Long Head Tricep Exercises

Trainer Shows You How to Target Your Inner Triceps

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: August 31, 2022

The triceps are the largest muscles on your arms. And it makes sense to optimize your tricep workouts if you want bigger guns.

Also, the tricep consists of multiple parts that give it a horseshoe shape. So you need to understand how to target each part to build tricep shape and proportion.

The long head is the largest part of the tricep. So this head has the most growth potential and the most bang for your buck with arm exercises.

That’s why you should read this article and understand how the tricep functions. Plus, you’ll see 13 of the best long head tricep exercises.

Long Head Tricep Exercises

Triceps Muscle Anatomy & Physiology

The “tri” triceps means this muscle comprises three distinct heads. These heads are called the long head, lateral head, and medial head of the triceps.

Together, the tricep muscles’ primary function is elbow extension. So you use these muscles any time you straighten your arm or push against an object.

All three heads insert into the upper ulna bone of the forearm near the elbow. However, each one has different origins near the shoulder joint.

Long Head Tricep Exercises Anatomy

Lateral Head of Triceps

The lateral head is located on the outer part of your arm and originates on the back of the humerus bone. It is considered the strongest of the three tricep heads involved in elbow extension.

Medial Head of Triceps

The medial triceps head also originates on the upper humerus bone. However, the medial head lies mostly beneath the long and lateral head.

Long Head of Triceps

The long head is the largest of the three tricep muscles, and it’s located on the inner part of your rear upper arm. It originates on the scapula bone near the back of your shoulder.

As a result, the long head also stabilizes the shoulder joint in addition to performing elbow extension. Next, let’s look at how to work the long head.

How To Work the Long Head of the Tricep

It’s important to realize that all three heads of the tricep are involved any time you extend your arm. And there is no way to isolate one or two heads while eliminating the others.

That said, your arm angle, hand position, range of motion, and load/rep range all affect the extent to which each tricep head is activated. And there are several ways to target the long head during tricep exercises.

Arm Elevation

Probably the most critical factor in tricep head activation is arm elevation. In other words, the position of your upper arm relative to your shoulder.

Arm position is measured in degrees where 0o is down at your side and 180o is directly overhead. So 90o would be your arm straight out in front of your body.

Long Head Tricep Exercises Arm Elevation

Studies show that the long triceps head is most active at arm elevations of less than 90o, or below shoulder level1. Therefore, exercises where your arms are closer to your sides work the long head more.

Remember that this is an angle relative to your body, not the floor. So this rule applies when standing perfectly upright, leaning forward, or lying on a bench.

Long Head Tricep Exercise Activation
Medial Head Tricep Exercise Activation
Lateral Head Tricep Exercise Activation

Range of Motion

We can also use degrees to measure the range of motion used during exercises. The range of motion of a tricep exercise is from approximately 0o (arm straight) to around 150o (arm fully bent).

Long Head Tricep Exercises Range of Motion

Studies show that the long head is most active at around 35-60o in the elbow’s range of motion. In comparison, the lateral and medial heads are more active at about 90o in the range of motion1.

Therefore, choosing exercises where the loading is maximized with the elbow at roughly 45o to work the long head makes sense. That corresponds to a more extended arm when your tricep is contracted rather than stretched.

Long Head Activation
Medial Head Activation
Lateral Head Activation

Hand Position

Another factor determining which tricep heads get involved is your hand position specifically, whether you use an overhand or underhand grip on exercises.

The technical term for hand position is supination vs pronation. Supination is where your palm faces up, while pronation is palm down.

While the triceps has no mechanical role in rotating the forearm or hand, studies suggest that it may be more active when the hand is supinated2. That means it might be better to use an underhand grip for targeting all the tricep heads, including the long head.

Long Head Tricep Exercises Supination

Load & Rep Range

Lastly, it’s essential to know that muscle fibers are categorized as either type I or II. Type I fibers are generally used during light, high repetition movements. In contrast, type II fibers get used during low repetition explosive movements with heavy loads.

Furthermore, each tricep head comprises a different ratio of type I and type II fibers. So it makes sense to use different loads and rep ranges when targeting a specific head.

For instance, studies reveal that the medial head of the triceps is mostly type I muscle fibers. On the other end of the spectrum, the lateral head has the largest quantity of type II fibers. And the long head has a balanced mixture of both types3.

Therefore, you must combine heavy weights with low reps and lighter weights with higher reps to fully exhaust the long head. That is loads where you fail within 5-10 reps and loads where you fail within 10-15 reps.

In addition, another study suggests the long and lateral heads fatigue at around 45 seconds, while the medial head goes strong for 65 seconds. This finding means that sets targeting the long head should not exceed 45 seconds.

Long Head Tricep Exercises Duration

To recap, here are the best ways to target the long head:

  1. Keep your upper arm 0-90o to your body (at side to straight out)
  2. Choose exercises where the load is highest when your elbow is bent 35-60o
  3. Use an underhand (supinated) grip to further isolate the triceps
  4. Include some exercises with higher loads and lower reps
  5. Include some exercises with lower loads and higher reps
Long Head Tricep Exercises Body Position

Best Long Head Tricep Exercises

Now that you know the targeting techniques, let’s look at some specific long head tricep exercises. Again, I’ve divided this list into barbell, dumbbell, cable, and machine exercises.

Barbell Long Head Tricep Exercises

First, let’s look at exercises you can do using various barbells.

1. Flat Bench Skull Crushers

Skull crushers are a fundamental tricep exercise where you lay on a bench and lower the bar to your forehead. The proximity of the weight to your head is how this exercise got its name. But don’t worry, it’s relatively safe!

Start with your feet on the floor and lean back with your upper body lying flat on the bench. Then push the bar up so your arms are straight out in front of you.

Next, lower the weight by bending your elbows. Once the bar reaches the top of your head, extend your arms back up to the starting position.

Generally, it’s best to keep your upper arms stationary during this exercise. But for targeting the long head, you can use your upper arms to a small extent since they are also involved in shoulder stabilization.

2. Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench press is a power exercise for the triceps. As a compound movement, it involves both the shoulder and elbow joints, which means you can push some seriously heavy weights.

The heavy load is excellent for working the type II fibers of the long head. In addition, the load is maximized at a low arm elevation, which also favors the long head.

To perform the close grip bench press, start by laying on the bench and grabbing the barbell with your hands 12-18 inches apart. Unrack the weight and lower it to your sternum by bending your arms while keeping your elbows close to your sides.

Next, extend your arms by squeezing your triceps to push the bar back to the starting position. Note: generally, you should use a weight less than that of your regular bench press since you’re targeting the triceps rather than chest.

3. Decline Skull Crusher

You rarely see people using the decline bench for skull crushers. But the downward body angle can really help you target your long head during this exercise.

The reason is that the decline bench reduces the angle between your upper arm and body. And as we learned from the physiology studies earlier, that is what activates the long head more than the medial or lateral heads.

To do the decline skull crusher, position yourself on the bench as you normally would. You might need help positioning the bar since your feet are off the ground on most decline benches.

Once you’re in position, hold the bar with your arms straight and lower the weight by bending at the elbows. Allow the bar to travel past your forehead before extending your arms back to the starting position.

Long Head Tricep Exercises Decline Skull Crusher

Dumbbell Long Head Tricep Exercises

You can also do these long head tricep exercises with dumbbells. Again, the individual weights force each arm to work and stabilize independently.

In addition, dumbbells make it easier to change your grip and hand position to target the long head.

4. Neutral Grip Dumbbell Skull Crushers

The neutral grip dumbbell skull crusher is like a traditional barbell skull crusher, except your palms face each other throughout the movement.

Begin by grabbing a dumbbell in each hand and sitting on a bench. Then lay back and press the dumbbells to arm’s length.

Next, lower the dumbbells on either side of your head by bending at the elbows. Extend your arms and squeeze your triceps to return to the starting position.

5. Hex Press

The hex press is a variation of the dumbbell bench press in which you keep the weights touching throughout the movement. Most people use this exercise to target their inner chest, but it’s perfect for triceps too.

For one, the hand position resembles a close grip bench press. In addition, the low arm angle and neutral grip are excellent for targeting the long head of the tricep.

You’ll need a pair of dumbbells and a flat bench to do this exercise. And I recommend you start with a lighter weight that you can control until you get a feel for the movement.

6. Dumbbell Kickbacks

The dumbbell kickback is a tricep-isolating exercise that works the contracted end of the range of motion. And it’s an excellent choice for working the long head because your upper arm is in line with or slightly behind your torso.

In addition, the load is highest when your arm is almost fully extended due to the force of gravity pulling straight down. And this is the portion of the range of motion where the long head activates the most.

To do the dumbbell kickback, lean forward with your upper body nearly parallel to the floor. You can use a bench or sturdy object to hold yourself up if needed.

Next, hold a dumbbell in one hand with your elbow at your side, and your arm bent about 90 degrees. Now extend your elbow while keeping your torso and upper arm relatively still. Finally, squeeze your tricep at the top before lowering the weight back to the starting position.

Long Head Tricep Exercises Kickback

Cable Long Head Tricep Exercises

Next up, let’s look at some cable long head tricep exercises. This apparatus allows for added variety and more constant tension throughout the movements.

7. Cable Tricep Pressdown

The tricep pressdown is another staple tricep exercise you can include in any arm workout. However, most people do this exercise all wrong!

While you want to keep your upper arms close to your sides, you don’t want to stand up close to the cable. This stance takes tension off the tricep for most of the range of motion.

Instead, step back and lean forward until your arm is closer to 45o to your body. This position keeps tension on the tricep throughout the exercise and works the long head more.

Another option is to lower the pulley, step back, and maintain a more upright body position. Again, you keep tension on your triceps and maximize the load by keeping the cable perpendicular to your forearms.

Long Head Tricep Exercises Pressdown Mistake
Long Head Tricep Exercises Pressdown Option 1
Long Head Tricep Exercises Pressdown Option 2

8. Rope Tricep Pressdown

Another option for the cable tricep pressdown involves the rope attachment. This handle places your hands in a neutral position and incorporates all parts, including the long head.

Again, focus on using the proper form, as illustrated in the video and images above, to keep more tension on the triceps instead of using momentum or other muscle groups.

9. Reverse Grip Pushdown

The reverse grip pushdown is an excellent exercise for targeting the long head of the tricep. In addition, the supinated grip makes cheating harder and prevents using the shoulders/chest.

I recommend using a lighter weight for 12-15 repetitions while focusing on squeezing the triceps. This hand position and loading help you hone in on the long head type I muscle fibers.

10. Single Arm Reverse Grip Extension

Another way to do the reverse-grip pressdown is using a single handle. The individual handle forces each arm to work independently.

Also, it allows more possibilities for moving your body relative to your arm so you can hit the long head of the tricep.

Other Long Head Tricep Exercises

Lastly are some long head tricep exercise you can do with your body weight or machines.

11. Parallel Bar Dips

Dips are a superb exercise for working your chest and triceps. They are also a great choice for targeting the long head because they load your tricep when your arm is even with or behind your torso.

If you can’t do dips with your body weight, try using an assisted dip machine or a resistance band to support some of your weight. Once you can do sets of 10 or more, you can consider doing weighted dips.

When doing dips for triceps, use a narrower grip and keep your body in a more upright position.

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12. Bench Dips

Bench dips might be even better than parallel bar dips for working the long head of the triceps. The reason is that your arms stay even further behind your torso.

To do a bench dip, sit perpendicularly on the bench and rest your feet on the floor in front of you. Now lift your butt off the bench, so you’re supporting your weight on your hands with arms straight.

Next, lower your body in front of the bench by bending at the elbows and shoulders. Once your arms for a 90-degree angle, extend your elbows to push your body back up to the starting position.

If bench dips feel too easy, elevate your feet on another bench or sturdy object and keep your legs straight during the exercise. For an even greater challenge, place a dumbbell or weight plate in your lap.

13. Machine Dips

Lastly are machine dips. This is a piece of equipment dedicated to the dip movement found in some larger gyms or fitness clubs.

To do a machine dip, sit in the seat and grab the handles with your palms facing in. Now push down on the handles until your arms are fully extended.

When doing machine dips for triceps, I recommend using the narrowest handle position if it’s adjustable. This close grip takes some of the load off your chest and puts more on the long head of the triceps.

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Long Head Tricep Workout

Most of your tricep workouts should include exercises, loads, and rep ranges that target all three heads of your triceps. This approach is the best way to maximize arm strength and size increases.

Still, there may be times when you want to blast a specific part into new gains. That’s when you could consider a long head-focused tricep workout.

You’ll want to utilize the abovementioned techniques and exercises to increase long head activation. Such as keeping your upper arms close to your body and loading in the contracted phase.

In addition, make sure to mix up the weights and rep ranges to hit both the type I and type II fibers of the long head. Here is an idea of what a long head tricep workout would look like.

  • Close Grip Bench Press – 5 sets, 5-10 reps
  • Skull Crushers – 5 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Bench Dips – 5 sets, 15-20 reps
  • Cable Tricep Pressdown – 3 sets, 8-12 reps (drop sets)
  • Single Arm Tricep Pressdown – 3 sets, 10-15 reps
Long Head Tricep Workout

More Bodybuilding Exercises

Building your best body takes more than just a nice pair of triceps. You need exercises tailored to every muscle group and every muscle within each group!

Here are some additional body part-specific exercises:

Lateral Head Tricep Exercises

Medial Head Tricep Exercises

Short Head Bicep Exercises

Long Head Bicep Exercises

Brachialis Exercises

Rear Delt Exercises

Front Delt Exercises

Side Delt Exercises

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By |August 31, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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