The arms are arguably one of the most important muscle groups to develop and have in check if you're wanting to look aesthetic and impress.
They're also one of the first body parts most would go to flex if they were asked to show off their muscles.
And while most people tend to think of the biceps first when they hear about arm muscles, they're actually the smaller of the two primary muscle groups in the upper arm.
Instead, the triceps actually take up significantly more space in the upper arms than the biceps do.
They're naturally a larger muscle group.
But just how much bigger are they, and what's the ideal ratio for them to be at?
Find out below and keep on reading!
Location and Basic Anatomy
First things first, we have to clear up that everybody is actually clear on where each of these muscle groups are located and that you understand the basic anatomy of each muscle group.
Understanding where these muscles sit on your body and how they're made up is going to help you train as efficiently as possible and is pretty important if you're serious about building muscle and getting stronger.
We'll start with the biceps, as they do tend to be the more popular muscle group and are generally more well known.
The biceps are the first muscle that most people would think of when they hear the word 'muscles'.
They're one of the primary 'show' muscles that people like to show off and impress others with.
The reason for this is the fact that they sit in the front of the upper arm, and are generally more visible most of the time.
It's much easier to spot and see the biceps than it is to see the triceps.
Take a look at this image below:
The bicep is the peak-like muscle that looks like a ball when it's flexed.
This muscle group comprises of two heads. One on the outer side (long head) that’s responsible for building the bicep peak, and the other on the inside closer to you armpit (short head) that’s responsible for bicep width.
You can’t specifically isolate either head of the biceps. Whenever you do any exercise that works the biceps, you’re inevitably going to work both heads.
However, you can bias one of the heads a little bit more than the other.
For example, wide grip barbell curls are going to target the short head of the biceps a little more, whereas close grip bicep curls would bias the long head a little more.
You could also do preacher curls or spider curls for the short head of the biceps, and you could do incline curls or hammer curls for the long head of the biceps.
Depending on which head of the bicep you think you are lacking in, you may want to adjust some of your exercise choices when it comes to bicep training.
While the biceps are the more popular and well known muscle group, the tricep covers a part of the arm that the biceps don’t.
They’re located on the back of your upper arm, from the side closer to your armpit all the way out to the side.
The triceps are generally a little bit harder to spot because they sit on the back of your arm, but they’re equally as important as the biceps to have in check, no matter the reason you’re training your arms for.
Take a look at the image below. We’ve labeled the triceps.
The triceps are a muscle group that comprises of 3 heads, very similarly to the biceps.
You can’t specifically isolate either head of the muscle, but there are certain exercises that are going to allow you to bias one or two of them over the others.
You've got the long head of the tricep that sits on the inside closest to your armpit, the medial head that sits just beneath the long head (it's the smallest of the three), and the lateral head that sits on the outer side of your upper arm.
Of the three, the lateral head of the triceps is the biggest and is responsible for most of your tricep size.
Again, depending on the heads that are lacking on your triceps, you may want to pick certain exercises that bias those heads a little more.
We'll give you a couple of exercises that target each head down below.
For the Long Head:
Close grip bench press
For the Medial Head:
Close grip floor press
Close grip bench press
For the Lateral Head:
Triangle push ups
EZ bar skullcrushers
Functions of the Biceps
The bicep has several functions. The main one is elbow flexion, which basically means bending at the elbow from a straightened position.
For example, any exercise such as a bicep curl or a chin up where you bend at the elbow against resistance is going to work your biceps pretty heavily.
Every time you lift the groceries up onto the kitchen counter, or pick your kids up, you're going to be working your biceps.
But the functions of the biceps aren't just limited to elbow flexion.
The biceps are also responsible for wrist supination, which is the act of turning your wrist to have your palms facing upwards.
You wouldn't really go about this action in everyday life, but it's something to note when you're training your biceps in the gym.
They are more mechanically advantaged when they're put in a supinated position, meaning they're going to be more involved in exercises with supinated wrists (for example, chin ups vs. pull ups).
The biceps also have one last function, where they weakly assist in shoulder flexion. This is basically the action of bringing your entire arm from hanging down below and raising it up towards an overhead position.
This would occur in some exercises such as the low-to-high fly and the front delt raise.
Those are the functions of the biceps, and you'll find that they're used in quite a lot of everyday actions.
This is why it's important for you to have strong and healthy biceps. It's applicable to lots of areas in everyday life.
Functions of the Triceps
Like the biceps, the tricep also has several functions.
Its primary function is to extend at the elbow, which basically means straightening the elbow (opposite of elbow flexion).
Any action where you straighten your elbows is going to involve the triceps pretty heavily.
This includes exercises such as the bench press, rope pushdown, push up, and overhead press.
This is also applicable to everyday life, where there are several areas you would need to push or extend at the elbow.
For example, pushing a heavy door open or opening a window.
Aside from this the triceps also help to extend at the shoulder, bringing your arms back behind the body like you do in a straight arm pushdown.
This movement is primarily covered by long head of the triceps, but once again all heads are going to be activated and engaged.
Those are the functions of the triceps, and they're very important to have developed for everyday life as well. It's not just the biceps that matter.
Differences in Muscle Size
Of the two muscle groups, the triceps actually take up significantly more space on the upper arm than the biceps do.
The triceps have one more head than the bices do, and contain more overall muscle mass and size than the bicep does (unless you've got a terrible muscle imbalance).
According to this Stanford paper, the triceps actually take up about 55% of the upper arm, whereas the biceps take up only about 30% of the upper arm (this is assuming you don't have any imbalances and your muscle sizes are proportionate).
The triceps take up almost twice the amount of space on the upper arm compared to that of the biceps. They're naturally a much larger muscle group.
You'll be able to see this on many advanced and professional bodybuilders.
This information is important for you to know if you're looking to fill out your sleeves and build truly impressive arms for yourself and others to see.
If you want big, muscular arms, there's no point limiting yourself by just training the biceps.
Sure, they look good. But alone, they're not going to help you fill out your sleeves. Instead you need to be looking to work your triceps heavily as well and get THEM in check, for your arms to be thicker and look much more impressive.
The Key Takeaway: Despite the biceps being more popular, the triceps are actually the bigger muscle group and are just as (if not more) important for you to have in check if you're wanting to develop impressive looking arms.
Although the triceps do take up almost twice the amount of space on the upper arm, they should not be that much stronger than the biceps.
In fact, they should really be more or less as strong as each other.
Meaning, you should roughly be able to pull equally as much weight as you can push with your triceps.
This is because these two muscle groups are actually antagonistic pairs, which means they need each other in order to go through any motion.
When the bicep is working, the tricep is also moving at the same time. When the bicep contracts, the tricep protracts.
And when the tricep contracts, the bicep protracts.
Other examples of antagonistic muscle pairs would include:
the chest and the back
the abs and the spinal erectors
the quads and the hamstrings
Most of the time, antagonistic pairs should be roughly as strong as each other to avoid injuries. If you're pressing weight with your triceps that your biceps would not be able to handle at all, you'd likely suffer and injury.
The same goes for the chest and the back.
However, there is an exception for the quads and hamstrings, which should be at about a 3:2 strength ratio respectively.
But we won't get into that in this post.
The point is, the triceps and the biceps should be more or less as strong as each other so that you prevent yourself from suffering injuries and don't risk putting yourself out of the gym for days, weeks or even months at a time.
You could test this by simply setting a comfortable weight on a cable curl and curling it for as many reps as possible. Then take a break, before attempting to do the same number of reps with a cable pushdown on the same weight.
Go to failure.
If you can achieve a similar amount of reps with the two exercises, then you're doing alright.
If one is considerably stronger than the other, then you've got some work and some catching up to do.
Test it out, work on it, and find out whether you need to adjust your training or keep it how it is!
Don't stress too much if your triceps are a LITTLE bit stronger than your biceps, because they are the naturally larger muscle group after all.
It's completely normal.
Just don't let one become too much stronger than the other, or you will risk some injury.
The biceps and triceps are both important muscle groups for you to understand and have in check if you're wanting to build impressive arms and a well rounded physique.
It's important for you to understand all the basics about what these muscle groups are responsible for and how you would go about training them to become the most efficient athlete you can be!
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