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Many people tend to focus on building their biceps for aesthetically-pleasing arms. Whilst this is a good idea, don’t overlook the triceps as they play a significant role when it comes to the overall look of your upper body. Your triceps make up at least two-thirds of your upper arm. Therefore, neglecting these muscles would be a mistake if you want bigger arms.
The triceps, also known as the triceps brachii, are made up of three parts; the medial head, lateral head, and long head. All three muscles play an important role in aiding with elbow flexion and elbow extension, whist providing support to the elbow joint.
- Recommended Reading – 7 Simple Lateral Head Tricep Exercises To Explode Arm Definition
Activating all three tricep muscle heads through various targeted exercises is a great way to help you build a proportionate and muscular upper arm. However, the long head of the tricep muscle is largest of the three. Understanding the long head tricep muscle and its functions is key to adding muscle mass and increasing strength.
What Is The Long Head Of The Triceps?
The three heads of the triceps work together to increase the strength and stability of the arm. The triceps join from the elbow and shoulder joints acting as an extensor for the forearm muscle at the elbow joint. It’s worth noting that the main muscle responsible for this movement is the medial head of the triceps. As the long head also connects to the shoulder joint it also plays a small role in helping with both shoulder extension and adduction.
The long head of the triceps is the part of the muscle that forms a horseshoe shape. It is the most visible of all three heads. The three heads join into one tendon at the elbow, but all proceed from different points at the shoulder. The long head also helps to stabilise the adducted humerus at the shoulder joint.
When undertaking your tricep workout, there are techniques that better stimulate the long head. These exercises are challenging, but are definitely worth it for overall arm growth. By adjusting the position of your upper arm when exercising, you can effectively place more emphasis on the long head.
The 8 Best Long Head Tricep Exercises
In no particular order, these are some of the best triceps exercises you can incorporate into your training to help build the arm muscles.
1. Close Grip Barbell Bench Bress
Whilst traditionally a chest exercise, the standard bench press is a great exercise to work the triceps. However, by simply adjusting your grip width you can effectively target all muscle groups within the triceps. As with all exercises, slow and controlled form is essential to work the correct muscles.
How To Perform Close Grip Barbell Press:
- Lie flat on a bench, ensuring you retract your scapula and ‘dig’ your upper back into the bench
- Take hold of the barbell ensuring that your grip is slightly narrower than shoulder width. Keeping your wrists straight, hold it straight out and above your chest.
- Lower the barbell slowly towards your lower chest until you just reach at approximately 90 degrees.
- Pause at the bottom for a second or two before pushing the bar back up towards the ceiling.
- Ensure you don’t completely lock your elbow joints at the top of every rep, by doing this you will limit joint wear and keep tension on the muscle ensuring maximum tricep activation.
Barbell presses for more tricep activation will only be effective with proper form. Grip the bar too close, and you may lose balance or put unnecessary stress on your joints. Grip it too far, and you may activate more of your chest muscles taking emphasis away from the triceps.
The advantage of this exercise is that you can quickly scale up your weights as your form and strength improve. Start with lighter weights to build your form before moving on to heavy weights. We recommend using fractional plates in order to achieve consistent progress. Not sure what a Fractional Plate is, we wrote a handy guide for you here.
2. Overhead Dumbbell Extensions
This is a beginner-friendly exercise to build strength and mass to the long head. You need minimal equipment and this is a great exercise for stretching the triceps. It can be done either seated or standing.
The Best Way To Perform An Overhead Extension:
- Sit on a bench with your feet hip width apart. Using a bench is better than performing the exercise standing as it isolates the upper body from the legs and gives you a handy resting position for your dumbbell
- Lift the dumbbell onto your knee
- From here you should be able to ‘kick’ your leg up whilst simultaneously lifting the dumbbell into position. Your elbow should move 180 degrees from beside your body to above your head
- Using your other hand, grip the end of the dumbbell and the handle in a V shape
- Keep your palms facing up towards the ceiling and your wrists in line with your body
- Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your neck until your elbows are at a 90 degree angle to your triceps
- Be sure to keep your elbows tucked in throughout and don’t allow them to flare out as this can cause injuries
- Keeping your head straight and chest up, slowly raise the weight back to above your head, exhale as you do so. Repeat the desired number of reps.
Finding the proper grip and mastering the technique of getting the dumbbell into position can be a challenge during this exercise. Use the grip you need to do diamond or triangle push-ups and support the bottom of the dumbbell with your fingers and palm. The key point is to keep your wrists straight throughout to properly activate the triceps.
If you don’t feel comfortable then add a little variation by dropping the weight down to something a little more manageable and performing a single-hand dumbbell extension. Be sure to switch to the other hand to isolate both triceps equally. Doing this can help improve long head muscle emphasis.
3. Diamond Or Triangle Push-Ups
Many people consider this one of the most effective exercises for targeting the tricep muscles, especially the long head and lateral head. A triangle push-up is like a regular push-up, but your arms must form a diamond shape underneath your chest. The reason for this hand placement is that it relieves pressure on the pectorals instead placing weight emphasis onto the triceps.
This Is The Best Way To Perform A Diamond Push Up:
- Begin in a basic plank position, with your toes tucked and core stable and tight.
- Position your hands directly under your chest and put your fingers together to form a triangle or diamond shape.
- Lower yourself slowly from your high plank position, like in a regular push-up. Remember to keep your core tight, your spine straight, and your elbows tucked in.
- Pause at the bottom for maximum muscle burn, then slowly press back up.
If you feel elbow pain, adjust your setup until you feel the burn in your triceps. Elbow pain is usually an indication of poor form or posture. If you want to learn more about the benefits of the Diamond Push Up we wrote a more detailed article here for you.
4. Incline Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks
The incline dumbbell kickbacks are one of the most effective exercises to target the long head. By positioning yourself on an incline, gravity can do its job and increase the pressure on your triceps. In addition, using an incline helps with stability allowing you to better focus on your arms.
How to do an incline tricep kickback:
- Set an adjustable bench to an incline position, lay on it chest facing down onto the pad.
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, bend your elbows so your arms are at 90 degrees. Keep your elbows tucked in throughout the exercise.
- Slowly extend your elbows until your arms are straight and parallel with your body. Squeeze your triceps at the top for maximum contraction.
- Lower your arm slowly back to its original position.
During the exercise, your elbows must remain parallel to your body, and your arms remain locked to your sides. If your elbows drop further, you lose maximum contraction, which defeats the purpose.
5. EZ Bar French Presses
French presses combine skull crushers and overhead extensions. With a French press, you get an extended range of motion that emphasizes the long head. With the EZ bar, repetition is more critical than a heavy weight. This means the more reps you can do, the more effective it is.
How To Perform The EZ French Press:
- Sit on a flat bench or an adjustable bench with a 75-80 degree incline and grab an EZ bar using the narrow overhand grip.
- Stretch the bar overhead and keep your elbows tucked.
- Slowly lower the EZ bar behind your head while keeping your upper arms straight. This follows a similar movement path to that of the overhead extension.
- Once your elbows are at approximately 90 degrees, hold for a couple of seconds before raising the bar back up and over head.
6. Incline Dumbbells Overhead Extensions
This is a more challenging movement when compared to the regular overhead extension exercise, the incline overhead extension allows for more shoulder flexion. Any exercise that allows the shoulder to flex to its maximum will help to stretch the long head. The incline overhead extension places much less stress on the shoulders.
How To Perform An Overhead Incline Extension:
- Lie back on a bench with an incline of about 30 degrees holding on a dumbbell in each hand.
- With your arms fully extended, push the dumbbells overhead keeping your arms straight and up towards the ceiling.
- From here, slowly bend at the elbows lowering the weight behind you.
- Squeeze your triceps once you reach around 90 degrees and slowly raise the weight back over head.
- Repeat the desired number of reps.
With this exercise, repetition is more important than heavy weights. Using heavy weights can place too much pressure on the elbows. Focus on building your form instead, and use moderate weights for this exercise.
7. Cable Overhead Triceps Extensions
Like the dumbbell overhead extension, these apply much more stretch to the long head of the triceps. The overhead cable extensions are one of the most effective exercises for emphasizing the long head.
How To Do An Overhead Cable Tricep Extension:
- With your back to a cable machine, take hold of the attachment. Typically, a tricep rope attachment should be positioned to the top of the machine.
- Assume a split stance as though you’re taking a step forwards. This position will help you maintain your balance throughout the exercise.
- With your hands behind your head, keep your elbows at right angles.
- Pull the cable forward by extending your elbows whilst keeping your stance. Avoid any body movements for maximum effect to the triceps.
- Slowly allow the weight to pull your hands back behind your head and repeat as desired.
8. Weighted Dips
One of the more challenging exercises to execute, dips are some of the best exercises you can engage in. In addition, weighted dips are a compound exercise that can gradually bulk up the triceps long head. If you’re a beginner to this exercise you can start with just your bodyweight and do partial dips until you gain strength.
How To Carry Out A Weighted Dip Exercise:
- Select your weight (unless doing just bodyweight), wrap the chain or weightlifting belt around your waist, and fasten it.
- The dip handles should be narrow and slightly below your shoulders.
- Grip the handles of the dip bar and lift your body by straightening your elbows
- Slowly bend your elbows to a right angle to lower your body. Keep your feet underneath you throughout.
- Push your body back to the top by squeezing your triceps while pushing down into the handles.
A common mistake is when someone leans forward resulting in their feet being positioned slightly behind them. Whilst this isn’t necessarily incorrect, it will take emphasis away from the triceps and put it onto the chest muscles.
Tips for Long Head Tricep Exercises
Emphasizing the long head is challenging but rewarding. However, it can also seem unproductive, especially if you’re not hitting your form right. Weight load can quickly transfer from the triceps into other places where they are not wanted. This means maintaining a proper form is crucial to building the long head. It’s also worth remembering that there is no specific isolation exercise to work the long head alone and you will invariably work the other muscles of the arms.
Doing the correct number of sets and reps is also vital. While there are different schools of thought on this, there should be a limit. The number of sets you do should be at most 10, and your reps should get progressively harder towards the end. Also, remember that sometimes less is more when it comes to the weight load.
The importance of both compound and isolation exercise when it comes to building the long head of the triceps cannot be overstated. Emphasizing the long head will no doubt affect the other muscles of the arms and body. However, triceps growth majorly comes from heavy compound pressing movement.
Exercises like the overhead tricep press will do more for your long head than push-ups. You can gradually and significantly overload compound pressing exercises with weights. Compared with isolation exercises, they can have a more significant effect on the long head. Compared to free weight, your body weight plays a significant role when building your long head.
Focus on doing 3-5 sets of incline dumbbell overhead extension and incline triceps kickbacks in your weekly routine. These exercises have proven to be more effective in emphasizing the long head. Because of the size of the long head, it needs sufficient stretch to grow. When doing these exercises, focus on the time under tension rather than the weights. The longer you feel the burn, the better the results