The overhead tricep extension, also called dumbbell overhead tricep extension, is an excellent isolation exercise that targets the muscles on the back of your upper arms (triceps). Although it’s not the most convenient way to engage your triceps, overhead tricep extensions allow you to increase your strength, lessen the stress on your wrists, and improve your posture.

The triceps account for two-thirds of your upper arm muscle mass. And if you want to achieve awesome muscle gains, isolating the triceps with an overhead extension movement shouldn’t fall out of your routine. Moreover, the action also recruits your shoulders to improve stability and activates your core as secondary muscles. 

This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:

  • How to Do Overhead Tricep Extension
  • 4 Benefits of Overhead Tricep Extension
  • Common Overhead Tricep Extension Mistakes to Avoid
  • Overhead Tricep Extension Muscles Worked
  • Overhead Tricep Extension vs Skull Crushers
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs
  • Overhead Tricep Extension Variations
  • Overhead Tricep Extension Alternative Exercises
  • FAQs About Overhead Tricep Extension

How to Do Overhead Tricep Extension

What You’ll Need:

  • Single Dumbbell – this exercise is better executed with a single dumbbell since it will help you spot and correct any muscle imbalances.

Alternative Equipment:

  • Barbell / Tricep Bar – Use with an appropriate weight instead of a dumbbell
  • EZ Bar – Use an EZ bar to train your muscles at a different angle
  • Resistance Band – Step on the band for added resistance or attach it to an anchor point
  • Pulley System / Cable Machine – Adjust the pulley to not travel beyond the overhead tricep extension’s full range of motion

Step 1: Get Your Dumbells and Position 

Hold a dumbbell and get into starting position by placing your feet hip-width apart, your knees slightly bent and arms extended in an overhead position. This can be done standing or seated on a bench. If you’re using a cable machine, adjust it first to your desired weight and grab the handlebars with your back facing the machine. For resistance bands, anchor the band on a stable post or under your feet shoulder-width apart, then run the length of the band along your back, with both looped ends in your hands to work your arms separately.

Step 2: Lift the Dumbbells Overhead and Lower

While keeping your upper arms stationary, lift your dumbbell with your arms overhead and lower it down behind your head, so your hands are close to your shoulder as your elbows stay elevated. This will be your starting position. Keep your posture tall with your shoulder over your hips. Maintain a neutral neck and head position, and your chin should stay tucked throughout the motion as if you’re holding something under your chin.

Step 3: Distribute Your Weight and Maintain Your Stance

Evenly spread your weight and plant your feet firmly on the floor to make a stable stance. Pre-tension your hips and shoulders while keeping your core engaged.

Step 4: Squeeze Your Triceps

While maintaining your alignment, squeeze your triceps to start straightening your elbows. Complete the movement by engaging your triceps while keeping your elbows slightly bent. Keep in mind to focus on the lift and lowering of the weights and slowly move with control. Do not hasten the range of motion as the muscles are more activated under tension. Make sure that the motion should only take place in your elbows and not your entire arm.

Step 5: Bend and Return to the Starting Position

Slowly bend your elbows then, go back to the starting position and repeat.

4 Benefits of Doing Overhead Tricep Extension

1. Enhance Upper Arms Strength

Overhead dumbbell triceps extension trains all three heads of your biceps, which helps you become stronger. Because of this, you develop better sports performance and increased upper body strength, allowing you to use heavier weights when working out. 

2. Flexible Upper Body

Doing overhead triceps extension can enhance the flexibility of your upper body and stabilize your shoulders.

3. Develop Healthy Wrists

This exercise is ideal if you’re suffering from discomfort or pain in your wrist. Overhead tricep extension will keep your wrist at the same angle, preventing it from taking a lot of stress and pressure.

4. Improve Posture

Since you’re standing when performing this exercise instead of sitting on a bench, you focus on engaging your core muscle to support your spine and back. Because of this, you develop proper posture, straight back, lifted shoulders, and engaged core.

Common Overhead Tricep Extension Mistakes To Avoid

Wrong range of motion

 Some people tend to execute this exercise with heavy dumbbells moving around six inches up and down and not going back to the start position. This is not the correct form. You will know that you’ve done a complete rep when your forearms come into contact with your biceps on the way down. You can push the weight back up once only when you’re able to reach that point.

Arching your lower back

If you’re arching your lower back while executing this exercise, then you’re sporting the wrong posture. When you do this, you’re putting a lot of stress on your spine, which could end up in an injury. To rectify this, tuck your tailbone underneath you and keep your glutes and abs tight during each rep.

Elbows are moving outward

When your elbows drift outward, you’re putting unwanted stress on your shoulder, removing the tension on your triceps. So, focus on keeping your elbows in to maximize the benefits of this exercise.

Overhead Tricep Extension Muscles Worked

When performing the overhead tricep extension, you’ll target the following muscles:

  • Triceps
  • Deltoids
  • Core

This isolation movement mainly targets the triceps muscles. Although it engages all three heads (long (scapula) , media, and lateral(atop the humerus or the upper arm bone), it specifically activates the long head. In addition, while the triceps are the primary muscle worked when performing this exercise, it also activates your deltoids and abdominal muscle to stabilize the movement. 

Overhead Tricep Extensions vs Skull Crushers

While overhead dumbbell tricep extensions and skull crushers look similar, they differ in a few ways. When performing skull crushers, you’re lying down on a flat bench and lifting the dumbbells from behind your head towards full extension above you. Alternatively, your body’s position is upright with overhead triceps extension as it’s a standing exercise.

While they both train your triceps muscles, they prioritize different areas. Skull crushers engage all three heads of your triceps, including the long, medial, and lateral heads. Overhead triceps extension targets specifically the long head of your triceps. Furthermore, skull crushers are more complex than overhead extensions since you load all the weight on your shoulder muscles and arms.

Variations on Overhead Tricep Extension

Although overhead dumbbell triceps extension can activate your triceps muscles, it’s not enough to create a solid and massive upper arm. That is why variations are there to help you challenge yourself and target other muscle groups, moving you a step higher towards your fitness goals!

Cable Overhead Triceps Extension

If you perform this exercise with a cable machine instead of dumbbells, you’ll have a consistent level of resistance throughout the motion. This variation can target all three heads of your triceps because of its elbow extension component. However, since your shoulders are in flexion, most of the stress is loaded on the long head since it’s the only one that crosses your shoulder joint.

Gym Ball Lying Triceps Extension

You can increase the difficulty level of lying triceps extensions when you perform the movement on a gym ball instead of a bench. The unstable surface you get from the ball engages your core to maintain a good form while executing the movement. Ensure that you’re using lighter weight when doing this variation since there’s a big chance that you may fall off!

Seated Dumbbell Triceps Extension

Instead of doing dumbbell triceps extension while standing, in this variation, you’re seated. Just make sure that while doing this exercise, you don’t overextend your lumbar spine and keep your ribcage down by maintaining engagement in your glutes and abs.

Overhead Triceps Extension Alternatives

Activating one head of your triceps will not get you near the end results that you want. So, in addition to this workout or a substitute, when you’re feeling more energized and pumped to level up your exercise program, you can do these alternatives instead!

Skull Crusher Pullover

You do this Alternative like how you perform skull crushers. However, when you get to the bottom of the movement, let your elbow reach the back as if you’re executing a pullover with bent arms. This will lengthen the long head of your triceps and increase the stretch like it would when you’re doing a triceps extension.

Resistance Band Overhead Triceps Extension

Using Resistance Bands will help you engage your muscles to failure and get an excellent muscle contraction. You can set the band up like how it would be when you’re using the cable variation or attach a rope. However, the bands will give you more stretch instead of adding weight. 

Reverse Dips

Reverse Dips is a bodyweight movement, and while it looks easy, it can still give your triceps muscle a good burn! To make this workout more challenging, straighten your legs. Also, you can increase the resistance on your triceps by using a weighted vest or placing a weight plate on your waist.

Triceps Pushdown

In this Tricep Pushdown, you have your arms positioned in front of you instead of over your head. Because of this, your shoulders are more comfortable while sparing your elbow from extra stress. Although you can lift heavier weight in this alternative, you cannot just rely on them to replace overhead triceps extensions completely. Pushdowns cannot train your triceps optimally. There are many excellent Tricep Pushdown Alternatives you can try out too.

Diamond Push-Ups

Among all the other alternatives, diamond push-ups are the most accessible exercises since you don’t need any equipment and don’t even have to go to the gym! All you need is your body weight, and you’re all good. 

Aside from engaging your triceps, this substitute also challenges your front delts and core, which means they have a great carryover to free weight compound press exercises. 

Tricep Kickbacks

Although Tricep Kickbacks doesn’t allow you to lift as much resistance as triceps extensions, they do engage your triceps in a maximally contracted position, providing a great stimulus. When you contract your muscles, you won’t be able to produce that much force that’s why you need to use lighter weights.

Frequently Asked Questions

The overhead triceps extension is an excellent way to target all three heads of your triceps, so you should consider including them in your training program. With this exercise, your triceps extend or straighten your elbows as well as help your shoulder muscles extend your arms. 

The primary muscle this exercise targets is your triceps, particularly the long head. However, you also engage supporting muscles as you do the full range of motion, which includes your deltoids and core.

When doing skull crushers, you’re lying down on a flat bench and lifting the dumbbells from behind your head until your arms are extended above you. Alternatively, with overhead triceps extension, your body position is upright as it’s a standing exercise. Moreover, Skull Crushers activate all three tricep heads while Overhead Tricep Extensions focus on the long head.

But that doesn’t mean the former is better than the other. The tricep extensions would be a fantastic variation or accessory movement to your triceps workout on top of the skull crushers.

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