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Unlock Your Arms: The Ultimate Guide to Long Head Tricep Exercises 

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

You might be surprised to learn that the triceps are the biggest muscle group in your arm. Many lifters favor the biceps instead, while accidentally neglecting proper tricep training. And for those who do train triceps, it’s an easy mistake to focus on the short head and not do enough long head tricep exercises. 

Bicep exercises are necessary, but without excellent exercises for building triceps, you’ll never have the sleek, defined arm muscles you truly want, or powerful upper body strength! And to get those coveted triceps, you need to work them out from all angles. Check out our guide to the best long head tricep exercises and start building a seriously muscular set of arms today! 

Man does cable pushdown, a long head tricep exercise
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Anatomy of the Triceps 

Their name gives it away—the triceps are made up of three distinct heads. Each one performs a bit of a different function, and each one is important to train for maximum strength and so these functions can keep working as they should. 

Anatomy of the tricep muscles
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Lateral Head 

The lateral tricep head is located on the outer side of your upper arm. It’s an L-shaped muscle that meets up with the top of the long head and forms part of that “horseshoe shape.” This outer tricep muscle plays an essential role in elbow extension and flexion. 

Medial Head 

The medial head is the smallest of the three muscles. It’s located at the back of the upper arm, below the lateral head and opposite the long head. This head is also the least visible one in the triceps, but still important to train. 

Long Head 

Now for the all-important long head muscle. It’s the largest head of the three muscles, and runs down the very back of your arm. Unlike the other two, this muscle plays a crucial role in shoulder extension, as well as elbow flexion. 

Why Is It Important to Train the Long Head of the Triceps? 

Because the long head is the biggest of the triceps muscles, it has a lot of growth potential. It’s an essential muscle to focus on if you want sizable arms. You can train the other 2 tricep muscle heads as much as you want, but if you neglect the long head, you’ll be missing that meaty muscle mass at the back of your arm during your tricep development. 

Of course, aside from aesthetics, you’ll also be building functional strength in your arms when you place emphasis on this muscle. And because it’s connected to the shoulder, a strong long head also means you’ll gain some extra shoulder mobility and stability

Why the Long Head Matters for Arm Aesthetics 

The long head of the triceps is the most visible of the three. Effective tricep training adds noticeable thickness to your upper arms, and it’ll be easy to see from both the back and the side. Whether you’re aiming for competition or simply want defined, well-built triceps, training the tricep long head specifically is a must. 

How to Work the Long Head of the Tricep 

When you extend your arm, all three tricep heads activate to facilitate the movement. There are few isolation movements for the long head, but you can target it more specifically by changing up your hand position, range of motion, and arm angle

Hand Position 

Something as simple as rotating your hand can activate the tricep heads differently. While most movements use an overhand grip, studies show that there’s more emphasis on the long head during exercises with a supinated or underhand grip

Range of Motion 

For most tricep exercises, the range of motion extends from (fully extended, straight) to about 150° (bent as much as possible.) To really nail the long head, you want to focus on movement between 35° and 60° of elbow bend

Arm Angle 

Research also shows that the angle you hold your arm at changes the activation of the tricep muscles. This basically means how you hold your upper arm in relation to your shoulder

When your arm is down at your side, it’s at an angle of 0°. Lift your arm up like you’re doing a front raise and the arm angle is at 90°. Straight overhead—full shoulder extension—would be 180°. 

Studies show that the long head is best activated during arm movements below a 90-degree angle. So exercises that have your arms staying closer to your sides will most likely hit that head much more effectively. This is important no matter whether you’re standing, sitting, leaning, or lying on a flat bench—remember your arm position is to your body, not to the floor. 

Best Long Head Tricep Exercises 

So which tricep long head exercises tick all the boxes? Here are some of the most effective long head exercises to add to your arm routine for better aesthetics and increased functional strength. Most are effective compound movements in a stable body position. 

Close Grip Bench Press 

This compound movement is one of the best long head exercises you can do. A narrower grip shifts the engagement away from the chest and more to the triceps, catching both the long head and the lateral head

One of the reasons the close-grip bench press is such an effective exercise is that you can use heavy weights, unlike most other tricep exercises, thanks to the recruitment of the chest and shoulders as stabilizing muscles.*

Proper Form and Technique

Lie on the exercise bench in the standard position for a normal bench press. Make sure your grip is narrower than usual—about 7 or 8 inches apart should be good, slightly inside a shoulder-width grip. Avoid going too narrow, because that can place strain on your joints. 

Bring the bar down to your lower chest/upper abdomen. Make sure your back isn’t arched, your elbows stay close to your sides with no elbow flare, and push up with your triceps back to the initial position. 

Overhead Triceps Extension 

We recommend doing the overhead extension lying on a 45-degree incline bench. You can use a dumbbell in each hand, or a barbell or an EZ bar, and the incline allows for better shoulder extension, making it a lot safer than simply standing. 

Doing the overhead extension with a pair of dumbbells and a neutral grip (like a hammer curl) can also place a bit more activation on the long head, giving you a really good burn. 

Proper Form and Technique 

Rather than keeping your hands above your face, move your arms slightly backwards so the weight is above your head instead. 

Bend at the elbow, and with a very controlled movement, lower the weights behind your head. Pause for a moment at the bottom, then contract the triceps and bring the weights back up to the original position. Squeeze the triceps at the top of the movement. 

If you want to, you can do the overhead extension lying on a flat bench. For advanced lifters, you can also extend your maximum range of motion by lowering the bar further behind your head on this one, although this could compromise shoulder stability. 

A woman dores skullcrushers in a gym
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Cable Triceps Pushdowns 

Cable pushdowns are a tricep staple, and as a bonus, they’re great for targeting that long head. This is actually the perfect exercise to work in that 35 to 60° range of motion, although your hands will be pronated. 

It’s also ideal for reducing elbow, wrist, and shoulder pain. However, most people stand up close to the cable machine, which results in less loading of the tricep. 

Proper Form and Technique

You can use a rope attachment, a v-bar, or a straight bar for the tricep push down. Grab it and take a step back from the cable, hinging about 45° at the waist. Your elbows will be in front of your body here, not touching you at all. 

Begin with your arms bent at the elbow at about 90°. Flex the triceps and bring your hands down until the arms are fully extended. You should feel the tricep working. Give them a good squeeze to lock it out and then slowly return to the starting position. 

Make sure to keep your torso still and keep your elbows in a fixed position. Only your forearms should move up and down—your elbow joint should stay put, no matter whether you’re doing rope pushdowns or bar cable pushdowns. 

A man does triceps pushdown in a gym
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Incline Dumbbell Triceps Kickback 

You can do regular tricep kickbacks, but the incline dumbbell kickback really nails that long head. It also takes a good bit of strain off the shoulder, which is a common problem with a regular tricep dumbbell kickback as there’s no shoulder stabilization. You can also do this with the cable machine. 

Proper Form and Technique

Lie chest-down on a 45-degree angle incline bench, with a light dumbbell in each hand. You want to hold your upper arm parallel to your body, keeping your elbows at your sides throughout the exercise movement. 

Your elbow needs to stay locked in place for this to be effective. Flex your tricep and bring the weight up so your entire arm is in line with your body. In this position, the long head tricep muscle is at its maximal contraction, giving it a seriously good workout. 

A man does tricep kickbacks in a gym
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Barbell Kickbacks 

This is an old-school movement that’s great for building muscle mass. Whereas the normal kickback is all about elbow extension, this one involves shoulder extension instead.

It might feel strange, but it’s a superior movement to really isolate that long head. In fact, it’s pretty much the only isolation exercise that doesn’t get much activation of the other 2 triceps muscles at all. 

Proper Form and Technique 

Stand with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell in the starting position behind your body with an overhand grip. You may want to choose a lighter weight for this one. 

Keeping your arms straight, lift the bar out and away from your body. It’s not big, but it’ a fantastic movement for targeting that long head. 

Tricep Dips 

An excellent but challenging exercise that only requires your body weight. They’re great because they train both common movements that the long head is involved in—extending the elbow and movement of the shoulder. 

Proper Form and Technique 

Choose your platform. It can be a chair, an adjustable bench, a table, or any other stable platform. Lean your palms on the platform, straighten your arms, and extend your legs out in front of you or bend them at the knees, whichever is more comfortable. 

Keep your hands shoulder-width apart, close to your sides, with enough room to fit your body between them. Tighten your core and keep your chin tucked under. Then bend your elbows and lower your body until your elbows hit a 90-degree angle

You may need to do this in the mirror a few times to find the right depth. At the bottom, hold for a second and then contract your triceps muscles and push back up to the starting position. If it’s too light weight for you, add an extra weight plate to your knees. 

Note: this bodyweight exercise might be difficult for those with shoulder injuries.

Common Mistakes to Avoid 

Even if you train the long head adequately, you could be hampering your progress towards maximum growth if you accidentally make any of these mistakes. Avoid them as much as possible during your long head triceps exercises! 

Poor Form 

Lifting with poor form makes every exercise much less effective, so you won’t reach your fitness goals nearly as quickly as you’d like. You might not be activating that muscle as much as you think, so you won’t see the muscle growth you’re hoping for. 

But that’s not the worst part—using incorrect form during exercises means you’ll be far more likely to injure yourself. Wrong form could place strain on the shoulder and elbow, especially during compound exercises, and if you tweak one of those, you could be out of the gym for weeks to months. 

Whichever exercise you’re doing, make sure to: 

  • Keep your back straight 
  • Keep your core tight 
  • Make sure your hand position is right 
  • Double-check your range of motion 
  • Lift slowly and carefully, feeling the muscle 
  • Lower slowly and carefully, feeling the muscle 

Using Too Much Weight 

This is a common problem with almost every single lift, and triceps muscles are no different. Lifting heavy weights that you can’t handle WILL compromise your form, which can have disastrous consequences. Here’s how to avoid making this mistake. 

  • Guys: Choose a weight you can lift with perfect form for 4 reps. 
  • Girls: Choose a weight you can lift with perfect form for 8 reps. 

Keep working with this weight until you can hit 6 reps (for the guys) or 10 reps (for the ladies). Then, up the weight slightly, to something you can lift again for 4 reps, and work your way back up. Stick to this rep range and you’ll be in the right weight range. 

This will help you choose a weight that’s challenging but doable, with the potential to progress slowly but steadily (and safely) from moderate weights to heavier weights. 

Neglecting Range of Motion 

As mentioned above, if you aren’t paying attention to range of motion, you could be expending unnecessary energy on parts of the exercise that aren’t having the biggest effect. Pay attention to that magic 35 to 60° elbow bend and you’ll activate the muscle more strongly. 


It’s tempting to train the triceps more often because they’re a small and hard-to-grow muscle group. But be patient—overtraining can ruin your progress. Stick to one or two tricep workouts per week, aiming to hit all three heads. 

If you’re doing two workouts a week, make sure you allow for a day or 2 or 3 between them. The biggest part of muscle growth happens during recovery! 

Elbow Flare 

For overhead movements, having your elbow in the wrong position can place a lot of stress on the elbow and shoulder joint. Try to keep the elbow stationary, close to your sides, and avoid elbow flaring them out. Using the correct weight will help. 

Excessive Momentum 

Momentum is gains’ worst enemy! Using swinging momentum to help you lift the weight is, quite literally, cheating yourself out of muscle activation and functional strength. If you can’t lift the weight without swinging it, the weight is too heavy for you. 

You want every part of the movement to be controlled. You should feel the muscle working from start to finish, so don’t cheat yourself. 

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Long Head Tricep Exercises

Ready to build monster long head tricep muscles? Keep these tips in mind when doing triceps exercises to maximize the effectiveness of your exercises. 

Warm Up Before Starting 

Warm-ups are often neglected but can make the difference between muscular growth and injuries. Do some dynamic stretches first, and then a few warm-up sets of your first exercise, using about 70% of your max weight. 

Train Triceps First 

If you’re training triceps with other muscles on a particular day, try to get your long head tricep exercises in first. The long head is the biggest of the muscles, so working it out when you’ve got more energy will help you to get the best benefit. 

Don’t Hold Your Breath 

Holding your breath is a common mistake. This can cause elevated blood pressure, so work on controlling your breathing throughout each and every movement, whether you’re doing triceps exercises or others. 

Use Long Enough Rest Periods 

While it’s tempting to hop straight into another set after just 10 seconds of waiting for the burn to subside, waiting a minute to 2 minutes can be more beneficial. This gives the muscle adequate time to come down from that pump, which means you’ll be able to lift more each time. 

Use Your Mind-Muscle Connection 

Putting your full attention on the muscle, feeling how it’s contracting, will not only help you to maximize its engagement, but will also make sure you’re paying close attention to your form so you can fix it immediately if it wavers. 

Use a Spotter 

For heavier lifts like the close-grip bench press or overhead movements, use a spotter. You don’t want to drop these weights on yourself or wrench a shoulder joint during movement—a spotter will be valuable even if you never actually end up needing their help. 

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