The Upper Arm Biceps, Triceps

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This article was edited and updated on November 17, 2019.

The Biceps

Thanks to Wikipedia for the image.

The biceps brachii (usually referred to as "the bicep") was given that name because it has two heads. Most people know that it lies on the upper arm between the shoulder and the elbow. Both heads originate on the scapula and together they attach to the upper forearm. Even though the biceps cross both the shoulder and elbow, its primary function is at the elbow where it flexes and/or turns the forearm.

The biceps can be strengthened using weight and resistance training. It is a very visible muscle — people (and cartoon characters like Popeye the Sailor Man) will bend their elbow and "show off" their biceps, especially if there is considerable bulk developed.

Older adults, however, are not exercising their biceps to gain bulk or to compete in the next Olympics.

The biceps are particularly important to older adults if they fall, as their arms usually are used for support, and the stronger those muscles are, the better.

Strong biceps will also help you to do daily chores: carrying groceries, scrubbing a pot, cleaning the shower.

Exercises for the Biceps

Three common exercises for the biceps, using free weights (how heavy is your choice, but older adults often use 1, 2, or 5 pounds), are:

Generally speaking, using free weights (appropriate for you) and 8-12 repetitions is the best for older adults.

The Triceps

Thanks to Wikipedia for the image.

The opposing muscle of the biceps are the triceps. The triceps brachii muscle (which is Latin for "three-headed arm muscle") is the large muscle on the back of the upper limb. When you straighten your arm, you are using your triceps.

The three heads are:

Exercises for the Triceps

The triceps are too often neglected, even though they are an obvious opposing muscle to the biceps, and even though we exercise the biceps more often.

Two of the most common triceps exercises are:

NOTE: One reason older adults don't do tricep exercises as often as they perhaps should is because they are more difficult than some other exercises. If you have shoulder problems — which are very common — the Tricep Overhead Extension is probably not for you. However, the Tricep Kickback might be all right, so it's a good alternative. It's up to you to choose what works for you.

If you are interested in reading about other muscles, here's a list:

I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. 

  2. Thanks to Women's Health Magazine ( for the graphic.