The extension of the arm recruits the triceps brachii, the three headed muscle which runs to the rear of the upper arm. The triceps, as it is commonly known, is composed of the lateral, medial and long head, each recruited to certain extents during arm extensions; depending on the grip, and the position of the upper arm in relation to the torso. The triceps extension is an exercise which is therefore extremely effective at recruiting and stimulating the triceps brachii, whether the goal is muscle growth, general fitness or improved endurance.
The term “triceps extension” when referring to exercise is a pretty loose and general phrase, and could refer to a handful of exercises which isolate the triceps via the extension of the arm. There are specific names for such isolation exercises, such as the kick back, skull-crushers, and the French press. These are a variety of exercises which all involve the extension of the arm, but vary in upper arm position, grip, and equipment used. We have a full list of arm exercises in our muscle and exercise directory, but listed below are various triceps extension exercises which recruit the triceps.
Triceps extension exercises
Laying triceps extension – a.k.a “Skull-crushers”
Many trainers find this variation very effective at stressing the triceps. Laying flat on a bench the trainer lifts a small barbell, or EZ bar, above their head so the arms are extended and the bar is at head level. Whilst the upper arms remain stationary (perpendicular to the torso), the bar is brought down via movement in the elbow, until the bar is shy of the head. The bar is then brought back to the top of the muscle via the contraction of the triceps.
Safety precaution should be paramount when using weights above the head, and this exercise would be best performed with a manageable weight and with a training partner close by.
Over head triceps extension – a.k.a “French press”
The French press is performed seated, using a small barbell or EZ bar. The bar is lifted above the head, with the arms full extended above. The upper arms remain still throughout the execution of the exercise, as the bar is brought behind the head via movement of the elbow joint. The bar is brought down to around ear height and then returned via the contraction of the triceps.
The position of the upper arms above the head cause the lateral head of the triceps to be stimulated effectively from the over head triceps extension (or “French press” as it is more commonly known).
Cable triceps extension – a.k.a “triceps push downs”
Commonly performed with an over-hand grip using a small bar attachment, the triceps push down is performed on a high cable pulley, which enables the trainer to achieve continuous tension on the target muscle.
Standing a few feet in front of a high cable pulley, fitted with a small bar attachment, the bar is grasped and the upper arms are brought to the sides of torso where they remain fixed. The bar is then brought downward via the extension of the arm until a full contraction is reached. The bar then returns to the starting position (whilst upper arms remain stationary) in a controlled manner.
Triceps extensions are extremely effective at stimulating the triceps in an isolated manner, and would be a great addition to a training session which aims to exercise the triceps. Below is a sample triceps workout for those looking to increase triceps size:
Cable triceps push downs 3 sets x 8-12 reps
Dips (up-right torso and arms tucked near torso) 3 sets x 8-12 reps
Skull-crushers 2 sets x 8-12 reps
The first exercise, the cable push downs, acts as a pre-exhauster prior to the dips, causing the triceps to be tired before the dipping. This means the chest and shoulders are less likely to overpower the triceps during the dips, as the triceps will be tired and fail before the larger and more powerful muscle groups.