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

By
Mike Kenler
January 4, 2021

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:

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

b) 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.

c) 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:

a) 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.

b) Next, use your triceps to drive the dumbbells upwards in a controlled fashion to the starting position.

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

With your feet shoulder width apart, face a pulley machine or resistance band with the handles at chest height.

Grab the handles with your palms facing down.

With your elbows tucked in tight to your sides, contract one tricep to bring the handle down until your arm is fully extended.

Pause at the bottom of the repetition and flex your tricep for maximum contraction.

Slowly release the handle and return to the starting position. Repeat on the other arm and keep alternating!

2. Dumbbell Skull Crushers

Lie down on a flat bench with your feet planted firmly onto the ground.

Hold the dumbbells above your chest with your palms facing each other and engage your core.

With your elbows in a fixed position, hinge your elbows to slowly bring the dumbbells down just behind your ears.

Contract your triceps to extend your arms back into the straight position at the top.

Repeat this motion for your desired number of reps. 

3. Triangle Pushup

Place your hands on the ground so that your thumbs and index fingers are both touching to form a triangle shape.

Extend your legs straight back with your feet close together. Extend your arms and make sure your back is straight.

Lower your chest down as you bend your elbows until your chest nearly touches the floor. Then, contract your triceps and chest to push back up to the starting position. Repeat!

Looking for More Triceps Workouts?

Follow along to this intense 5 minute tricep workout with dumbbells!


Join The Invasion!

This Anabolic Aliens membership will grant you access to workout classes, rehab programs, diet plans, and more exclusive content to help you achieve sustainable success!

Thank you for being a part of the Anabolic Aliens Invasion. Always feel free to reach out with any questions, comments, or concerns at kenler@anabolicaliens.com.

Favorite Product:

Mike Kenler
Director of Writing | Certified in Plant Based Nutrition at T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies