The biceps and triceps are two major muscle groups of your arm that play a significant role in the movement of the upper extremities.

Well-developed biceps and triceps are highly sought after by bodybuilders and recreational gym-goers alike.

While some may be familiar with their location and function, others may wonder how they differ.

This article details the biceps and triceps, including their physiology, effective exercises to target them, and common injuries.

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The biceps and triceps are two distinct muscles that differ greatly in form and function.


The biceps, short for biceps brachii, is a muscle located on the front of your upper arm.

It’s referred to as ‘bi’ because it’s made up of two distinct heads — a longer outer head and a shorter inner head.

Both heads originate from the scapula, commonly referred to as the shoulder blade. They insert (attach) on the radial tuberosity, which is a small protrusion of bone just beyond your elbow.

The functions of the biceps include (1):

  • Flexion of the elbow joint. This involves bringing your forearm toward your body.
  • Forearm supination. This means turning your palm to face upward.
  • Shoulder elevation. This means raising your arm.

Generally, the biceps are the smaller of the upper arm muscles, second to the triceps.


The triceps, short for triceps brachii, is a muscle located on the back of your upper arm.

It’s referred to as ‘tri’ because it’s made up of three distinct heads — a medial (middle), lateral (side), and long head.

The long head originates from the rear of the shoulder blade, whereas the lateral and medial heads originate from the lateral (side) and posterior (rear) surfaces of the humerus, or upper arm bone.

All three heads insert (attach) on the rear of your elbow on a small protrusion of bone called the olecranon process.

The functions of the triceps include (2, 3):

  • Extension of your elbow. This includes moving the forearm away from you.
  • Stabilizing your shoulder. For example, when carrying things overhead.
  • Shoulder extension. This includes moving your arm back and behind your body.

The triceps serve as an antagonist, or opposing, muscle of the biceps.

Typically, the triceps are the bigger of the upper arm muscles.


The biceps and triceps are each unique in their makeup and function. One consists of two heads and is responsible for arm flexion, and the other consists of three heads and is responsible for arm extension.

A wide array of exercises exist to work out and develop the biceps and triceps.

Biceps training

Like any other muscle, the biceps should be targeted in a variety of rep ranges. Usually, 6–12 reps per set is a good place to start for most people.

Generally, beginners may want to start with 2–3 working sets of biceps training per session, whereas intermediate and advanced trainees may need 4–6 sets to see growth.

Being that they’re a relatively small muscle group that can recover quickly, they’re best worked at least twice per week for the best results (4).

While compound pulling movements such as the lat pulldown also work the biceps to a certain extent, it’s not generally enough to promote maximal muscle gains, especially in intermediate and advanced trainees.

Here are 10 effective exercises for working the biceps:

Triceps training

The triceps are similar to the biceps in that they should be targeted in a variety of rep ranges. Anything between 6–12 reps per set is common.

For beginners, 2–3 sets per session may be sufficient — though as you become more advanced, more sets are required to make progress.

Considering that the triceps are also a relatively small muscle, they can recover quickly, which is why at least 2 sessions per week will maximize muscle gains (4).

The triceps are also worked through compound pushing movements such as the bench press, though this alone isn’t enough to optimize muscle gains.

Here are 10 effective exercises for working the triceps:


The biceps and triceps are similar in their training capacity, both requiring 2 or more sessions per week for maximum growth. The triceps are best targeted with pushing or extension movements, whereas the biceps are best worked with curling movements.

While there’s no scientific data on which muscle is easier to train, many may argue that the biceps are slightly easier due to the sheer number of curling variations available.

That said, this doesn’t have to be the case if you have access to a well-equipped gym with a variety of training modalities.

The biceps consist of two heads that are both generally worked by most curling variations.

The triceps, on the other hand, consist of three heads, and hitting them all requires consideration. Generally, the triceps are well-targeted with variations of the pushdown and overhead extension.

Specifically, though, the medial and lateral heads are best targeted with pressing and pushdown movements, whereas the long head is worked well by overhead extension exercises.

When it comes to strength, it’s difficult to establish which muscle is stronger due to variations between individuals. That said, considering that the triceps are a larger muscle group, some may be able to lift more weight with these.


The biceps may be slightly easier to train than the triceps considering the wide variety of possible curl variations, though this isn’t an issue if you have a well-equipped gym.

Due to their structure and relatively small size, the biceps and triceps are prone to injury, either from acute trauma or chronic overuse.


These are the most common bicep injuries (5, 6):

  • Bicep tendonitis. This can occur as the result of overuse. It manifests as microtears in the tendon at either of the attachment points, just past the elbow or at the shoulder. Depending on the severity, it can range from a dull ache to sharp pain.
  • Bicep tear. This usually occurs as the result of an acute overload on the biceps and can be a full or partial tear. It can occur within the biceps itself or at one of its attachment points. Recovery from a tear depends on the severity and sometimes requires surgery.


Here are the most common tricep injuries (5, 7):

  • Tricep tendonitis. This occurs as a result of overuse. It most often affects the distal triceps tendon near the elbow and results in an aching pain that worsens with exercise. It usually resolves on its own with proper rest.
  • Tricep tear. This is similar to a bicep tear in which an acute overload causes a full or partial tear either within the muscle or at one of its attachments. It may require surgical repair.
  • “Snapping” triceps. A snapping sensation within the triceps during movement is usually caused by dislocating a triceps tendon. It’s often painless, though it can be uncomfortable at times.

To reduce your risk of injury, it’s best to start with lighter weights and slowly increase the intensity over time.


The biceps and triceps are somewhat injury prone due to their relatively small size and structure. Common injuries include tendonitis and partial or full tears.

The biceps and triceps make up a large majority of your arm musculature.

The biceps are located on the front of the upper arm and provide arm flexion, while the triceps are found on the back of the upper arm and are responsible for arm extension.

The biceps and triceps are easily targeted by a variety of exercises. Some of these require sophisticated equipment, while others can be performed at home.

Due to their small size, they’re prone to various injuries, and it’s best to start out with lighter weights and slowly progress as you gain strength and improve your form.

To create a well-balanced exercise program that includes biceps and triceps workouts, it may be helpful to speak to a certified trainer for a customized approach.