The triceps brachii, along with the biceps brachii, are responsible for most powerful forearm movements. The triceps is a three-headed structure and is the only muscle located on the posterior upper arm. The three heads include the long head, the lateral head and the medial head. The three heads originate at different locations, but attach to the olecranon process of the ulna by a single, common tendon Each head originates from its own location:
Long head – lower edge of the glenoid cavity of the scapula
Lateral head – posterior humerus
Short head – distal two-thirds of the posterior humerus
Functionally, the triceps brachii is the prime elbow extensor. Although the triceps are responsible for elbow extension, the muscle is also active during other upper-body movements. For example, because the long head originates from the scapula, it also acts to extend the arm at the shoulder. Exercises such as push-ups, shoulder presses, dips and bench presses target the triceps. In other words, movements that involve upper body pushing and elbow extension will activate the triceps brachii.
Body builders use isolated exercises to “target” the triceps; specifically, to train certain heads. It is important to remember that all three heads will be “used” for elbow extension exercises. Muscles do not turn on or off like a light switch because they work as a unit. Most triceps brachii exercises activate all three heads, but certain exercises can challenge certain heads more, especially as the grip and arm position changes.
The following exercises include a combination of traditional and innovative functional movement exercises. The three isolation exercises were selected because the resistance either moves through, against or with gravity. The number of sets, repetitions, tempo and duration of recovery periods depend on your client’s training protocol and fitness goals.
Cable Rope Extension
Start by adjusting the cable’s height and weight. With a split-foot stance, slightly hinge forward from the hips to maintain a neutral spine. Bring the rope overhead and keep your elbows bent. Extend the elbows, splitting the rope at full arm extension. Return back to the overhead position while keeping tension on the cable and repeat.
Bench Dips With Rotation
Sit on a bench and place your palms next to your hips with the fingers pointing down. This pose is easier with bent knees versus straight legs. Lift your hips off the bench and dip the body low enough to where your elbows bend at 90-degrees. Extend the arms back to the starting position. Once your arms are extended, take your right hand and reach it across the midline of the body. You want to rotate from the torso so you activate your core muscles. The left arm will stabilize. Return the right hand to the bench, dip and then reach the left hand across the midline of the body. This exercise uses both isotonic and isometric muscle activation.
Position the body into a plank. If needed, elevate the push-up on a bench . Lower the body toward the floor for a count of two. Next, extend the arms back to the plank position for a count of four. The closer the elbows are to the torso, the more this exercise will activate the triceps.
For this exercise, you can use a heavy dumbbell or a weighted barbell. Lie on a bench and bring the weight over the shoulders. Lower the hands toward the forehead, making a 90-degree angle at the elbow. Extend the arms to the starting position and repeat.
For this exercise, use a flat bar on the cable. Start by adjusting the cable’s height and weight. The cable should be adjusted to a height so that when you perform the exercise there is resistance on the bar the entire time. Bring the elbows under the shoulders with the arms at 90-degrees. Extend the arms and press the bar down toward the hips. Return back to the starting position and repeat.
Assume a forearm plank with the hands flat on the floor and the feet shoulder-distance apart. Place the left hand onto the ground, straightening out the arm, as you would normally do when performing a plank-up. Hold this position for four seconds. Next, place the right hand onto the floor so the body comes into a high plank. Lower the left forearm onto the ground and hold this position for four seconds. Return the right forearm onto the ground. Repeat this pattern, alternating the lead arm.