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Biceps vs triceps: What's the difference, and which is more important?

Learn the differences between biceps and triceps and find out which muscle is more important.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd May 2022
A man doing a biceps vs triceps comparison to show the differences

In this biceps vs triceps comparison, you'll learn the key differences between the biceps and the triceps—strength, size, which is more important—and discover which of the two muscles you should train first in your workouts.

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What is the difference between biceps and triceps?

A muscular man doing a side by side bicep vs tricep comparison

What is the difference between the biceps and the triceps muscles? The main difference between the biceps brachii and the triceps brachii is that the biceps is a two-headed muscle, whereas the triceps is a three-headed muscle.

Another important if slightly obvious difference is that the biceps is located on the front of your upper arm, while the triceps is located on the back of your upper arm.

Additionally, since the triceps has more muscle heads than the biceps (3 vs 2), the triceps is a larger and stronger muscle, making up around two-thirds of your upper arm size.

The final notable difference between the triceps and the biceps is that both muscles have different anatomical functions. The triceps function to extend the elbow joint and extend the shoulder (long head only), while the biceps function to flex the elbow and supinate the wrist.

Are the triceps bigger and stronger than the biceps?

A weight lifter showing that the triceps are stronger than the biceps

So are the triceps actually bigger than the biceps? In theory, yes, the triceps are twice as big as the biceps because they have three muscle heads—lateral, medial, and long—whereas the biceps only have two muscle heads (the long head and the short head).

Since the triceps are generally much bigger than the biceps, it follows that the triceps are also stronger than the biceps because larger muscles have more force output potential, which is another way of saying that a bigger muscle is usually a stronger muscle.

However, there are definitely individual differences, and it's not all that uncommon to see someone who has biceps that are stronger than their triceps. This could be because bicep exercises are generally a bit easier to perform than tricep exercises and also because bicep exercises are less elbow-intensive than tricep exercises.

Are biceps or triceps more important?

A man showing that the triceps are bigger than the biceps

Are the biceps more important than the triceps? If we're talking about triceps vs biceps for bigger arms, then the triceps are more important than the biceps because, when developed in proportion, the triceps make up two-thirds of your upper arm mass whereas the biceps only make up one-third.

Of course, if you have huge triceps but no biceps, then the biceps would be a more important muscle for you personally. But barring any serious muscle imbalances, the triceps are the more important muscle for looking big and building your upper arms.

The angle that your arms are viewed from also affects whether the biceps or triceps are more important. From the back, for example, the triceps are way more visible than the biceps. From the front, however, the biceps are the more important muscle because they're located on the front of your arm and are therefore highly visible.

I'd also say that the triceps look bigger than the biceps when they're relaxed, whereas the biceps look bigger when they're flexed. For this reason, it's important to develop both your biceps and triceps if you want complete arm development.

Should you train your biceps or triceps first?

A man demonstrating that you can train either biceps or triceps first in your workout

So, should you train your biceps or triceps first in your workout? It's always a good idea to train your biceps and triceps on the same day because bicep and tricep exercises don't interfere with each other. As for which muscles you should train first, it makes very little difference, so I recommend starting with your weaker muscle group.

For example, if you already have good biceps but relatively poor triceps, then it might make sense to do all of your tricep exercises and then all of your bicep exercises.

On the other hand, you could do your exercises in a superset fashion to save time. In this scenario, it doesn't matter whether you train your triceps or biceps first because you're doing all of your exercises in a back-to-back fashion anyway.

Biceps vs triceps: The verdict

A man doing a triceps vs biceps comparison to illustrate the differences

In summary, the triceps is generally bigger and stronger than the biceps because it's a three-headed muscle, whereas the biceps brachii only has two heads.

The triceps muscle extends the elbow, whereas the biceps flexes the elbow, meaning that they're antagonistic muscles—when the biceps contracts, the triceps relaxes.

As noted throughout this bicep vs tricep comparison, both arm muscles are important for strength and size, but since the triceps are typically bigger than the biceps (or, at the very least, they have more growth potential), the triceps are more important for building bigger arms.

References

  1. Landin D, Thompson M, Jackson M. Functions of the Triceps Brachii in Humans: A Review. J Clin Med Res. 2018 Apr;10(4):290-293. doi: 10.14740/jocmr3340w. Epub 2018 Feb 18. PMID: 29511416; PMCID: PMC5827912.
  2. Jarrett CD, Weir DM, Stuffmann ES, Jain S, Miller MC, Schmidt CC. Anatomic and biomechanical analysis of the short and long head components of the distal biceps tendon. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2012 Jul;21(7):942-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jse.2011.04.030. Epub 2011 Aug 3. PMID: 21813298.
James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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