Lateral Head tricep exercises

9 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises

Transform your arms with targeted triceps workouts, emphasizing the often-neglected lateral head. Strengthen this key muscle and bring out that impressive horseshoe-shape.

When someone says, “Wow, check out that guy’s massive arms!” you can be pretty sure they’re talking about his triceps. That’s because your arms hang at your sides 90% of the time, and the triceps give them their bulk in that position.

So, it constantly amazes me that so many gymgoers spend most of their arm training time blasting their biceps, with just a token amount left over for the triceps. Unless those guys flip that script, they’ll never get truly impressive upper arms!

Triceps training isn’t rocket science. It’s a three-headed muscle that has one basic function: elbow extension. Contrary to popular gym lore, isolating each of the three triceps heads is impossible. But it is possible to place more emphasis on one head than the others.

When fully developed, the lateral head of the triceps constitutes the outer side of the horseshoe shape of the muscle. But you’ll lack that impressive outer sweep if you don’t give it the attention it deserves. The lateral head is also the strongest of the three, so emphasizing it will help progress all your pressing movements.

As a personal trainer, I’ve worked with several competitive bodybuilders with underdeveloped lateral tricep heads. In this article, I lay out the exact exercises I use to help them overcome that problem so they can hit a side tricep shot to wow the judges.

Triceps Anatomy

The triceps is a three-headed muscle group at the back of your upper arm. It runs parallel to the humerus (upper arm) bone and is opposite to the biceps. The biceps and triceps work together antagonistically so that when one contracts, the other relaxes.

The triceps muscle’s three heads, or segments, are the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head. These three heads create a horseshow shape above the elbow when fully developed. The inner side of the horseshoe is the long head, the outer side is the lateral head, and the medial head connects them at the top.

The long head of the triceps differs from the other two in terms of its origin and insertion points on the bones. Its origin is on the shoulder blade, with the insertion on the elbow joint.

This means that the long head passes through the shoulder and elbow joints. As a result, it plays a part, albeit a minor one, in overhead shoulder extension and elbow extension.

The lateral and medial heads have origin and insertion points that are very close to one another. The origin is at the top of the humerus, with the insertion being in the elbow joint. Because these two heads have common connection points to the bone, it is impossible to isolate one from the other. Every triceps exercise you do will work both of them.

Can You Target the Lateral Head of the Triceps?

We’ve already established that, due to its common origin and insertion points with the medial head, you cannot isolate the lateral head of the triceps. However, it is possible to place slightly more emphasis on it.

Here are some tips to emphasize the lateral head:

  • Focus on exercises that involve your arms being at your sides.
  • Don’t allow your elbows to ‘wing out’ during the exercise.
  • Use a neutral (palms facing) grip whenever possible (a rope handle helps with this).
  • Perform exercises that extend the elbow across the body, such as the concentration cable extension.

9 Essential Lateral Head Tricep Exercises

Single Arm Pushdowns

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Set the pulley on a cable pulley machine to its highest setting. Place a ‘D” handle on the end of the cable.
  2. Stand in front of the machine, facing it.
  3. Grab the handle with an overhand grip in your right hand.
  4. In the start position, your hand should be at chest level with your elbow at the side of your waist.
  5. Press down to fully extend your arm, ensuring your elbow remains at your side.
  6. Return to the start position slowly to emphasize the eccentric part of the movement.
  7. Perform all your reps with the right arm and then repeat with the left.

Training Tip

Maintain an upright torso on this exercise. The only movement should be through the elbow, so do not allow upper body momentum to make the exercise easier.

Tricep Pushdowns (Neutral Grip)

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Set the pulley on a cable pulley machine to its highest setting.
  2. Place a rope handle on the end of the cable.
  3. Stand facing the machine, about two feet from it.
  4. Reach up to take hold of the rope handle, placing your hands at the bottom of the rope.
  5. Keeping your elbows in at the sides of your body, bring your hands to chest level.
  6. Press down to full arm extension, forcefully contracting your triceps in the bottom position.
  7. Return to the start position under control to accentuate the eccentric part of the movement.

Training Tip

In the bottom position of this pushdown variation, you should pull the sides of the rope handle apart. This will add extra emphasis to the lateral head of the triceps.

Facing Away Pushdown

Note: For this exercise, you will need a cable pulley machine with dual weight stack and cables that can be adjusted horizontally.

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Set the pulleys on a dual cable pulley machine to their highest setting. Adjust the pulleys horizontally so the cables align with your ears. Place a rope handle on the end of each pulley.
  2. Grab the rope handles and stand facing away from the machine. The cable should run down past the sides of your head,
  3. In the start position, your hands should be at chest level, with your elbows in at your sides.
  4. Push the cable down and out on an angle that aligns with the angle on the cable.
  5. Control the resistance as you return to the start position.

Training Tip:

By facing away from the cable machine, you can optimize the direction of resistance. However, that will also make the exercise more challenging. As a result, you will probably have to lower your weight slightly on this exercise compared to your normal pushdown weight.

Concentration Cable Extension

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Set the pulley on a cable pulley machine to head height when kneeling. Place a ‘D’ handle on the end of the cable.
  2. Kneel down your right knee, with your left foot on the ground, and grab the handle with an underhand grip (palm facing up).
  3. Start with your arm bent at a right angle with the elbow alongside the opposite knee. Now extend your arm down to full extension. Forcefully contract the triceps in the bottom position.
  4. Slowly return to the start position and repeat.

Training Tip

This isolation exercise requires a relatively light weight and high reps. Perform it toward the end of your workout with three or four sets of 15-30 reps.

Tricep Pressdown Machine

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Set the appropriate seat height and then sit on the tricep pressdown machine.
  2. Set the weight pin to the right starting weight for you.
  3. Place your hands on the handles at your sides and align your elbows with your hands.
  4. Push your arms down to extend your arms fully.

Training Tip

This is a great machine to do drop sets on. Perform as many reps as you can, then drop the pin down one weight setting and pump out another five or six reps. Continue for another three or four drops to completely blow out your triceps.

Close Grip Bench Press

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Load a bar on a bench press bench, and then lie on the bench. Plant your feet firmly on the floor.
  2. Reach up to grab the bar with an overhand grip so your thumbs are about 12 inches apart.
  3. Unrack the bar and bring it over your mid-chest.
  4. Slowly lower the bar until it touches your chest. Ensure that your elbows stay at your sides.
  5. Push through the triceps to return to the start position. Forcefully contract the triceps in the top position.

Training Tip

Do not use a thumbless grip on this exercise. I’ve seen guys lose control of the bar to have it come crashing down on their chest because of this. Be sure to wrap your thumbs around the bar - and have a spotter!

Diamond Push-Ups

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Get down on the floor in the top push-up position. Bring your hands in much closer than the standard placement so that your thumbs and first fingers are touching. This forms the diamond shape between your hands, giving the exercise its name.
  2. Maintaining a straight line from head to toe, lower to bring your chest down to your hands. Your goal is to touch your chest to your hands.
  3. Push through the triceps to return to the start position.

Training Tip

I love to use diamond push-ups as a finishing exercise, going to failure on each set. Don’t worry if you can only get fewer than ten reps, so long as your triceps are fried!

Cable Tricep Kickbacks

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Set the cable height on a cable machine at head height. Place a ‘D’ handle on the end of the cable.
  2. Grab the handle with an overhand grip in your right hand and take a step back from the machine.
  3. Assume a staggered stance with your right leg forward. Bend your torso to a 45-degree angle so that you are in the ‘lawnmower starting’ position.
  4. Bend your left elbow to a right angle, with the elbow at your body’s side. Your forearm should be perpendicular to the floor.
  5. Extend your elbow to full arm extension.
  6. Slowly return to the start position.

Training Tip

Use a relatively light weight and perform three or four sets of 15-20 reps. Make sure that your elbow remains at your side and the only movement that takes place is elbow flexion.

Bench Dips

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Kneel in front of a flat bench and reach behind you to place your hands on the bench, with thumbs about eight inches apart.
  2. Extend your legs in front of you with your knees slightly bent.
  3. In the start position, your arms should be fully extended so that your body forms a 30-degree angle to the floor.
  4. Bend your elbows to lower your torso to the floor.
  5. Push back to the start position.

Training Tip

This is another great finishing exercise. Do three sets at the end of your workout, pumping out as many reps as possible to failure. You can also superset bench dips with tricep pushdowns to create an awesome upper arm pump.

Sample Lateral Head Tricep Workout Plan

You should train your triceps twice per week. Ensure that your triceps have at least 72 hours of recovery time before working them again. During this time, the muscle regenerates and grows bigger and stronger.

The sweet spot for tricep volume seems to be 12-14 sets. Break it up into three or four exercises, with four sets per movement. Here is a sample triceps workout that emphasizes the lateral head:

  • Close Grip Bench Press: 4 sets of 12/10/8/6 reps
  • Facing Away Pushdown: 4 sets of 30/20/15/12 reps
  • Tricep Pressdown Machine 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Bench Dips: 2 sets to failure

[Related: Best dumbbell tricep exercises for growth]

Frequently Asked Questions about Lateral Head Tricep Exercises

Q: What exercises target all three triceps heads?

A: Every exercise will target all three triceps heads. That’s because all three heads are involved in elbow extension. You can only minimally emphasize each of the three heads. So, by concentrating on overhand grip pushdowns, skull crushers, and tricep dips, you will get an overall triceps workout.

Q: How effective are dumbbells for triceps work?

A: Some dumbbell exercises provide excellent tricep activation. The dumbbell skull crusher and the one-arm dumbbell overhead tricep extension are the best dumbbell exercises for the triceps. Dumbbells allow you to focus on one arm at a time. They also allow for wrist supination, something you can’t do with a barbell.

Dumbbells are less effective than cable machines because cables provide constant tension and allow for a range of resistance angles.

Q: What are the best bodyweight triceps exercises?

A: The three best bodyweight triceps exercises are tricep dips, bench dips, and diamond push-ups. Save them for the end of your workout and use them as finishing moves taken to failure.

Q: Do dips emphasize the triceps or the chest?

Dips can emphasize both the chest and the triceps, depending on how you do them. To target the triceps, perform dips in an upright position so that you are moving straight up and down. If you want to target the chest, lean forward so that your torso is at a 30-degree angle when doing the movement.

Q: What are the best grip choices for triceps work?

A: Your choice of grip on tricep exercises will make a slight difference to which of the three heads are emphasized. A reverse grip will give a slight edge to the medial head, while a neutral or overhand grip works the lateral head slightly more.

Conclusion

When fully developed, the triceps are one the most impressive parts of the body. Unless you bring out the lateral head, though, you’ll never achieve the coveted horseshoe shape. While you can’t isolate the lateral head, you’ve now got nine lateral head tricep exercises that will allow you to emphasize that outer portion of the muscle.

Choose three or four of your favorite exercises from our list and combine them for 12-14 sets. Be sure to vary your rep ranges and finish with a bodyweight move done to failure, and you’ll start to see some impressive outer triceps development.

Check out our eight best exercises for the long head of the biceps.