For those who subscribe to the philosophy that curls get the girls and bis 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 NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist Cody Braun notes, 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.
Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension: Step-by-Step Instructions
Appears in: P90X – Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
- Stand with your feet staggered while holding a pair of dumbbells directly overhead, with your palms facing each other and the weights touching.
- Without moving your upper arms, lower the weights behind your head. Keep the dumbbells pressed together the whole time.
- Press the weights back up to the starting position until your arms are fully extended, stopping short of locking them out.
- Alternate your forward foot each set.
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, use heavier weights, or try balancing on one foot to further challenge your core.
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 the video above, 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.
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 (side) 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.