Muscle Group of the Week: Triceps

by Feb 19, 2024

Found on the dorsal side of the upper arm, the three-headed triceps muscle is the antagonist of the biceps brachii on the front of the upper arm; meaning, the actions of the two muscle groups oppose one another.  While the biceps are responsible for forearm flexion, the triceps extend the forearm.  When the biceps shorten during contraction, the triceps lengthen in response.

Knowing this, the biceps and triceps depend on one another to execute everyday functions.  More specifically, what are those functions?


What Does it Do?

anatomy of an arm and the muscles associated with it

Your triceps are responsible for any movement that moves the forearm away from you.  Think of anything you do to activate the biceps – for example, the bending of your elbow at the start of a bicep curl – and know that the follow-through motion with the forearms stretching out to a neutral position is activating your triceps.  You engage the biceps when you pull, you engage the triceps when you push.

All three tricep heads – which includes a long head, a medial head, and a lateral head – assist with forearm extension.  The long head, unlike the other two, has a couple extra jobs.  This is due to the fact that the medial and lateral heads originate from the posterior surface of the humerus, whereas the long head is the only one to originate from the scapula.  The scapular attachment makes the triceps long head the only one involved in upper arm movement.

So to recap, all of the triceps muscles are engaged in an activity that straightens out the forearm, such as pushing.  But only the triceps long head is involved with actions that extend or stabilize the upper arm, such as carrying an object overhead or moving your arm behind your back.

4 people carrying a canoe over their head

Activation of triceps long head

person pushing a large boulder outside

Activation of all three heads

  • Triceps Long Head
    • Extension of upper arm
    • Adduction of upper arm
    • Extension of forearm
  • Triceps Medial Head
    • Extension of forearm
  • Triceps Lateral Head
    • Extension of forearm


Making the Tricep Strong

Other than the actions following any biceps strengthening exercise, what are some common posterior arm building workouts?

woman doing triceps pushdowns at the gym in an orange tank

Triceps Pushdown

woman doing pushups


woman in black clothes doing triceps dips outside on cement stairs

Bench Dips

woman doing a bench press in the gym

Bench Press

woman in black clothes doing triceps dips outside on cement stairs

Overhead Triceps Extension

The Best Tricep Stretches

You’ve worked the triceps!  You can now push heavy objects and easily carry a canoe over your head!  Before you look for a boulder to move and a boat to lift, make sure you stretch in order to keep those muscles flexible!

man doing an overhead triceps stretch

Overhead Triceps Stretch

therapist assisting female client with a horizontal tricep stretch

Horizontal Stretch

woman doing a triceps dip stretch in front of an orange wall

Triceps Dip Stretch

man rolling out tricep on a foam roller in a gym

Triceps Foam Roll

Keeping the Tricep Happy

woman getting tricep massaged on a table

Deep tissue, myofascial release, and sports massage are effective treatments for locked-short triceps.  Tight muscles need their knots removed and their hyper-contracted tissues lengthened.  The slow methodical guides of deep tissue and myofascial release pull the adhesions apart, and the active release from sports massage will encourage lengthening of the posterior upper arm muscles.  Heat application is also a great supplement to any bodywork session, as it promotes blood circulation which nourishes the muscle.

It’s important to remember how a tight muscular group impacts its antagonist muscular group.  After releasing the triceps with bodywork and/or heat, it’s important to incorporate biceps-strengthening into your health plan.  Tight short triceps lead to overstretched and weakened biceps.  Visit the previous blog and scroll down to the “Making it Strong” section.  Also, you can always ask your bodywork provider – a massage therapist, chiropractor, physical therapist, etc. – to incorporate PNF into the session in order to strengthen and mobilize the affected muscles.


Now You Know!

Keep the back of your upper arm strong, flexible, and properly functioning!  With healthy triceps, anything that stands in your way can be easily pushed!

Next time, we’ll talk about the latissimus dorsi muscle!

Katrina Jenkins

Katrina Jenkins

Author, Licensed Massage Therapist

Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.


Cronkleton, E. (2019). 4 Triceps Stretches for Tight Muscles. [online] Healthline. Available at:

Healthline Editorial Team (2018). Triceps Anatomy, Origin & Function | Body Maps. [online] Healthline. Available at:

Preiato, RD, CSCS, D. (2021). Biceps vs. Triceps: What’s the Difference? [online] Healthline. Available at:

Sendic, G. (2013). Triceps brachii muscle. [online] Kenhub. Available at:

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