lateral head tricep exercises

8 Lateral Head Tricep Exercises For Massive Arms

“Tris’ for the guys, curls for the girls”

When serious lifters are looking for signs of someone who truly lifts, they don’t look at the biceps; they look at the triceps.  The triceps make up more than half of your arm mass making them ideal to work on if you’re wanting to fill out your shirt sleeves. 

Still, having a powerful set of triceps shows that you have amazing pushing power and are most likely strong as heck.  In this piece, we’re going to show you the best lateral head tricep exercises.

The Three-Headed Triceps Muscle

tricep muscle anatomy

While one muscle, the triceps are created by three muscle heads.  This is where it gets its name tri (three) ceps (head).  It consists of the medial head, the long head, and the lateral head. The head that sits on the outside of the body (lateral) is called the lateral head.  If you want to really show off your arms, it’s vital to build up this head as it is seen to a larger degree than the other two heads. 

To be clear, you can never fully isolate a single head of the tricep.  However, certain exercises are able to target the heads to a higher degree as a result of the angle and biomechanics of the movement.  Here are the top exercises to blow up your lateral head.

1) Chair/Bench Dips 

via Gfycat

Dips are one of the best bodyweight exercises there are.  Plus, it’s one of the best exercises you can do for overall tricep development, including the lateral head.  However, dips can be difficult for some trainees making chair dips (bench dips) the perfect alternative

In one study, the vertical dips caused significantly more activation of the triceps when compared to three other popular pushing movements.  These are challenging exercises.  Ideally, you want to use full-body dips, however, they can be hard to do.  You can start with variations such as using parallettes.

Equipment Needed

  • Sturdy chair or bench
  • Another chair to raise feet (advanced version)

How To

  1. Place your hands on the chair or bench
  2. Be sure to have the meat of your hand on top of the chair with hands wrapping under.  This will minimize extension in the wrist
  3. Place your legs on the ground
  4. You can adjust the intensity by bringing your feet in or out
  5. An advanced version has you place your feet on another chair

2) Narrow Pushups

Another one of the great bodyweight exercises for the triceps is pushups.  However, in order to get maximal activation, you want to place your hands in a narrow hand position.  This will increase flexion of the elbow and place greater stress on the triceps muscle.

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Equipment Needed

  • Just Your Body

How To Perform

  1. Place your hands on the ground just slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Let your body come down so that your chest is above the triangle
  3. Be sure to keep your elbows tucked towards the body the entire movement
  4. Lower yourself until you ideally hit your chest on your hands.   You can opt to stop a bit higher if needed
  5. Push yourself up into the top push-up position
  6. Throughout the movement, be sure to keep your core tight and your hips straight.  Do not let your hips sag.

3) Swiss Bar Bench Press

The close grip bench press is one of the best compound movements you have to increase the size of your triceps and improve the pushing power of the upper body.  Using a grip that is slightly closer will cause your elbows to come in closer to your body. This causes more flexion of the elbow and places more stress on the triceps.

Equipment Needed

  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

How To Perform

  1. Lay on the bench with your upper back, butt, and feet planted firmly in the ground
  2. You can have a minimal arch in your lower back but this is less pronounced than during a normal bench press
  3. Grab the barbell with your hand’s shoulder-width apart.  Use a pronated grip
  4. Unrack the barbell and bring it over your chest.  This is the starting position
  5. Lower the barbell so that it comes down, or very close, to your chest
  6. Be sure to keep your elbows tucked in close to your body during the entire exercise
  7. Press the bar up and repeat or rack the bar

4) EZ Bar Skull Crushers

EZ Bar Skull Crushers are a classic triceps isolation movement.  They’re used by everybody; bodybuilders, powerlifters, strongman….everybody.   Using an EZ Bar can be much more comfortable for most people as it allows a slightly more neutral grip.  This can take a lot of stress on the wrist and elbow joints.  However, it’s still going to cause significant activation in the triceps and lateral head.

Equipment Needed

  • Bench
  • EZ-Curl Bar

How To Perform

  1. Lay on the bench with feet, head, and back planted
  2. Grab the EZ Bar with a pronated grip
  3. Raise the EZ Bar directly above your head
  4. Allow the EZ Bar to come down towards your head by flexing at the elbow
  5. While the bar is lowering, be sure to keep your elbow in the same position. 
  6. At the lowest position, your elbow should be pointing up
  7. Extend your arms to bring the EZ Bar back to the starting position
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5) Dumbbell Skull Crushers

Dumbbell skull crushers are another great variation to isolate the triceps exercise dumbbells.  It is similar to the skull crushers but stronger.  While skull crushers are more strict in terms of movement, the rolling triceps dumbbell extension allows body movement.  Well, actually body movement is part of the exercise as it allows you to build up momentum so that you can use heavy weight.   These are for more advanced lifters so have at least a year of progressive weight training before you start to incorporate these.

Equipment Needed

  • Bench
  • Dumbbells

How To Perform

  1. Lay on the bench with your feet, back, and head planted
  2. Grab the dumbbells with a neutral handgrip and extend your arms over your head
  3. Keeping the elbows in one place, allow the dumbbells to come back on either side of the head
  4. Once your elbows reach full flexion, extend your elbows back out straight

6) Machine Dips

Machine dips are the machine exercise that mimics the dip.  These aren’t just for those who can’t perform bodyweight dips (but that is definitely a benefit) as you can load these as heavy as you want.  Being that you aren’t needing to stabilize your body, you can theoretically push more weight and grow bigger triceps

Equipment Needed

  • Machine Dip

How To Perform

  1. Adjust the seat height so that the handles are at chest level, or a little lower
  2. Sit down in the seat and place your hands on the handle
  3. Keeping your elbows tucked in, push the handles until your arms reach full extension
  4. Allow the weight to come up slowly

7) Overhead Straight Bar Triceps Extension

There are many overhead exercises you can do for the triceps but the overhead straight bar triceps extensions is a common triceps exercise used to increase the triceps.  It tends to be better suited for most trainees and is easier performed than other types of triceps exercises. 

Equipment Needed

  • Cable machine
  • Straight bar

How To Perform

  1. Stand with feet in a neutral stance
  2. Set the cable so it’s slightly higher than your head
  3. Grab the bar with an overhand position and pull your elbows to your head
  4. Be sure to lean forward
  5. Keeping your elbows still, extend the bar out in front of you
  6. Allow the bar to come back slow and controlled
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8) Overhand Triceps Pushdown

Using an overhand grip for the triceps pushdown is a fantastic exercise for triceps development.  They are very easy to do making them perfect for beginners but can also be a challenging exercise for advanced trainees as well.

Equipment Needed

  • Cable Pulley Machine
  • Straight Bar Attachment

How To Perform 

  1. Stand with feet in a neutral stance
  2. Grab the straight bar shoulder-width apart
  3. The elbows should be right next to the sides of your body.  This is the starting position
  4. Tuck your elbows close to your body.  They should stay here the entire exercise
  5. Push the bar down by extending your arms
  6. At the bottom, let the weight back up slowly

Before You Train Your Triceps Muscle

Using these triceps exercises is going to cause significant gains in size and strength.  However, you need to use proper form and range of motion when performing them.  Using proper form is always important but even more so when trying to hit a specific muscle.  Therefore, use a lighter weight if you need it so that you can really concentrate on the triceps.

That being said, use a few of these in your triceps workout, and you’re sure to see improvements in strength and muscle mass.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I strengthen my triceps with bad elbows?

Many people will experience discomfort in their elbow joint at some point in their lifting career.  However, this doesn’t mean you need to stop lifting as you can simply mitigate the pain with your grip choice.  The best way to take the stress off the elbows is by using a neutral grip.  Doing so will alleviate pressure on the joint.

Do dips hit all three triceps heads?

Yes!  In fact, any exercise that extends the arm will hit all three heads of the triceps.  It’s literally impossible not to.  That being said, dips are one of the best exercises to improve the strength and size of the triceps.  Plus, it’s a bodyweight exercise so you need minimal equipment.

What is the most effective triceps exercise?

There are a lot of really good triceps exercises so it is hard to name a specific one.  Big compound movements like dips, close grip bench press, and push-ups are great at improving strength AND muscle size.  It’s also good to use an isolation exercise.  Exercises such as skull crushers and rope extensions are also great.

Garett Reid

Garett Reid is a sports and performance consultant. He has over 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry and has worked in virtually every field; strength & conditioning coach, gym owner, educator, and consultant. Garett also has extensive experience working in the international sector in China and Thailand. Garett currently has his Masters in Exercise Science and holds his NSCA CSCS and CISSN certification. He will begin work on his Ph.D. this year.

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