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The Best Triceps Exercise

December 29 2009

There are plenty of triceps exercises, but which is the very best triceps exercise?

triceps muscle showing long head & short head

What are the different Triceps muscle heads?

As shown in the pic, the triceps Brachii (cep=head) have three heads (medial head lies beneath other heads) :

  • Long head
  • Medial Head
  • Lateral head

What is the function of triceps muscle?

The major function of triceps or all the triceps head is the extension of your elbow (push your elbows away from you)

On the other hand,  triceps long head is a bi-articulate muscle or crosses the elbow and the shoulder joint and hence has the function of shoulder extension (bring the arm to the rear of the body) too.

So which is the best triceps exercise?

  • The best tricep exercise will be the one which maximally activates all three heads, especially the triceps long head
  • Triceps long head has the greatest volume and length compared to other heads. So you will get the greatest gains if you build your long head than any other triceps heads.
  • You can only maximally activate your tricep long head if you keep your arms over head as in overhead extensions & dumbell french press. Triceps exercises which have your arms down like cable pressdowns do not maximally activate the triceps long head muscle.

    tricep overhead extensions

    All the other heads will be activated with just elbow extension; It doesn’t matter whether your arms are over head or not.

Practical Applications

If you had to pick one triceps exercise, the best triceps exercise would be one which bring your arm overhead, like overhead extensions or dumbell french press.

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Mumford | Tue December 29, 2009  

nice. thanks for this, anoop.

Mumford | Tue December 29, 2009  

oh, a question anoop:
is it wise to focus on mostly compounds (and few isolation) exercises until you build satisfactory mass, then you can add in isolation exercises and worry about stuff like hitting the different heads, etc?

Anoop | Tue December 29, 2009  

Hi mumford,


The bulk of your program should be made with compound lifts since arms get enough stimulation with compound lifts. Just add a few isolation exercises for 3-4 sets and you will be good.

And it really comes down to the individual. If you are a bodybuilder who has weak arms, you might want to include a few more isolation exercises than you normally would.

And as I wrote, you don’t need to do 3-4 exercises to hit different heads. For instance, the triceps only really need one exercise to hit all heads equally.

Aaron | Wed December 30, 2009  

Even though I add overhead extensions to my routine my 2 favorite triceps exercises are supine close grip presses and weighted dips.

Anoop | Thu December 31, 2009  

Hi Aaron,

And most people would have CG press and dips as number one exercise too.

Part of the reason I think is though the long head is the longest and has the greatest volume, it stays hidden from view (inside of your arm called “inner head”). The lateral and medial head are much more visible (lower and outside) and people tend to associate these muscles when they say triceps. And part of it could be the multi-joint exercise effect.

If you are looking for an all-round exercise for your triceps (hits all the head equally), nothing beats an overhead extension.

Jim | Sat January 02, 2010  

This article is just what I needed. As I looked at my pics from my previous competition, I decided my tri’s needed more swoop (long head) when I did a front double bicep pose. However, I rarely performed over head tri work and it showed.

Fortunately, this gives me plenty of time to bring up that long head before my next show. It also explains how I can be a decent bencher, but still lack in the triceps.


Anoop | Tue January 05, 2010  

Hi Jim,

And try using a cable for overhand extensions with both arms.

But instead of the usual where the cable runs from the top and you lean forward, run the cable from the bottom and stand up and pull it straight up ( just like a two hand dumbell overhead extension).

The line of pull is a lot better this way. And the two arms makes sure that you are not compensating and taking the weight off by moving the arm.

Try it and see how it feels.

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