Many fitness enthusiasts are on a mission to build bigger and stronger arms. While most gym-goers focus on growing their biceps by endlessly doing curls, they are missing out on what the triceps have to offer.
If you want big arms, growing your lateral head tricep muscle is a must.
Afterall, the triceps make up two-thirds of your arm, while the bicep only makes up one-third.
There are numerous tricep exercises to choose from; however, some are better than others, especially if you want to target a certain area of the triceps. Although you cannot directly isolate a specific head, by changing your elbow positioning and grip placement, you can emphasize one more than the other.
In this article, we are going to highlight the best exercises that target the lateral head of the triceps based on safety, efficiency, and effectiveness.
Top 8 Lateral Head Tricep Exercises
- Tricep Pushdowns
- Diamond or Close-Grip Push-Ups
- Tricep Kickbacks
- Close-Grip Bench Press
- Dumbbell Skullcruhers
- Overhead Tricep Extensions
- Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
Below you’ll find some of the best exercises you can do to build bigger and stronger triceps:
Benefits of dips
Assisted, bodyweight or weighted dips are one of the most effective ways to build your upper body, including the triceps, anterior delts, and chest. It’s important to note that depending on the angle of your torso, dips can be used to target your chest or triceps.
The more upright you are, the more your triceps will be engaged. Conversely, the more you lean forward, the more you activate your chest. What’s more, the wider your grip, the less you target your triceps. Since we are discussing exercises that build the lateral head of the triceps, it’s a good idea to perform dips with an upright posture and a shoulder-width grip.
One of the biggest benefits of doing dips is that you can easily modify the exercise to make them easier or harder. If you cannot do a bodyweight dip for more than 5 reps, try using an assisted machine or band. On the flip side, if you can easily do 20 reps with your body weight, add some resistance by wearing a weight vest, weight belt, or holding a dumbbell between your feet.
How to perform dips
- To do this exercise, all you need is tricep dip bars.
- Grab the bars with your palms facing inward and arms fully extended. You can either have your legs straight or you can bend at the knees and cross your legs behind you.
- Before beginning, inhale and tighten your core.
- While maintaining an upright posture, slowly lower yourself by bending at the elbows. It’s important not to let your elbows flare out. Keep them tucked against your sides throughout the entire movement.
- Once your elbows form a 90-degree angle, pause briefly, and exhale while pushing yourself up by extending your arms. You can either lockout your elbows or keep a slight bend in your arms at the top of the rep.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
In the video below, Colossus Fitness demonstrates how to properly perform tricep dips and shares three variations you can try out for optimal results.
If you’re able to comfortably perform tricep, don’t worry. Keep reading or check out our list of the best tricep dip alternatives.
Benefits of tricep pushdowns
Triceps pushdowns are the most popular isolation exercises for the triceps, and it’s particularly effective at targeting the lateral head. They are typically performed with a cable, so there’s constant tension placed on the triceps throughout the entire range of motion.
It’s quite common for gyms to carry 5-10 different cable attachments that can be used to perform this exercise, including ropes, EZ-bars, D-handles, V-bars, and more. It’s a good idea to experiment with a few different attachments to see which one feels best.
Tricep pushdowns are a fairly safe exercise to train to failure, and you don’t need a spotter. They are simple to learn, so even beginners can start building their triceps right away. If your triceps are the limiting factor on some lifts, such as the bench press or overhead press, adding tricep pushdowns to your workout is a great way to strengthen the triceps without taxing other muscles.
How to perform tricep pushdowns
Choose a cable attachment that targets your triceps the best and is most comfortable. While some people perform tricep pushdowns with a supinated or underhand grip, using a neutral or overhand grip will target the lateral head more. In this example, we will be using a straight-bar cable attachment.
- Attach the straight bar to the cable.
- Stand 1-2 steps away from the cable. Face the cable and grab the bar with a shoulder-width pronated grip.
- Bring the bar down until your upper arms are perpendicular to the floor. This position is the starting position. Keep your elbows tucked against your sides throughout the movement.
- Push the handle down by extending your arms at the elbows; your upper arms should remain still.
- As you approach full extension, squeeze your triceps at the bottom of the rep and hold for 1-2 seconds.
- Slowly return back to the starting position by flexing your elbows until you feel a stretch in the triceps.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Watch the video below from Muscle & Strength to see how to perfect your tricep pushdown technique!
Diamond or Close-Grips Push-Ups
Benefits of diamond push-ups
Besides dips, diamond push-ups are the most effective bodyweight exercise for building and strengthening your triceps. They can be performed anywhere since no equipment is required.
Similar to dips, it’s easy to modify the exercise to make it more or less difficult, depending on your experience level. Close-grip push-ups are another variation that targets your triceps. We recommend trying both movements to see which one feels most comfortable to you.
How to perform diamond push-ups
- You can either do this exercise on the bare floor or on an exercise mat if you want some added cushion under your hands.
- Assume a push-up position by getting on all fours. Before extending your legs, position your hand underneath your chest and form a diamond shape by touching your index and thumbs together.
- Once your upper body is in the proper position, extend your legs out and tighten your core to lift your torso up.
- Inhale, then slowly lower yourself down until your upper body touches the floor. Keep your body in a straight line throughout the entire movement.
- At the bottom of the rep, briefly pause, and push up by extending your arms. At the top of the rep, squeeze your triceps.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Scott Herman teaches you how to do diamond push-ups in the video below!
Benefits of tricep kickbacks
Tricep kickbacks are usually performed with cables or dumbbells. Similar to tricep pushdowns, tricep kickbacks are a great way to isolate your triceps. If you perform them with dumbbells, it allows you to work one arm at a time, which will help correct or prevent muscle imbalances.
Tricep kickbacks with cables may be more beneficial because there’s constant tension placed on the triceps. If you don’t have access to cables, dumbbells will work just fine.
How to perform tricep kickbacks
Tricep kickbacks can be performed free-standing, on a bench, with both arms at once, single-arm, and with cables or dumbbells. Try out a few variations to see which one you like most. In the example below, we are outlining how to perform them one arm at a time, with dumbbells and supported by a flat bench.
- Grab a flat bench and pick up a dumbbell with your right hand using a neutral grip (palms facing towards your body).
- Place your left hand and left knee on the bench for support. Your torso should be almost parallel with the floor and your right foot planted on the floor.
- Tighten your core, keep your head and neck straight, and hold the dumbbells by your sides.
- Bend your right arm until it forms a 90-degree angle. Your upper arm should stay in this position throughout the entire movement.
- Inhale, then begin to extend your arm backward until parallel to the floor. Squeeze your triceps at the top of the repetition.
- After a brief pause, slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position by flexing at the elbow.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
To see how to perform dumbbell tricep kickbacks the right way, watch the video below from the Buff Dudes!
Close-Grip Bench Press
Benefits of the close-grip bench press
If you want to add mass to your triceps, there’s nothing better than the close-grip bench press. Out of all of the exercises in this article, the close-grip bench press will place the greatest load on your triceps because you can lift more weight. This characteristic is why many bodybuilders refer to it as a mass builder.
In addition to tricep hypertrophy, the close-grip bench press is commonly performed as an accessory lift to the bench press because it helps improve your lockout performance. When performing a bench press, many lifters fail at the lockout. Adding in a close-grip bench press may help you hit a new personal best on the bench press as well as grow your triceps!
How to perform the close-grip bench press
- To do this exercise, you will need a bench, Olympic barbell, rack, and plates.
- Set up the rack to a height that allows you to easily un-rack and re-rack the barbell.
- Lie down on the bench with your feet flat on the floor. The barbell should be directly above your eyes.
- While keeping your butt on the bench, create an arch in your back by retracting your shoulders and pushing your chest up.
- Grab the barbell with a pronated grip that’s slightly closer than shoulder width.
- Unrack the barbell by extending your arms and moving the barbell away from the rack until it’s directly above the chest.
- Take a deep breath, then begin to lower the barbell to your chest by flexing your arms. Keep your elbows tucked close to the torso to place more tension on the triceps.
- Once the barbell touches the middle of your chest, pause briefly, and breathe out while pushing the barbell up by extending your arms.
- At the top of the rep, squeeze the triceps for 1-2 seconds. For this bench press variation, it’s a good idea to fully extend your arms since that’s the main action of the triceps.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
In the video below, Kris Gethin demonstrates how to correctly execute the close-grip bench press!
Benefits of dumbbell skullcrushers
The skullcrusher is another great mass-building exercise for the triceps. It can be performed with various equipment, including barbells, cambered bars, EZ bars, cables, and dumbbells. In this article, we will highlight the dumbbell variation because it’s one of the few unilateral tricep exercises.
Another unique feature of skullcrushers is that the movement is performed with your shoulder flexed. Additionally, to a lesser extent, the tricep contributes to shoulder extension. If the shoulder is flexed, the tricep can produce maximal force at the elbow. In other words, you can lift more weight and isolate the triceps better.
It’s no surprise that skull-crushers have been a staple tricep exercise for many years.
How to perform dumbbell skullcrushers
- To do this exercise, you will need a pair of dumbbells and a flat bench.
- Grab the dumbbells with a neutral grip and lie down on the bench.
- Extend your arms so that the dumbbells are in line with your eyesight.
- While keeping the elbows tucked, begin to lower the dumbbells towards your head. At the halfway point, extend your upper arms slightly back to allow the dumbbells to go behind your head.
- Once you feel a stretch in the triceps, pause for 1-2 seconds, and extend your arms to drive the dumbbells back to the starting position.
- At the top of the rep, squeeze your triceps. Don’t allow your upper arm to go too far forward at the end of the rep to keep tension on the triceps.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Check out the video below for step-by-step instructions on the dumbbell skullcrusher from Scott Herman.
Overhead Tricep Extensions
Benefits of overhead tricep extensions
The overhead tricep extension offers benefits similar to the skullcrusher because your shoulder is fully flexed. This extension allows your tricep to perform optimally at the shoulder joint. You can also do the overhead tricep extension with dumbbells, EZ-bar, barbell, or cables and seated or standing.
Using a short upright bench that allows you to comfortably perform tricep extensions with a full range of motion is ideal. A short upright bench provides support to the upper body. But if you want to also strengthen your core, consider doing this exercise seated or standing without back support.
How to perform overhead tricep extensions
- Pick up one dumbbell and sit down on a bench. Place the dumbbell on your leg.
- Grab the end of the dumbbell with both hands. Raise the dumbbell overhead with both arms extended.
- Take a deep breath, then lower the dumbbell behind your head by flexing at the elbow. Keep your upper arms tucked close to your head.
- Lower the dumbbell until you feel a stretch in your triceps. Maintain a neutral head, neck, and spine throughout the movement. If you don’t have back support, then make sure to tighten your core.
- After a brief pause at the bottom of the rep, contract your triceps to extend your arms and move the dumbbell back to the starting position. Make sure not to let your elbows flare out as you lift the dumbbell.
- At the top of the rep, squeeze the triceps before repeating for the desired number of reps.
To learn how to perform the overhead tricep extension, watch the video below from Colossus Fitness!
Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
Benefits of the neutral grip dumbbell bench press
To round out our list of the best lateral head tricep exercises, we are going to cover the neutral grip dumbbell bench press. Although this exercise does engage the chest and anterior delt, using a neutral grip and tucking your elbow makes the triceps the primary mover.
The neutral grip bench press allows you to achieve a greater range of motion than a close-grip bench press. Furthermore, you can safely train to failure because it’s easy to drop the dumbbells. This exercise is also a great accessory movement to the standard bench press because it will help increase your lockout strength. For some people, the neutral grip may feel better on the shoulders.
How to perform the neutral grip dumbbell bench press
- To do this exercise, you will need a flat bench and a pair of dumbbells.
- Grab the dumbbells using a neutral grip (palms facing your torso) and sit down on the bench with the dumbbells resting on your thighs.
- While keeping the dumbbells close to your chest, lie back and press the dumbbells up so that your arms are fully extended with your palms facing each other.
- Retract your shoulders, create a small arch in your lower back, and plant your feet on the floor.
- Inhale, begin to lower the dumbbells to your chest, and keep your elbows tucked close to your sides.
- Once the dumbbells touch your chest and you feel a stretch in the triceps, pause for 1-2 seconds.
- Exhale and push the dumbbells up by extending your arms. Squeeze your triceps at the top of each rep.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Watch the video below from Muscle & Strength to see how to perform the neutral-grip dumbbell bench press properly!
Lateral Head Emphasized Tricep Workout
We’ve covered the best exercises you can do to increase the size and strength of the triceps. Now, let’s see how you can add them to your routine to start making some gains!
Below you will find an example lateral head emphasized tricep workout program based on this spreadsheet and Renaissance Periodization’s Tricep Growth Training Tips.
- Week 1 – 8 sets
- Day 1 – Tricep Pushdowns: 2 sets x 12 reps @ 60%, EZ-Bar Skullcrushers: 2 sets x 10 reps @ 70%
- Day 4 – Overhead Dumbbell Triceps 2 sets x 10 reps @ 70%, Tricep Dips (Bodyweight, Weighted, or Assisted) 2 sets x 8 reps @ 75%
- Week 2 – 10 sets
- Day 1 – Tricep Pushdowns: 3 sets x 12 reps @ 60%, EZ-Bar Skullcrushers: 2 sets x 10 reps @ 70%
- Day 4 – Overhead Dumbbell Triceps 3 sets x 10 reps @ 70%, Tricep Dips (Bodyweight, Weighted, or Assisted): 2 sets x 8 reps @ 75%
- Week 3 – 12 sets
- Day 1 – Tricep Pushdowns: 3 sets x 12 reps @ 60%, EZ-Bar Skullcrushers: 3 sets x 10 reps @ 70%
- Day 4 – Overhead Dumbbell Triceps 3 sets x 10 reps @ 70%, Tricep Dips (Bodyweight, Weighted, or Assisted): 3 sets x 8 reps @ 75%
- Week 4 – 14 sets
- Day 1 – Tricep Pushdowns: 4 sets x 12 reps @ 60%, EZ-Bar Skullcrushers: 3 sets x 10 reps @ 70%
- Day 4 – Overhead Dumbbell Triceps 4 sets x 10 reps @ 70%, Tricep Dips (Bodyweight, Weighted, or Assisted): 3 sets x 8 reps @ 75%
- Week 5 – 4 sets (deload)
- Day 1 – Tricep Pushdowns: 1 set x 12 reps @ 60%, EZ-Bar Skullcrushers: 1 set x 10 reps @ 70%
- Day 4 – Overhead Dumbbell Triceps 1 set x 10 reps @ 70%, Tricep Dips (Bodyweight, Weighted, or Assisted): 1 set x 8 reps @ 75%
The tricep gets its name from the number of heads it has, which is three. The tricep includes the lateral head, medial head, and long head.
Based on anatomical position (where your palms are facing forward as you stand up straight), the lateral head is located on the outside of the arm. Whereas the medial head is more towards the middle of the arm, and the long head is closest to the body. The lateral head is the one that stands out the most when you flex your triceps.
The long head is the muscle of the triceps that crosses the shoulder and elbow joint, which is why the tricep partially contributes to shoulder extensions. Each tricep head contributes to elbow extension, so any exercise that consists of that will target the tricep, including the bench press and shoulder press.
If you regularly do pressing movements, the tricep will get worked fairly heavily. However, if you want to add even more size to your arms, then adding more tricep exercises is a good idea. Although you can’t isolate a single head of the triceps, you can emphasize one more than the other by changing your grip and elbow placement.
To learn more about tricep anatomy, watch this short video!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you isolate the lateral head of the triceps?
It’s impossible to isolate a specific head of the triceps, including the lateral head. If you notice that the lateral head of your triceps is lacking, try using exercises that target the lateral head the most. Choose exercises where your elbows are positioned at your sides and use an overhand grip, such as tricep pushdowns and dips.
How often should you train the triceps?
The optimal training frequency for your triceps will largely depend on your recovery capabilities and how many sets you are performing each week. Additionally, if you’re already doing several pressing movements, such as bench press and shoulder press, you may not need as much direct tricep work.
If tricep hypertrophy is your priority, training them 2-4 times per week is optimal according to Renaissance Periodization. As you increase your training volume, you should also consider increasing the training frequency to split up that volume appropriately across the week.
What intensity should the triceps be trained?
In general, the triceps will respond best to training with weights between 35% to 80% range of your 1 rep max. For optimal results, it’s a good idea to perform roughly half of your tricep training in the 70-80% intensity range and the other half below 70% intensity.
What’s the ideal rep range to train the triceps?
The most optimal rep range to train the triceps is between 10-20 reps. At least half of your direct tricep work should be in that rep range, and the other half can be split up between the 20-30 rep range and 6-10 rep range.
Do the triceps need to be trained directly?
The triceps are engaged in a number of compound exercises, including all vertical and horizontal pressing movements. Therefore, some would argue that you don’t need to train the triceps directly.
However, the triceps are often a limiting factor when it comes to pressing strength because most lifters fail during the lockout portion of the lift. Not only will direct tricep work improve the strength of the triceps, but it will also help increase their size and shape.
If you want to maximize your arm development, it’s wise to do direct tricep training.
If you are after bigger and stronger arms, then it’s important to train the triceps just as much as you train the biceps. For overall tricep development, it’s a good idea to use exercises that place your elbows in various positions to target all three heads of the triceps.
For the lateral head, it’s ideal to do exercises with an overhand grip that positions your elbows at the sides of your body. For the long head, overhead exercises seem to be the best since they also cross the shoulder joint. Lastly, the medial head seems to respond best to exercises that use an underhand grip where your elbows are at the sides of your body.
Adding in more tricep work will have major carry over to other lifts, including dips, overhead presses, push-ups, and bench presses. Furthermore, having stronger triceps may keep your elbows and shoulders strong, stable, and healthy.
- Israetel, Mike. Jan. 2020, “Tricep (Triceps) Growth Training Tips.” Renaissance Periodization. https://rpstrength.com/triceps-hypertrophy-training-tips/
Other Muscle Groups Exercises
If you enjoyed this post, check out our other collections of the best exercises for each muscle group below.