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How to get horseshoe tricep muscles

Forge a more prominent triceps horseshoe with these ironclad training tips.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd May 2022
A muscular man showing off his prominent tricep horseshoe

If you want horseshoe tricep development that makes your arms look like they're forged out of heavy-duty steel, then make sure to listen to what I'm about to tell you.

The tricep horseshoe is an iconic bodybuilding muscle that can really enhance your physique, so it's not an area that you want to overlook.

Below you'll find out how to get that triceps horseshoe naturally by manipulating some simple tricep training variables. Let's get into it.

Related Tricep Guides:

Why is it called a horseshoe tricep muscle?

A man flexing his horseshoe tricep muscle

But first, why are the triceps referred to as the "horseshoe muscle"? The reason that you often hear lifters talking about "horseshoe triceps" is that, when well developed, the lateral head and long head of the triceps form what looks like a horseshoe.

Like a real horseshoe, these two tricep heads run somewhat parallel to each other and then connect at the top. When your body fat is low enough, these muscles can really pop out and make your triceps look like they're forged from steel.

To see if you've got the tricep horseshoe, flex your triceps as hard as you can in front of a mirror. Turn your body so that you can see the back of your triceps and observe how the long (inner) head and the lateral (outer) head look.

If you have good triceps development and a relatively low body fat level, then there's a high chance that you'll have a pretty decent triceps horseshoe. But I'll show you how to make it even better. And don't worry, even if you have a high tricep insertion, you can still sculpt a great horseshoe.

How to get horseshoe triceps

Here's how to get horseshoe triceps that really pop off your arm.

Make your lateral head pop

A bodybuilder flexing his impressive triceps horseshoe muscle

The lateral head is a crucial triceps muscle because it's the most visible head when viewed from the side. Although it doesn't contribute as much mass to the triceps as the long head, good lateral head development is still critical for getting those horseshoe tricep aesthetics.

To train the lateral head optimally, perform exercises where your shoulders are in a neutral position, which is to say, by your sides. The reason that you want to do this is that when you put your shoulders in front of or behind your body, the long head of the triceps takes over, which means that the lateral head receives less stimulation.

Tricep pushdowns are the best and most obvious exercise for making your lateral head pop. Just make sure that you really force your lateral head to contract by completely locking out your elbows during every rep. You can even hold the peak contraction for a second or two to strengthen your tricep mind-muscle connection.

The bar attachment will enable you to overload your triceps with the most resistance, while the rope will provide a better peak contraction.

Try both cable attachments and see which you prefer. If you're already doing heavy presses, which really work your triceps, then you might want to do your pushdowns with more finesse so that you can get a good tricep pump and contraction.

Add mass to your long head

A man training his horseshoe tricep muscle

If you want to make your horseshoe muscle look bigger and more imposing, then you need to make long head development your number one priority. When viewed from behind, the long head pops out more than the lateral head. It also makes up around two-thirds of your triceps mass and is the muscle that's responsible for the tricep hang that you can see from the front.

To train the long head optimally, you need to do two kinds of exercises. You need to perform an exercise where your shoulders are in a high degree of flexion (overhead extensions or skull crushers) and an exercise where your shoulders are in a high degree of extension (tricep kickbacks).

The reason that you need to do this is that the long head is the only triceps muscle that acts on the shoulder joint. So when you put your shoulders into flexion and extension, the long head becomes maximally stretched and contracted, respectively.

Again, you want to use a full range of motion on all of your reps. Make sure to lower the weight as deeply as you comfortably can and then finish strong with a complete tricep contraction—lock your elbows out.

Flex harder

A bodybuilder flexing his horseshoe muscle (the triceps brachii)

Part of getting that tricep horseshoe comes down to knowing how to properly flex your triceps. Although flexing your triceps isn't hard, it makes a massive difference to how your triceps look.

When your triceps are maximally contracted, the lateral head really pops out at you, and the long head looks like it's carved out of stone. The effect is more dramatic when you have a low body fat level.

To flex your triceps, all you need to do is extend your elbow so that it's fully locked out.

Then, you can do what's called a side triceps pose in the bodybuilding world by pressing your arm against your lats (which really makes the long head pop). Finally, move your spare arm around your back and grab the hand of your "flexing arm" so that you can maintain a strong and sturdy flexed position.

Reduce your body fat percentage

A bodybuilder training his horseshoe triceps at the gym

I've been alluding to this throughout the article, so now it's time to discuss this important tactic in more detail.

Some lifters believe that they can't get horseshoe triceps due to their genetics or that their horseshoe muscle won't look very good. However, when these people drop some body fat, their tricep horseshoe often looks much better and far more prominent than they expected.

You see, the triceps brachii doesn't cover the entirety of your arm. It covers most of the side and back of your arm, but not all of it. This means that part of your arm has other, smaller tissue structures that aren't muscle. Because these structures have less mass than your actual triceps muscles, your triceps will really pop out when you reduce your body fat level.

In other words, your triceps will look more muscular when you shed some body fat. You don't need to see striations to have horse shoe triceps, but you need to be lean enough to where the long head and lateral head are highly visible.

Horseshoe triceps workout

A man doing a horseshoe triceps workout

This horseshoe triceps workout will hit your triceps from every possible angle to give your muscles the best possible growth stimulus.

If you already do loads of compound presses in your program, then you don't necessarily have to do close grip bench presses. However, the CGBP is still a really good exercise for overloading your triceps with lots of fiber-tearing muscle tension.

After the press, it's into overhead extensions and the long head of the triceps—the single most crucial triceps muscle for building big arms and a prominent triceps horseshoe. I prefer dumbbells for this exercise, but you can also use a bar or even cables if you like.

After tearing down the long head, it's time to give the lateral head some "love" with pushdowns. I like the rope attachment here, but if you want to lift really heavy, then the bar attachment will be your best bet. Make sure to lock your elbows out for the strongest possible contraction.

Finally, it's time for the kickback. This underrated exercise challenges the long head of your triceps with a maximal peak contraction, so you really need to lock your elbows out on this one. Also, don't go too heavy; kickbacks are much more about getting a good contraction than anything else.

You can also check out our tricep definition workout for more training ideas.

1: Close grip bench press — 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps

2: Overhead extension — 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps

3: Rope pushdown — 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps

4: Tricep kickback — 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps

Conclusion: Why is the triceps horseshoe so important for bodybuilding?

A muscular man working his horse shoe triceps in the gym

Since the side triceps pose is a mandatory bodybuilding pose, having a good horseshoe muscle is extremely important because it's one of the first areas that the judges will look at.

But even if you don't compete, having a prominent tricep horseshoe will make your arms look more developed. Having horseshoe triceps that really pop is also an indication that you have a low body fat level, which can make your other body parts look more aesthetic as well.

To make your triceps horseshoe look as good as possible, focus on growing the long and lateral heads of your triceps. Don't worry about the medial head because it's active during every tricep exercise that you perform.

References

  1. Encyclopedia Britannica. (2022). horseshoe. https://www.britannica.com/topic/horseshoe
  2. Reynolds, G. (2021, August 12). How Weight Training Burns Fat. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/21/well/move/weight-training-fat.html
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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