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The Overhead Triceps Extension 101 | How to Strengthen Your Triceps!

By
Mike Kenler
February 27, 2020

The Overhead Triceps Extension

The overhead triceps extension, or the triceps press, is a relatively simple yet effective exercise for the development of the triceps. The triceps muscle plays a significant role in your overall upper body strength. If you are interested in building serious strength in your upper arms, the overhead triceps extension is for you!

Muscles Worked by the Overhead Triceps Extension

Primary Muscle Groups:

As you may have guessed, the overhead triceps extension primarily engages the triceps muscle. Given its name, the triceps muscle is comprised of three “heads:” the long, medial, and lateral head. While the overhead triceps extension works all three heads of the muscle, it especially targets the long head of the triceps.

Secondary Muscle Groups:

Although your triceps receive most of the tension during the exercise motion, your shoulders play a secondary role as well. At the top of each rep, your deltoids will contract and shorten as your muscle fibers activate.

This exercise also engages your core muscle. As you stand with weight above your head, your abdominal muscles activate to stabilize the motion. This isometric or static contraction is another benefit of the overhead triceps extension. You can also disengage the core by performing the overhead triceps extension seated.

Overhead Triceps Extension Benefits

1. Strength gains

The main benefit of the overhead triceps extension is the hypertrophy of the triceps that comes with the motion. Unlike other triceps exercises, the triceps extension activates all three heads of the triceps, which means that your entire triceps will become stronger through this exercise. Whether you want to have big arms, perform better in sports, or simply improve your upper body strength, the overhead triceps extension is a fantastic exercise to help you accomplish your goals.

2. Minimal stress on the wrists

If you suffer from wrist pain or discomfort, the overhead triceps extension is ideal for you. Throughout this exercise motion, your wrists maintain the same angle and very little stress is placed upon them.

3. Improved posture

Because you are standing during the overhead triceps extension, your core muscles engage to support your back and spine. As a result, this exercise teaches proper posture: a straight back, engaged core, and lifted shoulders. Even seated, to establish a full range of motion you need to maintain proper posture.

How to do the Overhead Triceps Extension

Equipment:

For this exercise, you will need either one heavier dumbbell or two lighter dumbbells. Keep reading for the rope and barbell variations!

Setup:

1. Assume a standing position with your feet roughly shoulder width apart.

2. If you are using one dumbbell, slowly lift it above your head. If it is too heavy, feel free to rest it on your shoulder before lifting it upwards.

3. To hold it correctly, make a diamond shape with your hands and grasp the dumbbell with your palms facing upward. The weight should rest in the palms of your hands. If you are using two dumbbells, grasp each one by the shaft, just as you normally would for any other exercise.

Action:

1. With your elbows tucked in and your arms close to your head, slowly lower the weight until your elbows and forearms make a 90-degree angle. Keep your upper arms still and allow your forearms to move freely. Breathe in on the way down!

2. Next, use your triceps to drive the dumbbells upwards in a controlled fashion to the starting position. Breathe out on the way up!

Recommendation:

To start, choose a relatively light weight for this exercise. Instead of trying to lift a one hundred-pound dumbbell, focus on maximizing time under tension for the triceps muscle. Complete 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps during your triceps workout.

Overhead Triceps Extension Mistakes

1. Arching the lower back

Many weightlifters tend to arch their lower back when completing the overhead triceps extension, especially when they use heavy weight. This places a great stress on the spine, which could lead to injury. To correct this mistake, feel as though you are tucking your tailbone underneath you. Keep your abs and glutes tight during each rep to ensure proper form.

2.  Improper range of motion

So often, I will see people in the gym doing the overhead triceps extension and their heavy dumbbell moves about six inches up and down. This is NOT a proper repetition. You know you have completed a full rep when your forearms touch your biceps on the way down. You can thrust the weight back upwards once only when you reach that point.

3.  Elbows drifting outwards

Many others make the common mistake of allowing their elbows to drift outwards during the overhead triceps extension. This places unwanted stress on the shoulders and removes tension from the triceps. Instead, keep your elbows in to reap the maximum benefits from this fantastic exercise.

Overhead Triceps Extension Variations

1.  Overhead extension with kettlebell

The kettlebell is another effective option to do the overhead triceps extension. It also guarantees a greater range of motion than the dumbbell overhead extension.

2. Overhead extension with barbell

The barbell is a reliable free-weight variation of the traditional overhead triceps extension. No matter what variation of this exercise you choose, it is important to experiment with different equipment. Through experimentation, you can find out what allows you to have the most success in your personal fitness goals.

3. Overhead extension with Rope

This variation is my personal favorite. At the top of each rep, extend your arms straight and bring the rope apart. You will feel a major burn in the triceps!

Overhead Triceps Extension Alternatives

If you enjoyed the overhead triceps extension, check out these triceps exercises to improve your upper body training:

1. Alternating triceps pushdown

2. Skull crushers

3. Triangle pushup

Looking for more triceps workouts? Follow along to this intense 5 minute tricep workout with dumbbells!

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing and Plant-based Bodybuilding Wizard