Biceps vs Triceps : Critical Differences You Need To Know

The bicep is a two headed muscle located to the front of the upper arm whereas the tricep is a three headed muscle at the back of the upper arm.

Each muscle group has a different function, with the biceps aiding with outward rotation of the arm and the tricep muscle responsible for extension of the forearm whilst helping with adduction and extension of the arm.

To develop overall strength and muscle growth to the upper arm muscles, it’s necessary to work both the biceps and triceps.

Collectively, these muscle groups make up a large portion of the arm. But what is the main difference between biceps and triceps?

For the average person, the biceps tend to be the strongest of the two muscle groups, even though it’s a smaller muscle when compared to the triceps.

This is usually because there is more activation of them during day-to-day activities. Triceps tend to get better activation with pressing movements, such as the bench press, whilst the biceps engage more with pulling movements, like a bicep curl exercise.

Biceps – Definition, And Physiology

The biceps muscle, also known as the Biceps Brachii (BB), is a large, thick muscle located at the front of the upper arm and occupies approximately 30% of the upper arm. It comprises of a short head and long head.

The lateral head of the biceps is called the ‘long head’ while the medial head is known as the ‘short head’.

Generally, the biceps function across three joints and are responsible for generating movements in the elbow joint, glenohumeral, and radioulnar joints.

In other words, the biceps perform three primary functions – shoulder elevation, elbow joint flexion, and forearm supination.

The short head of your bicep derives from the apex of your scapula’s coracoid process. On the other hand, the long head of this two-headed muscle originates from the scapula’s supraglenoid tubercle.

These two heads trail distally, and gradually they form a concurrent muscle belly. Then, they taper across the elbows’ anterior aspect and enter the forearm’s radial tuberosity.

Triceps – Definition And Physiology

The triceps brachii, commonly shortened to triceps, is the larger, thicker muscle found at the back of your upper arm and takes up approximately 55% upper arm.

Usually, it’s shape is that of a horseshoe and is the largest arm muscle. Its primary function includes the extension of the elbow. Furthermore, it’s responsible for stabilizing and extending the shoulder.

It takes its name due to being a three-headed muscle which comprises of the lateral head, the long head, and the medial head.

The triceps muscle functions as the biceps’ antagonist muscle or opposing muscle. The long head of the triceps originates from the infraglenoid tubercle of the scapula bone and inserts into the ulna’s olecranon.

Both the medial and lateral heads originate from the humerus.

Biceps vs Triceps – Training Principles

Because of its functionality and position, a small muscle like a bicep is easy to isolate making for good growth potential.

As with most muscles, you should aim to vary training to build larger muscles and stronger arms. It’s a good idea to start with a lighter weight before progressing to heavier weight loads.

Bicep muscles tend to recover quickly. This means they respond well to volume training of high reps with a lighter weight.

For your arm workout, aim to undertake compound exercises such as the lat pulldown but also be sure to incorporate isolation movements such as the bicep curl to work all the muscle heads effectively, helping you to build bigger arms.

Like the biceps, the triceps also recover quickly so you’ll want to perform arm exercises with a higher number of repetitions.

Whilst beginners should consider 2-3 sets per session, those with more training experience may require more sets for optimal progress.

Due to the fast recovery time, you can consider at least 2-4 sessions every week to maximize muscle gains.

Compound pushing movements like bench press, accompanied by a few more isolation exercises such as skull crushers or dips, may help you build strength and increase muscle mass to the back of your upper arm.

To summarize, the training capacity of the biceps vs triceps muscles are almost identical. Both need more than two sessions every week for optimal growth and can be trained regularly due to their smaller size.

Remember, you can better target the triceps with extension or pushing movements, whilst the biceps require curling and pulling movements.

Best Exercises To Train Biceps vs Triceps

Whether your training your biceps or triceps, ensure exercises are performed with good form and to a full range of motion. If you’re unsure how to perform an exercise always consult a personal trainer or qualified fitness expert.

Many of the below suggested exercise will take your arm through its full range of motion including protraction, supination and flexion making them highly effective upper body exercises.

Suggested Exercises To Target The Biceps.

It’s worth noting that you don’t need to perform all of these on any given day but rather split them up throughout the week.

  • EZ-bar bicep curl
  • Chin up
  • Hammer curl
  • Drag curl
  • Reverse grip barbell row
  • Cable curl
  • Concentration curl
  • Inclined curl

Suggested Exercises To Work The Triceps.

  • Machine triceps extension
  • Dumbbell kickbacks
  • Cable pushdown
  • Resistance band extensions
  • Overhead cable extension

Muscle Injuries – Biceps vs Triceps

On occasion, either the biceps or triceps muscles may suffer injuries, these range from chronic overuse when training to acute trauma if an exercise is performed incorrectly. Some of the common bicep injuries are tears and tendonitis.

A tear can be caused by several factors but in respect of training, typically results when you overload your biceps, and it may occur within the muscles or at any of its attachment points. In a worst-case scenario, bicep tears may require physical therapy or even surgery.

Biceps tendonitis is a condition that usually results from over-exercising. It causes micro tears in the tendon that connect the bicep muscles resulting in inflammation.

Depending on the severity, bicep tendonitis may lead to stiffness and aches and pains. Rest would be advised in this instance although in severe cases physical therapy and cortisone injections may be considered.

Common triceps injuries may include strains, pull and tendonitis. A less common injury is a tricep tendon rupture. Most often caused when the arm is straightening whilst under considerable force at the elbow joint.

People that suffer from this type of injury tend to be sports athletes such as weightlifters. Tricep tears on the other hand are identical to bicep tears, and they may call for surgery or therapy in extreme cases.

Similarly to biceps, triceps tendonitis, happens because of overuse and usually occurs in the area near the elbow.

Typically, this condition leads to a sharp pain that keeps worsening with movements. In many cases, tricep tendonitis goes away on its own. However, you may need to give your muscles adequate rest.

Biceps vs Triceps – Which Muscle Is Stronger?

Whilst many people assume the bicep to be a stronger muscle, research indicates something different.

A 2007 study shows that the triceps account for approximately 55% of the upper arm muscle mass.

On the other hand, the biceps accounts for around 30%. Despite being a little bigger in size than the biceps, the triceps hold equal significance in respect of movement of the arms.

Collectively, the biceps and triceps are antagonistic muscle pairs. Meaning, they need each other to work optimally.

Given this, it’s challenging to point out the stronger muscle definitively. Ultimately, it depends on the amount of utilization.

What Are The Best Treatments For Biceps And Triceps Injuries?

You can manage common biceps and triceps injuries with some easy home remedies. For example, apply ice to the injured area frequently. If you have stiffness and inflammation, go for heat therapy.

Furthermore, turn to compression bandages for reducing swelling and prevent movements using an arm sling.

However, if you have severe pain and inflammation that lasts for several days, you should consult a medical professional and cease any exercise which may exacerbate certain injuries and conditions.

What Are Some Common Symptoms Of Biceps vs Triceps Injuries?

Some common symptoms of biceps or triceps injuries include redness, bruising or burning sensation, inflammation, swelling, and stiffness. Such injuries can result in reduced range of motion for the arms.

Usually, biceps or triceps injuries occur when you lift weights that are too heavy, overstretch your arms, or perform exercises with incorrect form. With any training, always listen to your body and resist the temptation to push beyond your limits.


To summarize, the biceps and triceps are the antagonist’s muscles and both have important functions when it comes to movement of the upper body, helping you perform a wide range of day to day activities.

Regular training to these muscles will not only help to improve the look of your upper body, well-maintained biceps and triceps muscles can help your arms work at their best.

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