October 17, 2021
You probably know quite a few tricep exercises, but do you know which exercises better target the specific heads of the tricep, such as the lateral head, or how you can alter an exercise to emphasize one of the tricep heads?
Since you are here, you are obviously looking for the best lateral head tricep exercises, and that’s exactly what we are going to give you.
In this post, we cover everything you need to know about training the triceps, and more specifically the lateral head, which includes how to hone in on the lateral head, the best lateral head tricep exercises, and important training techniques for full tricep development (both in terms of strength and hypertrophy).
The triceps, more formally known as the triceps brachii, is a three-headed muscle that is located in the back side of the upper arm.
This muscle makes up around 60-70% of your upper arm mass (move aside biceps!).
It is a biarticular muscle, which means it acts on two joints. The two joints being the elbow and the shoulder.
In regards to the three tricep “heads”, this simply means the muscle has three separate attachment points. However, all three heads spans the back of the upper arm inserting into a common tendon on the ulna (the medial bone of the forearm, which is on the pinky finger side).
The three heads are called the long head, medial head, and lateral head.
The long head attachment point (where it originates) is on the scapula, whereas the medial and lateral heads attach to the humerus (upper arm bone). The lateral head’s attachment point on the humerus is higher up than the medial heads.
Back to the point of the muscle being a biarticular muscle, which, again, means it acts on two joints. It is only a biarticular muscle because of the long head’s attachment, which crosses the shoulder joint. The medial and lateral head only act on the elbow joint. This is an important aspect of the tricep brachii to note as it helps you to understand the function of the tricep as a whole and how the different heads are emphasized during certain tricep exercises.
All three heads work together to fulfill the muscle’s primary function - extension above the elbow.
As for the long head of the tricep, it also acts on the shoulder, so it will assist in movements that involve shoulder adduction and extension. It also helps to stabilize the shoulder joint.
Since this post is about the lateral head, we will now focus mainly on the lateral head.
Before you can begin working out the lateral head tricep with the recommended exercises below, it will be valuable to learn more about the muscle that you are targeting, where it is located, and how it works in relation to the other tricep heads as well as your arm positioning and grip positioning.
With this knowledge, you will understand why we chose these specific exercises and you can better hone in on that mind-muscle connection.
The lateral head tricep is one of the three heads of the triceps. It originates at the humerus and inserts into the ulna forearm bone. It is considered to be the strongest tricep head, contributing to a big portion of the strength in your upper arms when working against resistance.
The lateral head, along with the long head, form what is commonly called the horseshoe look of the tricep. That is, if the two heads are well-developed. The lateral head makes up the outside portion of the horseshoe-like shape.
Having a well developed lateral head will make your triceps very aesthetically pleasing.
The great thing about the lateral head (and the long head) is that it has a lot of growth potential, unlike the medial head. This doesn't mean the medial head isn't important (because it is for strength and stability at the elbow), it's just that the lateral head and long head deserve more attention in terms of aesthetics due to their greater potential for growth and the fact the medial head often gets enough work from compound pressing exercises alone. Moreover, the medial head will be assisting for both lateral and long head emphasized tricep exercises.
The lateral head is located on the outside of the upper arm (on the posterior side of course), hence the name “lateral”. The muscle is thick and it can be seen from a front, side and back view.
The medial head is at the middle and inner part of the posterior upper arm just above the elbow.
The long head is located on the middle-inside part of the posterior upper arm.
The lateral heads main job is to perform elbow extension (meaning straightening your arm from a flexed position). However, the lateral head only becomes active to a significant degree when the triceps push against resistance. If not going against resistance, it’s really just the medial head making elbow extension happen.
But again, when force is involved, the lateral head takes on a major role.
In fact, the lateral head is the strongest of the three. This is because it consists of a higher ratio of fast-twitch type muscle fibers, which allow it to contract forcefully under resistance.
All in all, anytime you extend your elbow against resistance, your lateral head is activated and helping to power the movement. This means any tricep exercise (elbow extension exercise) you do in the gym or at home will activate the muscle fibers of the lateral head.
It is literally impossible to isolate a single head of the tricep. This applies to the long, medial, and lateral head. HOWEVER, you can emphasize a certain tricep head by selecting certain exercises or altering how you do an exercise. Essentially, certain exercises, arm positions, and grip positions will shift emphasis to certain tricep heads, but all three will be activated to some degree no matter what you do.
For beginners, it may not seem important to worry about emphasizing the different heads. Just do some tricep exercises and that’s it right?
Actually, that’s kind of true. As a newbie, you will see good gains no matter what. But, as you become more advanced, and you really want to build big, well-defined triceps, it’s vital that you know how to hone in on each the three heads of the tricep. By doing so, you can develop some seriously impressive looking triceps. Moreover, you build the greatest and most well-rounded strength in your triceps, which will help you in other exercises like bench press and overhead press, or your respective sport. This means better gains in other areas of your body too!
For beginners, we still recommend that you learn this now, as you can obviously see even greater newbie gains than if you didn’t.
To give your triceps the greatest strength potential and see the best possible development, you will first need to know how to specifically target each head of the tricep. So, let’s go over the ways you can emphasize your lateral head tricep, and then briefly touch on the other two heads as well.
To target the lateral head, you will want to do tricep exercises that keep your arms at your sides. Also, using an overhand grip and neutral grip when doing tricep exercises will allow you to emphasize the lateral head more. If you combine the two (elbows at your sides with an overhand or neutral grip), you will be giving your lateral head the best possible activation.
Examples of exercises that follow the above parameters are: Tricep pushdowns with rope attachment, tricep kickbacks, and tricep dips.
The lateral head works closely with the long head as well, so exercises that involve bringing your elbows out in front of you, behind you, or above you, while more so a long head tricep exercise, will do a good job of activating your lateral head too. If you use an overhand or hammer (neutral) grip, your lateral head will be even more emphasized. For example, neutral grip dumbbell skull crushers or close grip bench press.
Another way to better target your lateral head is to extend your elbow at an angle that moves your forearm toward the lateral side. For example, crossbody pushdowns or extensions.
If you are a little confused at this point, don’t worry about it as it will be very clear when you see the lateral head tricep exercises below.
The long head of your tricep will have the greatest activation when your elbows are overhead (because your long head will be working from a stretched position), out in front of you, or up behind you.
i.e. overhead tricep extensions, skull crushers, prone incline kickbacks, bench dips.
Note: Bench dips and tricep dips (parallel handles) equally work the long head and lateral head.
Related: Best Long Head Tricep Exercises
The medial head of your tricep will receive the greatest activation when your elbows are at your sides and you are using an underhand grip. i.e. reverse grip pushdowns and reverse grip bench press.
It will also be activated during exercises that emphasize the long head and lateral head, but just at certain points in the movement. For example, the medial head kicks in more at the top of a dip.
Related: Best Medial Head Tricep Exercises
All in all, if you focus on these training variables, which include angles (how you position your body and where the resistance is coming from), grip position (underhand/overhand/neutral), and arm/elbow position, you can hone in on specific tricep heads.
Besides those three specific things, a stronger, bigger lateral head means stronger, bigger triceps as a whole. This will allow you to increase your overall strength, stamina, power, muscular endurance, and injury resilience in weightlifting, sports, and life.
While all tricep exercises involve your lateral head (as they do the medial and long head too), some better target this head. The exercises below are the best lateral head tricep exercises. They are based on the training variables we discussed above.
So, if you have been looking for ways to work out your outer (lateral) head tricep and add something new to your fitness routine, these different exercises can help you see the importance of this muscle group and the role it plays in amplifying your arm growth and overall physique.
These tricep exercises are guaranteed to overload your lateral head
Tricep pushdowns are one of the most popular tricep exercises, but did you know that it is excellent for the lateral head? Remember, the lateral head is best targeted with your elbows at your side and that’s exactly what the tricep pushdown provides.
If your goal is to increase your strength along with the size of your lateral head tricep, then all you need to do is use the right attachment and grip position.
The best attachments for hitting the lateral head for tricep pushdowns are the rope, the straight bar, and a v-bar. With all three, you will (or want to have) a more narrow grip, which is best for the lateral head.
Rope = hammer grip (neutral grip)
Straight Bar = overhand grip
V-bar = partly-pronated grip (like a mix between hammer and overhand)
Another great thing to note about the pushdown is that it’s a great exercise for pushing your triceps past failure. So, be sure to implement some sets past failure with this one!
How to do the tricep pushdown:
Lateral Tricep One Arm Pushdown
This is a good variation of the tricep pushdown for the outer tricep as well. It's good to change up angles sometimes so you can stress the muscle differently.
Tricep kickbacks are another great exercise for your lateral head. It’s also going to work your long head too depending on the variations (there are many ways to do a tricep kickback).
For the lateral head, the best option is the bent over position using a cable pulley or dumbbell. This has been proven to increase lateral head activation.
So, if you are trying to target the lateral head, do bent over cable or dumbbell tricep kickbacks as pictured.
How to do the tricep kickback for lateral head:
You’ve definitely heard of bicep concentration curls, but did you know you can do tricep concentration extensions. For this one, you will need to use either a cable machine or a 41” loop resistance band.
The goal here is to keep your elbow pinned to your inner thigh and have the cable (or band) coming from the contralateral side. Essentially, you are extending your arm in a diagonal manner from the opposite side of the working arm. This will allow you to really hone in on the lateral head.
How to do the cable crossbody concentration extension:
This is a classic bodyweight tricep exercise that is great for working your lateral head tricep.
This is especially helpful for those who are new to strength training and want to build up strength to execute tricep dips (parallel handles with body suspended in air) with ease - that’s the next exercise on this list.
How to do bench dips:
If you want to take the difficulty up a notch, do this with a weight plate on your lap.
Note: You don’t need a bench to do bench dips, you can easily do these just as well with a chair!
While parallel bar lifts are commonly used to work the pecs, they can also help you increase the mass in your tricep, and more specifically the lateral head when positioning your body properly.
Pretty much every gym has a dip machine, by the way.
To place emphasis on your triceps, and naturally your lateral head, you need to position your body so you are dipping with your back upright (for chest you want to lean forward).
Now, if you don’t have the strength for this exercise, you can just focus on bench dips, albeit this dip is not exactly the same.
If you don’t have the strength, you can either use a 41” loop resistance band to assist you by looping it on the handles and then putting your knees on top of it. The wider the band, the more help it will provide...
You can just use the assistance platform that comes with most dip machines at gyms. As you progress, you can use less and less weight assistance, which is controlled by the weight stack pin system near the bottom of the machine.
At some point, you can do tricep dips without any assistance.
When you are able to do more high reps for multiple sets, it’s time to take things up a notch. To do this, you just need a dip belt. With that, you can attach plates to the belt and then dip with added weight.
A make shift option is to just hold onto dumbbells with your feet by crossing them and having someone place the dumbbell in the crease of your two calves.
Ok, no on to the how to...
How to do tricep dips:
Related: Best Dip Exercise Alternatives
Tricep Pressdown Machine
If you have access to a tricep pressdown machine, which many gyms have, this is another great way to work your lateral head tricep. The mechanics are similar to a tricep dip, but you can easily control the resistance using the pin weight stack system.
If you are in search of a simple yet effective exercise that will target your lateral head tricep, diamond push-ups are one of the best options out there. Plus, this exercise doesn’t require any equipment so anyone can do it, whether you are working out at home or in a gym.
If you have issues with your shoulder joint, then you can spread your hands a little bit, using a close grip instead. Both are good for the lateral head.
How to do diamond push ups:
Whether you are an aspiring bodybuilder or you are simply looking to bulk up your triceps, the close grip bench press is one of the best exercises you can do. This is a pure mass builder.
You’ll want to start your workouts with this one as it involves heavier weight and higher energy levels.
In regards to the triceps, while the close grip bench press is truly an all around tricep exercise, it can be done in a way that better emphasizes the lateral head.
To shift emphasis from the long head, which the close grip bench press is great for, do it on a decline bench. The decline bench will better target the lateral head.
How to do decline close grip bench press.
If you are in search of a tried and true tricep exercise, look no further than EZ bar or barbell skull crushers. But, if you want some lateral specific work, then use dumbbells and hold them with your palms facing in. And, to take matters even more into the lateral heads “hands”, use a decline bench at about -15˚.
How to do decline neutral grip dumbbell skull crushers:
Pro tip: Make sure you start with a lighter weight until you are comfortable with this exercise. Focus on good form first and foremost.
While the overhead tricep extension is more of a long head exercise (because it stretches the long head due to its attachment point on the shoulder), you can make it long-lateral head focused by using a rope extension with a narrow grip. You’ll be hitting both the lateral and long head effectively at the same time.
How to do cable overhead extensions with rope:
Related: Best Cable Arm Exercises
There’s two likely reasons that your triceps, and more specifically, your lateral head of the tricep is not growing.
Firstly, it’s quite possible that your diet is simply not on point. Without eating right, you will not grow your muscles. But that’s a whole other topic so we will just leave it at that.
Now, in terms of exercising, it’s important that you are overloading the muscle when working out. This comes down to rep schemes, weight load, and total volume.
So, let’s go over each of those points.
This might surprise you, but the triceps respond very well to low reps and heavy weight. This is because they have a higher ratio of fast twitch muscle fibers. About 67% of the muscle fibers are fast twitch.
That said, you still need to work through various rep ranges. You can’t just do heavy weight with low reps.
The point is, if you aren’t doing heavy weight for low reps, then you need to start. A lot of people think of the triceps as a muscle that best responds to high reps.
So, let’s look at how we recommend splitting up your rep ranges:
In regards to the weight load, you should be using a weight that challenges you in the given rep range, meaning brings you near or to failure. For most tricep exercises, you can bring yourself to failure without much concern for safety or injury.
PRO TIP: Push past failure sometimes. Your triceps can handle it. When you feel you reached failure, try your best to get one or two more reps in, even if it means a little sloppy of form (but take this with a grain of salt, as you don’t want to do anything that will get your injured...this generally applies to exercises like pushdowns and extensions, which are relatively injury risk free.
In terms of volume, it is going to depend on where you are at in your fitness journey.
So, if you are doing 20 sets per week, remember to do about 50% of those sets in the 10-20 rep range, 25% in the 5-10 rep range, and 25% in the 20-30 rep range.
Now, it needs to be understood that you do not and ideally should not do all of these sets in one training session. These can be split into 2-4 training session per week. The triceps typically recover quickly, so this should be no problem. Just remember that you’ll have to juggle your tricep training with your chest and front delts, as if your triceps are not recovered, it can impede your chest and delt training.
Give this a try for 8-12 weeks and then see how you’ve progressed.
Here are some more training tips for you to grow your lateral head tricep.
1. Prioritize the Lateral Head Tricep
If you want to prioritize your lateral head tricep in your workout, it will essential to include different exercises like kickbacks or overhand-grip pressdowns in your routine, but there are other ways to make sure you are targeting this muscle successfully.
To start, it can be extremely helpful to train your triceps after a rest day. With this strategy, you will need to arrange your training split to fit a new routine, but by taking a rest day before you work your triceps, you can prepare your body to work hard at the gym.
One of the worst feelings is being unmotivated and tired when heading to a training session, but with the right amount of rest days, a good night’s sleep, and a well-rounded diet or nutrition plan - you will be more than energized when heading back to the gym. While working out is important, rest days are what keeps your body going, to become stronger and healthier over time.
2. Start Your Triceps Routine with a Multi-Joint Movement
Multi-joint exercises, also known as compound exercises, are performed at best when your energy levels are high, which will usually be at the beginning of your workout routine. Multi-joint exercises will have two sets of joints working, such as a close-grip bench press where the shoulder and elbow joints are moving together.
Once you start to tire out, you can then utilize single-joint movements to continue your training.
3. Include Multiple Lateral Head Exercises in Your Routine
Oftentimes workouts are created to work all different parts of a muscle or area of your body, but if you are trying to focus on your lateral head tricep then it can be helpful to incorporate multiple exercises into your routine that targets this muscle especially.
Remember to mix it up and utilize exercises that differ from one another, to make sure you are taking the proper steps to achieve your fitness goals.
4. Try Something New
Even if you are working on targeting a certain muscle group, it will still be important to switch up your routine by adding in new lateral head exercises you may not have tried before. This will not only save you from getting bored by the same routine but it will allow you to work your muscle in a variety of ways which will be slightly different than you were used to previously.
Avoid a mundane, boring routine - have fun with your workouts, try new things, and make your training sessions even more energizing and beneficial to your body.
To successfully work towards strengthening, stabilizing, and bulking up your lateral head tricep, it will take persistence, motivation, and resilience. By utilizing all the best exercises and following these training tips, you will be prepared to take on your new training routine and reach your goals with ease.
5. Use Various Exercises and Equipment
If you want to achieve optimal results with your training routine, it can be beneficial to implement different types of exercises and equipment into your workouts. Even though you may favor one exercise over another, be sure to switch things up and find different ways to target the tricep throughout your routine.
To make sure your workout is productive and never boring, mix things up or try something new.
6. Improve Form
While doing lateral head exercises, having the proper form will be crucial. By keeping your elbows tucked to the side and staying in control of your movements, you will be able to maintain the perfect form during your workouts.
Pro tip: Use a mirror or find a workout partner to help you make sure you are using the right form and doing everything correctly to target your lateral head.
7. Allow Time For Rest and Recovery
With intense training, you are breaking down your muscles so that they can grow back even stronger than before, but this can only happen if you allow your body adequate time to rest afterward. While working out plays a key role in bulking up and gaining muscle, recovery is just as important too.
WARM UP YOUR ELBOWS BEFORE WORKING OUT
When you are performing isolation exercises such as diamond push-ups, tricep kickbacks, or overhead extension, it can be tough on your elbows. To prepare your joints for the workout ahead, it can be helpful to warm up your elbows at the beginning of your routine.
To start, do a couple of light sets of any tricep exercise you want before you start to work on this muscle group.
Related: Dynamic Warm Up
If you want to maximize your workouts and gain muscle in your arms at the same time, then you need to add lateral head tricep exercises to your current workout routine. While it is important to work on different parts of your body to develop your ideal physique, having an arm day or hitting the triceps multiple times per week will be essential.
Remember what we said about volume...
At least a third of the above volume applies to the lateral head. But, if you feel your lateral head tricep is lagging, you can increase that.
As for how you split up that volume, there are many ways to go about it.
If your arms are a priority, then you will want to do a split as follows:
Split Option 1:
Split Option 2:
For the above, you will want to throw ab exercises in where you can.
Split Option 3:
All of the above options will allow you to really bring up some lagging triceps.
Find a schedule that works for you and your lifestyle, to create a workout routine that will keep you motivated and dedicated as you progress on your fitness journey. Always use a workout split that allows you to recover and feel refreshed for the muscles you will target during your next workout.
All in all, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new, adding what works best for you to your workouts. Also, push yourself. You need to train smart AND hard.
By taking advantage of these lateral head exercises, you will be able to see optimal strength and hypertrophy results in your triceps, which in turn will improve other areas of your fitness.
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