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How to Perform a Tricep Overhead Extension

written by: Jamil Karim • edited by: Cheryl Gabbert • updated: 8/15/2010

Learn about this effective Triceps exercise and see a step-by-step guide on how to perform one. Here is how to perform a tricep extension.

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    Dumbell Tricep Extensions Explained

    Contrary to common notions, the tricep brachii is the primary muscle in the arm, accounting for over 2/3s of the muscle mass. The triceps consist of three separate heads - the lateral, medial, and long heads- as such it is particularly tricky to train, as you must ensure that you work all three heads to stimulate proportional growth.

    For this reason, the tricep extension is often considered a staple in any routine, as it is one of the few exercises to actually target all three heads. (While you need more than just one lift to adequately work the muscle, this is a good place to start.) Moreover, it does not require much equipment or heavy weights, all that is necessary is strict form and posture.

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    The Equipment

    This exercise can be performed a variety of different ways, and with a variety of equipment. Although this guide will focus on using a dumbell, a similar exercise can be performed with an EZ Bar Barbell (commonly referred to as a skullcrusher when performed lying down).

    Dumbell tricep extensions can be done standing up, lying down on a bench, or sitting upright, all of which place emphasis on a different part of the tricep. They can also be done holding one dumbell in each hand, or both hands around one. Eventually you may be able to alternate all three in a routine, but for the sake of simplicity, this guide will focus on a seated, one-dumbell tricep extension.

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    The Procedure

    1. Equipment: Select a fairly low-weight dumbell and sit at the edge of a bench (or against a back-supported bench).

    2. Grip: Grip the dumbell with both hands towards one of the bases so that your hands are touching and palms face each other.

    3. Starting Position : Force the weight above your head (you can use your knees to swing it up initially if the weight is too heavy), and keep your elbows tight against your body. Do not let them flare out. Your arms should be completely vertical with only your elbows bending throughout the motion. This is the starting position.

    4. The Concentric Portion: Slowly lower the weight from the starting position behind your head (slightly) until your elbows reach almost 90 degrees. This process should take 2-3 seconds.

    5. The Transition: Try to pause at the bottom of the rep for a second, but do not let your elbows lock - hold at just above 90 degrees and squeeze your triceps.

    6. The Eccentric Portion: Slowly raise the weight back above your head with elbows and shoulders still in place.

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    Additional Tips/ Notes

    While this exercise sounds fairly simple, it can be dangerous if performed incorrectly, or with too much weight. Start light and perfect your form.

    1. Make sure to use only the tricep muscles when performing this lift - it is easy to use your lats to support the weight, but this will negate the impact of the exercise. Make sure to keep the arms tight in to your side and do not swing them - all movement should occur at the elbows only.

    2. It is important to have great control over the weight to avoid shoulder/neck injuries and properly work the muscle. Do not swing the weights and do not use momentum.

    3. Do not let the weight go too far back behind your head, as this may cause injury to the shoulders. By contrast, do not let the weight remain too far in front of your head or it will not target the triceps.

    4. Keep your back firmly tightened and do not let it round or arch too much.

    5. Make sure to breathe correctly, but there is no need for unnecessary yells or grunts. This will not help you lift the weight and is very annoying to others.

    6. Lift with a spotter or do not go as heavy as possible. Keep in mind that your strength will begin to fail after a few sets. Do not keep trying to raise weights when alone.

    7. Rerack the weights upon completion.