Small Triceps, Bigger Biceps? 4 Ways to Fix it

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
August 31, 2022

A common problem among many weightlifters is one muscle group being larger than the other, especially in regards to the two muscles of the upper arm. 

In certain cases, this shows as the biceps brachii muscle at the front of the upper arm being larger than the triceps brachii that makes up the back and sides of the upper arm, creating an uneven appearance.

Fortunately, if you suffer from having larger biceps than your triceps, fixing it is quite simple and does not involve any excessive alteration in programming or training modalities.

Muscular Anatomy of the Upper Arm

The two largest and most visible muscle groups of the upper arm are the triceps brachii and the biceps brachii, named so because of the number of individual “heads” each muscle group possesses.

arm posterior anatomy

The triceps brachii is primarily responsible for adductive motion and stabilization of the shoulder joint - as well as nearly double the size of the biceps brachii in terms of proportion.

The biceps brachii, on the other hand, only accounts for approximately one-third of the arm’s total skeletal muscle mass, and is responsible for pulling motions that draw the forearm inward.

As one may guess; in most cases, it is the triceps that should be bigger than the biceps, not the other way around. When such a discrepancy occurs, it is referred to as a muscular imbalance.

Why Are My Biceps Bigger Than My Triceps?

Generally, the biceps will end up larger in size than the triceps due to improper training methods.

Whether this is due to incorrect workout programming, excessive volume and resistance, poor recovery methods or even simply utilizing the wrong form of stimulus - when a muscular imbalance occurs, it is usually the lifter’s workout that is the culprit.

What is a Muscular Imbalance?

A muscular imbalance is one muscle group being out of proportion to another related muscle group, either in terms of work capacity or in terms of raw mass - both of which will result in disadvantages during athletic activities.

While muscular imbalances usually occur when one muscle is larger than its counterpart on the opposite side of the body, it is also possible to have a muscular imbalance between two muscles on the same side, such as would be the case in the triceps and biceps.

Fortunately, muscular imbalances are relatively easy to fix, and are rarely ever a sign of a deeper health problem.

How to Fix Small Triceps Bigger Biceps

Now that we have covered the background of why your biceps may be larger than your triceps, it is time to delve into how to fix such an issue.

While the most likely culprit of having larger biceps than triceps is improper training methods, it is also an issue that is best fixed by utilizing similarly unbalanced training techniques. 

This will include subsequent restructuring of the workout program, a reduction in total biceps brachii volume and even the addition of several other exercises meant to target the triceps brachii so as to accelerate its growth.

1. Reassess Your Workout Program

The first step to take when beginning to fix an unbalanced triceps to biceps ratio is to first assess one’s training program. For novice exercisers, this may be rather difficult, and it is best to seek out the advice of an athletic coach in such circumstances.

A training program with excessive biceps-dominant exercises such as rows, pull-ups, curls or other underhand exercises is the most likely cause - as it is pushing exercises that utilize the triceps the most - as with the case with calisthenics for example.

Ideally, a proper training program will have an equal amount of volume of pulling and pushing upper body exercises, with just as many sets of rows being performed as the bench press or military press, for example.

Furthermore, one must also examine the sort of exercises that are being performed - are the triceps-dominant exercises of the machine or bodyweight variety? Do they recruit other muscle groups that may overshadow the triceps brachii, such as the deltoids or the pectoral muscles?

And finally, there is also the case of accessory exercises, wherein the workout program may induce significantly greater biceps training stimulus simply because more isolation exercise volume recruits the muscle.

2. More Isolation Exercise Volume

Once the exerciser has reassessed their workout program and identified the issues that lead to their muscle imbalance, they must then increase the total isolation exercise volume placed on their triceps.

cable tricep pushdown

As a reminder, this step is otherwise not required if a lack of training stimulus is not the reason why your triceps are smaller than your biceps.

Otherwise, adding one to two sets of low-resistance isolation exercises that target the triceps should provide the training stimulus needed for the muscle to catch up to the biceps in terms of mass and strength.

Possible exercises for this are; dumbbell kickbacks, overhead triceps extensions or even tricep rope pushdowns - all of which make for excellent triceps isolation exercises.

3. Check for Overtraining

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is such a thing as too much volume being placed on the triceps brachii. 

Muscular hypertrophy occurs not during exercise itself, but in the rest period after wherein the body will repair the muscle stronger and larger than it was previously, thereby leading to muscular development over time.

If the triceps brachii are not given sufficient enough rest or materials with which to recover with (such as protein and calories), it is likely that other muscle groups that are not trained as often will quickly outpace it in terms of strength and size.

As a general rule, if the triceps brachii are being seriously trained for more than one day consecutively, overtraining is the likely cause of your muscular imbalance.

4. Maintaining Biceps Mass

Though the intention of these changes to your workout program are to make your triceps bigger, it is still important to maintain the size and strength of the biceps so as not to waste any progress that has been made.

To do so, one simply must maintain at least one compound exercise that recruits the biceps brachii to an intermediate degree, alongside a single isolation exercise of moderate intensity and only two to three sets per workout session.

While this will still stimulate some level of development in the biceps, it is unlikely to do so in a manner that will cause the biceps to remain larger than the triceps over time.

What to do if Elbow Injuries Cause Small Triceps and Bigger Biceps

In cases where the triceps are smaller than the biceps because of an elbow injury hampering proper training, the most important thing to do is to stop training entirely - or, at the least, until the elbow injury has sufficiently recovered.

Remedying a discrepancy in muscle size between the triceps and biceps will be not only difficult but potentially dangerous with the elbow injury still present, and continuing to exercise despite such injuries can lead to permanent damage to the arm and its surrounding areas.

Once a licensed physician or physical therapist has cleared the exerciser to exercise again, they may follow the previously mentioned steps so as to correct the muscular imbalance.

Muscle Insertions and Genetics - an Honorable Mention

Every individual’s body is unique, as is dictated by their genetics. This extends to the relative size and shape of their skeletal muscles, with some individuals possessing muscular insertion points that create a visually larger muscle, even if the total mass may be less than another person’s musculature.

muscle insertion
Short Muscle Belly with Long Tendon

In certain cases, this can lead to an individual’s biceps appearing larger than their triceps, especially if such proportionality is further encouraged by incorrect training methodology. 

While it is unlikely that one’s muscular insertions are entirely responsible for bigger biceps than their triceps, it is nonetheless one possible cause behind it.

Unfortunately, genetics cannot be changed, and are a factor that must simply be accepted. Assessing your workout program and making changes that encourage a more proportionate bicep to tricep ratio can nonetheless still be effective, regardless of muscle insertion points.

In Conclusion

Though a bicep-tricep imbalance is one of the less dangerous types of muscular imbalances, it is nonetheless one that should be remedied as soon as possible - not only because it is visually unappealing, but also because issues relating to the elbow and shoulder joints may arise at a later point.

At the end of the day, if you still haven’t managed to pinpoint the reason behind having smaller triceps than your biceps, seeking out the advice of a coach or physical therapist can likely illuminate the problem for you.

References

1. Śliwowski R, Jadczak Ł, Hejna R, Wieczorek A. The Effects of Individualized Resistance Strength Programs on Knee Muscular Imbalances in Junior Elite Soccer Players. PLoS One. 2015 Dec 2;10(12):e0144021. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144021. PMID: 26630271; PMCID: PMC4667994.

2. Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2016 Nov;46(11):1689-1697. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8. PMID: 27102172.

3. Souza FI, Saito M, Kimura LK, Júnior RM, Zumiotti AV. MUSCLE TRANSFER FROM TRICEPS TO BICEPS IN PATIENTS WITH CHRONIC INJURY OF THE UPPER TRUNK OF THE BRACHIAL PLEXUS. Rev Bras Ortop. 2015 Nov 17;45(4):409-12. doi: 10.1016/S2255-4971(15)30389-X. PMID: 27022572; PMCID: PMC4799097.

4. Tiwana MS, Charlick M, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Biceps Muscle. [Updated 2021 Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519538/

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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