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Although it’s not the biggest muscle group in the human body, there are several reasons why you should be training your triceps. The first is aesthetics. Crafting bigger arms is why most people add triceps exercises to their routine. You may also improve your lockout strength (helping with exercises such as incline barbell bench presses and dumbbell shoulder presses) and promote the health of your elbow joints.

Luckily, I’ve tried and tested nearly every triceps exercise over the past 10 years, both on myself and as a certified personal trainer (CPT). I’ll detail the 11 best triceps extensions variations, give three triceps extensions workouts, and briefly touch upon triceps anatomy. 

Ready to show off those arms? Let’s get to it!

11 Best Triceps Extensions Variations

  1. Kettlebell Triceps Extension
  2. Resistance Band Triceps Extension
  3. Seated Triceps Extension
  4. Straight-Bar Triceps Pushdown
  5. Single-Arm Triceps Pushdown
  6. Triceps Pushdown with Rope Attachment
  7. Overhead Rope Triceps Extension
  8. Single-Arm Overhead Triceps Extension
  9. Reverse-Grip Triceps Extension
  10. Triceps Kickback (Dumbbell or Cable)
  11. Skull Crusher

Kettlebell Triceps Extension

Benefits: The only equipment you need for the kettlebell triceps extension is a single kettlebell, making it more convenient than other best triceps exercises on this list. My personal training clients have mentioned that performing this overhead extension with a kettlebell causes less strain on their wrists.

How to Do it: 

  1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Grab a single kettlebell by its handle with both hands and position it directly above your head. Your arms should be extended.
  3. Bend your elbows so the kettlebell moves toward the back of your shoulders.
  4. Pause when you can’t lower it further, then return the kettlebell to its original position. 
  5. Continue for the desired number of repetitions.

Expert tip: Tuck your elbows in during both the eccentric and concentric phases to avoid injury.

RELATED: Best Kettlebells

kettlebell-overhead-triceps-extension

Resistance Band Triceps Extension

Benefits: Resistance bands are portable, versatile, and can be a safer method of training when compared to barbells and dumbbells. If you’re new to strength training, travel often, or want an affordable way to exercise at home, you can hit the triceps by adding resistance band triceps extensions to your routine.

How to Do it: 

  1. Place one of the best resistance bands under your right foot while standing.
  2. Step your left foot forward to help with stability.
  3. Hold the handles with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) and position your hands behind your shoulders.
  4. Extend the handles toward the ceiling.
  5. Hold at the top, then lower the resistance band in a controlled manner. 
  6. Repeat for reps.

Expert tip: For an alternative, loop a resistance band around a door or a high anchor, and bring the handles toward your body.

banded overhead tricep extension

Seated Triceps Extension

Benefits: Performing triceps extensions while seated means you can’t use your lower body or core, which you can use when standing. The sole focus is on your triceps, allowing you to build strength in the back of your arms. And, because you use a dumbbell, there’s no limit to the weight you can lift.

How to Do it: 

  1. Sit on a chair or a flat bench.
  2. Hold a single dumbbell with both hands and position it above your head. Your arms should be straight.
  3. Lower the weight behind your head by bending your elbows. 
  4. Pause, then reverse the motion so the dumbbell returns to the overhead position.
  5. Repeat for repetitions.

Expert tip: Instead of holding the middle of the dumbbell, grasp both hands around the top of it. This will help make lifting heavier weights easier. 

seated tricep extension

Straight-Bar Triceps Pushdown

Benefits: When I train my arms, I love straight-bar triceps pushdowns because they allow me to lift heavier weights than I can on other cable triceps extension exercises, such as rope pushdowns or overhead rope extensions (both of which you’ll see below). Why? Because the straight bar has a slightly shorter range of motion than the rope attachment. 

How to Do it: 

  1. Set the pulley on one side of a cable machine to its highest point.
  2. Attach a straight bar and select your desired weight.
  3. Grab the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing the floor) and tuck your elbows in.
  4. Push the bar down until your arms are extended.
  5. Hold, then slowly bring the attachment back to the starting position.
  6. Continue for reps.

Expert tip: You can either have your feet next to each other, or one in front of the other. Both positions work with this exercise.

Single-Arm Triceps Pushdown

Benefits: Training one arm at a time (aka unilateral exercise) has multiple benefits. You may correct muscular imbalances and address bilateral deficits1. Because most other triceps extensions variations involve bilateral training, this is a fantastic exercise to add to your repertoire.

How to Do it: 

  1. Adjust a cable machine to its highest position and attach a handle.
  2. Hold the handle with your left hand, ensuring both feet are firmly planted on the floor.
  3. Move the handle towards your left quad by extending your left elbow.
  4. Pause when your left arm is straight before returning the handle to its original position.
  5. Push down for repetitions. Repeat with your right hand.

Expert tip: Although I’ve described how to do the exercise using a handle attachment, you can do it without an attachment by gripping the cable.

single-arm-triceps-pushdown

Triceps Pushdown with Rope Attachment

Benefits: Triceps pushdowns with the rope attachment are included in nearly every tricep workout and for good reason. Compared to straight-bar triceps pushdowns (seen above), you can perform the rope version with a neutral grip. This makes it more comfortable and reduces the risk of a wrist injury.

How to Do it: 

  1. Attach a rope to a cable machine and select your desired weight.
  2. Adjust the pulley to the top position.
  3. Grasp the rope with a neutral grip (palms facing each other), adjusting your feet if necessary.
  4. Tuck in your elbows, then push down to extend your arms.
  5. Hold at the bottom of the movement before returning the rope attachment to the starting position.
  6. Keep going for the desired number of reps.

Expert tip: Only your arms should move during the exercise—the rest of your body must stay fixed in place.

woman doing cable machine tricep pushdowns

Overhead Rope Triceps Extension

Benefits: A 2023 European Journal of Sport Science2 study found that “cable elbow extension training should be performed in the overhead rather than neutral arm position if one aims to maximize muscle hypertrophy of the triceps brachii or to prevent atrophy of this muscle.” If you’ve only been doing rope pushdowns one way, consider switching to the overhead version.

How to Do it: 

  1. Adjust a cable machine to the high pulley position and attach a rope.
  2. Stand facing away from the cables. Grab the rope with a neutral grip and position it behind your head. 
  3. Step forward into a staggered stance and lean forward slightly. 
  4. Pull the rope toward the front of your body by extending your elbows.
  5. Squeeze your triceps, then slowly return the rope to the overhead position.
  6. Repeat for reps.

Expert tip: A complete range of motion is important with this exercise, so choose a weight that allows you to do this.

overhead-tricep-extension-with-rope-attachment

Single-Arm Overhead Triceps Extension

Benefits: Imagine an exercise that combines the benefits of unilateral training with the benefits of overhead training. That’s what you have here. You won’t be able to lift as heavy with this exercise compared to others on arm day, but it’s a fantastic one to add to the end of your triceps training.

How to Do it: 

  1. Attach a handle to the cable machine, then select the required weight. 
  2. Adjust the pulley so it’s in the highest position.
  3. Face away from the machine and grab the handle with your left hand. Position your left hand above your head.
  4. Step forward and enter a staggered stance.
  5. Straighten your left arm and pause. Return the handle to its original position.
  6. Repeat for repetitions before replicating on the opposite side.

Expert tip: Lean forward slightly and look down at the floor when doing this movement.

RELATED: Cable Arm Workouts

single-arm-overhead-tricep-extension

Reverse-Grip Triceps Extension

Benefits: Changing your grip from an overhand to a supinated has its benefits. You’ll target the back of the upper arms (aka triceps) from a slightly different angle, with less involvement from your forearms. I wouldn’t recommend replacing regular pushdowns with reverse-grip extensions; you can include both where possible.

How to Do it: 

  1. Set the pulley on a cable machine to its highest position and attach a straight bar.
  2. Grab the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing the ceiling).
  3. Tuck in your elbows, then push down to straighten your arms.
  4. Pause when your elbows are locked out, then return the bar to the starting position.
  5. Keep going for reps.

Expert tip: Retract your shoulder blades and brace your core before straightening your arms to make this exercise more effective.

reverse-grip-triceps-extension

Triceps Kickback (Dumbbell or Cable)

Benefits: Triceps kickbacks are popular among lifters because they’re a versatile exercise. You can do them using a pair of dumbbells (described below), a cable machine, or even resistance bands. They hit all three heads of the triceps (you’ll see more on this in the anatomy section below), and the neutral hand position places minimal tension on your wrists.

How to Do it: 

  1. Hold a pair of the best dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) while standing. Your arms should be down at your sides. 
  2. Bend your knees slightly, then hinge at your hips until your torso is at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Position the dumbbells in front of your body to get into the starting position. You’ll want a bend in your elbows.
  4. Kick back the dumbbells by straightening your arms behind your body.
  5. Hold, then reverse the motion in a controlled manner.
  6. Continue for repetitions.

Expert tip: Attach a single handle in the low-pulley position to do triceps kickbacks on a cable machine.

RELATED: 3 Dumbbell Triceps Workouts

Woman doing tricep kickbacks

Skull Crusher

Benefits: When you don’t have the energy to train your triceps—maybe because you’ve already worked the chest and shoulders—cable triceps exercises are a great compromise. But when you have the energy to burn, do skull crushers. You can train with more weight and will work the anterior deltoid and the stabilizer muscles of your shoulders. 

How to Do it: 

  1. Set an adjustable bench to the flat or incline position (either works for this exercise!).
  2. Add your desired weight to an EZ-bar or straight bar.
  3. Sit down on the bench with the bar resting on your quads.
  4. Lie back and take the bar with you, positioning it above your chest. You’ll want your arms to be straight.
  5. Tuck in your elbows, and bring the bar to your forehead.
  6. Pause, then push the bar to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for reps.

Expert tip: Because the bar lowers towards your skull, be extra careful to avoid injury. Go slowly, and choose a weight that you can do comfortably. If in doubt, do dumbbell skull crushers first to get the hang of it.

Woman doing skullcrushers

Sample Triceps Extensions Workouts

I know you’re itching to get started with the triceps extensions variations above—or maybe that’s just your pre-workout kicking in—but bear with me. Below are three sample triceps extensions workouts for beginners, for hypertrophy, and for muscular endurance that I would recommend to a client:

Triceps Extensions Workout For Beginners

For beginners, there’s a kettlebell exercise, a dumbbell exercise, and a cable exercise. You’ll do a total of nine sets, allowing you to hit your triceps without overexerting yourself. Take a minute in between each set to rest before moving on, and when the weight gets too easy, increase it.

Coop doing a cable pushdown on the Torque Anker 3 functional trainer

To warm up, do a few minutes of cardio, then perform dynamic exercises such as arm circles and swings, jumping jacks, inchworms, and more.

ExerciseSetsReps
Kettlebell Triceps Extension38
Dumbbell Triceps Kickback310
Triceps Pushdown with Rope Attachment312

Equipment needed: A kettlebell, a pair of dumbbells, and a cable machine with a rope attachment

Triceps Extensions Workout For Hypertrophy

To build muscle (aka hypertrophy), we’ll increase the number of exercises and sets. You’ll do 14 sets, and each set will be between six and 12 reps (this is the optimal number of reps to build muscle). You may need slightly longer than a minute of rest for the first two exercises if you’re lifting heavy weights, but don’t rest for more than two minutes.

Before you start, do a few minutes of cardio and some dynamic exercises.

RELATED: Cardio Exercises At Home

ExerciseSetsReps
Skull Crusher46
Seated Triceps Extension48
Overhead Rope Triceps Extension310
Single-Arm Triceps Pushdown312

Equipment needed: An EZ-bar or straight bar with weight plates, an adjustable bench, a dumbbell, and a cable machine with rope and handle attachments

Triceps Extensions Workout For Muscular Endurance

For muscular endurance, things will be slightly different. You’ll use lighter weights (between 40% and 60% of your one-rep max), higher reps, and reduced rest times (between 30 and 60 seconds). To challenge yourself, superset the straight-bar triceps pushdowns with reverse-grip triceps extensions because both exercises use the same equipment. 

woman-doing-cable-triceps-pushdown

Again, do a warm-up consisting of cardio and dynamic exercises.

ExerciseSetsReps
Kettlebell Triceps Extension315
Seated Triceps Extension315
Straight-Bar Triceps Pushdown220
Reverse-Grip Triceps Extension220
Single-Arm Overhead Triceps Extension220

Equipment needed: A kettlebell, a dumbbell, a flat bench or a chair, and a cable machine with a straight bar and handle attachments

What Muscles Make Up the Triceps

It’s time to discuss triceps anatomy and the importance of working your triceps muscles. The triceps brachii is a large, thick muscle on the dorsal part of the upper arm3 and often resembles a horseshoe. Its primary function is extending the forearm at the elbow joint and stabilizing your elbow joint when your forearm and hand are writing. 

triceps highlighted on muscular system

Below are the three heads that make up the triceps:

  • Long head: The long head attaches to the scapula. It extends your elbow and assists with the extension and adduction of your arm at the shoulder joint. 
  • Medial head: The origin of the medial head is at the dorsal humerus, and it is active during the forearm extension at the elbow joint when the forearm is supinated or pronated. 
  • Lateral head: The lateral is the strongest head of the three and originates at the dorsal humerus. Similar to the medial head, it’s active during the extension of the forearm at the elbow joint when the forearm is supinated or pronated.

Benefits of Training Triceps

Why should you train your triceps in the first place? The benefits include bigger arms, improved push-day exercises, and better elbow joint health. See below for more:

Helps Build Bigger Arms

Let’s start with aesthetics. Your triceps muscle makes up approximately 70%t of your upper arm, and training your triceps will give you stronger arms. If you’re like me, this matters. One of the reasons why I started strength training in the first place was to look good in a t-shirt. Combine triceps exercises with biceps exercises, such as barbell biceps curls for bigger arms.

Helps Improve Push-Day Exercises

Push-day exercises such as bench presses, overhead presses, dumbbell chest presses, dumbbell shoulder presses, bodyweight push-ups, and more require strong triceps. This is because the lockout (the top position where your elbows become fully extended) targets your triceps. If you build muscle in your triceps, you might improve these upper-body lifts.

Woman using the Rogue HR-2 Half Rack to do overhead presses

Promotes Elbow Joint Health

A 2010 Clinics in Geriatric Medicine4 review found that strength training can improve joint health. Strengthening your triceps can promote elbow joint health and stability because the primary function of the triceps is the extension of the elbow joint3. In the long run, this may reduce the risk of injury.

Triceps Extensions Variations: Final Thoughts

Benefits of triceps extensions variations include bigger arms, improved compound lifts, and better elbow joint health. Everybody is different, so it’s worth trying each of the 11 exercises above to see which you enjoy. There will be some exercises you can’t do due to equipment limitations, but once you find the best ones for your goals, do them consistently to build stronger triceps.

Triceps Extensions Variations: FAQs

Which triceps extension is the best?

Examples of excellent triceps extensions exercises that I recommend to my personal training clients include:

-Kettlebell Triceps Extension
-Resistance Band Triceps Extension
-Seated Triceps Extension
-Straight-Bar Triceps Pushdown
-Single-Arm Triceps Pushdown
-Triceps Pushdown with Rope Attachment
-Overhead Rope Triceps Extension
-Single-Arm Overhead Triceps Extension
-Reverse-Grip Triceps Extension
-Triceps Kickback (Dumbbell or Cable)
-Skull Crusher

The best one depends on the individual, so try them all to see what you prefer. I enjoy seated triceps extensions, straight-bar triceps pushdowns, and skull crushers.

Do triceps extensions target all 3 heads?

Some triceps extensions exercises target all three heads—for example, triceps kickbacks and kettlebell triceps extensions—some don’t. For this reason, it’s important to have a variety of triceps extensions variations in your routine to ensure that you’re effectively targeting all three heads. 

RELATED: Best Triceps Workout

Are triceps extensions or skull crushers better?

Technically, skull crushers are a triceps extension. The only difference between skull crushers and other triceps extensions (such as seated triceps extensions or overhead rope triceps extensions) is that skull crushers require you to be lying down. With the other exercises, you’re either standing or seated. Try different exercises for the triceps to see what you enjoy.

Should you bend over for triceps extensions?

The only triceps extension exercise that requires you to bend over at a 45-degree angle is triceps kickbacks. Exercises such as kettlebell triceps extensions, seated triceps extensions, and most cable triceps pushdowns are more effective if you maintain an upright torso with your shoulder blades retracted.  

References

  1. Škarabot J, Cronin N, Strojnik V, Avela J. Bilateral deficit in maximal force production. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016 Dec;116(11-12):2057-2084. doi: 10.1007/s00421-016-3458-z. Epub 2016 Aug 31. PMID: 27582260.
  2. Maeo S, Wu Y, Huang M, Sakurai H, Kusagawa Y, Sugiyama T, Kanehisa H, Isaka T. Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position. Eur J Sport Sci. 2023 Jul;23(7):1240-1250. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2022.2100279. Epub 2022 Aug 11. PMID: 35819335.
  3. Tiwana MS, Sinkler MA, Bordoni B. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Triceps Muscle. [Updated 2023 Aug 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536996/
  4. Latham N, Liu CJ. Strength training in older adults: the benefits for osteoarthritis. Clin Geriatr Med. 2010 Aug;26(3):445-59. doi: 10.1016/j.cger.2010.03.006. PMID: 20699165; PMCID: PMC3606891.

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