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Tricep extensions for bigger arms

For many people looking to build muscle, the arms are often the area most talked about and the muscle group that people will work hardest to develop.

While many people will spend countless hours working on dumbbell curls trying to grow their biceps, it’s actually the tricep that makes up around two thirds of the upper arm muscle.

Tricep muscle anatomy

True tricep extensions are used to focus the lifting almost entirely on the tricep muscle. Depending on the type of extension, this will cause different heads of the tricep to be activated to varying degrees.

The three heads of the tricep are the lateral head, long head and medial head. If you were to look at a very muscular tricep you will be able to see the shape resembles a horseshoe.

If the arm is by your side, the lateral head is the section most visible, with the long head closest to your lats and medial head closest to the elbow joint.

Different types of tricep exercise

While tricep extensions are by no means the only exercise you should perform for tricep strength and size, they do play a vitally important role in fully developing the muscle.

There are really three main movements for exercising the tricep. The first is a heavy pressing movement. This can be either a close grip bench press or performing dips on parallel bars.

The second type of movement is in the overhead or lying extension, and the third type is a push down. For the purpose of this article we will focus on the second type of movement, tricep extensions.

Lying tricep extensions

Muscles used

  • Tricep (Lateral head)
  • Tricep (Long head)
  • Tricep (Medial head)
  • While this can be performed with a cable attachment, if your cable tower has an adjustable height pulley, this is normally performed with a free weight straight barbell or cambered bar.

    Rather than the full sized Olympic bars that can weigh in excess of 20kg, the cambered bar and smaller straight bar should weigh no more than 10kg.

    Performing the exercise

    Load up the barbell with your required weight and position it at the front of a horizontal workout bench in the flat position. If you have a spotter training with you then it can be easier for them to hand you the bar once you are lying down, but we will assume you are training on your own.

    Pick up the bar with a grip a little closer than shoulder width, bring the bar up to shoulder level, as if you were going to perform an overhead press. Sit on the end of the bench and slowly recline until you are lying flat on the bench with the bar resting on your chest as if you are about to perform close grip bench presses.

    Lying E-Z curl bar tricep extension

    Fully extend your arms until the bar is directly above your eye level. From here you have two options depending on which portion of the tricep you want to work.

    If you lower the bar to your forehead you will focus the work on the medial and lateral heads of the tricep. Lowering the bar above your head will create a longer range of motion and place more emphasis on the long head of the triceps.

    Inhale as you lower the bar and exhale as you contract back to eye level. If you are lowering the bar above your head, then it’s best to keep it as close to your head as possible and not quite lower to the height of the bench to prevent putting too much work on your lats.

    Lying dumbbell tricep extensions

    Muscles used

  • Tricep (Lateral head)
  • Tricep (Long head)
  • Tricep (Medial head)
  • Forearms (Anconeus)
  • This exercise relies on your body being in the same position to the lying barbell extension, and will work all three heads of the tricep equally.

    Performing the exercise

    Getting the actual range of motion and contraction right is the most important thing with this exercise, so don’t worry too much if you aren’t picking up heavy dumbbells before you start.

    Once you are lying on a flat weights bench with the dumbbells extended above your eye level as if you are about to perform dumbbell chest presses, rotate your palms to face each other as if performing flyes and lower the forearms until the dumbbells come to rest just above your forehead.

    Return the dumbbells to the start position, exhaling as you do so, while all the time trying to keep your elbows pointing upwards.

    Overhead standing dumbbell tricep extension

    One-arm dumbbell tricep extensions

    Muscles used
  • Tricep (Lateral head)
  • Tricep (Long head)
  • Tricep (Medial head)
  • Best performed wither sitting on the edge of a workout bench or while standing, the single arm dumbbell tricep extension allows a greater range of motion, emphasising the work on the long head of the tricep. A bench is often recommended to reduce using momentum or putting pressure on your lower back.

    Performing the exercise

    Start by raising the dumbbell above your head and steadying yourself if necessary by holding onto your hip with the opposite arm.

    Lower the dumbbell down behind your head as far as is comfortably possible while still keeping your elbow pointing towards the ceiling, inhaling as you do so.

    Overhead standing dumbbell tricep extension

    As you exhale, your arm should be extending and moving the dumbbell back to the starting position above your head.

    Seated E-Z bar triceps extensions

    Muscles used

  • Tricep (Lateral head)
  • Tricep (Long head)
  • Tricep (Medial head)
  • A combination of the single dumbbell overhead tricep extension and the lying E-Z curl bar extension, this exercise will focus mainly on the long head of the tricep due to the wide range of motion. While this can be performed standing, the seated version restricts any momentum built through the back and hips swaying, which can happen when standing.

    Performing the exercise

    Once you are sitting on the edge of a workout bench with the E-Z curl bar extended directly above your head, inhale and lower the bar down behind your head.

    Once the bar approaches the back of your neck this should be when you feel the full stretch in your triceps. Extend your arms back to the starting position, exhaling as you do so to complete the movement.

    To ensure this exercise benefits you as much as possible, you should always try to keep your triceps in line with your head. Letting them move forwards and backwards will only further recruit stabilising muscles from your back and shoulders and take some of the work away from the triceps.

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