Illustration of a bodybuilder training the long head of his triceps with the best exercises.

The Best Long Head Triceps Exercises

The long head of your triceps sweeps out underneath your arm, making your arms look bigger when you flex your biceps. But don’t be fooled by its prominent appearance. It’s one of those sneaky muscles that crosses multiple joints, making it more complicated to train.

Here are the best exercises for the long head of your triceps.

Triceps Long Head Anatomy

Most people are searching for the “best long head tricep exercises,” but your triceps have three heads, and the word is always written with an “s” at the end. That doesn’t matter very much, but if you understand what triceps means, it’s a little bit easier to understand what they do.

Diagram showing the long head, medial head, and lateral heads of the triceps along with the best exercises for stimulating them.

Your triceps have three heads: the lateral, medial, and long head. Lateral means side, and the lateral head of your triceps is on the side of your arms. The medial head is the one in the middle, buried underneath the other two. The long head is at the bottom, sweeping out gracefully underneath your arm. It’s called the long head because it’s the longest. It’s so long, in fact, that it crosses two joints.

How to Train the Long Head of Your Triceps

The main function of your triceps is to open your arms. Your biceps flex your arms closed, and your triceps pull your arms open. The long head has a second function, though. It also helps to stabilize your shoulder joint, pulling your arms back. That’s what makes it so tricky.

Diagram showing how to stretch and contract the long head of the triceps.

The left image shows the long head when it’s fully flexed. You don’t need to worry too much about that. The right image shows the long head when it’s fully stretched. That’s what’s important.

The best way to stimulate muscle growth is to challenge your muscles through a deep range of motion. The long head gets stretched when you lift your arms overhead, so that’s what you should look for in your triceps exercises.

The Problem with Pressing Exercises

Pressing exercises like the bench press and overhead press are good for stimulating the medial and lateral heads of your triceps. But the long head pulls your shoulders back, interfering with pressing movements, thus preventing them from fully engaging.

Study graph showing that triceps extensions are better than the bench press for stimulating triceps muscle growth.

As we explain in this article, pressing movements (in this case, the bench press) only stimulate about half as much triceps growth as triceps extensions (in this case, skull crushers). But if you care about your long head, the situation is far more dire. Almost all of that growth is in your medial and lateral heads! The long head gets barely any stimulus at all.

The Best Exercise for the Long Head

Overhead triceps extensions work your triceps under a full stretch, making them the best exercise for targeting the long head and perhaps the best triceps exercise overall.

Illustration showing the overhead triceps extension exercise.

One of the few studies comparing different triceps exercises found that overhead extensions stimulate 40% more triceps growth than triceps pushdowns, with most of that extra muscle growth coming from the long head (study).

You can do overhead extensions with cables, dumbbells, kettlebells, a curl bar, or a barbell. Here’s Marco teaching a few different ways to do the exercise:

If you don’t have the shoulder mobility for overhead triceps extensions, try skull crushers. As we covered above, they stimulate about twice as much triceps growth as the bench press, with most of that extra growth coming from the long head.

If skull crushers hurt your elbows, any type of triceps extension is fine, including triceps pushdowns and even the infamous triceps kickback. Those exercises won’t work your triceps under as deep of a stretch, but there’s no interference at the shoulder joint, so the long head will grow just fine.

Alright, that’s it for this article. If you want a full overview of how to train your arms, check out this beginner arm workout.

The Bony to Beastly Muscle-Building Program.

If you want a hearty bulking program that includes plenty of arm training, check out our Bony to Beastly Program (for men) or Bony to Bombshell Program (for women). They’re full muscle-building courses. We’ll teach you every exercise, give you a full workout routine, show you how to eat a nutritious muscle-building diet, and arm you with a book full of recipes you can use.

We’ll also give you personal support as you go through the program, helping you track your progress and make adjustments. We have an unconditional refund policy.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 65 pounds at 11% body fat and has ten years of experience helping over 10,000 skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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  1. Kane on March 9, 2024 at 12:48 pm

    Nice! I haven’t yet programmed overhead extensions on my bi/tri day, but skull crushers are pretty standard, as are rope pushdowns as finishers. One thing I never do is program tris on chest/back day or have them back to back. Why tire the tris out before chest or tire tris out on chest day right before focusing on tris? It sort of robs from both groups.

    Some beginners I counsel like to tell me they want bigger arms and cleave to that belief that doing endless bicep curls will do that. Nah. The triceps make up the majority of the upper arm, and arm thickness can be impressive with a good triceps focus. And there is nothing sexier than that solid big bump of the lateral head, and the long head definitely helps the overall size.

    In terms of joint mobility and issues doing extensions or skullcrushers, sometimes a grip change can help, a little. For pushdowns, I actually moved from rope to v-bar. Some people prefer a straight bar, but I find that does put a bit more strain on the shoulder. I’ve nothing but anecdotal info on that, but maybe that is supported by physiological mechanics?

    Maintaining tension throughout the entire movement can definitely involve using a cable machine with slow reps. If using dumbbells, pausing and clenching at the top is recommended. Standing or lying on the bench doesn’t seem to make as much difference, but some of the smaller support muscles get activated for balance while standing, particularly if using a very heavy weight (in such cases, staggering the stance to provide a bit of balance support is not a bad idea!).

    • Shane Duquette on March 9, 2024 at 1:43 pm

      I think you could make a case for doing your triceps extensions after your pressing exercises. The pressing exercises will warm up your elbows and, yes, tire out your triceps. That means you’ll be lifting a bit less weight with smoother joints. Many people find that feels quite a bit better. It seems to be perfectly fine for triceps growth, too.

      Tiring out your triceps before pressing would definitely interfere with your pressing, though. You presses would be limited by your triceps instead of your chest and shoulders, cutting their growth in half.

      I think you’re right that triceps are the clearer path to bigger arms. I don’t think you could get there with biceps training alone. Mind you, disproportionately big biceps do look great. I want bigger arms overall, but I don’t think it’s totally crazy to give the biceps some extra love.

      I feel you about the grip. I don’t love straight barbells for triceps (or biceps) exercises. I’d much rather do them with dumbbells or my trusty curl bar. If I’m doing cable exercises in the gym, I’d use the ropes, D handles, and angled bars.

      I’m not sure the contraction at the top matters very much. Have you seen our article on lengthened partials? But it doesn’t hurt, either, and maybe there’s an advantage that people don’t know about yet.

      I like standing, too. It’s stable enough that it isn’t a limiting factor, and I already spend enough time sitting down.

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