"The overhead triceps extension may just be the secret to great-looking arms"
What Is An Overhead Tricep Extension?
Overhead tricep extensions are press-related isolating exercises that work your triceps, while also providing a workout for your shoulders, lats, chest and forearms.
Your triceps make up two-thirds of your arm size, so while you’re trying to build your arm width with bicep curls you are, frankly, barking up the wrong tree. Your triceps get a quality workout with the average popular press, such as benching and shoulder presses, along with press ups, but adding an isolating exercise tailored for your triceps is the difference between pronounced upper arms and leaving things to chance.
Overhead Tricep Extension Varieties
Variety is one of the main benefits of the tricep extension exercise. You can do this exercise with your arm in a variety of positions using almost any type of resistance.
Cable/Rope Overhead Tricep Extension
For your starting position, we’ll look at the cable version of the exercise and address the ‘how to’ of some other variations shortly. Use the rope attachment on the bottom or low setting of the pulley machine.
You will perform the exercise facing away from the machine, so if you’re going for a heavier lift it’s advisable to get someone to pass you the rope. Otherwise, grip the rope in each hand and pivot to face away. This exercise is not for your legs, but an element of balance is required along with a core workout to keep you stable. Depending on the weight you may wish to place one foot forwards as in a boxing stance to keep you level, but for lighter weights and higher reps keep your feet in line and shoulder width apart.
Extend your arms so that your hands reach out ahead and above you. Keep your elbows tucked by your head. Your knuckles will aim at the ceiling at the top of the lift.
From here, slowly lower the rope in its natural direction towards the base of the cable while keeping your upper arms stationary as in a skull crusher.
As with other tricep building exercises you have the option of heavy lifts and higher reps. This exercise places strain on your elbows and involves tension of your shoulders, so it is wise to perform them according to your exhaustion levels as these are best performed when your joints haven’t been overworked.
For a mega pump to your triceps, go for higher reps in the region of 10-30 of 40-60 percent of your maximum lift. You could combine these as drop sets or supersets, starting with a higher weight and lower it without a rest in between. For supersets, go from a heavyweight at 3 – 6 reps of around 80 percent of your max lift and quickly switch to the aforementioned high rep low weight variety for three sets.
All movements should be slow and purposeful as you extend and lower your arms. This will ensure you hit all the muscle fibres that you can and will also keep your technique even and symmetrical.
For optimal results, you may wish to perform them at the beginning and end of a shoulder or chest workout session to really cook your triceps.
Focus on your breathing. Take in a slow breath as you lower the cable behind your head and breathe out as you extend your arms.
Dumbell Overhead Tricep Extension
Dumbbell overhead tricep extensions are similar to the cable variety with the use of dumbbells, which is a game changer. The cables and stationary pulley provide an element of stability that you need to work for with the standing dumbbell overhead extension. From there the principles are the same in keeping your upper arms stationary and feeling the lift in your triceps as opposed to your elbows or lats.
As you will not be able to go as heavy as you can for cable extensions, focus on reps. Choose a weight of around 40 percent of your max and hit 15 reps. Better yet, if you haven’t tried 100 rep sets before, pick dumbbells that are 30 percent of your max lift and work on 100 reps. When your muscles fail, rest for the number of seconds that you have repped (50-second rest after 50 rep pause).
Keep your feet in line at shoulder width apart and engage your core to keep yourself balanced. Aim for a lighter weight so that your energy is spent on your extensions as opposed to keeping your upper arms up. Common errors include flapping arms, which detract from targeting the intended muscles, so keep your arms tight to your head.
Supported Overhead Tricep Extensions
Perform either of the above versions of the exercises while seated on a bench that has back support. Plant your feet flat on the ground to use your legs for balance. From here the form is the same with less strain on your core.
You should be able to muster greater reps and weights for these, so compare what you can achieve in the standing version and add on the extra reps, but especially add a couple of kilos, at least, which should be more manageable from the seated position.
These are best utilised when you have exhausted your energy reserves, with the bench providing your back with some support to keep your technique on point if your legs are tired and you can’t manage quality reps from the standing position. Save these for the end of your workout.
Another variation is the lying down version of the tricep extension, which goes by the name ‘skull crushers’.
Take Home Message
So why would you perform these exercises when the likes of standard tricep pulley extensions and close arm presses exist? The reason for that is the treatment your long head triceps will receive, which are not usually the focus of other presses. Adding overhead extensions into the mix will ensure the whole back of your arm is covered, especially the area above the back of your elbow.
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