10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises (That Actually Work)

the 10 best lateral head tricep exercises

There is a wide range of lateral head tricep exercises to help you increase the size of your arms and strengthen your bench press, overhead press, dips, and other pressing movements.

However, many people train tricep exercises thinking they’re targeting the lateral head, but instead they’re using other parts of the tricep (medial or long head), or worse, compensating with the rear delt or lats. 

To avoid targeting other muscle groups when your aim is to isolate the lateral head, I’ve compiled a list of exercises you can include in your workouts.  

The 10 best lateral head tricep exercises are:

  • Close Grip Bench Press
  • Tricep Pressdowns
  • Diamond Push ups
  • EZ Bar Skull Crushers
  • Dumbbell French Press
  • Close Grip Dips
  • Smith Machine Close Grip Bench Press
  • Tricep Cable Kickbacks
  • Overhead Press
  • Barbell JM Press

In this article, I will discuss what the lateral head of the tricep is, how to target it, how it contributes to greater performance, and give you examples of lateral head tricep workouts.

Furthermore, I have also included dumbbell, banded, bodyweight, barbell, and cable movements to allow for you to build a well-rounded lateral head tricep program.

Looking for other tricep training resources, check out: 

The Goal Of Training The Lateral Head Of The Triceps

Whether it’s for strength or general health, a well-rounded selection of exercises for the lateral head of the triceps contributes to overall performance in lifting and life outside of the gym.

Now you may ask, what is the lateral head of the tricep responsible for?

The lateral head of the tricep is responsible for the extension of the forearm at the elbow joint.

How To Target The Lateral Head Tricep

Elbow extension, the primary action of the lateral head of the triceps, often happens during overhead exercises (like the overhead press or jerk) or in pressing movements generally (bench press, dips, tricep pressdown).

The common theme among all these exercises is that they incorporate ‘elbow extension’.  So any exercise that extends the elbow has the potential to target the lateral head of the tricep. 

How The Lateral Head Tricep Contributes To Performance

The bench press relies on the lateral head of the triceps to achieve the last phase of the exercise. This means that a strong lateral head will contribute to a strong bench press, especially if you’re weak in the lockout.

Overhead movements such as the jerk, push press, and overhead press require lateral head tricep strength as well. Again, mostly in the lockout phase.  

So while the lateral head rarely acts as a prime mover in compound exercises, if it’s weak, then you likely won’t be able to achieve full range of motion in movements that require extension of the elbow.  

Lateral Head Tricep: 10 Exercises

1. Close Grip Bench Press

Hands down the best lateral head triceps exercise, the close grip bench allows you to achieve the most overload and has a long list of variations that carry over to other pressing movements.

How To Do It

  • As you lay under the bar, make sure your shoulders are slightly in front of the bar to minimize the line of travel after the unrack.
  • Hand placement will be about shoulder width apart, or narrower than conventional grip.
  • Drive the base of your hand through the bar, and then wrap your thumb around it.
  • Use the weight of the bar to drive your shoulders back into the bench.
  • Create additional tension by pulling your traps down and pushing your chest up.
  • After you unrack the bar, bring the bar forward until it is in line with your lower chest/upper abdomen.
  • Control the bar by rowing it down to your lower chest/upper abdomen.
  • At the bottom, drive the weight of the bar away from your torso until elbows are at complete extension.

Benefits

Some benefits of the close grip bench press are:

  • Close grip bench press allows you to build tricep strength. Because you are utilizing a barbell, you can load up plenty of weight to get additional overload onto the triceps.
  • Close grip bench press is a bench variation. Due to its similarities with the competition bench press there is direct carry over. Close grip bench press requires greater range of motion and shoulder mobility which improves overall pressing ability.

Can’t feel your triceps in the close grip bench press? Check out my other article.

Cons

Here are some cons associated with the close grip bench press:

  • Close grip bench press can put excessive stress on the elbows and shoulders. Due to the close hand position, improper execution or general fatigue of the muscles can lead to shoulder and elbow pain. If this is the case, lighter loads with proper posture and execution can help make this exercise more bearable. 
  • Increased range of motion of the bench press. As this is also a pro, it can be a con as well. The increased range of motion decreases the effectiveness and ability to bench press. This means that your overall bench press performance (max strength) will be weaker in comparison with a regular bench.

How To Program

Here are several ways to program close grip bench press:

Tempo variations can be implemented for a hypertrophy protocol to increase time under tension which will also increase muscular growth. 

Another way we could do this is just simply a higher rep range to accomplish the same fatigue. A strength protocol will be in the lower rep range while using higher intensities.

Hypertrophy

3/2/1 Tempo Close Grip Bench:

  • 4 sets of 5 Repetitions @70% of 1RM

Close Grip Bench:

  • 3 sets of 8 repetitions @70% of 1RM
Strength

Close Grip Bench:

  • 5 sets of 3 Repetitions @80% of 1RM

I did another article where I mentioned an additional 8 Close Grip Bench Press Benefits (Plus, 1 Drawback), which can help you better understand the exercise.

2. Tricep Pressdown

The tricep pressdown is the most popular tricep exercise by isolating the lateral head of the tricep and focusing on elbow extension alone. This makes the tricep pressdown an effective lateral head tricep exercise to throw in at the end of your workouts.

How To Do It

  • Wrap your hand around each side of the straight bar.
  • Keep your chest up and lean forward prior to initiating this exercise.
  • To load the triceps more, bring your shoulders directly over the handle.
  • Drive the straight bar down until elbows are at extension.
  • Make sure you keep your wrists straight throughout.
  • Guide the bar back into 90 degrees of elbow flexion to complete the rep.

Benefits

Some benefits of the tricep extension are:

  • The tricep extension is a non fatiguing exercise. There is little to no consequence in loading this exercise up because it doesn’t have that much of an effect on the entire system of the body. This is good because we can throw in a lot of tricep press downs towards the end of a bench day and recover from it by the next session.
  • This is an isolation exercise. If your goal is to improve the strength and size of the lateral head of your triceps alone, this exercise is effective at isolating that single muscle.

Cons

Here are some cons associated with the tricep extension:

  • It can be difficult to achieve fatigue with this exercise. In order to improve the size of the tricep we need to challenge the muscle. This exercise can be somewhat challenging to load up because it is fairly easy. To combat this, we can do drop sets and supersets to get the greatest effect.
  • This exercise can be boring. Unlike bigger compound exercises, the tricep pressdown is less complicated and simple. While simple exercises can be effective, there just isn’t much mastery involved which can drain the fun out of our training.

How To Program

Here is how to program the tricep press down:

Superset to Burnout:
  • Rope Handle: 1 set of 15 reps 
  • Straight Handle: 1 set of 15 reps
  • V-Handle: 1 set of 15 reps @RPE 7-8
General Hypertrophy: 
  • 4 sets of 12-15 reps @RPE 6-7

3. Diamond Push ups

Diamond push ups are a bodyweight exercise that can be done anywhere, which make it a good at home or on the road lateral head tricep exercise.

How To Do It

  • For this exercise, you will form a diamond with the index and thumb fingers.
  • Hand placement will be on the ground, under your lower chest/upper abdomen.
  • Lying face down, you will push the ground away from you until your elbows are at complete extension.
  • During the course of this exercise, make sure that your hips don’t drop or shift excessively.

Benefits

Here are some benefits of the diamond pushup:

  • The diamond pushup is a bodyweight exercise. The diamond push up can be done at a hotel or at home. This makes it an easily accessible lateral head tricep exercise.
  • The diamond pushup can be modified in difficulty. If you have a hard time doing the diamond pushup, then you can decrease the difficulty by elevating the hands to do a more upright pushup.

Cons

Here are some cons of the diamond pushup:

  • Diamond push ups can be too little of a stimulus to grow the triceps. Often we’ll find that this exercise isn’t fatiguing enough to cause the stress we need to build muscle.
  • Diamond push ups can put some stress on the shoulders. At the bottom position of the diamond push up, the shoulder joint sits in a compromised position. Because of this, you might want to find an exercise that targets the lateral head of the triceps without putting stress on your shoulders.

How To Program

Here is how you would program the diamond pushup:

Burnout Set:
  • 3 sets for as many reps as possible.
General Hypertrophy:
  • 5 sets of 15-20 reps

4. EZ Bar Skull Crushers

EZ bar skull crushers are a single joint exercise that allows you to focus on the lateral head of the tricep. While you can perform this movement using a standard barbell, the EZ curl bar allows you to activate the lateral head to a greater extent.

How To Do It

  • Grip the inside handles of the EZ bar.
  • Lay back on the bench and push the EZ bar into complete extension of the elbows.
  • Lower the EZ bar until elbows are at 90 degrees flexion or just short of touching the forehead.
  • After this, press the EZ bar back into complete extension.

Benefits

  • Skull crushers exclusively will target the lateral head of the triceps. The only action that is happening in this exercise is elbow extension and flexion, which isolates the targeting of the triceps.
  • Skull crushers can help build grip strength. To successfully achieve this exercise, you need to prevent the load from dropping on your face. This can be very beneficial in building grip strength.

Cons

  • Skull crushers can put stress on the forearms. While they can improve grip strength, they can put excess stress on the wrist and forearms. If you have any prior history with tendonitis or general pain in these areas, then the skull crusher might not be for you.
  • It can be challenging to load this exercise. The strength and loading of this exercise is limited by the wrist and elbow joints. Once you’ve achieved a certain level of strength it can be hard to progress in this exercise if your joints can’t handle it.

How To Program

Here’s how you program the EZ bar skull crushers:

  • 3 sets of 12 reps @RPE 7-8

5. Dumbbell French Press

The dumbbell french press has several variations (using bands, dumbbells, or machine) but isolates the triceps, specifically the lateral head, to a greater degree. 

How To Do It

  • Hold the top plate of the dumbbell by making a diamond with the index finger and thumb.
  • Press the dumbbell over head until elbows are at complete extension.
  • Lower the dumbbell in a controlled fashion behind your head until elbows are flexed 90 degrees.
  • Proceed to extend elbows back to the overhead position.

Benefits

Here are some of the benefits of the dumbbell french press:

  • The dumbbell french press has many variations: Depending on what equipment you have available, you can do this exercise with several different weighted implements.
  • The dumbbell french press is non fatiguing. This exercise can be done for many sets and repetitions which makes it a great option to place at the end of your workout.

Cons

Here are some of the cons of the dumbbell french press:

  • The dumbbell french press can put stress on the shoulders. Due to the overhead nature of this exercise, it can cause pain and irritation to the shoulders. In this case, the tricep extension or close grip bench press might be a better option.

How To Program

Here is how you program the french press:

  • 3 sets of 8 reps @RPE 8

6. Close Grip Dips

Close grip dips are a non fatiguing, lateral tricep dominant exercise, that can be

progressed to handle heavy loading if required.  This makes it a great option for intermediate/advanced lifters who need more loading to get the required stimulus.

How To Do It

  • Find a pair of parallel bars that are slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Place the base of your hands onto each bar.
  • Press the weight of your body up into complete extension of the elbows.
  • Slightly leaned forward, lower your body until you achieve 90 degree flexion of the elbows.
  • To finish the repetition, push yourself up into complete extension of the elbows.

Benefits

Here are some benefits of the close grip dip:

  • The close grip dip can be progressed easily. With a dip belt and tempo variations, one can do the close grip dip in many ways.
  • The close grip dip has carryover to bench press. This exercise exclusively works on the lateral head of the tricep and its pressing ability. This alone makes this a great exercise to utilize with the goal of increasing the bench press.

Cons

Here is a con of the close grip dip:

  • The close grip dip can put the shoulders in a compromised position. Probably the biggest and only con of the dip is that it can put excessive stress on the shoulders. You can mitigate this by doing partial reps (only the top range of motion)

How To Program

Here are two ways to program the dip exercise:

Weighted Dips:

  • 4 sets of 5 repetitions @RPE 7-8

3/2/1 Tempo Dips:

  • 5 sets of 5 repetitions @RPE 7
  • 3-sec down, 2-sec hold in bottom position, 1-sec up.

7. Smith Machine Close Grip Bench Press

The smith machine close grip bench takes control out of the movement, i.e. less stabilization is required, which allows you to isolate the lateral head of the tricep to a greater extent compared with a traditional close grip bench press.

How To Do It

  • Unlike the typical bench press, setting up will be much further back, until the bar in the rack is inline with the lower chest/upper abdomen.
  • Hand placement will be about shoulder width apart, or narrower than conventional grip.
  • Drive the base of your hand through the bar, and then wrap your thumb around it.
  • Use the weight of the smith machine to drive your shoulders back into the bench.
  • Create additional tension by pulling your traps down and pushing your chest up.
  • After you unrack the smith machine, control the lowering of the bar by rowing it down to your lower chest/upper abdomen.
  • At the bottom, drive the weight of the bar away from your torso until elbows are at complete extension.

Benefits

Here are some benefits of the smith machine close grip bench press:

  • The smith machine allows you to load up the triceps. Due to the safety mechanisms of the smith machine, you can load up and do many reps with the close grip bench exercise, likely with a heavier load than you would be able to do the same amount of reps with on a free-weight bar.
  • The smith machine is a much safer alternative. The reracking of the smith machine produces a safety mechanism, which allows you to at any time bail from the lift if it gets too heavy.

Cons

Here are some cons of the smith machine close grip bench press:

  • The smith machine is a much simpler exercise. Compared to the free weight bench press, there is a much less peripheral effect on the other muscles that are involved.  In other words, if you did want to target the pecs and shoulders along with the lateral head, then the smith machine version won’t allow you to do that effectively.
  • Has less carry over to bench press. If your goal is to improve the bench press, which is one of the main reasons why people want to target the lateral head of the tricep, this exercise is less effective than the barbell close grip bench press.  If you’re more of a bodybuilder vs powerlifter, then this won’t be a concern for you.

How To Program

Here’s how to program the smith machine close grip bench press:

General Hypertrophy:
  • 3 sets of 20 reps @60%
Strength:
  • 5 sets of 6 reps @75%

8. Tricep Cable Kickbacks

Cable kickbacks are not the first exercises one would throw into a tricep workout, but they have a high degree of lateral tricep head activation, which is why it shouldn’t be ignored if your goal is to bring up this muscle group.  

How To Do It

  • With one hand, grab the base of the cable handle, without equipment on it.
  • You will bend at the hips until the torso is almost parallel to the ground.
  • Start with the elbow flexed at 90 degrees, drive the hand back into complete elbow extension.
  • To complete the repetition, bring the elbow back to flexion.
  • Repeat this with the other hand.

Benefits

Here is a benefit of the cable kickback:

  • The cable kickback can be used as a ‘burnout’ exercise.  A high repetition finisher after a long workout can help add greater progress to your tricep gains.

Cons

Here is a con of the cable kickback:

  • This exercise doesn’t provide enough of a tricep stimulus. This cannot be the sole exercise in your tricep routine. However, it is beneficial to add it with either a close grip bench of a close grip dip.

How To Program

Here is a program example of the cable kickback:

  • 4 sets of 20 reps @RPE 7

9. Overhead Press

Although this is primarily a shoulder movement, the overhead press recruits the lateral head of the triceps to a great degree, especially at the lockout phase of the lift. This makes the overhead press a great lateral head tricep exercise if you’re running short on time and need to combine muscle groups into a single exercise.

How To Do It

  • Grip width is slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Firmly grasp the bar with the base of your hand.
  • The bar should rest on your clavicle/upper chest upon the unrack.
  • Elbows should be in front of the bar to direct the line of travel for the movement.
  • Build tension in the lats by breaking the bar with the outside pinkies.
  • Build a big brace by getting a big breath and increasing the intra abdominal pressure.
  • While moving your head back, drive the weight of the bar overhead until elbows are at complete extension.
  • At lockout, the bar should be directly over the shoulder joint.
  • Control the weight of the bar back into the starting position, while being mindful of the head.

Benefits

Here are some benefits of the overhead press:

  • Improved pressing strength. The overhead press is a vertical pressing movement that loads the anterior chain (front of the body). This exercise has great carry over to olympic and powerlifting exercises.
  • Improved shoulder mobility. The end of a repetition happens with your complete extension of shoulders and elbows, with your head through the bar. This position improves shoulder mobility, which is a necessity for exercises such as bench press.

Cons

Here are some cons of the overhead press:

  • Not directly a tricep movement. If you want to specifically improve the lateral head of your triceps, you can implement some of the other accessories that were mentioned earlier into your routine.
  • This exercise can be unsafe. If the load of this exercise is too high, there is risk of failure, which can be extremely unsafe due to the compromising position the overhead press places you in. If you are going heavy, it might be beneficial to grab a spotter.

How To Program

Here are a couple program examples of the overhead press:

Overhead press for strength:
  • 5 sets of 3 reps @80% of 1RM
Overhead press for hypertrophy:
  • 3 sets of 8 reps @65% of 1RM

10. Barbell JM Press

The barbell JM press is a compound lateral head tricep exercise that is similar to a close grip bench combined with a skull crusher.  It’s not the first exercise I would try, especially if you haven’t mastered the close grip bench or skull crusher.  But if you have, then the barbell JM press can be the next natural progression in your routine.

How To Do It

  • Set up how you would on the normal bench press.
  • Grip width should be shoulder width apart or slightly wider.
  • Have the elbows locked out over your shoulders.
  • Maintain tightness by externally rotating the shoulders.
  • Lower the bar to your neck, while flexing at the elbows.
  • Upon completion of the rep, push the bar away until elbows are extended.

Benefits

Here are some benefits of the barbell JM press:

  • Direct benefits to the bench press. The JM press is similar to the close grip bench, and hammers the triceps. Improvements in this exercise have carry over to a powerlifting-style bench press.
  • Increased size and strength of the triceps. During this movement the load is directly on top of the triceps, which makes this a great for building size and strength in the triceps. 

Cons

Here are some cons of the JM press:

  • This exercise puts a lot of stress on the elbows and shoulders. Improper execution of this exercise can lead to a lot of pain in the elbow and shoulders. Maintaining externally rotated shoulders and closed armpits can isolate the triceps more effectively.

How To Program

Here is how you would program the JM press:

  • 3 sets of 8 reps @50-60% of 1RM bench press

Lateral Head Tricep Workout Examples

Now that you have the list of exercises that target the lateral head, let’s now discuss how to put these exercises into a workout program.  

Here are two workout examples:  one for strength and one for hypertrophy:  

Lateral Head Tricep Strength Workout

  • Close Grip Bench Press: 5 sets of 3 reps @80%
  • Overhead Press: 4 sets of 3 reps @80%
  • Close Grip Dips: 4 sets of 5 reps @RPE 7-8
  • Tricep Extensions: 3 sets of 10 reps @RPE 8-9

Lateral Head Tricep Hypertrophy Workout

  • Smith Machine Close Grip Bench Press: 3 sets of 12 reps @80%
  • EZ Bar Skull Crushers: 3 sets of 10 reps @RPE 7-8
  • Tricep Extensions: 3 sets of 10 reps @RPE 7-8
  • Cable Kickbacks: 4 sets of 20 reps @RPE 8-9

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions for the lateral head tricep exercises: 

Do Triceps Respond Better To High Reps?

Since the triceps are smaller muscles that move less absolute loads and are more resistant to fatigue, higher repetition protocols would be beneficial.

What To Do If You Have A Tricep Head Imbalance?

Implement compound movements like the close grip bench press and barbell JM press to target all three heads of the triceps.

What To Do If The Lateral Head Of The Tricep Isn’t Growing?

Incorporate a variety of loading patterns and variations into your workout routine. This would include both high and low rep schemes with tempo and paused variations to improve lateral head tricep growth.

Final Thoughts

Just like any other muscle, the lateral head of the tricep responds to a variety of loadings, repetitions, and variations. Whether you are on the road or have a full gym set up, you can’t go wrong with implementing a combination of the exercises that were mentioned in this article.


About The Author

Javad Bakhshined

Javad Bakhshined was born and raised in the Washington Area. Currently, he is a student at Seattle University where he’s been pursuing an MS in Kinesiology, and has been a Strength Coach in the athletic department. He was a competitive bodybuilder for 8 years where he later transitioned to competitive powerlifting for 4 years. Currently, He has his own personal coaching business, where he works with powerlifters and bodybuilders.