Medial Head Triceps Exercises: 5 Best Options!

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 28, 2022

The triceps brachii is a big muscle of the upper arm that is comprised of three heads and functions to extend the elbow. Among its three heads, it is the medial head that is active in all forms of elbow extension and thus cannot be entirely isolated. However, depending on the exercise, it can be accentuated.

The medial head of the triceps is most active in elbow extension activities with the shoulder flexed at 90 degrees or above, and with the forearm supinated. These qualities are present in reverse cable grip pushdowns, Tate presses, overhead dumbbell extensions, etc. Thus, these exercises may be utilized to maximize muscle power generation from the medial head of the triceps.

The Triceps: Anatomy and Function 

The triceps brachii is a large muscle positioned at the back side of the arm with a horseshoe-like feature. It has three parts, namely, the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head. The main function of the triceps is to extend the forearm at the elbow joint. Additionally, the long head helps with adduction and extension of the upper arm at the shoulder joint.

triceps anatomy

To emphasize more on the medial head of the triceps brachii, this muscle attaches to two bones and first originates at the posterior aspect of the humerus and the posterior surface of the olecranon process of the ulna.

How to Target Medial Head of the Triceps

The medial head of the triceps is comprised of slow twitch muscle fibers, unlike the other two parts of the triceps which are fast twitch muscle fibers. With this, the individual can do a higher quantity of repetitions during exercises to be able to exert the medial head even more

In a study by Kholinne, et al., the difference in force production of each head of the triceps depending on shoulder elevation was determined. It was shown that although all three heads were at work at all levels of shoulder elevation, the medial head showed significantly greater force production when the shoulder was elevated at 90 degrees or more.

Additionally, using an underhand grip for weight lifting may also assist in medial head activation. This is because the medial head as mentioned above is active on extension on the elbow when the arm is pronated. 

The techniques mentioned above do not isolate the medial head upon extension of the arm at the elbow joint, the other 2 muscles are still active during the movement, but with the use of these techniques the individual is able to emphasize the medial head more.

Benefits of Strengthening the Medial Head of Triceps

Strengthening the medial head of the triceps not only improves the aesthetic aspect of the triceps but also helps in increasing stability for the elbow. It also assists in injury prevention, especially in certain activities that cause injuries to the elbows such as baseball pitching, golfing, etc. 

Other than that, it also has the ability to aid in the gains of the other two heads of the triceps. The results of it could also increase its endurance for compound exercises which will help the individual do an increased number of sets and reps.

Prevention of injury

Exercising the medial head of the triceps brachii will provide increased stability to the elbow joint. As strength is increased through exercising this muscle, The individual’s triceps brachii will be able to assist the bone in the pressure it receives while doing specific activities that involve the elbow. 

 This will assist the individual in preventing injuries, especially individuals that do sports that are prone to elbow injuries such as golf, baseball, tennis, etc.  

Assists the Other Two Heads in Gains

When exercising the medial head of the triceps brachii there is no exercise that could completely isolate the movement for the medial head of the triceps. Most exercises for the triceps will work all three heads together, although there are some techniques that can be done to emphasize the medial head.

Building on the medial head of the triceps brachii will give the individual the capability in lifting heavier weights when wanting to work on the other two (2) heads. Furthermore, if the medial head is not worked that much unlike the other two heads, it may be fatigued much earlier which may cause a halt to the exercise.

Exercises that Target the Medial Head of the Triceps

1. Reverse Grip Cable Pushdown

The reverse grip cable pushdown requires the most force from the medial head of the triceps as it is done using a reverse grip (supinated forearms) while the elbows are kept to the side of the individual’s body. 

cable reverse grip pushdown

To perform this exercise, a pulley machine and a straight bar attachment are utilized. Attach the straight bar on the pulley machine, with the individual standing in front of the pulley machine at least a foot away from the base of the machine. 

Upon grabbing the bar using a reverse grip, the lifter positions themselves so that the hip is hinged backward to lean the torso forward. This position enables the upper arms to be placed at around 90 degrees of shoulder flexion relative to the torso.

Ensure that the hands are shoulder-width apart and the feet aligned with the shoulders. Pull the bar down until the elbows are in full extension. Take note that all movement should be done only by the elbows, preventing any compensation by other parts of the body.  

To complete the rep, gradually lift the bar until about 90 degrees of elbow flexion while taking a deep inhalation. 

2. Tate Press

The Tate press is known to be an isolation workout for the triceps. Although it works for all three heads of the triceps it has the capability to maintain activation for the medial head throughout the exercise. The exercise itself provides deep stretch and is also able to increase muscle mass and strength. 

tate press

To perform the exercise the individual lies down back flat on a bench with the feet flat on the ground and shoulder-width apart. The dumbbells are grasped with the fingers and thumbs wrapped around them, lifted, and positioned directly on top of each shoulder. Flex the elbows to descend the barbell towards the chest.

Take note that the triceps must be kept contracted even when the elbows are stretched and the dumbbell is near the chest. To finish, extend the elbows back to lift the weights back directly on top of the shoulders. 

3. Overhead Dumbbell Extension

The overhead dumbbell extension exercise can be done in standing, sitting, or even in the supine position. This can be done with 1 or 2 dumbbells, the only advantage of using 1 barbell for each hand is that it is able to avoid muscle imbalance by having the individual lift the same weight for each arm.

tricep overhead extensions

To perform this exercise the individual stands with feet shoulder-width apart, then grabs a dumbbell in each hand. The weight of the dumbbell must not be too heavy to avoid any accidents occurring. 

Raise the dumbbells above the head until the arms are stretched out vertically aligned with the body. Then slowly lower the dumbbells until it reaches behind the head of the individual; elbows must not flare during this movement. Lift the weight back up above the head again to finish the rep. 

If only one dumbbell is available, the same process takes place. The only difference is that both hands will be holding 1 dumbbell to do the exercise. It can also be done unilaterally wherein the opposite limb works to stabilize the limb performing the exercise. 

4. Flat Bench EZ Bar Skull Crushers

The inclined EZ bar skull crusher is a popular exercise that targets the triceps muscle. The position of the arms in relation to the body assists in exerting the most amount of force from the medial head of the triceps brachii. Although it is widely done for the strengthening of the long head, it is applicable for the medial head as well. 

To perform the exercise, the individual grabs the EZ bar with an overhand or reverse grip. The distance between each hand must just be closer than the shoulder width. The individual lies down on a flat bench. Lift the bar overhead by extending the arms at the shoulder joint and the elbow to assume the starting position.

Lower the bar by flexing the elbows until the bar almost touches the individual’s head or when the forearms are in contact with the biceps while keeping the arms at the shoulder joint in the same position. Lift the bar again overhead to complete one repetition.

5. Machine Tricep Extension

Some gyms have a tricep machine available to do triceps brachii exercises on. These machines are adjustable to accommodate the lifter’s anthropometric measurements or preferences.

As previously stated, the medial head of the triceps is most active at ranges of 90 degrees and above of shoulder flexion. Thus, performing machine triceps extension to target the medial head is highly effective since it isolates the triceps muscle well, and because it is adjustable to influence greater muscle force production from the medial head.

machine tricep extension

To perform machine-assisted triceps extension, the seat is adjusted so that when the lifter sits down on the machine, the upper arms rest on the pad with the shoulders placed in 90 degrees of shoulder flexion.

The handles are grasped and extension of the elbows is initiated. The handles are pushed down until the elbows are in a fully extended position. At the bottom of the movement, a brief pause is observed. The elbows are then allowed to flex slowly by controlling the ascension of the weight to return to the starting position. 

Final Thoughts

All three heads of the triceps brachii play an important role when it comes to the aesthetics and function of the arm. As mentioned above, no exercise isolates the medial head of the triceps completely, since this is a fact, it is important that the individual focuses on the muscle that is lagging to create balance. 

By affixing this concept to the individual’s workout routine, the individual will be able to increase many aspects of the medial head of the triceps brachii or even as a whole such as its elbow stability, optimal strength, aesthetic, or the overall size of the triceps.

References

1. Kholinne E, Zulkarnain RF, Sun YC, Lim S, Chun JM, Jeon IH. The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta Orthopaedica et Traumatologica Turcica. 2018;52(3):201-205. doi:10.1016/j.aott.2018.02.005

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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