The triceps brachii, or triceps for short, is a crucial muscle in bodybuilding. Located on the back of your upper arm, they give your arms a lot of their size. In fact, the triceps make up about two-thirds of your upper arm mass. Beefing up your triceps will give you the sleeve-busting arms you’ve always dreamed of!
Triceps brachii has three different heads:
- The lateral head
- The medial head
- The long head
Of these three, the long head is the biggest.
All three heads work together to extend your elbow joint. As such, all triceps and every pressing exercise you do works your triceps. However, by adjusting the position of your upper arm and selecting specific exercises, it is possible to emphasize one head at a time.
The long head is so-called because it’s the longest of the three triceps heads. It’s unique because, as well as affecting your elbow joint, it also crosses the shoulder. That means it plays a role in shoulder extension, as well as stabilizing your shoulder joint.
Because the long head plays such a vital part in the size of your arms, it may be beneficial to make this muscle the target of your triceps training. Increasing the size of your triceps long head can add significant thickness and mass to your upper arms.
Here are the 10 best long head triceps exercises.
1. Cable Overhead Triceps Extensions
Cable overhead triceps extensions place the long head of your triceps in a stretched position, which increases range of motion and muscle activation. You can do this exercise with a straight or EZ bar, but it’s usually more comfortable and practical with a rope handle.
On the downside, this exercise requires good shoulder mobility. If you can’t keep your arms vertical with your biceps next to your ears, this exercise will be both uncomfortable and harder to perform correctly.
2. Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks
Triceps kickbacks aren’t usually seen as a mass builder, but for emphasizing your triceps long head, they’re tough to beat. The long head of the triceps is especially active in this exercise because it has to work hard to keep your upper arm extended.
This exercise works best with light to moderate weights and medium to high reps. It doesn’t work well with big weights or low reps. Use kickbacks as a finishing exercise, and really go for the pump.
3. Overhead EZ Bar Triceps Extensions
This overhead triceps exercise can be done using a barbell, but you’ll find it a lot more comfortable if you use an EZ bar. Using an EZ bar takes stress off your wrists and elbows. You can do it seated or standing as preferred.
The key to success with this exercise is keeping your biceps close to your ears. If your arms swing out and away from your head, you could turn what should be a triceps isolation exercise into more of an overhead pressing exercise.
Because of this, to do overhead EZ bar triceps extensions properly, you need good shoulder mobility and flexibility.
4. Dumbbell Incline Triceps Extensions
Skull crushers are one of the best overall triceps mass builders around. They work all three heads relatively equally. Superset them with close grip bench presses to really pack on some serious triceps mass!
Skull crushers work well using a straight barbell or an EZ bar, and you can also do them with dumbbells and a neutral or palms-inward grip.
However, to emphasize the long head of your triceps, all you need to do is raise your bench to a 30 to 45-degree angle. The main advantage of this exercise is that it requires less shoulder flexibility than more upright overhead extensions, so it’s a good compromise for less mobile lifters.
While you could do this exercise with a straight or EZ bar, using dumbbells allows you to use a larger range of motion, which will help produce better results.
5. Seated Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extensions
Providing you’ve got the upper body mobility to do this exercise correctly and safely, the seated dumbbell overhead triceps extension is a very effective way to target your triceps long head.
Because you’ll be using a dumbbell with this exercise, it’s ideal for drop sets. Just line up a few dumbbells at your feet, rep out to failure, grab the next lightest weight, and repeat. Start heavy and keep going until you can barely lift a ten-pounder to exhaust all your muscle fibers.
You can also do this exercise standing but, if you do, take care not to lean backward. Keep your core braced and your knees slightly bent to take the stress off your lower back.
6. Close-Grip Push-ups
It’s easy to forget that you don’t need to use barbells, dumbbells, or weight machines to build muscle; you can use bodyweight exercises too. After all, pull-ups and chin-ups are great back and biceps builders, and dips are a useful alternative to decline bench presses.
The humble push-up is another excellent bodyweight exercise, and it can easily be modified to emphasize the long head of your triceps. Also known as diamond push-ups, this simple but effective bodyweight exercise is one of the most effective long head exercises (1).
If you lift weights, you really ought to know how to do push-ups. But, in case you need a refresher course, here’s a guide to this cornerstone exercise.
7. Cable Triceps Pushdowns
Cable triceps pushdowns are most people’s go-to triceps exercise. It’s convenient and straightforward to do. Most triceps workouts involve this exercise. But, with a simple tweak, you can use this movement to preferentially target the long head of your triceps.
To do this, take 1-2 steps back and then pull your upper arms back and into your sides. This increases shoulder extension, which is one of the functions of the long head.
You can do triceps pushdowns using a straight bar, a V-shaped bar, or a rope handle, so experiment to see which one feels best. You can also do triceps pushdowns with one arm instead of two.
Make sure you’re doing cable triceps pushdowns correctly with our guide on this effective muscle builder.
8. High Cable Overhead Triceps Extensions
This overhead triceps extension exercise is much more forgiving than most other similar movements. However, despite being easier on your shoulders, it’s no less effective for hitting the long head of your triceps.
Because this exercise uses the same set up as triceps pushdowns, it’s ideal for supersets. Do high cable overhead triceps extensions first, and then turn around and go straight into a set of regular triceps pushdowns for a killer, time-efficient workout that prioritizes the long head.
How to do it:
- Attach a straight bar, rope handle, or V-shaped bar to an overhead pulley. Grab it with an overhand grip. Turn so your back is to the pulley machine and adopt a split stance for balance. Lean forward, so your torso is inclined to about 45 degrees.
- With your biceps close to your ears, extend your arms and push the handle forward until your arms are straight but not locked.
- Bend your elbows as far as you can without raising your upper arms and repeat.
9. Standing Barbell Kickbacks
Almost all triceps exercises involve elbow extension. That’s no bad thing as elbow extension is the primary function of the triceps brachii. However, the long head of the triceps also plays a role in shoulder extension.
This old-school exercise is all about shoulder extension, so it’s the closest thing there is to a move that isolates the long head of the triceps. It feels unusual, and the movement is very small, but if you want to work the long head of your triceps while all-but ignoring the other two heads, this could be the exercise you need to do.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold a barbell behind your back with a pronated or palms-down grip. Brace your abs.
- Keeping your arms straight but not locked, lift the bar out and away from your body. It won’t travel far – just lift it as high as you can.
- Lower the bar and repeat.
- Do this exercise with a light weight and for high reps. Go for the burn and pump!
10. Behind the Neck Overhead Presses
No, you haven’t opened a shoulder workout article by mistake! Studies show that the overhead press, especially when done behind the neck style, is a moderately effective exercise for the long head of your triceps.
In fact, this was one of Robby Robinson’s favorite triceps builders. Robinson, also known as the Black Prince, had some of the best triceps in the golden era of bodybuilding.
This exercise is ideal for time-pressed lifters who want bigger shoulders and triceps but don’t have time to train these muscle groups separately.
Of course, behind the neck pressing is controversial and could lead to shoulder pain and injuries, especially if you have poor posture or lack the necessary shoulder mobility to do them correctly. Regular overhead barbell presses may be similarly effective while being more shoulder-friendly.
How to do it:
- Seated or standing, hold a barbell across your upper back. Use a shoulder-width or slightly narrower grip to maximize triceps recruitment. Pull your shoulders down and back, brace your abs and lift your chest.
- Press the weight up and overhead to arms’ length. Fully extend your elbows but don’t lock them.
- Carefully lower the weight back to your neck and repeat.
- Do not jut your head forward. Instead, work on pulling your arms and shoulders backward.
Long Head Triceps Workout
You can beef up the long head of your triceps by adding any of these exercises to your current arm workouts. But, if you are serious about increasing the size of your long head, give this work out a try.
Do it once a week, a few days after your usual arm workout. Yes, that’s right, we want you to train your triceps twice a week to shock them into new levels of strength and size!
|1||Overhead EZ bar triceps extensions||4||8||90 seconds|
|2||Dumbbell incline triceps extensions||3||10||90 seconds|
|3||Cable triceps pushdowns||2||12||60 seconds|
|4||Close-grip push-ups||2||AMRAP*||45 seconds|
*AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible
While all triceps exercises work the long head, you’ll build bigger arms if you pay a little more attention to this muscle. After all, it makes up about two-thirds of your triceps mass, so it’s essential not to neglect it.
However, it’s more than just an important aesthetic muscle; it’s also critical for shoulder stability. Increasing the strength of your triceps long head could boost overhead and bench press performance. It also plays an integral part in pulling exercises, including chin-ups and T-bar rows.
Use these ten exercises to emphasize your long head, beef up your triceps, and add thickness and size to your upper arms.
1 – American Council on Exercise: ACE Study Identifies Best Triceps Exercises (source)
2 – PubMed: Effects of body position and loading modality on muscle activity and strength in shoulder presses (source)