Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension
How to Do the Standing Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension | In-Depth Guide [VISUAL LEARNERS]
Proper Form, Common Mistakes, & Variations | Home Strength Training
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MAIN MUSCLES WORKED IN Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extensions
WHAT & WHY
BENEFITS OF TRAINING THE Triceps
WHAT WE'RE DOING TODAY
Other names for this exercise: Overhead Triceps Press, French Press (seated)
ALL WE'RE DOING:
This one is a bit awkward, not gonna lie. Not difficult so much as awkward. Read on.
The Overhead Tricep Extension also known as the french press when done seated, works the muscles that are on the backside of the upper arm- the triceps. It's done by holding the weights up overhead and then bending and straightening the elbows. It sounds simple enough but holding the arms up overhead works the muscles of the torso and the shoulders. This position also puts a nice bonus stretch on the upper back, triceps, and lats.
This movement feels good and works the muscles but it can be hard to get the form right. Doing the exercise first without any weights will help to make sure that you can get in the right position and complete the movement without arching the back or moving the head forward. You can check your range of motion by checking your position in a mirror. If you have stiffness in your shoulders or upper back this exercise can be irritating to the shoulder joint. This can also happen if you try to lift too much weight, the shoulders are hunched up towards the ears, or if the elbows flare out to the sides.
WHY DO WE EVEN CARE?
BALANCE OUT THE BICEPS. IMPROVE YOUR STRENGTH TO PUSH STUFF.
Working the triceps is important to balance the frequently overtrained/overused biceps muscle. The triceps is the largest muscle of the upper arm, it accounts for about ⅔ or the muscle bulk of the upper arm.
The biceps and triceps muscles do opposing actions - the biceps bend the elbow and the triceps straighten the elbow. Muscles that do opposite actions need to work together in order to be able to control movement and to stabilize the joints - in this case, the elbow and shoulder. When one of the two muscles is proportionately stronger than the other - it puts the weaker muscle and the joints at a higher risk for injury.
EVERYDAY LIFE &
HOW WE USE OUR Triceps IN EVERYDAY LIFE
1. STRAIGHTENS (EXTENDS) THE ELBOW (ALL THREE HEADS)
- Pushing an object overhead
- Pushing a door open or shut
- Chopping - swinging down
- Hammering - swinging down
- Sawing - pushing out
- Throwing a ball overhand
- Swatting a fly
2. THE LONG HEAD PULLS THE ARM DOWN WHEN IT IS OVERHEAD (SHOULDER EXTENSION)
- Pulling a cord to open a curtain
- Pulling a window down to shut it
3. ALL THREE HEADS HELP TO HOLD THE ELBOW JOINT STILL (JOINT STABILIZATION), THE LONG HEAD HELPS TO HOLD THE SHOULDER JOINT STILL
- Pushing a stroller or grocery cart
- Using a screwdriver or knife
- Replacing a ceiling lightbulb
HOW Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extensions SHAPE OUR BODY
Balances out the biceps in the upper arm give upper arm horseshoe definition.
This version of the overhead press has been modified to be more friendly for women by using 2 dumbbells and allowing the hands to remain separate throughout the exercise. Women’s hands naturally move outward as the elbows straighten. Trying to keep the hands close together during elbow extension can strain the elbow joints. WHY? Because of the "carrying angle".
Women's forearms angle outward at the elbows - when you hold them out straight. The theory is that it is to account for our wider hips - so if you carry buckets with your arms straight down to your sides, the buckets are further apart to clear the hips. Men's hips are narrow so their arms are straight down. I also think it helps us to hold babies more easily - but never seen anything validating this.
If you struggle to have your upper arms directly overhead, it’s okay to have the upper arm a bit more forward. It is fine to have the upper arm a bit forward - the only difference is a little less of a stretch on the long head of the triceps - but much more comfortable and safer for the shoulder joint. I would stress light weights and not one to be done a lot. Always listen to your body. On a day that you may be stiffer or tighter, you may feel it in your shoulder more.
If this positioning is uncomfortable for you- ie you experience pain or tightness, these other triceps exercises will likely be a better choice for you: skull crushers, triceps kickbacks, tricep pushdowns - any triceps move where your upper arm/elbow isn’t being held up in line with your head.
How to Feel What Muscle is Working
To feel your triceps activated: lift your arm in front of you and set the hand and forearm on a table or counter.
Put your other hand on the back of your upper arm. Press down with the hand resting on the surface.
1) press down as if you were trying to straighten just your elbow; 2) press down as if you were trying to pull your upper arm down to your side. In both cases, you should feel your triceps working.
PROPER FORM: Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension
EQUIPMENT, SETS & REPS
SUGGESTED STARTING WEIGHT FOR WOMEN:
3-8 lbs. Care should be taken not to progress too quickly or to use weights that are too heavy. Could irritate the soft tissues of the shoulder/elbow due to the positioning of the exercise.
SETS & REPS:
2 x 8 - form must be good, no discomfort.
Quick up and slow down.
BODY POSITION FOR THE Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension
FEET: Feet hip-width apart, toes pointed forward.
BODY STANCE: Knees slightly bent. Neutral spine position, sternum lifted space between the top of your shoulder and your earlobe.
HAND/GRIP: Hold the dumbbells by the handle, one in each hand with a neutral grip where your palms are facing each other.
ARMS: Your upper arms are in full flexion (straight up overhead from the body) with elbows pointing forward. Think of pulling your elbows towards your ears. Elbows are bent so that your forearms are parallel to the floor. The dumbbells should be behind your head, vertical.
HOW TO DO
HOW TO DO Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extensions
CUE: Keep your elbows pointing forwards. Use gravity to get into the correct position at the beginning of each rep - exhale and relax to let the weight of the dumbbell pull your upper arm back and your forearm down.
Straighten your elbows to move the dumbbells up towards the ceiling. Make sure that your elbows are straight (extended) but not hyperextended (so elbow bends backward) or locked.
Slowly lower the weights back down, your elbow can bend a bit further to increase the range of motion the triceps are working through.
Repeat until fatigue or the desired # of reps are completed.
HOW TO SAFELY GET OUT OF THE EXERCISE
Bring your arms down to the front of the body, squat down to set the weight on the floor.
WHAT TO AVOID WITH THE Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension
Guess what? Good news! Many avoids are the same for most movements. Once you learn the basics, there's really only a few extra avoids for each individual movement.
1. Avoid elbow flare
AVOID: Letting the elbows flare out.
- This will put the shoulder joint moves into internal rotation, decreasing the space between the top of the shoulder blade (the acromion process of the scapula) and the upper arm bone (humerus)
- Reduces the effectiveness of the exercise - it is more difficult to get full elbow extension at the top of the movement.
WHAT TO DO:
- Keep the elbows pointing straight forward.
2. Avoid forward head
AVOID: Pulling the head forward.
- This can happen when the upper back or shoulders are stiff - the hands cannot get far enough back to avoid hitting the head, so the head is jutted forward.
- This can strain the neck muscles and encourage forward head posture.
WHAT TO DO:
- Try performing the exercise without resistance and looking in a mirror (to the side).
- If you are too restricted in your upper back and/or shoulders, this may not be a good exercise for you - may cause irritation to the shoulder or neck.
3. Avoid arching low back
AVOID: Arching your low back.
- Holding the weight behind the head can result in leaning backward and arching the low back, this may lead to injury to the low back.
WHAT TO DO:
- If your ribs lower ribs flare upwards or your belly is lifted up - this indicates you are arching your low back.
- To prevent arching - try using less weight/resistance
- Maintain a neutral spine position to prevent low back joint injury, muscle strain, or damage over time.
4. Avoid locking knees
AVOID: Straightening or locking the knees.
- If your knees are locked you may feel pressure or discomfort in the low back or knees.
- Locking the knees puts stress on the knee joint and can make it more difficult to maintain a neutral spine.
- Will decrease the muscle activity of the legs.
WHAT TO DO:
- The knees should be slightly bent.
5. Avoid locking elbows
AVOID: Hyperextending or locking the elbows when the arms are out straight - at the end of the movement.
- This puts too much force through the joint and may result in long-term damage over time.
- Can stretch the ligaments and tendons that support the joint.
WHAT TO DO:
- Keep the elbows slightly bent, even at the end of the movement.
6. Avoid making this your only triceps exercise
AVOID: This being the only triceps exercise that you use in your weekly exercises.
- This exercise can be rough on the shoulders if you use too much weight
WHAT TO DO:
- Works the triceps to a range where the muscle is lengthened over both the elbow and the shoulder joint. In this position, the muscle is weaker so care should be taken not to overload the tissue in this position.
VARIATIONS OF Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extensions
seated overhead triceps extension french press
This exercise is done in a seated position which makes it easy to isolate the focus and movement to the elbow joint. There is less attention and energy needed to stabilize the torso.
Sit on a chair. Sit up tall, neutral spine, equal weight bearing on sitz bones (ischial tuberosities or sitting bones, part of the pelvis where the hamstrings attach). Feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, toes pointed forward.
Optional: Use a chair with a back or inclined bench. Lean back on the back of the chair or an inclined bench to hold the upper body still. This will decrease your need to stabilize the upper body. Monitor your low back and make sure you are not arching your low back as the weight goes overhead.
stability ball overhead triceps extension french press
This decreases stability - you can imagine why! The "cush" of the pad will make your foot, leg muscles, and core, work harder to keep your balance.
SPIFFILICIOUS FACTS ABOUT MUSCLES & MOVES
This movement works all three heads of the triceps in a position that facilitates muscle growth through a large range of elbow movements. The long head of the triceps is lengthened over both the shoulder joint and the elbow joint in the starting position. Exercising the muscle in a lengthened position is thought to facilitate muscle growth. Additionally, the position of this exercise allows lifting the weight as the elbow moves through a large range of motion - from flexed to fully extended. The triceps muscle is strongest when the elbow is bent 90 degrees, in this exercise that is also the position where the torque on the elbow joint is the greatest (longest lever arm - the downward force of gravity on the weight is greatest).
When the shoulder is flexed up over 90 degrees the medial and lateral heads of the triceps are more active than the long head of the triceps. There is a trade-off with the overhead triceps extension. Some research supports putting the muscle on the stretch before activating it to build the muscle - this exercise puts the long head of the triceps on stretch at the end of the movement. But the shoulder flexion is greater than 90 degrees which is a position where the medial and lateral heads are more active.
For exercises that involve fully straightening the elbow under a load - holding a dumbbell overhead like this exercise, or weight-bearing on the arm, it is important to know if you are a person that hyperextends their elbows. Hyperextension occurs when the ligaments that are stabilizing the joints are too loose. Too much movement in the joints can accelerate degenerative changes to the cartilage over time. Checking your movement in the mirror when you fully straighten your elbows - they should not bow back - the upper arm and the forearm should be in line. Your hand should not be behind your elbow joint. Strength training into a hyperextended position, especially under load (heavier resistance) can cause damage to the joints.
ALLLL MUSCLES & WHEN
ALL MUSCLES WORKING & WHEN DURING THE Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension
The core muscles are active to hold the spine in a neutral position throughout the exercise.
In the beginning position, the scapular stabilizers are working isometrically to hold the shoulder blades in place to stabilize the upper arm.
In the beginning position, the long head of the triceps will be lengthened across both the shoulder joint and the elbow joint - this puts this head of the triceps at a mechanical disadvantage; so the medial and the lateral heads will do more of the work as they contract concentrically to extend the elbow joint. The anconeus muscle will also help (although it is a relatively small contribution). As the elbow straightens the long head of the triceps will be able to contribute more.
The forearm and the upper arm muscles will work together to stabilize the elbow joint as it extends.
As the dumbbell is returned to the starting position the triceps and anconeus work eccentrically to control the load.