Angling for Better Triceps

Mar 15 07:55 2009 Sandra Prior Print This Article

How changing the bench angle on your triceps extensions shifts the muscular emphasis.

Your Question: I noticed you sometimes show lying triceps extensions being done on a flat bench,Guest Posting but other times they're shown on a decline or an incline bench. Is one angle better than the others?

Background: The triceps has three heads: lateral, long and medial. Each head begins at a different position on the humerus (upper arm bone), with the long head's fibers also originating at the scapula (shoulder blade), but all three converge into one common tendon that crosses the elbow joint.

The lateral head is seen on the side of the arm and makes up the front half of the coveted horseshoe. The long head is the meaty portion on the back of the arm; it makes up the back half of the horseshoe. The smaller medial head is on the lower inside part of the arm and can be seen near the elbow in the front biceps pose.

All three heads of the triceps work together to extend the arm at the elbow joint, such as during triceps pressdowns and extensions. Therefore, it's impossible to isolate just one head with specific exercises. However, the way you angle your arms when extending at the elbows changes the emphasis placed on the three heads. For example: When the arms are straight by the sides (such as on pressdowns) using an overhand or neutral grip, the lateral heads receive the most stress.

When the arms are straight by the sides but using a reverse (underhand) grip, the medial heads receive the most stress. The medial heads also assist the other two heads - regardless of arm position at the top of the movement - as the arms reach full extension because the medial heads' muscle fibers are closest to the elbows.

The more the arms move in front of the body and overhead, the more emphasis is placed on the long heads. Since the long heads attach to the scapulae, the more you bring your arms overhead, the more they stretch and the stronger they become.

For Discussion: Given this background about how arm position can change triceps emphasis, let's consider the three different versions of the lying triceps extension.

Lying triceps extension on a flat bench - When performing this move, the arms are at right angles to the body, about halfway between being straight by the sides and straight overhead. That means there will be fairly equal involvement from the long heads and lateral heads, with a good bit of involvement from the medial heads, particularly at the top of the movement.

Lying triceps extension on an incline bench - Here, the arms move more overhead, similar to an overhead triceps extension, placing more stress on the long heads than the flat-bench version. That means there will be more emphasis on the long heads and less on the lateral heads, with the medial heads still providing a good bit of help at the top of the rep.

Lying triceps extension on a decline bench - Here the arms move down and more in line with the body. Therefore, this version places less stress on the long heads and more on the lateral heads, with the medial heads assisting at the top of the exercise.

Final Thought: Given that each version stresses the triceps differently, one isn't necessarily better than the others. Each exercise has its benefits and should be used for balanced development of the triceps. If you need to bring up a particularly weak area, however, focus on doing the version of the lying triceps extension that best hits your weak spot.

For the best balanced development, use the standard flat-bench lying triceps extension as your mainstay lying triceps exercise. Occasionally, switch your focus by performing the incline or decline version. If your long heads are weak (that is, your triceps don't have much width when viewed from the sides), consider doing the lying triceps extension more often in the incline position, at least until you bring up your long heads. If your lateral heads are lacking (your arms don't have much width when viewed from the front or back), try performing the decline version more often until you build sufficient development in your lateral heads.

Remember, exercises are like tools. Just as a good plumber knows which tool to use for a certain job, a good bodybuilder should know which exercises to use to get a specific job done.

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Sandra Prior
Sandra Prior

Sandra Prior runs her own bodybuilding website at

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