10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises (Build Bigger Arms)

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: April 30, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
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Biomechanically speaking, lateral head tricep exercises need to be performed in a specific way to target all three heads effectively.

Some people want to make the lateral head of the tricep bigger, so I created a list of triceps exercises that are best for that.

I tested them all, and these are the best for lateral head tricep growth.

Read the review of Bowflex dumbbells and find appropriate dumbbells for your home gym and all exercises you wish to perform.

Keep reading to uncover the best lateral head tricep exercises and how you can implement them into your workout.

Quick Summary

  • To maximize tricep growth, especially in the lateral head, incorporating exercises like close grip bench presses, tricep pressdowns, and diamond push-ups is essential.
  • These exercises are specifically tailored to isolate and develop the lateral head of the triceps, contributing to overall arm aesthetics and strength.
  • Research in the Sports Medicine Journal highlights the importance of rest intervals, recommending 1 minute for muscle growth and 2.5 minutes for strength gains, which is crucial in tricep training.
  • Based on my experience, the combination of these targeted exercises and proper rest intervals, along with consistent progressive overload, can significantly enhance the size and strength of the lateral head triceps.

10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises

A man performing best lateral head tricep exercises

The tricep, located on the back of the upper arm's humerus, consists of three heads (long, medial, and lateral) responsible for elbow extension, with the long head also aiding in shoulder extension, and all three heads converging at the olecranon of the elbow [1].

Our team of fitness experts or I tested all the lateral head tricep exercises on the list.

We ensured all exercises were beginner-friendly and safe to perform so that you avoided getting injured from the start.

In my coaching experience, I've found that progressive overload, gradually increasing exercise intensity, is crucial for tricep growth, a principle I consistently apply in training programs.

“If you find your upper arm lagging behind your bigger body parts, think about giving your upper arm their own training day.”

- Scott Laidler, Online Personal Trainer

1. Close Grip Bench Press

Performing close grip bench press

The close grip bench press follows the horizontal push movement pattern, a variation of the traditional bench press.

The goal of the close grip bench press is to modify the wideness of the grip.

It will cause your shoulder to take on the movement since there will be less abduction or adduction and more flexion or extension.

The close grip bench press will work the middle muscle fibers of your chest, anterior delts, and all three tricep heads.

How to Perform a Close Grip Bench Press:

  1. Start by loading the barbell on the rack with the appropriate weight.
  2. Lie on the bench, directly below the barbell. The barbell should be in projection, with a spot between your neck and collarbone.
  3. Unrack the loaded barbell and place it right above your chest area with your elbows fully extended.
  4. Start the exercise by lowering the barbell towards your chest and holding the bottom position for one second.
  5. After that, push the barbell back to its starting position by reversing the whole motion of the exercise.

2. Tricep Pressdown

Tricep press down is another tricep exercise that primarily isolates your medial head tricep and lateral tricep head.

The long head of the tricep won’t be activated because your shoulder needs to be flexed to allow the long head to work.

You only need the tricep press-down attachment and a cable machine to perform this exercise.

How to Perform a Tricep Pressdown:

  1. Set the cable machine properly by placing a tricep pressdown attachment. Pick the appropriate weight for the exercise.
  2. Hold the attachment in both hands, one step from the cable machine.
  3. Your elbows are flexed, and your shoulders are in a neutral position.
  4. Start the exercise by pushing down the attachment only from your elbows, and avoid extending or flexing your shoulder joint.
  5. Press the attachment until your elbows are fully extended, then hold that position for a second.
  6. Return to the starting position by reversing the whole motion of the movement.

3. Diamond Push Ups

Doing diamond push ups

In my training routines, I often include diamond push-ups, a superior variation to regular push-ups, for enhanced tricep engagement, particularly in the lateral head.

Similar to the close grip bench press, the narrower position of your arms and hands will require your shoulder extensors to work more and be less taxing on adductors such as your pectoralis major.

This exercise mainly activates your long, lateral, and medial heads, anterior delts, and pectoralis major.

How to Perform a Diamond Push Up:

  1. Assume a regular push-up position with your back flat, your core braced, and your knees extended.
  2. Take a narrower grip with your hands and make a diamond shape out of them to assume the starting diamond push-up position.
  3. Start the exercise by lowering your body to the floor by extending your shoulders and flexing your elbows.
  4. Hold that position for a second before reaching just above the floor's surface.
  5. After one second in the bottom position, push yourself up to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps.

4. EZ Bar Skull Crushers

EZ bar skull crushers are standard triceps exercises that work all three heads of the muscle.

You can progress your EZ bar skull crushers by adding more external resistance or performing more repetitions or sets with the same weight.

How to Perform Ez Bar Skull Crushers

  1. Load the EZ bar with the appropriate weight to perform the exercise.
  2. Lie on the flat bench and take the EZ bar to your chest.
  3. Press the EZ bar up like you are performing a regular bench press to get into the exercise's starting position.
  4. Start the exercise by only flexing your elbows and lowering the EZ bar towards your eyes.
  5. When the bar reaches just above your eyes, reverse the motion of the exercise to return the bar to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

5. Dumbbell French Press

Performing dumbbell french press on incline bench

The Dumbbell French Press is another variation of the skull crusher.

The difference is that the French press is a more functional exercise than the skull crushers since it properly works your stabilizer muscles.

The dumbbell French press effectively targets all your major tricep heads to ensure maximum hypertrophy and muscle growth.

How to Perform a Dumbbell French Press:

  1. Pick the appropriate amount of weight to perform a dumbbell French press.
  2. Lie on the flat bench and pick up the dumbbells so they end up in your hands, with your elbows extended right above your chest.
  3. Start the exercise by only bending your elbows and lowering the dumbbells close to your ears.
  4. When you reach ear level, reverse the entire motion by only extending your elbows and returning the dumbbells to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

6. Close Grip Dips

Dips are a great upper-body pushing exercise that targets the lower fibers of the pectoralis muscle.

They are excellent for developing your tricep since there will be significant flexion in your elbow joint.

The close grip dip variation targets your triceps more than your pectoral muscle.

This is because the narrower grip limits abduction and adduction in your shoulder and forces flexion and extension.

How to Perform Close Grip Dips

  1. To perform close grip dips, you must set the parallel bars closer to each other.
  2. Hold off the bars with your palms and propel yourself up until you are right above the bars.
  3. Start the exercise by lowering your body towards the floor while maintaining a flat back and your knees extended.
  4. Lower yourself until your armpits reach the level of the bars.
  5. Hold that position for one second, then reverse the exercise's motion to return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

7. Smith Machine Close Grip Bench Press

Doing bench press on smith machine

The Smith machine close grip bench press takes control of the movement and requires less effort from your stabilizer muscle to complete the exercise.

It targets your tricep and pectoral muscles, but you can also load it with more weights.

This is due to fewer requirements for stabilization.

How to Perform a Smith Machine Close Grip Bench Press:

  1. Set up the Smith machine so the bar in the rack comes into the line with the lower chest or upper abdomen level.
  2. Take a grip about shoulder width apart or even narrower for more tricep activation.
  3. Drive your hands through the bar and wrap your thumbs around it.
  4. Drive your shoulders into the bench using the Smith Machine's weight.
  5. Create additional tension by pulling your traps down and pushing your chest up.
  6. Unrack the Smith machine and control the lowering phase of the bar until it reaches just above your chest or upper abdomen level.
  7. When you reach the bottom position, drive the Smith Machine back to its starting position and repeat for the desired reps.

8. Tricep Cable Kickbacks

Tricep cable kickbacks are an excellent isolation tricep exercise that isolates the lateral and medial heads.

Perform the tricep cable kickback with a cable machine to get the most out of the exercise.

Cables are more effective than dumbbells for isolating your triceps.

How to Perform a Tricep Cable Kickback:

  1. Pick the weight on the cable machine to easily perform up to 12 repetitions of the exercise.
  2. Take a split position with your legs, left forward and right backward, while having the cable in your right hand.
  3. Bend forward with your hips so that your body becomes parallel to the floor.
  4. Start the exercise by only extending your elbows and keeping your shoulders fixed.
  5. The end position is when your elbows are fully extended.
  6. After reaching full extension in your elbows, reverse the motion and return to the starting position.

9. Overhead Press

A man doing overhead press in gym

The overhead press is an upper-body vertical push exercise that is compound in nature.

It requires various joints and muscle groups to work synergistically at the same time.

The overhead press targets all your deltoid muscles, triceps, and pectoralis major.

How to Perform an Overhead Press:

  1. Load the barbell on the rack with the appropriate weight.
  2. Assume a standing position so that your chest is directly below the loaded barbell and your grip is the same as a pronated grip.
  3. Unrack the barbell and step back to have enough space to perform the exercise.
  4. Start the exercise by pushing the barbell towards the ceiling until your elbows are extended above your head.
  5. When you reach the top position, slowly lower the bar to return to the starting position and repeat for the desired reps.

10. Barbell JM Press

The barbell JM press is a multi-joint compound arm workout targeting your lateral head of the triceps and some other muscles.

This exercise is similar to the close-grip bench press and skull crushers.

Master the skull crushers and close-grip bench presses before trying this exercise.

How to Perform the Barbell JM Press:

  1. Take a regular setup, as with the normal flat bench press.
  2. The grip should be shoulder-width apart or slightly wider.
  3. Always have your elbows locked out over your shoulders.
  4. Keep the tightness by externally rotating the shoulders.
  5. Start the exercise by lowering the bar to your neck while flexing at the elbows.
  6. When the bar reaches the bottom position, push it back to the starting position and repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Benefits of Lateral Head Triceps Exercises

A man doing lateral head tricep exercises

There are many benefits to lateral head triceps exercises.

Below, you may find the most notable ones.

1. Aesthetics

Lateral head triceps exercises ensure you induce the biggest hypertrophy in your triceps, making them look bigger.

This also makes them look more appealing and aesthetic.

Be consistent with your triceps workouts and use the principle of progressive overload to avoid not making any progress, as stated in the study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology [1].

2. Compound Pressing Exercises

Doing bench press barbell workout

As a performance coach, I advocate for a holistic approach to arm training, combining both isolation and compound movements for comprehensive tricep development.

According to Asian Journal of Sports Medicine research, compound exercises should be a building block of every workout [2].

These have the biggest carry-over to real-life activities and are the best for building a stronger and more muscular body.

3. Elbow Stability & Health

Building balance between flexion and extension muscles in the upper arms is crucial to maintaining our shoulder and elbow joints' health and stability.

Tricep exercises perfectly counter flexion exercises, such as dumbbell curls or even chin-ups.

Training Tips & Techniques for Tricep Growth

Pulling cables to form tricep muscle

You can use many tips and tricks to grow your triceps faster, and below you may find the most useful ones that helped me on my fitness journey.

1. Prioritize the Lateral Head Tricep

The only way to significantly grow your lateral head triceps is to isolate them.

"Getting your triceps out of the shadow of your chest workout, in particular, will provide your triceps with a better opportunity to get bigger.”

- Scott Laidler, Online Personal Trainer

Based on a study from the Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, the best way is to perform elbow extension exercises when your shoulder is in the anatomical position [3].

This is because when your shoulder is flexed below 90 degrees, your long head isn’t as efficient as when the shoulder is more flexed [4].

2. Start Your Triceps Routine With a Multi-Joint Movement

Starting position of a workout exercise

Starting your workouts with multi-joint compound exercises would be best since they are the most demanding on your CNS and energy levels.

After that, you can perform isolation lateral head triceps exercises.

3. Include Multiple Lateral Head Exercises in Your Routine

The best way to hit all muscle fibers of your upper arms and tricep muscles is to include multiple exercises that will be performed with different loads, positions, and angles, as per research from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [5].

This will ensure all your muscle fibers get recruited and your triceps head grows faster than usual.

"The trick with triceps training is attacking the triceps from a variety of different angles so you can hit all three of its heads. Do this right, and you’ll craft well-rounded tris."

- David Otey, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

4. Try Something New

A man holding a barbell weight

When you perform one type of exercise or workout for an extended period, your body gets used to it and will spend less energy performing it.

This means you should change or incorporate new movements or exercises that will make your body harder to adapt to and produce a bigger adaptation in your system.

Based on my practical experience in performance psychology, I recommend advanced techniques like eccentric loading and drop sets for intensively challenging the lateral head triceps, leading to significant strength and muscle gains.

5. Use Various Exercises and Equipment

There are multiple ways to include new exercises in your workout routine.

One is to change your exercise, but you can also change the equipment you use to perform it.

Changing equipment will also trigger the necessary adaptations your body needs to start growing your muscles.

The best way is to use both of these techniques.

Change exercises and equipment from time to time, and your muscles will adapt to different stimuli.

6. Improve Form

A man holding kettlebell

You can get bored of performing the same exercise repeatedly, so you start compromising the form, focusing more on weight than the form itself.

This is ineffective and dangerous, and you can quickly get injured if you don’t proceed with the proper form, prioritizing proper elbow positioning and controlled movement.

However, if you improve your exercise form, you can lift more weights, producing better adaptation in your neuromuscular system.

7. Allow Time for Rest and Recovery

It doesn’t matter how hard you train or how good your workout program is if you ignore exhaustion.

Rest and recovery are essential for letting your muscles recover and improve for the next workout.

Try implementing enough sleep (6–8 hours daily) and eating the right foods to promote higher energy levels.

Having adequate rest between sets is crucial for optimal training outcomes, as research published in the Sports Medicine Journal indicates; specifically, 1 minute for promoting muscle growth and 2.5 minutes for maximizing strength gains [6].

Additionally, a balanced intake of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats also plays an important role in muscle recovery and growth post-triceps workouts.

FAQs

What Exercise Works the Lateral Head of the Tricep?

Kickbacks, dips, and overhand-grip press-downs work the lateral head of the tricep. However, any exercise that involves elbow extension will work the lateral head of the tricep.

How Do You Hit All 3 Heads of Triceps?

To hit all 3 heads of the triceps, you must perform elbow extension exercise while your shoulder is flexed equally or more than 90 degrees. This will ensure the long head gets stretched and allows for better contraction.

How Do You Work the Lateral Head of Your Tricep With Dumbbells?

To work the lateral head of your tricep with dumbbells, lie on the floor, take dumbbells, and face your palms inward. Then, lower the weights until your elbows come close to the floor, then reverse the movement.

What Is the Lateral Head of Triceps Brachii?

The lateral head of the triceps brachii is one of the three triceps heads.

Where Is the Lateral Head of the Triceps Brachii Located?

The lateral head of the triceps brachii is located on a linear ridge on the posterior surface of the humerus, just above the radial groove.

In addition, a portion of fibers arises from the lateral intermuscular septum.

Can You Isolate the Lateral Head of the Tricep?

Yes, you can isolate the lateral head of the tricep.

To isolate the outer head of the triceps, you must perform elbow extension from the anatomical stand, meaning your hands should be on the sides of your body.

How to Best Target the Lateral Head of the Tricep?

The best way to target the lateral head of the tricep is to perform isolated exercises only using elbow extension.

Some triceps exercises include cable press-down, rope push-down, and skull crushers.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215195/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4592763/
  3. https://www.mdpi.com/2411-5142/3/2/28
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35819335/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6950543/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19691365/
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
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Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
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