How to Do the Overhead Triceps Extension

How to Do the Overhead Triceps Extension

For those who subscribe to the philosophy that curls get the girls and bi’s get the guys, triceps are easy to skimp on during a workout. But they’re absolutely critical to your upper body’s overall strength and power. And since the triceps muscle accounts for two-thirds of your upper arm’s overall mass, isolating it is key to gaining size and strength. One of the best movements for accomplishing this is the overhead triceps extension.

The overhead triceps extension should be a key player in every tricep workout. It won’t just help you build strong tris; the move also helps set you up for success in other areas. As Openfit fitness specialist Cody Braun notes that strong triceps “assist the chest and shoulder muscles in many functional pressing movements.” Think: Common weightlifting exercises like the shoulder press and bench press, plus everyday movements like picking up your kids or putting away heavy groceries on high shelves.


Step By Step Instructions: Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension

Seated Overhead Tricep Extension

  • Sit on a bench or chair cupping one end of a dumbbell in both hands directly overhead. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your chest up, core engaged, and back straight, lower the weight behind your head without moving your upper arms.
  • Pause, and then press the weight back up to the starting position.


How to Make the Overhead Triceps Extension Easier (and Harder)

To modify the move, use lighter weights or use a single dumbbell instead of two. If you have limited shoulder mobility or core strength, Braun suggests sitting on an upright bench for this exercise.

To intensify the overhead triceps extension, simply use heavier weights.


Bonus Tips for Doing the Overhead Triceps Extension

Braun suggests warming up your shoulders first for better mobility. Also, remember to engage your core — this will help protect your lower back and prevent it from arching or swaying. Finally, it’s an isolation exercise, so you don’t want to go too heavy, or else you may sacrifice form and the full range of motion necessary to take full advantage of the move.


Variations on the Overhead Triceps Extension

If you have access to a weight machine, try the cable overhead triceps extension. This, too, can be performed standing or seated.


Benefits of the Overhead Triceps Extension

The overhead triceps extension achieves a few important objectives. Beyond strengthening all three heads of the triceps (more on that below), it also activates your core, and recruits your shoulder muscles for stability, Braun says. Plus, in the variation depicted in video, the overhead triceps extension works each arm separately, forcing you to confront and correct any muscle imbalances you might have.


What Muscles Are Used in the Overhead Triceps Extension?


It’s no surprise which muscle benefits most from the overhead triceps extension. But the way in which the muscle is worked during any triceps exercise varies depending on a number of factors, including grip, body position, and plane of movement. The triceps is a single muscle comprised of three heads. Working outward from body, they are: the long head, the medial head, and the lateral head.

The medial and lateral heads originate atop the humerus (upper arm bone), while the long head originates at the scapula (shoulder blade). They all eventually fuse together and attach at the elbow to facilitate the straightening of your arm. The medial head is framed by the other two, which form the horseshoe associated with a defined triceps muscle.


This is the muscle most responsible for movement of your shoulder, the body’s most mobile joint. It’s comprised of three sections: the anterior (front) deltoid, which helps raise your arm forward; the lateral deltoid, which helps raise your arm out to the side; and the posterior (rear) deltoid, which helps raise your arm behind you. In an overhead triceps extension, the anterior delt receives the greatest emphasis.