avoid descending too deep and give this exercise a miss if you find that it hurts your shoulders. Make this exercise harder by wearing a dipping belt.
4. Bench dips
Like parallel dips, this exercise is a great lateral head triceps move. But, for some exercises, it’s a better choice because you don’t need to lift your entire body weight. This means it’s suitable for beginners and those exercisers who are not yet strong enough to do regular dips.
On the downside, this move can be even harder on your shoulders than parallel dips. Avoid letting your hips drift too far in front of your hands to minimize joint stress, and don’t descend too far either.
If this exercise DOES bother your shoulders, skip it entirely as there are plenty of other exercises you can do that target the lateral head of your triceps.
Most bodybuilders view this exercise as a triceps-building staple. The good news is that, if you’re doing this exercise, you’re already doing one of the best lateral triceps exercises around.
Make this exercise even more effective by using a rope or V-handle and keeping your upper arms close to your body. Don’t use so much weight that you have to use your body weight to push the bar down. This exercise works best when done using light to moderate weights and medium to high reps. It’s also ideal for drop-sets.
6. Overhead triceps extensions
Some people find this exercise hard to do correctly. That’s because to do it, you need very good shoulder mobility, and that’s something a lot of bodybuilders just don’t have. But, if you can do this exercise the right way, it will deliver a great triceps workout that emphasizes the lateral head.
You can do this exercise using a single dumbbell, barbell, EZ bar, or cables. You may also find it more comfortable if you do it seated. Facing the wrong way around on a preacher bench is probably the best place to do this exercise as it will give you some welcome back support without reducing your range of motion.
But, if you can’t keep your upper arms vertical and close to your ears while doing this exercise, you don’t have the mobility to do this exercise properly and should choose one of the other exercises in this article.
7. Close grip bench press
A lot of triceps exercises are isolation moves. That means they involve movement at just one joint. Isolation exercises are not usually suitable for lifting heavyweights. But, if you want to pack on serious muscle mass, heavyweights can really help.
Along with parallel bar dips, close grip bench presses are probably the best exercise for training your triceps with heavyweights. But, unlike dips, they’re usually easier on the shoulders.
Close grip bench presses are also a fantastic bench press assistance exercise, which is why they’re popular with powerlifters as well as bodybuilders.
Because of the risk of getting pinned under a heavy barbell, you should do this exercise with a spotter who can help you if you get into trouble.
Finally, do not do this exercise with your hands too close together. Your pinkies don’t need to be touching. A slightly narrower than shoulder-width grip will give you the triceps workout you want, without hurting your wrists or elbows.
8. Dumbbell floor presses
The dumbbell floor press is perfect for home exercisers as you don’t need a bench to do it. Armed with nothing more than dumbbells, you can do this exercise in relative safety.
Can’t finish a rep? No problem! Just lower the weights out and down to the floor. While you CAN do floor presses with a barbell, they’re arguably safer with dumbbells, and, because you can maintain a neutral grip, the dumbbell version is potentially better for your lateral triceps head too.
- Lie on the floor with a dumbbell in each hand, held over your shoulders. Your palms should be facing inward in a neutral grip. Bend your legs and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Pull your shoulders down and back and brace your abs.
- Bend your arms and lower the weights down until your elbows lightly touch the floor. Keep your elbows close to your sides to maximize lateral triceps activation.
- Drive the weights back up and then repeat. Do not lock your elbows at the top of each rep. This takes the stress off your muscles and puts it on your joints.
9. Dumbbell squeeze press
This unusual chest exercise is also a superb lateral triceps exercise. There is no need to go too heavy on this move; the benefits come from pushing the weights together as hard as you can. This creates lots of muscle-building tension. You’ll find this exercise easier if you use hex-shaped dumbbells, but you can do it with regular round dumbbells too.
10. Medicine ball overhead throw
This is a fun way to end any triceps workout. Most triceps exercises need to be done slowly and with control to be effective. But, with this move, you need to work explosively, which provides a welcome change of pace. Grab 8-12 lbs. medicine ball and crank out the reps until you get a great pump.
- Stand a few feet away from a strong wall. Hold a medicine ball in your hands and adopt a staggered stance for balance.
- Raise the ball and hold it behind your head, biceps close to your ears.
- Extend your arms and hurl the ball at the wall in front of you. Use all your strength! Catch it as it rebounds and repeat.
Important Lateral Head Triceps Training Tips
Get the most from these exercises and your triceps workouts with these helpful tips!
Warm-up your elbows– isolation exercises like triceps pushdowns, kickbacks, and overhead extensions can be hard on your elbows. Prepare your joints by doing a few light sets of your chosen triceps exercises before going too heavy and hard. Elbow pain can be hard to treat, and a few minutes of warming up may prevent it.
Prioritize your triceps training– if your triceps are lagging behind your biceps in terms of size and strength, you need to prioritize them. Train them first, when your energy is highest, and consider adding an extra triceps workout to your weekly training schedule.
Use a range of exercises and equipment– while it’s normal to have a favorite triceps exercise, if you use the same move over and over, you’ll soon get into a workout rut. Keep your training fresh and interesting by using lots of different exercises and types of equipment. There are ten exercises in this article, so you should have no problem mixing things up to make sure your workouts stay productive.
Use training systems– while training to failure is a good way to trigger muscle growth, it’s sometimes useful to go beyond failure to build a stubborn muscle like your triceps. Use a training system to raise the intensity of your workout and trigger new muscle growth.
Remember that recovery is just as important as training– intense training breaks your muscles down so that they grow back bigger and stronger than before. This only happens while you rest. Make sure you pay as much attention to recovery as you do working out. Otherwise, your progress will soon stall, and you may even go backward!
Best Lateral Head Triceps Exercises: Wrapping Up
Well-developed triceps will add a lot to the size and shape of your arms, and that goes double for the lateral triceps. Don’t neglect this part of your arms – hit it hard with the best lateral triceps exercises. Remember that every triceps exercise works all three heads, but it’s also possible to emphasize one at a time. Use these exercises to give your triceps the shape and width they need to look their best!
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