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Fitness 101: How to Do an Overhead Triceps Extension


Body Part

Dumbbell or cable




Whether you’re a certified personal trainer or you’re just hitting the gym – if you want to build your triceps, overhead extensions are a great option to have in your toolbox.

If you’re not sure how to properly do an overhead extension, don’t worry. I’m going to show you how to do it correctly.

In this blog, I’ll answer the following:

  • What is an overhead triceps extension?
  • What muscles does an overhead extension work?
  • What are the benefits of overhead extensions?
  • What is the proper technique for overhead extensions?
  • What variations can you do?

So let’s get started!


What is an Overhead Triceps Extension? 

An overhead triceps extension is an isolation movement that targets the triceps, with particular emphasis on the long head of the triceps.  It involves extending a weight overhead through the extension of the elbow.

Overhead extensions can be performed seated or standing, as well as with a single dumbbell, EZ bar, med ball, kettlebell, or on a cable machine. 

The movement can be progressed by increasing weight, slowing down the movement, or standing vs. sitting down for additional core stabilization.

What muscles do Overhead Extensions work?

There are three heads of the triceps – the lateral, medial, and long head, named from their insertion points. 

Any overhead triceps movement, including the overhead extension, is going to put most of the emphasis on the long head as it puts the shoulder in an extended position. The long head of the triceps is also the, well, longest, putting the overhead extension as a popular exercise for triceps hypertrophy.

The medial and lateral heads of the triceps are still activated during an overhead extension but to a lesser degree.

What are the benefits of Overhead Triceps Extensions?

Overhead extensions are a great isolation movement for building the triceps.

Additionally, if performed standing, overhead extensions can serve as a great core stabilizer as it adds extra pressure to maintain control and a strong posture throughout the movement.


How To Do An Overhead Triceps Extension

  1. Stand in an athletic stance with your feet roughly hip width apart.
  2. With the weight behind your head and your elbows bent, extend the weight overhead keeping your elbows pointed forward.
  3. Maintaining control and a strong posture, lower the weight straight down until you’re back at your start position. 
  4. Repeat for desired number of sets and reps.

Tips and Tricks

Here are a few things to keep in mind for proper form:

    • Control your body throughout the movement. Don’t allow your body to sway or the weight to fall without your control. 
    • Avoid letting your elbows push out sideways, keep them facing forward.
    • If standing, keep the core braced throughout the entire movement. But continue breathing.
    • If you feel elbow pain during the movement, listen to your body. Either lower the weight, ensure you’re using proper technique, or choose a different triceps movement all together.


  • Skullcrusher: This variation has you lying flat, or incline, on a bench and performing the movement lying down. Skullcrushers are most commonly performed with an EZ barbell, but can also be performed using a single or a pair of dumbbells. 

  • Overhead Cable Extension: This variation has you using a cable and v-grip or rope attachment to perform the movement. Adjust the cable to mid-height, grab the weight with your back to the cable, and perform the overhead extension.

  • Kettlebell, Med Ball, or EZ Bar Extension: This variation swaps out the dumbbell for another piece of equipment. Medicine balls and kettlebells are great options if you don’t have a single dumbbell available, or if it feels better to use something else. A single EZ barbell is also a great option for performing the movement.

Seated Overhead Extension: This variation has you sitting for the duration of the movement vs. standing. This variation is often going to make it a bit easier to focus on technique as it takes away other pieces of the standing movement, such as core stabilization.

Final Notes from a Certified Personal Trainer

Overhead triceps extensions are a great movement to consider adding to your or your clients’ routines. They build strength and hypertrophy in the triceps, primarily the long head, are versatile, and activate a good amount of core stability during standing variations.

For most, standing dumbbell overhead extensions are a great starting point. To regress the movement, you can lower the weight, do the movement seated, or regress completely to a triceps dip on a bench with no weight at all.

To progress the movement, you can increase the weight, slow down the movement, or try a variation you or your client isn’t used to.

Finally, ensure you stay in control throughout the movement – there’s no rush. And listen to your body for any cues of pain or unnecessary discomfort.

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