The triceps muscle comprises roughly two thirds of the arm’s size. The best arm workouts utilize tricep exercises. Creating well developed triceps is essential to building decent arm mass. Understanding tricep anatomy will help you utilize tricep exercises in your routine to maximize your results. The “tri”ceps are named as such because they have three heads. The long, thin head on the outside of the arm is called the lateral head. The larger head on the back of the arm is called the long head. And finally, the small and short head underneath the long head is called the medial head. When attempting to build the triceps, some people find either the long, or the lateral head grows faster than the rest. In such cases, it can help to learn how the triceps work and how to target, or put emphasis, on different heads.
First let’s start with a quick tricep anatomy lesson on origins and insertions. The important part is the origin, or where the muscle starts from. The lateral and medial heads both have their origins on the humerus, or the bone of the upper arm. However, the long head has its origin all the way up on the scapula (shoulder blade). The different origins of the heads of the muscle is a very important clue on how to work different parts. Think about it; you can lengthen or stretch the long head just by moving the position of your arm. It could be overhead, or at your side. The long head changes shape. The medial and lateral heads will not lengthen or stretch no matter how you move the upper arm. Of course, all three muscles contract and shorten when you extend the arm at the elbow, but only the long head can shorten or lengthen by moving the upper arm.
When you keep your upper arm close to your side, the long head of the triceps is in a shortened position. This is because you are moving the long head closer to its origin at the scapula. When you put your arm straight up over your head, it is in a stretched position. This is because the long head is being moved further away from the scapula. So here is the trick to altering which heads work harder. The long head does not work as hard when it is slack. It is slack when it is shorter, arms at your side. Therefore, when your arms are at your side, you can get the lateral head of the triceps to work harder, to pick up for the long head being lazy! Then, when you have your arms overhead, and the long head is in the stretched position, the more powerful long head is in the position to take over more of the work. So the short answer to the question is:
- Arms at side – lateral head works harder
- Arms overhead – long head works harder
Now you know how to select which head of the tricep to put more emphasis on, and more importantly, why. See if you can use this information to come up with new tricep exercises to come up with the best arm workouts that focus on the area you want to build. For example, what if you put your arm even further than at your side, to behind the back and did a triceps extension? As always, use the comment feature or set up a consult with me if you’d like further explanation.
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