Best Science Based Triceps Exercises For All 3 Heads

Best Triceps Exercises For All 3 Heads
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The fitness fever is all over and scrolling through Instagram watching passionate people build up is simply amazing. Having beautifully sculpted arms will make a short dressy top look even more gorgeous and sexy. And that is the power of fitness, it makes you look confident and feel healthy and happy. Training harder and longer can turn out to be good but this tactic could only work to a certain extent after which your results might actually start to diminish. The trick to building up well and right is to dedicate your workouts towards particular areas of improvement to see good results. This requires understanding the areas of problem and shifting your focus and resources towards building up the same. One such area of interest should be your triceps. The triceps, unlike common knowledge, isn’t just one but a combination of three heads that need individual attention. Here are the best exercises that provide individual attention to the three heads of your triceps to improve.

The triceps region has three heads into which the muscle is split into. The muscle connects between the elbow and the shoulder joint and contributes to elbow extension and that of the shoulders. The long head lies on the back of your arm and is the largest part of the three sections and plays an important role in determining the way your muscle will look.
There are varying opinions about the right way to train the triceps. But in general, training your arms individually which focus on the tricep movement through exercises such as bench press has shown great results. Basic training with heavy barbell exercises can be a great way to start training your triceps muscles. Bench and overhead press are some of the best exercises to resort to during these training. Also, barbell exercises have a better effect in developing the triceps area which is why they are considered better than the dumbbell exercise version of the same. While basic training can help in the development, heavy compound exercises are the best way to add strength and definition to the tricep area. And as a weightlifter, the primary focus should always be about enhancing the strength of your body overall before you carve them the way you want.

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Best Triceps Exercise for Lateral Head

1. Tricep Pushdown 

This is an efficient isolation exercise that helps in improving the overall strength of the tricep muscle. This will also help strengthen the joints and the when done properly with hands situated closer, this exercise will help train the lateral head of your triceps. You can keep your hands and shoulder width apart to lay emphasis on the medial and long heads too. This is a cable exercise that will play a key role in muscle growth.
  • Have a handle attached to a high-pulley cable and grasp it with your hands.
  • Bend your knees slightly and lean forward at the waist and make sure your elbows are positioned close to your sides. Your forearms should be parallel to the floor.
  • Look straight and ensure your back stays flat and your abs feel tight.
  • Now flex your triceps and do not move your elbows during this process. Press the bar towards the floor and extend your arms completely.
  • Hold in the position for about a second before you relax back to your starting position.

2. Close Grip Bench Press 

This exercise can offer up to a 62% muscle activation and is considered yet another efficient way of training your lateral head. It involves the chest area and gives a great workout session. This exercise could be the right choice to transition from your chest workouts towards triceps training. This can also be done as a barbell based exercise.
  • Lie down on a bench or you can also step holding a barbell. Make sure your hands are shoulder width apart.
  • Start by bending your elbows and hovering the barbell slightly above the rib cage.
  • While pressing the weight make sure the effort is on the triceps area.
  • Relax and repeat the steps.

Best Triceps Exercise for Medial Head

1. Rope Pushdown 

This exercise gives about 74% muscle activation and is done using a rope extension on a cable machine. By spreading the rope at the bottom of the movement the triceps muscle`s lateral head can be activated and trained well.
  • Hold the rope with your hands near the knotted end and ensure your elbow is bent at 90 degrees and placed near the torso when you start with the exercise.
  • Start by extending your arms and taking your hands down towards the floor one at a time.
  • Spread the rope to either side so as to contract the triceps muscles.
  • Bring them back to the starting position and repeat.
Important: A variation of a cable rope pushdown would be a v-bar pushdown wherein you use a v-bar attachment to the cable exercise machine instead of a rope. The best way to enhance the effectiveness of the exercise is to change the type of grip. 
Additional Tip:
  • By using an underhand grip for normal triceps push down you can ensure the medial head is trained. (Debatable point)

2. Skullcrushers 

Although considered the best isolation exercise to train the entire triceps muscle area, Skullcrushers are a great way of laying emphasis on the medial head too. By positioning the elbow at a slight angle the exercise can help train the tricep area well. You can use a straight pre-loaded barbell or dumbbell for this workout.
  • Lie down face up with your back flat on the bench and place your feet firmly on the ground. Hold the EZ bar with a narrow grip and extend it to arm’s length.
  • Ensure your upper arms are placed rigid and bend your elbows slightly and bring the bar towards your forehead.
  • Stop slightly close to your forehead and use your tricep to move back to the starting position.
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Best Triceps Exercise Long Head

1.  Incline Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks

When it come to isolation exercise for triceps long head Incline Dumbbell Triceps Kickback is most effective one. This exercise specifically targets the log head of triceps. According to EMG study by Boehren’s and Buskies this is the best long head activating exercise.


  • Start by lying on the incline bench with your chest facing the bench.
  • Take dumbbells on your hands and lock your upper arm close to lats.
  • Move your lower arms back till they are parallel with the body, fully flex at your elbows and hold this position for 1-2 seconds.
  • Slowly come back to the starting state.

2. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension: 

One of the best triceps exercises that helps in training the long head part of your triceps muscles is a Dumbbell Overhead exercise. It helps in pressing a heavyweight without overloading the muscle. You can start with a two-hand tricep press and then advance to one-hand press. This dumbbell exercise can be performed either in a sitting or standing position.
  • Start by holding the dumbbell in one hand. Make sure you are seated in the position or for the standing variation keep your feet shoulder width apart. Now extend your arm with this dumbbell over your head.
  • Make sure your upper arm is close to your head with your elbow in and the position should be perpendicular to the floor. Slowly lower the resistance in a  circular motion slightly behind your head and move till your forearm touches your biceps. Your forearm should be doing all the work while your upper arm must be stationary.
  • Go back to the starting position.
I have seen some people saying this is not a good exercise. Look, the fundamental key in weight training is TIME UNDER TENSION. So you have to keep your muscles under tension for long time. How you can do this?  The answer is very simple take more time for lifting and lowering phase.
In our opinion One Arm Overhead Cable Tricep Extension is the best alternative for this exercises. Because it provides constant resistance throughout the motion even at the end points. 
If you are performing with lower weights take dumbbells in both arms for the variation and repeat the same steps.

3. Barbell Kickback 

Barbell exercises are a superior way of training your Tricep muscles well. This exercise focuses on the Long head of your triceps given the grip is narrow. The important point here is to keep your hands straight while performing the exercise to ensure the workout trains this part of the muscle well. For beginners, it is recommended to start with no weights and slowly increase based on progress. The important point is to make sure your hands are straight when externally rotated and you grip it with your palm facing forwards. This exercise helps to define the junction of the heads prominently.
  • Start by standing straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Grab the barbell with your arms facing forward.
  • Engaging the abdominals to sit back slightly into a squat extend your arms to move upwards.
  • Ensure your arm is straight at all times of the exercise.
  • Come back to the starting position and repeat the same.
Important: This exercise is bound to leave a lot of cramps.


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Best Triceps Exercises EMG


Best Triceps Exercises Based on Overall EMG (Electromyography)

In this section we are going to discuss about various research studies and their observations.

Best Compound Exercises for Triceps

In 2011 Saeterbakken and his colleagues compared the EMG data of barbell press, smith machine press and dumbbell bench press. They found that barbell press, smith machine press produced more triceps activity than dumbbell bench press.

In 2013 Saeterbakken & Fimland conducted a similar comparison study between barbell and dumbbell shoulder press, they found that barbell shoulder press produced greater triceps muscle activity than dumbbell shoulder press

Barnett compared the triceps muscle activation between barbell bench press and shoulder press. He found that the barbell bench press produced more triceps activation than shoulder press.

Best Body Weight Exercises for Triceps

EMG activity of long head, lateral head and medial head of triceps muscle during bebch dips (arms behind), bar dips and push-ups:


Best Body Weight Exercises for Triceps
From Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies 2000

By observing the EMG data we can conclude that-

  • Best body weight exercises for lateral and medial heads:  Bench dips and bar dips
  • Best body weight exercises for long head: Bar dips and push-ups
  • In a similar study conducted in University of Wisconsin found that diamond push-ups produced superior triceps muscle activity than dips

Best Triceps Exercises EMG

  • John Porcari and Brittany Boehler conducted a research study to determine efficacy of the six common gym triceps exercises and two body weight triceps exercise. For the analysis they recruited 15 females, ages 20 to 24. On the first day they determined their 1 RM and on the second day electromyographic (EMG) analysis is done with 70% of one rep max.


Diamond Push-up
(Body weight)
Kickbacks87 ± 26.58
(Body weight)
87 ± 19.87
Triceps Extensions
76 ± 16.09
Rope Triceps
74 ± 22.64
Triceps Bar
67 ± 20.48
Skull Crushers62 ± 16.25
Close Grip
Bench Press
62 ± 15.88


Reference: Electromyographic analysis of the triceps brachii muscleduring a variety of triceps exercises

  • EMG activity comparison between 7 exercises:

Here I am including another comparison data obtained from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies 2000.

In this data EMG activity of triceps medial head, triceps lateral head and triceps long head are compared during cable pushdowns, skull crushers, shoulder width neck press, dumbbell kickbacks, overhead single arm dumbbell extension, incline bench dumbbell kickbacks and seated Ez bar triceps extensions


Best Triceps Exercises EMG
(Data from Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies 2000)

An interesting observation from this analysis is that Lying Ez bar Extension targets lateral head while Seated Ez Bar Extension give more emphasis towards long head.


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