Medial Head Tricep Exercises

12 Best Medial Head Tricep Exercises for Huge Arms

Discover the secrets to sculpting impressive upper arms with our expert’s guide to the top exercises targeting the medial head tricep. Learn the science behind triceps anatomy and the optimal workout routine for impressive results

Huge arms are the gold standard among iron pumpers. When you tell someone that your passion is lifting, they’re hardly gonna ask you to flex your hamstrings; they want to see how big your guns are!

With all the emphasis on training the biceps, it’s easy to forget that 70% of your upper arm mass comes from the other side - the triceps. That horseshoe-shaped, three-headed muscle is also responsible for a lot of the pushing power that goes into every pressing move you make.

So, if your goal is to develop huge arms with the added perk of a pretty impressive bench press, you have simply got to prioritize your triceps.

As a veteran personal trainer, I’ve worked with competitive bodybuilders to maximize their triceps development since the 1980s. Over the years, I’ve worked with hard gainers, genetically gifted freaks, and everything in between.

Through in-the-trenches experience and research, I’ve identified the 12 best exercises to hit the triceps medial head, and in this article, I’ll lay them all out for you. I’ll also explain the anatomy of the triceps and address the vital question of whether you can really isolate the separate heads of the triceps.

Understanding the Medial Head Tricep

The triceps is a three-headed muscle group at the back of your upper arm. It is the antagonist to the biceps (think yin and yang). When the triceps contract, the biceps relax, and vice versa.

The function of the triceps is very simple: it extends the arm at the elbow.

The name of this muscle group comes from the fact that it is comprised of three distinct parts, known as heads. They are the:

  • Long Head
  • Medial Head
  • Lateral Head

When fully developed, these three muscles create a horseshoe shape that looks very impressive.

The long head of the triceps is the largest of the three muscles. It is located on the inner part of the upper arm, originating just below the scapular and running down to inset into the elbow joint. This is the only one of the three triceps heads that crosses two joints: the shoulder and the elbow.

The triceps heads each have a unique ratio of fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fibers. This is important because fast-twitch fibers respond best to heavy weight and lower reps, while slower-twitch fibers are more endurance-focused, requiring higher rep ranges.

The lateral head has the most fast twitch fibers, so reps in the 6-12 range are ideal for working it optimally.

The lateral head is located on the outer part of the upper arm. It originates on the humerus, or upper arm bone, and inserts alongside the other two heads in the elbow joint.

The lateral head has more slow twitch fibers than the other two heads. As a result, it responds more to reps in the 15-30 range.

The medial head of the triceps is the smallest of the three triceps heads. The other two heads actually cover a large percentage of this head. Its origin and insertion points are the same as the lateral head, running from the top of the upper arm bone to the elbow joint.

The medial head connects the other two heads. People who fail to develop this head will have a noticeable gap between the long and lateral head, completely destroying their upper arm aesthetics.

Can You Isolate Each Triceps Head

Many gymgoers believe you can fully isolate each head to develop the separate parts of a muscle and influence its shape. This is generally not true. The exception is the deltoids, which have three heads like the triceps. The difference is that each of the deltoid heads has different origin and insertion points. That allows you to do specific exercises to work one part of the muscle but not the others.

When it comes to the triceps, all three heads insert at the same place, which is the elbow joint. Two of them - the lateral and medial heads - originate on the humerus, while the long head comes from the shoulder joint. As a result, the long head is activated during overhead extension exercises, while the lateral and medial heads are not.

When you do an exercise like tricep pushdowns, all three triceps heads are equally activated. However, it is possible to emphasize a certain head minimally by using a certain hand position, grip, and body position.

It is easier to isolate the long head due to its unique point of origin. You really cannot isolate the medial head separately from the lateral head because they both start and finish in the same place. So, all of the following exercises will hit both of these heads preferentially while also stimulating the long head.

The three ways to isolate the medial (along with the lateral) triceps head are to:

  1. Use a reverse grip.
  2. Keep your elbows in at the sides of your waist.
  3. Using ranges between 15-30 reps.

[Related: Best dumbbell tricep exercises for growth]

The 12 Best Medial Head Tricep Exercises

Reverse Grip Dumbbell Bench Press

Note: By reversing your hand position on the dumbbell press, you put more emphasis on the triceps, including the medial head. This position also removes shoulder joint stress and de-emphasizes the front delts, which tend to take over in this move.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Lie on a bench with a pair of dumbbells held in your hands with a reverse grip so your palms face your head. Your feet should be firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Bring your arms up directly above your chest.
  3. Keeping your elbows in at your sides, lower the dumbbells to your ribcage,
  4. Push through the triceps to return to the start position.

Training Tip

  • Use weights that allow you to go relatively high with your rep range. I recommend starting with 30 reps, then grabbing a slightly heavier weight and dropping to 20 reps. Continue pyramiding down for a total of four sets.

Close-Grip Reverse 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 underhand 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 in at your sides.
  5. Push through the triceps to return to the start position. Forcefully contract the triceps in the top position.

Training Tip

Any version of a reverse grip press is significantly more risky than the standard version. Lower the weight significantly while you are getting used to this exercise. You should also always have a spotter standing behind you when doing this exercise.

Cable Rope Pushdowns

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, grabbing it at the base with both hands.
  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

Maintain an upright torso position throughout the movement. Do not round your back or otherwise use momentum to take the emphasis off the triceps.

Skull Crushers

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie on a flat bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Hold the dumbbells directly above your upper chest with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
  3. With your elbows in, bend at the elbow joint to bring the dumbbells down to the sides of your head.
  4. Press through your triceps back to return to the start position.

Training Tip

The key optimum triceps activation is to keep your elbows in. This prevents the shoulders and chest from getting involved. A little trick to help here is to imagine you are holding a basketball between your elbows,

Tricep Dips

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Stand between a pair of dip bars. Grab the sides of the bar and hoist yourself into an elevated position so that your arms are fully extended, and your body is suspended in the air. Cross your feet over.
  2. Maintaining an upright body position, bend your elbows to lower your body toward the floor. Go down until your elbows are at a right angle.
  3. Push through the triceps to return to the start position. Forcefully contract the triceps in the top position.

Training Tip

Ensure that you maintain an upright torso position when doing this exercise. If you lean forward, you will switch the emphasis from the triceps to the pectorals.

[Related: 5 reasons you should be doing dips]

Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdowns

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Set the pulley on a cable pulley machine to its highest setting.
  2. Place a short bar 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 handle with a reverse grip so your palms face up.
  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

Reduce the weight compared to your standard pushdown weight while you are getting used to this exercise. If you find it gives you excessive wrist strain, stop doing it.

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

This is a challenging exercise that does a great job of isolating the triceps. If you find it too hard, don’t be afraid to begin on your knees and progress to the full version over time.

Tricep Kickbacks

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Grab a dumbbell in your left hand and 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.
  2. Bend your left elbow to a right angle, with the elbow at your body’s side. Your forearm should be perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Extend your elbow to full arm extension.
  4. Slowly return to the start position.

Training Tip

The only part of your body that moves during this exercise must be your elbow joint and forearm. Do not allow your torso to move up and down or your shoulder joint to move backward.

JM Press (Reverse Grip)

The JM Press differs from the close grip bench press in that you are pressing the bar to your neck rather than your chest. This change of direction puts more emphasis on the triceps and less on the pectorals.

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 underhand 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 neck. Ensure that your elbows stay in at your sides.
  5. Push through the triceps to return to the start position. Forcefully contract the triceps in the top position.

Training Tip

This is another exercise where you must have a spotter, preferably one who knows what they’re doing!

Concentration Cable Extensions

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

To optimally work the medial head of the triceps, I recommend using a relatively light weight and keeping your range between 20 and 30 reps.

Tate Press

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie on a flat bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Bring the dumbbells directly above your chest, holding them in an overhand grip (palms facing away), and with the ends of the dumbbells touching.
  3. Bend your elbows to bring your forearms down to your chest (your upper arms should not move). Come down until the weights almost touch your chest.
  4. Push through the triceps to return to the start position.

Training Tip

Avoid bouncing the weights off your chest to create momentum for the upward drive. You may have to lower the weight to ensure that the triceps do most of the upward pressing movement.

12: Cable Overhead Extension

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Set the pulley on a cable pulley machine to its highest setting and place a rope handle on the end of the cable.
  2. Grab the rope handle in both hands and face away from the machine, about two feet from it.
  3. Bring your arms up above your head and bend forward at a 30-degree angle. Stagger your foot stance to enhance support.
  4. With your elbows in, bend the elbows to lower the rope behind your head. Go all the way back to extend the triceps fully.
  5. Push through the triceps to return to the start position. Fully contract the triceps in the end position.

Training Tip

This is another exercise where high reps preferentially work the medial head of the triceps. Three sets of 20-30 reps will really burn out the medial head, especially if this exercise comes at the end of your workout.

Creating an Effective Medial Head Tricep Workout Routine

The triceps are a relatively small major group that gets significant activation when you train the chest. As a result, it is a muscle that can be overtrained. I recommend keeping to no more than 12 sets for each exercise session.

Train your triceps twice weekly, ensuring at least 72 hours of recovery between sessions. Begin with a compound exercise, such as the dumbbell press or JM press, then move to a cable exercise for relatively high reps. Finish with a bodyweight or isolation move that allows you to pump out reps to failure.

Here is a triceps workout that has proven highly effective for many of my personal training clients:

  • JM Press (Reverse Grip): 4 sets of 12/10/8/6 reps
  • Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdowns: 4 sets of 30/20/15/15 reps
  • Diamond Push-Ups: 4 sets to failure

Conclusion

The triceps are the foundation of your upper arm mass. They’re also critical to upper body pressing power. For complete development, you need to bring out each of the three heads, including the medial head. While you cannot totally isolate the medial head of the triceps, the 12 medial head tricep exercises described here will allow you to optimally stimulate them while also working the other two heads.

Work your triceps twice weekly, with 12-14 sets divided between three or four exercises. Use a rep range between 15 and 30 for cable and bodyweight exercises and six to ten reps for compound moves. Do this consistently, and you will be rewarded with horseshoe triceps to impress.