10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises for Bigger, Stronger Arms

10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises for Bigger, Stronger Arms

Are you ready to develop a strong horseshoe shape and build up your lateral triceps head?
Image of a man doing triceps pushdowns on a cable. Pexels

If you’re looking to enhance the definition and strength of your triceps, particularly the lateral head, certain exercises can help focus on this part of the muscle. While completely isolating the lateral head is challenging due to its shared attachment points with the medial head, certain exercises can effectively emphasize it.

As we’ll learn below, key movements like tricep pushdowns, bench dips, and various forms of overhead extensions and skull crushers help sculpt and strengthen the lateral head, contributing to well-defined upper arms.

Anatomy of the triceps

Image of triceps brachii muscles. The Long Head (red), Medial Head (green), and Lateral Head (yellow),

The triceps brachii is a big muscle on the back of the upper arm. It often looks like a horseshoe on the back of the arm. The main function of the triceps is to extend the elbow joint.

The triceps consists of three parts: the Long Head, Medial Head, and Lateral Head. The Long Head is located on the inner side of the arm, closer to the body, while the Lateral Head is on the outer side.

The Long Head is unique because it originates from the shoulder blade and attaches to the elbow joint, crossing both the shoulder and elbow. This enables it to assist slightly in lifting the arm overhead as well as straightening the elbow.

The Lateral and Medial Heads both originate from the upper part of the humerus and attach at the elbow. Due to their close attachment points, isolating the Lateral Head without involving the Medial Head is challenging, especially at higher shoulder elevations. However, certain exercises and positions can emphasize the Lateral Head more effectively.

How can you target the lateral head of the triceps?

While you can’t completely isolate the lateral head of the triceps due to its shared attachment points with the medial head, certain exercises and positions can help emphasize the lateral head more. Here are some practical tips to do so:

1. Train your triceps after a rest day.

Rearranging your workout schedule so that you train triceps after a day off—when you’re well-rested and well-fed—sets you up for a more effective session. A rest day not only helps your body recover but also refreshes your mind, keeping you motivated, especially before working on a weaker area like the triceps.

2. Perform exercises that keep your arms at your sides

Exercises that keep your arms at your sides with an overhand grip will focus more on the lateral head. Good exercise choices for this include dips, tricep kickbacks, and overhand-grip press-downs. Other movements like skull crushers, which involve your arms being perpendicular to your body, target both the long and lateral heads. Avoid letting your elbows flare out to maintain focus on the triceps, especially the lateral head.

4. Use a neutral grip

Opt for a neutral grip (palms facing each other) when possible, and consider using a rope handle to facilitate this grip.

5. Start with a multijoint movement

Just as with other training days focused on the chest or legs, begin your arm day with multijoint (compound) movements. These exercises, like close-grip bench presses and dips, involve multiple joints and allow you to use heavier weights, providing greater muscle stimulation early in your workout. This is crucial for building strength before fatigue sets in.

6. Include a Second Lateral Head Movement

In your workout, it’s beneficial to include multiple exercises that target the lateral head from different angles to ensure thorough stimulation. Avoid repeating similar movements in the same session. Instead, after starting with a compound movement, move on to single-joint exercises like overhand-grip press-downs or kickbacks.

7. Don’t stop at failure

Pushing your muscles to failure is essential for maximum growth. Advanced techniques like rest-pause or drop sets can help you go beyond muscle failure, especially useful when training without a spotter. With a spotter, you can incorporate forced reps and negatives to extend your sets and increase intensity.

8. Add a second triceps day

Consider adding a second triceps-focused day to your training split. This allows you to hit the triceps more frequently, which can be particularly effective for short-term gains. However, ensure there is a sufficient recovery period between sessions. Organize your workout split to avoid overtraining, possibly scheduling triceps exercises after chest day and then again with biceps, ensuring at least 48 hours of rest in between.

10 best lateral head tricep exercises

Here are the ten best exercises that engage the lateral head of the triceps:

1. Tricep Pushdowns

Ideal for isolating the lateral head, tricep pushdowns should be performed with a focus on keeping your elbows pinned to your sides. Use various attachments like the rope, straight bar, or v-bar to modify your grip and intensify the focus on the lateral head.

  • Stand upright with a slight forward lean, and grip the attachment.
  • Keep elbows close to your body.
  • Push down until your arms are fully extended.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

2. Tricep Kickbacks

When executed in a bent-over position with either dumbbells or a cable, this exercise significantly activates the lateral head. Maintain a controlled movement, ensuring your elbow stays fixed to maximize engagement.

  • Lean forward, back flat, one arm holding the weight.
  • Keep your elbow fixed at your side.
  • Extend your arm behind you until it’s straight.
  • Slowly bring the weight forward to the starting position

3. Cable Crossbody Concentration Extensions

Much like the bicep concentration curl, this exercise targets the triceps with a unique cross-body approach using cables or resistance bands, pinning the elbow to the inner thigh to sharpen focus on the lateral head.

  • Set a cable pulley on the lowest setting with a handle.
  • Stand so the cable crosses in front of you, pinning your working elbow inside your thigh.
  • Extend your arm across your body.
  • Slowly return to the starting bent position.

4. Bench Dips

This powerful bodyweight exercise focuses on the lateral head and can be modified in difficulty by adjusting leg positions. It’s a foundational move for those building up strength for more advanced dips.

  • Position yourself between two benches or on one bench. Hands on the bench behind you, legs extended.
  • Lower your body by bending your elbows.
  • Push up through your palms to return to the start.

5. Tricep Dips

Performed on parallel bars, this exercise enhances the lateral head by maintaining an upright posture. Adjust the difficulty using assistance options like resistance bands or an assisted dip machine until you can perform the exercise unaided.

  • Use parallel bars or a dip station.Grip the bars, arms straight, body upright.
  • Lower your body, keeping your torso upright.
  • Push back up to the starting position.

[Related: 5 Tricep Exercises with Resistance Bands for Strong Arms]

6. Close-Grip & Diamond Push-Ups

These variations of push-ups concentrate the effort on the triceps, with the diamond setup particularly effective for the lateral head. Adjust hand placement to accommodate shoulder comfort.

  • Put your hands close together under your chest, forming a diamond shape with your thumbs and index fingers.
  • Lower your body while keeping your back straight.
  • Push up to extend your arms fully.

7. Decline Close Grip Bench Press

By shifting the bench to a decline, this variation of the close grip bench press shifts more emphasis to the lateral head, enhancing its activation during the exercise.

  • Set a bench to a slight decline. Lie back with a barbell or dumbbells, hands close together.
  • Lower the weights towards your chest.
  • Press the weights up until your arms are extended.

8. Decline Neutral Grip Dumbbell Skull Crushers

Using a decline bench, this variation focuses more intensely on the lateral head. Keep your elbows in and movement controlled to maximize effectiveness.

  • Lie on a decline bench with dumbbells. Arms extended overhead, palms facing each other.
  • Lower the dumbbells towards your forehead.
  • Extend your arms back to the start.

9. Cable Overhead Triceps Extensions with Rope Attachment

While generally targeting the long head, adjusting the grip and angle on this exercise can also effectively engage the lateral head.

  • Attach a rope to the bottom pulley. Kneel or stand, rope overhead, elbows bent.
  • Extend your arms above your head.
  • Slowly return to the bent elbow position.

10. Tricep Pressdown Machine

This machine is excellent for performing drop sets. Start by completing as many reps as you can handle at your current weight. Then, reduce the weight by moving the pin down one setting and continue to perform another five or six reps. Repeat this process three or four times to effectively fatigue your triceps, maximizing muscle endurance and growth.

  • Adjust the seat height so you can sit comfortably with your feet flat on the ground.
  • Select the appropriate starting weight by setting the weight pin.
  • Sit down on the machine and place your hands on the handles at your sides.
  • Ensure your elbows are aligned with your hands.
  • Push your arms down until they are fully extended.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

Lateral Head Tricep Workout Plan

Aim to perform this routine twice a week, allowing at least 72 hours between sessions for recovery and growth. This workout includes four exercises, totaling 12 sets.

Workout Plan:

  1. Close-Grip Bench Press
    • Sets/Reps: 4 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6 reps (increase weight with each set)
    • Focus: Engages overall triceps with emphasis on the lateral head.
  2. Overhead Cable Extension
    • Sets/Reps: 4 sets of 12 reps
    • Focus: Targets the lateral head from an overhead angle. Use a rope attachment for better movement.
  3. Parallel-Bar Dips
    • Sets/Reps: 2 sets to failure
    • Focus: Affects the lateral head significantly when performed with a slight forward lean.
  4. Diamond Push-Ups
    • Sets/Reps: 2 sets to failure
    • Focus: Enhances triceps activation, particularly the lateral head, through close hand positioning.

Additional Tips:

  • Maintain proper form and full range of motion.
  • Rest about 60-90 seconds between sets to recover without losing intensity.
  • Optionally, add intensity boosters like drop sets or slow negatives in the last sets for a challenge.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Got more questions about lateral head tricep exercises? Check out some frequently asked questions about this topic below.

What exercise works the lateral head of the tricep?

The lateral head of the tricep can be specifically targeted with exercises like tricep pushdowns using a rope attachment, dumbbell kickbacks, and overhead tricep extensions. These exercises help isolate and engage the lateral head, contributing to better definition and strength in that area.

How do I hit all 3 tricep heads?

To effectively work all three heads of the tricep (the lateral, medial, and long head), incorporate a variety of exercises into your routine. Close-grip bench presses and dips primarily engage the overall tricep with a focus on the long head. Tricep pushdowns, especially with a bar, can target both the medial and lateral heads. Overhead tricep extensions are great for emphasizing the long head.

What exercise works the medial head of the tricep?

The medial head of the tricep can be targeted with exercises such as reverse grip tricep pushdowns and tricep kickbacks. These exercises help isolate the medial head, which is crucial for full tricep development and functionality.

Do dips hit all three tricep heads?

Yes, dips are an effective compound exercise that targets all three heads of the tricep—lateral, medial, and long. However, the focus shifts slightly based on how you perform the dips. Leaning forward during a dip can engage more of the long head, while maintaining a more upright position tends to emphasize the lateral and medial heads.

How to target the long head of the tricep?

To specifically target the long head of the tricep, incorporate exercises that involve overhead movements. Overhead tricep extensions, either with a dumbbell or a cable, are excellent for this purpose. These exercises put the long head in a stretched position, maximizing its engagement during the workout.


If you want to strengthen and define your triceps, especially the lateral head, key exercises like tricep pushdowns, bench dips, and overhead extensions are essential. These moves target the different tricep heads, helping you achieve that sculpted “horseshoe” look.

For more tips and tricks for your fitness journey, explore our blog for more guides and expert advice on building strength and definition!

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