October 26, 2021
Are you looking to build strong and powerful-looking arms? Well, then you need to focus on developing your triceps, as they make up close to 70% of the size of your upper arm! Well-developed, it'll look like you have a thick horseshoe on the back of your arms. To best achieve this impressive aesthetic, you really need to understand the tricep muscle, as it has three distinct heads. One of those tricep heads is the "medial head", which is the focus of this article.
In this, we are going to cover:
The triceps are located on the back of your arm and are responsible for extending your arm at the elbow. They are the biggest muscle group in your arm and are made up of three heads, which is where it got its name (TRI-cep). These three heads of the triceps include the long head, lateral head, and medial head.
The long head is the largest tricep head. It’s located on the inside of the posterior side of your upper arm. It originates at the scapular, just near the shoulder joint. The long head is the only tricep head to cross the shoulder joint, as the other two heads originate on the humerus (upper arm bone).
The lateral head is smaller than the long head and is located on the outside of the posterior upper arm. Interestingly, the lateral head is said to be the strongest tricep head as it has a higher ratio of fast twitch muscle fibers.
The medial head is the least visible and smallest. It is located at the bottom center of the posterior upper arm. The medial head attaches to the humerus, as does the lateral head, but at a lower point. It is also the only tricep head that has a higher ratio of slow twitch muscle fibers, which makes it an endurance muscle head. Overall, it plays an important role in elbow extension, with and without resistance.
While the three heads have their own origin points, they all converge and insert into the ulna and fascia of the forearm, just past the elbow. Moreover, they all play an important role in elbow extension and stability.
In terms of aesthetics, when all three triceps heads are well-developed, they form a distinct horseshoe shape. This symbolizes a well-developed tricep.
There’s no denying that the tricep muscles must all be proportionately developed to create aesthetic-looking triceps.
When you’re first starting out in weightlifting, it doesn’t seem as important to emphasize the different heads, and this might be true in some aspects. When your arms are undeveloped, you’ll notice growth no matter what. But as you start to become more advanced, you’ll notice that one head might be more developed than another or that your triceps development has stagnated. This is when you’ll need to start honing in on specific tricep heads.
In order to have fully developed triceps, you must do exercises that target each head appropriately. While most exercises will work all three heads, there are exercises that can emphasize the involvement of a specific head based on the movement or training variable. This will allow you to improve a tricep head that is lagging or simply hit each one more thoroughly.
It's not possible to completely isolate the medial head, but you can emphasize it depending on the exercise that you choose. Honing in on the medial head really comes down to how you position your arms and what grip you use.
The reverse grip is one of the best exercises to improve the strength and stability of the medial head. There are a handful of reverse-grip tricep exercises that you can implement, including press downs, bench press, or lying extensions/skull crushers.
Below we will look at the medial head closely and then discuss more about how to best target it and how it works with the other heads.
What is the medial head of the tricep?
The medial head is small but mighty; it stabilizes your elbow and aids in filling out your upper arm so that it will look proportionate. It can not be entirely separated from the other heads, so you’ll need to emphasize its involvement with the correct exercises.
Where is the medial head of the triceps?
The medial head sits at the back of the arm below the long head at the center just above the elbow. It is the smallest head of the three and much of it is covered by both the lateral and long heads.
What does the medial head of the triceps do?
The function of the medial head is to aid in the extension of the forearm at the elbow joint, as well as stability of the elbow. It also helps to fill out the back of the upper arms, making for a proportional look. This head is active with every forearm extension, even without resistance, unlike the long and lateral heads that are mainly only activated when extending against resistance.
While you cannot target one tricep head over another, you can emphasize the medial head through a variety of exercises. There are plenty of exercises that will help strengthen the medial head and help to improve the overall mass, strength, and look of your tricep muscles.
When it comes to targeting the medial head of the tricep, the biggest takeaway is in the position of your grip and your elbows. We’ll get into this shortly, but first...
UNDERSTANDING THE MEDIAL HEAD IS KIND OF LIKE THE BRIDGE BETWEEN THE TWO HEADS
The medial head doesn’t seem as important as the lateral head and the long head when it comes to aesthetics and hypertrophy. The long head and lateral head make up most of the triceps and have much greater grow potential.
Nonetheless, the role of the medial head is important. Not only does it enable more precise movements, but it also acts as a bridge between the two heads. A stronger medial head will lead to a stronger lateral and long head, or stronger triceps in general, which means more growth.
Unlike the lateral head and long head, which can really be honed in on well, the medial head is usually emphasized alongside another one of the tricep heads...i.e., the emphasis will be 'Long Head & Medial Head' or 'Lateral Head & Medial Head'.
The medial head is usually more active at certain points in a tricep exercise or compound pushing movements, rather than the entire time.
In any case, you can still alter tricep exercises to place even more emphasis on the medial head, and here’s how you can do that...
There are two main techniques to target the medial head of the tricep:
On top of that, you need to think about the muscle fibers. The medial head is made up of more slow twitch muscle fibers than fast twitch, unlike the other two heads, which means it responds better to higher reps. So, by performing exercises in high rep ranges, you can better exhaust the medial head.
Regardless of the above techniques, the exercises will work two or more of the tricep heads, but you will be placing emphasis on the medial head simply by using the above variables.
The exercises below and the recommended rep ranges are based on the above points, which is why we can label them as The Best Medial Head Tricep Exercises.
REFERENCE FOR TARGETING THE OTHER HEADS OF THE TRICEPS:
Long Head - When you place your arms overhead, which puts your shoulder joint at 180˚, you’ll stretch your long head. This stretch puts tension on your long head, which means the long head will be emphasized. As such, exercises like the overhead tricep extension and skull crusher are best for the long head.
Related: Best Long Head Tricep Exercises
Lateral Head - The lateral head is best targeted with an overhand grip or hammer grip, and elbows at the sides. For example, cable rope extensions, overhand straight bar pushdowns, and bench dips.
Related: Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises
Before we get into the exercises, we just want to quickly go over a couple more points.
The medial head is not only the smallest of the three heads, but it also has the least growth potential. But don’t let this lead you to believe you shouldn’t spend time focusing on building this muscle. The medial head plays an important role in the overall size and strength of your tricep muscles.
Both the lateral head and the long head have great growth potential, and most of your time should be spent on targeting them if you want to achieve stronger and bigger arms. But don't let the medial head fall by the wayside as it plays an important role in the overall look and strength of the triceps. It’s responsible for the strength and stability at the elbow, which aids in lifting more weight and the potential for more significant growth because it assists both the lateral and long head.
It might not grow as big as the other two heads, but a developed medial head will help to stabilize your elbow and provide your arm with the desired proportional look.
When doing a tricep workout, spend about 40% of the sets on long head focused exercises, 40% on lateral head focused exercises, and 20% medial head. So, if you do 10 sets, that's 4 for the long head, 4 for the lateral head, and 2 for the medial head.
Think of the medial head as the glue of your triceps and elbow. This will give you the perspective of how important the medial head is for triceps strength and mass. When your medial head is strong, you can obtain more growth potential for the other two heads.
Here are some of the benefits to strengthening your medial head tricep,
These are the 10 best tricep exercises to strengthen the medial head and aid in the overall strength and size of your triceps.
This exercise emphasizes the medial head of the tricep because it keeps your elbows at your sides and uses an underhand grip. Furthermore, most people find the underhand grip places less stress on the elbows.
Here’s how to perform the reverse grip cable pushdown:
Best rep range: 15-20 reps with a weight load that brings you to or near failure.
This is a big compound movement that works many upper body muscles, but the main movers are your chest and triceps.
The reverse grip does two things, it takes stress off your shoulders/shoulder joint (and elbow joint) and places more emphasis on the triceps and upper pecs.
For the triceps, it is particularly effective for the medial head.
All in all, it's not a medial head exercise per se, but it is fantastic for the medial head and it allows you to go relatively heavy, which is good for hypertrophy and strength.
We recommend doing this exercise at the start of your workout, as it requires more energy, being that it is a compound movement.
Note: You can do this exercise with a barbell or dumbbells.
Here’s how to perform the dumbbell reverse grip:
Best rep range and weight: If you really want to hit the medial head hard, use a lighter load and aim for 10-20 reps. However, this exercise can be effective in the 6-12 rep range as well.
This simple and highly effective shoulder-friendly pressing variation helps to build mass and strength in your triceps. The floor press focuses on the end range of chest presses (bench press) which is when the triceps are most active. It is generally done to improve lockout strength and to hone in on tricep development. The reverse grip simply allows you to alter how the triceps are hit (i.e. medial head).
This exercise is also good for those with shoulder issues as it has a limited range of motion. The shoulder joint usually has the most stress at the bottom range during a bench press.
Here’s how to perform the reverse grip floor press:
Best rep range: 8-20 reps.
This might be a bodyweight, but this is an effective exercise for any fitness level targeting the triceps. By simply positioning your hands differently, you can emphasize the medial head. The movements in this exercise will help to improve the overall conditioning while also increasing the strength in your core and upper body.
Here’s how to perform the palm out bench dip:
Best rep range: Perform 15-20 reps. If you are finding 20-25 reps too easy, then you can place a weight plate or dumbbell on your lap to add resistance, rather than doing endless reps.
This tricep isolation exercise provides a deep stretch in the muscles, making it an effective exercise to build mass and strength. Stretching tension is shown to be the highly effective for hypertrophy and strength. It's not just about contraction tension when exercising.
As for the muscle heads of triceps, this exercise is effective for all three heads, and it does a good job of keeping the medial head highly activated the entire time.
Here’s how to perform the tate press:
Best rep range: 10-15 reps
The JM press is a compound exercise that will target the triceps and work the pecs and delts. Not only will this exercise increase the overall size and strength of your triceps, but it will also help to increase the amount of weight you put in pressing variations such as the bench press and overhead press.
This is a great all-around tricep exercise, and one that keeps the medial head activated to a high degree.
Here’s how to perform the JM press:
Best rep range: 8-12 reps
The cable concentration extension allows you to train side at a time, thus ironing out muscle imbalances. Overall, it's a great tricep exercise as it hits all three heads very effectively, and it does place more tension on the medial head tricep than some other tricep exercises. This is one of those exercises that you do with complete mind-muscle connection, really focusing on slow and controlled reps with maximum range of motion and tension.
Use an underhand grip to increase the medial head activation even more!
Here’s how to perform the cable concentration extension:
Best rep range: 15-20 reps
The cable rope tricep pushdown is said to be a lateral head exercise, because it is; however, EMG studies show it is great for both the lateral & medial head. In fact, the level of activation among the two for this exercise is almost exactly the same.
Use high reps and you can really exhaust and overload your medial head with this one.
Here’s how to perform the cable rope pushdown:
Best rep range: 15-25 reps
This exercise will hit all three heads, with emphasis on the long head. However, if you use a high rep range and don't cheat on your reps (fully extend), then your medial head will get some serious activation.
Here’s how to perform the cable with rope overhead extension:
Best rep range: 15-25 reps
Related: Best Cable Arm Exercises
If you’re looking to build your triceps, this is one of the best tricep exercises. It’s a difficult movement that contributes to the horseshoe shape that you desire. It targets both the lateral head and the medial tricep head faster than any gym machine can do. Similar to the traditional pushup, the slight change in the positions of your hand will increase the difficulty and change the muscles targeted.
Here’s how to perform the diamond pushup:
Best rep range: Failure each set.
The medial head consists of a higher ratio of type I muscle fibers, and these slow-twitch muscle fibers require higher rep ranges to get stronger and grow. So the best way to overload your medial head tricep is with high rep ranges. You will want to use a load that challenges you (brings you to or near failure) in those high rep ranges.
As for sets, it depends on if you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced. Generally speaking, 8-20 sets for the triceps per week is good.
Of course, the number of sets and reps will be determined based on your fitness journey, but here is a great starting point:
Let’s say you’re doing 20 sets per week. You’ll want 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 within two to four training sessions per week.
You'll also split those sets up based on the tricep head emphasis: 40% long head, 40% lateral, and 20% medial. Again, all three triceps will be activated no matter what, and some of the long and lateral head exercises will actually be long/medial and lateral/medial or a mix of the other two. But, this is just the general emphasis.
Finally, you can take those total weekly sets and split them up into 2-3 workouts, if you don't want to do all of the sets in one workout. But, this depends on your workout split.
Here are two sample tricep workouts that are very well rounded and ensure the medial head is not forgotten about.
There is nearly an endless supply of great medial head tricep exercises that will aid in building strength and mass in your arms. But when it comes to targeting all three heads of the triceps, it’s best to implement compound movements. These exercises include,
There’s no doubt that each tricep head that makes up the triceps plays an important role in creating strong, well-defined arms. There is no upper-body workout that is complete without targeting your triceps. And because you cannot completely isolate a single tricep head, it’s important that you train the triceps that are lagging. You will know which of the heads are lagging based on the size of the muscle compared to one another.
Once you understand which head this is, you can emphasize the tricep head that needs to be targeted with certain exercises, arm positions, and grip positions that emphasize that head. This will help to create the best development of the triceps.
Here are some other important takeaways from this article:
By adding these listed medial head exercises, you will increase the stability of your elbow and aid in optimal strength and an overall improvement of the size of your triceps. This will improve many other areas of your fitness as well.
More Triceps Exercise Guides:
Comments will be approved before showing up.
At SFS we strive to equip you with the tools and knowledge needed for your fitness journey. Sign up to get the latest on sales, new releases, killer workouts, actionable fitness content and more. As our motto goes - "You don't have to get ready if you stay #alwaysready!"