You know what makes a truly impressive arm? One that can simply hang down…unflexed…and still look as if it belongs on a gorilla, rather than on a human. That look does not come about from having huge biceps, but from having thick, meaty, triceps. More specifically, it comes from a highly developed inner (or long) triceps head. This is the head of the triceps responsible for that “sweep” under the biceps in a front biceps pose, and the dramatic thickness on the back of the upper arm seen in a back lat-spread pose. 

Ok, so what is required to achieve a pair of “sweeping” triceps? Intelligent, targeted training. Just like it takes specific movements to force more brachialis than biceps recruitment, it takes certain types of triceps exercises to get more inner head activation.

Key to Building Sweeping Triceps

The key lies in choosing exercises that force the elbows up by the ears throughout the movement. EMG studies have shown that this is the optimal arm positioning to utilize when looking for the strongest activation of inner (long) triceps head fibers.

On the next page are three of the most effective “sweep-producing” triceps movements around, and how to perform them.

1. Incline Overhead Barbell Extension

Lie down on an incline bench set at about 60 degrees. Make sure you’re up high enough on the bench so that your head is just off the top. Have someone hand you a straight or EZ curl bar, and grip just inside shoulder width.

Point your elbows up toward the ceiling and keep them locked in that position throughout your set. Lower the bar slowly back behind your head and allow for a deep stretch of the triceps.

As you bring the bar back up, do not allow elbows to creep forward or you will rob your triceps of major growth stimulation. Lock the arms out straight by intensely contracting the triceps, not by hyper extending at the elbows. 

2. Seated Single Arm Overhead Dumbbell Extension

Sit on a bench that has support and does not extend past your upper back. Grab a dumbbell in such a way that the meat of your hand by your pinkie finger is right up against the plates. Hold the dumbbell overhead with your palm facing almost completely to the front. Make sure the elbow is pointing straight toward the ceiling and lock it there.

Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head, but keep the palm facing almost forward, so that the bell angles toward the opposite ear as it descends.  

The exact angle that you are able to use during the eccentric contraction will depend largely on your shoulder flexibility. Make sure to get a full stretch at the bottom before using pure triceps power to re-straighten the arm.

Heavy weight can be used in the exercise, but never use a weight so heavy that it turns into a half-press. This is a very common training mistake that will rob you of much of the benefit of this movement.

3. Cable Overhead Extensions Using Rope Attachment

Attach a rope to an upper pulley at a cable crossover station. Grab the ends of the rope while facing away from the weight stack. Bring one leg forward until you are in a lunge-like position, and lean over until your torso is about parallel to the floor. Your elbows should be right up by your ears and they should remain there throughout the set.

Starting from the stretched position, use pure triceps strength to begin to straighten the arms. However, as you are doing so, turn the palms from their initial position (facing the head) to a downward position (facing the floor). This will cause the ends of the rope to spread away from each other and allow for a very powerful “cramping” of the triceps. Squeeze hard at the peak contraction point, and then reverse the movement into a full stretch once again.

As strength begins to dwindle it will become increasingly difficult to continue spreading the rope at the top of the movement. When this occurs, simply keep the palms facing, from stretch to contraction and you will find you can get a few extra reps.