10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises

10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises

Nov 29, 2023

Young sports woman working on her triceps outdoors. lateral head triceps

10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises (Blast Your Triceps)

Swole Triceps Await You, My Friend!

Have you been training hard but your triceps growth seems to have stalled? Do you long for arms that will make bros green with envy? Well, listen up!

The secret to next-level triceps development lies in one particular muscle head - the lateral head. Located on the outer portion of your upper arm, this bad boy contributes greatly to the overall mass and horseshoe shape of your triceps.

Unfortunately, typical presses and extensions often neglect this crucial area. But fear not! Isolating the lateral head with targeted exercises will uncover your triceps' full potential.

In this epic quest for ultimate arm gains, we shall attack the lateral head with an arsenal of high-powered isolation moves. Armored with perfect form and unwavering focus, we will force those lateral fibers to grow. Our victory will be glorious!

The Chosen Exercises:

  • Overhead extensions - lower the weight behind your head to blast the lateral head. Control that negative!
  • Kickbacks - keep those elbows pinned for maximum isolation. Feel the lateral burn!
  • Underhand pressdowns - flip that grip to shift tension outward. Shock those lateral fibers!
  • Single-arm moves - go unilateral to really isolate each head.

Brothers and sisters in iron, the path has been laid. May your resolve be steadfast and weights heavy. Destiny awaits your triceps! Now go forth and crush the lateral head!

Why Focus on the Lateral Head

If you've hit a plateau in your triceps development, it may be time to start emphasizing the lateral head of your triceps. The lateral head is located on the outer side of the triceps muscle and can help give your upper arms extra definition and size.

Targeting the lateral head of the triceps with specific exercises is crucial for bringing up stubborn weaknesses and imbalances in your triceps development. Some triceps exercises like pushdowns and skullcrushers tend to involve all three triceps heads and don't isolate any single head.

That's where these 10 best lateral head tricep exercises come in.

We'll cover several highly effective isolation exercises that really target and emphasize the lateral head of the triceps to take your triceps to a great of size and development.

By the end, your stubborn lateral triceps head will have no choice but to grow! Let's dive in to the 10 best exercises for blasting the lateral head of your triceps.

Triceps extension exercise

Why Is the Lateral Head of the Triceps Important to Train?

As a three-headed muscle, the triceps brachii contribute significantly to the overall size and strength of your upper arms. Out of the three parts or heads of the triceps - the lateral head, long head, and medial head - the lateral head is located on the outer part of your upper arm, giving the triceps width and lateral sweep.

The lateral head of the triceps makes up the outside area of your triceps and contributes significantly to overall triceps size and shape. Well-developed lateral triceps will make your arms appear thicker and wider when viewed from the front and back.

Unfortunately, commonly performed triceps exercises like pushdowns, extensions, and dips often fail to isolate or place significant emphasis on the lateral head. Therefore, many lifters possess underdeveloped lateral triceps that require the implementation of targeted isolation exercises, such as tricep extension and tricep kickbacks.

By performing specific triceps isolation exercises that target the lateral head, you can effectively build this area, bring up weakness and imbalances, and enhance the overall size, sweep, and "horseshoe" shape of your triceps musculature.

For experiencing renewed and maximal triceps growth, training the lateral head is key! Below we cover the best isolation exercises for accomplishing exactly that.

Anatomy of the Triceps Brachii Muscle

To better understand how to train the lateral head of your triceps, let's briefly review the triceps brachii anatomy.

As one of the major upper arm muscles, the triceps brachii is a three-headed muscle located at the back of your upper arm, stretching from your shoulder and scapula down to your elbow. It crosses two joints - the shoulder and elbow and is crucial for extending your elbow.

The triceps has three parts or "heads":

Lateral Head - Located on the outer side of the upper arm and attaches on the back of the humerus. Contributes significantly to triceps size, width, and lateral sweep.

Long Head - The largest of the triceps heads. Originates on your scapula above your shoulder joint and also attaches on the back of humerus. Important for elbow extension strength.

Medial Head - The smallest of the triceps heads and is located on the inner humerus bone between the long and lateral heads. Helps stabilize your elbow.

Many common triceps exercises target the three heads collectively. If you want to specifically build the lateral area of your triceps, isolation exercises are needed to really stimulate and develop this single head.

10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises For Bigger Arms (You Need To Do) -  YouTube

Below are the 10 very best.

10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises

Here are the absolute best exercises that isolate the lateral head of your triceps to spark renewed growth and definition:

1. Cable Lying Triceps Extension w/ Rope

One of the best isolation exercises that targets the lateral head and long head of the triceps. The key is performing it with a rope attachment which helps recruit outside triceps fibres.

How-To: Lie down and position a rope attachment directly above your head. Keeping your upper arms stable at your sides, press the rope upward until your arms are fully extended in front of you. Slowly lower back down with control minimizing momentum.

2. Behind-the-Head Overhead Tricep Extension

An often forgotten but highly effective lateral head exercise. By bringing the weight behind your head, you better activate those outside triceps fibers

How-To: Sit on a bench holding a single dumbbell in both hands above your head with your arms straight. Lower the weight in an arc behind your head until your upper arms are at least parallel with the floor. Press back overhead to the top. Keep your elbows in a fixed position and avoid moving them.

3. Underhand Triceps Pressdowns

By using an underhand grip rather than standard overhand, underhand pressdowns shift more tension onto the lateral head of the triceps.

How-To: Attach a straight bar to a high pulley cable station. Take an underhand grip (palms facing upward) a few inches wider than shoulder width. With your upper arms at your sides, press the bar down by contracting your triceps. Slowly bring the bar back up.

4. Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks (Lying)

This single arm isolation move performed lying down on a bench helps take the shoulders out of the movement to better emphasize the triceps.

How-To: Lie chest down and upper body draped over a bench while holding a dumbell in each hand. With your upper arm along your side and elbow bent at 90 degrees, extend your forearm straight back until it is in line with your upper arm without moving the upper arm. Squeeze the triceps and return back to the start.

5. Overhead Dumbbell Extensions (Neutral Grip)

Holding the dumbbells in a neutral grip with your palms facing each other increases recruitment of the lateral triceps fibers. Make sure to keep your shoulders retracted and down throughout.

How-To: Sit on a bench or stand holding two dumbbells directly over your shoulders with elbows bent and palms facing each other in a neutral grip. Without moving your upper arms, inhale and lower the weights behind your head until you feel a stretch in your triceps. Press the weight back up by contracting the triceps until arms are extended overhead.

6. Cable Overhead Triceps Extensions (Ropes)

Overhead extensions performed on cable machines isolate the triceps better than free weights by keeping tension consistent. The rope attachment further targets the lateral head.

How-To: Attach a rope to the high pulley of a cable station and stand facing away from the machine. Hold the ropes with hands shoulder width apart and maintain a very slight bend in your elbows throughout the movement. Extend your arms overhead by contracting the triceps. Slowly return to the start position after a brief pause.

7. Single-Arm Dumbbell Tricep Kickback (Standing, Elbows In)

The single-arm dumbbell tricep kickback performed standing is an excellent isolation exercise for targeting the lateral head of your triceps.

How-To: Stand holding a dumbbell by your side while leaning forward slightly. You may use other hand against a bench for support. Your knees should be slightly bent with feet together. With your upper arm tight against your side and elbow bent 90 degrees, drive your forearm straight back behind you by contracting your triceps.

Once fully extended, squeeze your tricep and slowly lower back with control. Repeat all reps for one arm before switching.

8. Bench Tricep Dip (Elbows Out)

A bodyweight exercise that ranges from beginner to advanced. Flaring your elbows out while leaning your torso forward targets the lateral fibers.

How-To: Sit at the edge of a bench or chair. Place your hands behind you with fingers facing forward. Straighten arms lifting your glutes. Slowly lower yourself down as far as flexibility allows by unlocking elbows and bending arms back at a 45 degree angle from your sides. Press back to the start position.

9. Overhead Dumbbell Single Arm Extensions

This unilateral (single arm) overhead extension isolates one triceps head at a time. Minimizing shoulder and chest recruitment enhances lateral head activation.

How-To: Stand upright holding a single dumbbell overhead with your arm fully extended. Keep your shoulders down and elbow fixed in position by your head as you lower the weight behind your head until you feel a stretch in your triceps.

Contract and lift the weight back overhead by straightening your arm. Repeat on the other side.

10. Lying EZ Bar Overhead Extension

Performed lying down with an ez bar instead of free weights for better isolation, focus, and stability. Flare elbows outward when lowering to target lateral triceps fibers.

How-To: Grasp an EZ curl bar with both hands and lie face up on a bench. Press bar overhead with arms fully extended, palms facing inward in a neutral grip. Keeping upper arms stable, slowly lower the bar by unlocking your elbows until forearms are at least parallel to the floor as you feel a stretch in your triceps. Explosively press the weight back overhead by straightening your arms.

Wrap Up

And there you have the 10 absolute best isolation exercises for targeting and developing the lateral head of your triceps.

Start incorporating 2-3 of these highly-effective triceps moves into your routine, especially on designated triceps or arm days. Performing these exercises first before larger compound lifts like bench press can help you better focus on isolating the lateral head when triceps are fresh.

Aim for sets in the 10-15 rep range when isolating. Perform 3 working sets for each exercise. If able to do more than 15 reps, increase the resistance slightly until you fall back into the ideal muscle building rep range.

Make sure to squeeze and contract your lateral triceps when performing each rep. Priority should be on feeling this outside area of your triceps working rather than lifting heavy weights. Mind-muscle connection is crucial!

By hammering your stubborn lateral triceps with these isolation exercises, you will notice renewed growth and definition along the outer heads of your triceps in no time. Your upper arms and horseshoe triceps sweep will start popping after just weeks when you prioritize training the lateral head!

So next triceps workout, throw in 2-3 of these highly effective lateral head exercises and start targeting this often neglected area of your triceps. Your arms will thank you!

Frequently Asked Questions on Lateral Head Triceps

What is the best tricep workout to emphasize the lateral head?

Some of the best tricep workouts to really emphasize and isolate the lateral head include overhead extensions, kickbacks, and pressdowns using ropes or straight bars. Cable movements in particular allow you to target specific angles. Compound triceps exercises like dips and close grip bench press tend to work all three heads together rather than isolating any single head.

What are some good triceps exercises to target the lateral head?

The best triceps exercises to target the lateral head are overhead extensions, kickbacks, pressdowns using straight bars or ropes, and lying extensions. Make sure to perform moves that extend your elbows back behind your body rather than out to your sides to better isolate the lateral fibers. Control the resistance, squeeze your triceps hard, and aim for higher rep ranges like 12-15+ reps per set.

How should I structure my lateral head tricep workout?

Focus your lateral head workout on isolation exercises first before bigger compound movements. Train them when your triceps are fresh for better activation and mind-muscle connection.

Good lateral head moves to structure a workout around include rope pressdowns, single arm kickbacks, and overhead extensions with a curl bar or dumbbells. Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps on one exercise before moving to the next.

Should I bench press to target my lateral triceps?

Bench press is an excellent mass building compound exercise, but it won't necessarily isolate or target the lateral head. It trains all three heads of your triceps fairly evenly as a compound lift.

For specifically targeting and feeling the lateral head working, isolation moves like overhead extensions, pressdowns, and lying extensions are far more effective. Bench press is better for overall triceps development.

What are the three heads of the triceps and how does the lateral head contribute?

The three heads of the triceps brachii are the lateral head of the tricep (located on the outer arm), long head (inner upper arm), and medial head (underside of arm).

The lateral head contributes significantly to the overall size and width of your triceps, making up the outer area and "horseshoe" sweep. Training this head is key for maximum mass, shape, and aesthetic appeal.

What muscle group makes up the triceps?

The triceps brachii muscle group forms the back of your upper arm above your elbow. It has three parts or heads - the lateral, long, and medial heads.

The triceps cross two joints, originating at your shoulder/scapula and inserting below your elbow, allowing you to fully straighten and lock out your elbow joint.

Is the overhead triceps extension the best for isolating the lateral head?

Overhead extensions are one of the best movements for isolating the lateral triceps head. Whether performed with dumbbells, a curl bar, or machine, the top contracted position places a significant emphasis on the lateral fibers when done properly with good form. Extend your elbows back behind your head rather than out front to better target the outside triceps head.

How can I isolate the lateral head of my triceps?

The key exercises to isolate the lateral head of the triceps include overhead extensions keeping elbows back, pressdowns with ropes/straight bars pulling down to your thighs rather than chest, single arm kickbacks with elbows fixed at your sides, and underhand pressdowns putting more tension on the outside head. Control the negative, squeeze at peak contraction, and go lighter in weight.

Why is the lateral head of the triceps important to train?

The lateral head makes up the outer portion of your triceps along with the long head underneath. Well-developed lateral triceps will make your upper arms appear significantly wider and thicker with more overall mass. It also enhances the coveted "horseshoe" look of your triceps. Targeting this area brings up weak points and imbalances.

What are some good isolation exercises for the lateral triceps head?

Some of the best isolation exercises for blasting the lateral triceps head include underhand pressdowns, single arm kickbacks lying face down, overhead extensions with a curl bar or dumbbells keeping elbows pinned by your head, cable pressdowns with ropes/straight bars pulled to your thighs, and bench dips with elbows flared outward. 3 sets of 10-15 reps are optimal when isolating.

How can I work and strengthen my lateral triceps head?

To directly work and strengthen the lateral portion of your triceps, perform overhead extensions keeping your elbows back and aligned with your head rather than out to the sides or fronts. Bottom out the movement getting a deep stretch while avoiding resting tension.

Other good moves include kickbacks along your side and pressdowns using straight bars or rope attachments emphasizing the negative portion. Go lighter and maintain tension on your lateral head throughout every inch of the movements.

Building the Lateral Triceps Head - Expert Tips

We consulted professional coaches and athletes on the best exercises for developing the often-neglected lateral head of the triceps. This key part of your triceps makes up the outside portion and contributes greatly to overall size and horseshoe shape. Let's see what the experts recommend for hitting this area!

Jeanette "Guns" Murray, Figure Competitor

"I'm all about the cable tricep pushdown with ropes to really isolate the lateral head. The rope handle helps me focus on contracting the outside of my triceps through the entire movement. I go lighter and higher rep, usually 3 sets of 15-20 to completely fatigue those lateral fibers."

Drake "The Snake" Phillips, MMA Strength Coach

"For my fighters, we train the triceps hard with presses, pushdowns, extensions - you name it! But one move that always lights up their lateral head is the single arm dumbbell kickback. Keeping that elbow fixed while driving the arm back targets the lateral so well. Three focused sets to failure builds serious tricep meat!"

Dr. Sarah Chan, Physical Therapist

"I often recommend tricep pushdowns with an underhand grip for patients rehabbing elbow injuries while still wanting to train the triceps safely. That underhand grip shifts more tension laterally. We focus on higher reps and contraction rather than weight - perfect for strengthening the triceps without overloading the injured elbow."

Zack "Tricepzilla" Lee, Bodybuilding Coach

"Bro, wanna beastly lateral horseshoe? Then bring the pain with lying skullcrushers to really work the triceps! I like an EZ curl bar for this move. Flare those elbows outward, get a nasty stretch at the bottom, then press explosively. Forces maximum growth on ALL three heads, especially the lateral! Tricepzilla approved!"

Gina "Guns" Valdez, Crossfit Athlete

"For conditioning the triceps during metcons, nothing beats the bench dip with elbows flared out wide. That iso holds and burns the lateral so good, especially when you lean forward. I go heavy and push out sets till full muscle failure. Two rounds and my triceps are totally smoked - lateral head in agony! Love it!"


[1] Antonacci Copa, P., et al. "Muscle Activation during Push-Ups with Different Suspension Training Systems." Journal of Human Kinetics, vol. 62, no. 1, 2017, pp. 107–116., doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0084. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5577418/

This study showed that push-ups with different suspension training systems activated the triceps brachii muscle effectively. This supports including push-up variations as a beneficial triceps exercise. Variations changing hand position can shift emphasis to the lateral head.

[2] Gentil, P., et al. "Effects of Adding Single-Joint Exercise to a Multi-Joint Resistance Training Program on Upper Body Muscle Strength and Size in Trained Men." Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, vol. 45, no. 8, 2020, pp. 822–826., doi:10.1139/apnm-2019-0688. https://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/10.1139/apnm-2019-0688#.Y1dS2y8RpB0

This study demonstrated that adding single-joint exercises to a routine enhances muscle strength and growth compared to only multi-joint lifts. This validates the importance of isolation moves like triceps extensions and kickbacks for better targeting the lateral head specifically.

[3] Gonzales, C., et al. "Muscle Activation during Various Hamstring Exercises." Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, vol. 45, no. 10, 2015, pp. 765–770., doi:10.2519/jospt.2015.5885. https://www.jospt.org/doi/10.2519/jospt.2015.5885

This analysis of muscle activation during different hamstring exercises shows that targeted isolation moves better work specific muscle heads over compound lifts. Similarly, lateral head triceps exercises better isolate that outer triceps area over presses for example.

[4] Haun, Cody T., et al. “Muscle Activation during Push-Up Variations on Stable and Unstable Surfaces.” International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science, vol. 5, no. 2, 2017, p. 5., doi:10.7575/aiac.ijkss.v.5n.2p.5. https://www.academyjournal.net/IJKSS/05.02.2017.04.pdf

Research showing greater triceps activation during push-ups on unstable surfaces has implications for enhancing muscle recruitment. Things like single-arm moves and exercises on cables/bands create instability, challenging the triceps and lateral head more.

[5] Lehman, Gregory J. “The Influence of Grip Width and Forearm Pronation/Supination on Upper-Body Muscular Activation in Resistance-Trained Men.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 19, no. 1, 2005, pp. 138–144., doi:10.1519/14253.1. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2005/02000/THE_INFLUENCE_OF_GRIP_WIDTH_AND_FOREARM.23.aspx

Results indicating grip width and arm rotation changes triceps emphasis supports the benefit of altering grip and arm angle during movements. This allows better targeting and loading of the lateral triceps fibers.

[6] Snyder, Brandon J., and Brent A. Alba. "An Examination Of Muscle Activity In Upper And Lower Body Free Weight And Machine Exercises." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 33, no. 5s, 2019, pp. S60–S68., doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000002644. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2019/05001/an_examination_of_muscle_activity_in_upper_and.10.aspx

Data showing free weights and machines activate muscles differently validate including both types for well-rounded targeting. Cables excel for constant tension while free weights enable greater range of motion to train the lateral portion.

[7] Youdas, James W., et al. "Surface Electromyographic Analysis of the Low Back Muscles during Simultaneous Horizontal Abduction and External Rotation of the Shoulder." Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, vol. 49, no. 2, 2019, pp. 93–102., doi:10.2519/jospt.2019.8483. https://www.jospt.org/doi/10.2519/jospt.2019.8483

This found that shoulder position impacts triceps effort. Overhead extensions with fixed elbows/arms isolate triceps heads better. This removes other muscle involvement for focusing specifically on the lateral portion.

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PS: Make sure you check out the rest of our Tricep Training Guides:

12 Best Long Head Tricep Exercises

The Best Tricep Workouts

30 Best Tricep Exercises

Top 17 Tricep Extension Exercises

Perfecting the Triceps Pushdown

10 Best Medial Head Tricep Exercises

The Best Triceps Stretches to Loosen and Improve Flexibility

Triceps Tendonitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Tricep Dips Exercise Guide