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October 03, 2022 8 min read

What are Triceps Extensions?

Triceps extensions is a set of movements done in an isolation exercise that targets the triceps for strength and hypertrophy, a group of muscles located on the back of the upper arm.

It is a versatile exercise that strengthens the triceps by the repetitive flexing of the elbow joint against resistance. The extensions can be done with weighted accessories, which in this case are dumbbells.

What are the triceps?

The triceps brachii, Latin for “three-headed muscle of the arm,” is a muscle with three heads, located on the opposite side of the upper arm to the biceps. When it comes to mass, the triceps make up two-thirds of the upper arm mass.


Triceps Muscle - Image from Shutterstock


The three heads of the triceps muscle are the medial head, lateral head, and long head.

Contrary to the general idea that big biceps make big arms, the triceps are significantly bigger than the biceps, and focusing on the three heads of the triceps is essential when the goal is maximum gains.

The dumbbell triceps extension can be done using both arms simultaneously or one arm at a time, and you can use other resistance equipment like a barbell, a cable machine, a barbell, or a resistance band, in order to complete the triceps extension. 

What is the proper form for doing Barbell Triceps Extensions?

Whenever you use free weights in your workouts, proper form is key if you want to avoid being injured. Furthermore, you should note that the way you do your dumbbell triceps extensions will determine which muscles benefit most. Doing a single-arm dumbbell triceps extension version of the exercise will impact your muscles differently.

Although the single-arm option is a great addition to your workout routine, for this article we’ll focus on two-handed dumbbell triceps extensions done in the standing position. You can do overhead dumbbell triceps extensions while standing or sitting.

Stance:  Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the dumbbell tightly held with both hands. Contract your abdominal core muscles to hold your torso strong. Pull your shoulders back and down to depress and retract them, and hold that form throughout the exercise to ensure your spine, neck, and head remain aligned.

Pressing dumbbell overhead:  Press the dumbbell overhead by extending your elbows and holding your arms overhead—vertical to the floor. Ensure your elbows point forward, but don’t lock them.

Proper Form – Image from Shutterstock


Holding the dumbbell overhead:  The dumbbell should be located directly above your head, dangling slightly angled vertically, with your palms facing up. Maintaining your balance is essential, so don’t change the position of your feet, hips, torso, head, arms, and wrists while the dumbbell is overhead.

Head and neck position:  Ensure your posture is tall with your shoulders directly over your hips. To maintain a neutral neck and head, pretend you are holding an egg under your chin, and keep your chin tucked in throughout the entire movement.

Lowering the dumbbell behind your head:  Inhale and allow the dumbbell’s weight to bend your elbows. It is crucial to maintain control as you lower the dumbbell toward your shoulders behind your head. Do allow your upper arms to move.  

Elbow control:  Continue lowering the dumbbell until your elbows reach a 90-degree angle, or until you can no longer prevent your upper arms from going backward. do not allow your elbows to flare outward because that could place undue stress on your elbow and shoulder joints. Keep them shoulder-width apart.

Again, maintaining your balance is essential, so don’t change the position of your feet, hips, torso, and head throughout the entire range of motion.

How to do dumbbell triceps extensions 

With the proper form guidelines above, follow the following steps to do dumbbell triceps extensions.

The way to do dumbbell triceps extensions is not set in stone, in fact, there are several optional ways to do a triceps extension, the most popular version with dumbbells is done in a standing position, using only one dumbbell — held with both hands.

Maintaining your core strength and stability is more challenging when you do the standing version of this exercise.  

The first step when you plan to do dumbbell triceps extensions or overhead triceps extensions is to select a weight that you will be able to control and use safely for two to three sets of 10 to 12 reps. The correct form and technique are essential, not only to gain the intended benefits but also to avoid injuries.

Once you have the appropriate dumbbell, follow the guidelines below.


Barbell overhead stance – Image from Shutterstock


Starting position:  Stand with slightly bent knees and your feet hip-width apart. Grip a dumbbell with both hands. Evenly distribute your weight and grip the floor with your feet to create a stable position. Pre-tension your shoulders and hips while engaging your core. All repetitions should begin from this position.


Dumbbell Triceps Extensions - Image from Shutterstock
  1. Raise the dumbbells overhead, and lower them behind your head so that your hands are near your shoulders and your elbows are elevated.
  2. While maintaining your alignment, squeeze your triceps to begin straightening your elbows to bring the dumbbell to the front.
  3. Finish the movement by squeezing your triceps while maintaining a slight bend in your elbows. Movement should only occur at your elbows.
  4. Bend your elbows to return to the starting position.

Triceps extension variations

Training platform:  There are several options when it comes to positioning yourself to do dumbbell triceps extensions. We’ve mentioned the standing and seated varieties, but you can also do skull crushers, the popular term for performing lying triceps extensions while lying face-up on a stability ball or a flat bench. Two more varieties include lying at a slight decline or incline.


Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension – Image from Shutterstock


Although the triceps will be the primary target regardless of the version you choose, the secondary muscles, which help keep you stable during the execution of the extension exercise, will be more challenged if you alter the training platform.


Seated Dumbbell Triceps Extensions – Image from Shutterstock


Grip:  You might not be aware of just how varying your grip can change the way your triceps and secondary stabilizing muscles are engaged during the execution of the barbell extensions. Learning more about this can help a lot for exercisers with muscle imbalances.

Grip options include the following:

  • Neutral grip with palms facing each other
  • Pronated grip or overhand grip with palms facing down
  • Supinated grip or underhand grip with palms facing upwards

Dual benefits of dumbbell triceps extensions

There are two types of benefits to look at. We will look at the benefits of using barbells instead of other free weights for triceps extensions, and straight after that, we’ll show all the health benefits of triceps extensions.

Benefits of using dumbbells for triceps extensions 

Dumbbell triceps extensions are a great exercise option if you want to target your triceps. Although many upper body workouts like bench presses, pulley or cable triceps pulldowns, activate the biceps, none of them focus on the triceps at the back of the upper arm as the primary muscle. Below are some benefits dumbbells offer to get you to your goal

Dumbbells are versatile: 

There is a dumbbell to suit every exerciser’s unique needs. From elite bodybuilders to CrossFit exercisers and beginner strength builders. Their variability in weight and size also makes them suitable for use anywhere, from the gym to your home or garage gym.

Dumbbells offer a greater load range: 

Dumbbell weights vary from as low as 1lb all the way up to 100+ lbs. Furthermore, up to around 20 to 25 pounds, the increments are smaller than with any other equipment. This makes it significantly easier to implement progressive overload, a crucial aspect in building muscle and strength.

Dumbbells can help deal with muscle imbalances: 

Every person is unique, and nobody is perfect. We all have some asymmetry going on somewhere. That’s where dumbbells come in, they are ideal to help you rectify imbalances through focused training. Doing shoulder presses and overhead presses while holding two dumbbells can address some imbalances. Dumbbells are also valuable for recovering from a unilateral injury as they help you gain stability and strength through focused exercising.

Dumbbells are user-friendly: 

Although medicine balls, barbells, kettlebells, and cable machines all have their role to play in the fitness world, dumbbells can certainly be easier to handle when it comes to the isolation of triceps and other smaller muscle groups.

Health benefits of doing Overhead Triceps Extension exercise


Dumbbell Triceps Extensions - Image from Shutterstock


Build Muscle Mass:  Needless to say, building muscle mass in the back of the upper arm is the goal of dumbbell triceps extensions. Unlike other triceps exercises, when you use dumbbells for doing triceps exercises, you engage all three heads of the triceps, ensuring growth in the entire triceps group of muscles.

Less wrist stress:  This benefit applies particularly to exercisers with weak or compromised wrists. If you are suffering from wrist pain or discomfort in the wrist, then the dumbbell overhead triceps extension is for you. That is because your wrists remain in the same position throughout the full range of motion of this exercise, with almost no stress.

Improved Posture:  When you do the standing version of the dumbbell overhead triceps extensions, your spine and back are supported by contracting your core muscles. Therefore, the dumbbell triceps extensions help you maintain a straight back, lifted shoulders, an engaged core, and an overall improved posture.

Stable Joints: Strong triceps help stabilize your elbow joints and shoulder joints, which in turn help you move comfortably through your day-to-day activities. For example:

Lifting, pulling, and pushing heavy items, moving furniture, and more.

Athletes need strong biceps for activities like hitting tennis balls, hitting golf balls, throwing and passing basketballs or baseballs, and swimming.

The triceps are essential for stabilizing the arm’s fine motor activities like writing and even playing the piano.

Most importantly, dumbbell overhead triceps extensions are essential for upper body strength required for reaching your goals in just about any sports activity.

Nutrition: Do you need to eat protein after exercising? 

Never lose sight of the importance of proper nutrition. You may want to consider nutrition improvements in your exercise program to help your muscles recover and grow. Your muscles don’t care if the protein you provide comes from a beef steak, a hard-boiled egg, a glass of chocolate milk, or a whey protein shake.

Whatever you choose, more isn’t necessarily better. You need only 10-20 grams of protein for your muscles. The best option for protein powder is those made from whey or milk proteins. Use them within 30 minutes after exercising to provide needed amino acids to muscles.

Make no mistake, you still need to get the majority of your protein intake from food. High protein sources include chicken, salmon, Greek yogurt, skim milk, and beans are some of the best foods to help you gain muscle.

In addition, you can pack on lean muscle and support strength levels, without unnecessary carbs by using a high-quality protein such as  Whey-PRO.  It comes in Hot Cocoa, Blueberry Muffin, Banana Pancake, Strawberry Cheesecake, and seven more delicious flavors.


If you would like to improve  the strength and appearance of the backs of your arms,  and you haven’t yet introduced dumbbell triceps extensions into your strength training routine, then it might be a good idea to add a few sets into your programming!

Not only will you see an improvement in your posture and overall core engagement, but you will notice stronger arms in general – which will then make  other exercises  – such as push-ups and dips – seem a bit easier!