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Triceps Extension (barbell) – Expert Tips and Mistakes to Avoid

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What are the benefits of doing barbell triceps extensions while standing or seated? 

The barbell triceps extension is an effective movement for building up the back of your upper arms. The exercise is fantastic because you can do them in different ways: seated or standing. Each variation offers unique benefits, and you should go with the one you find most comfortable. 

The standing barbell extension is excellent for stretching the long head of the triceps, which is also the largest. Developing that portion of the triceps will make the most significant difference in how the muscle looks. Plus, doing extensions while standing is a great way to reinforce core stability and balance (1). 

The seated version is similar in many ways. The primary difference is that stability requirements aren’t as significant, which means the movement requires less core engagement.

How to do Barbell Triceps Extensions(Seated & Standing)

  1. Grab a barbell with an even, overhand grip, and have your hands shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Stand tall, curl the barbell, and position it in front of your chest, similar to how you would for an overhead press.
  3. Sit on a flat gym bench, engage your midsection muscles, and press the barbell above your head. 
  4. With your elbows pointing forward and to your sides, bring your shoulders back and position the barbell directly over your head.
  5. Take a breath and lower the barbell behind your head by bending your elbows. You should feel a stretch in your triceps. 
  6. Hold the bottom position for a moment and extend your elbows to lift the barbell, exhaling on the way up.
  7. Take another breath and repeat.

The only difference with the standing version is that you do the above without sitting on a gym bench. Start with lighter weight because it is more difficult to remain balanced when doing standing triceps extensions. 

What muscles do triceps extensions with a barbell activate?

The primary muscle group engaged during overhead barbell extension is the triceps. The muscle produces elbow extension and is most active in the bottom position of the barbell extension (2). All three triceps heads contribute to the movement, making barbell extensions a balanced exercise for building up our arms and improving our pressing strength.

Our shoulders are also involved in barbell triceps extensions, primarily as stabilizing muscles that keep our arms in position.

Seated extensions are challenging because your torso has no back support, so your midsection must stay engaged. The standing barbell triceps extension is the most demanding because you’re the least supported.

Tips for the Barbell Triceps Extension 

Maintaining good technique on triceps extension is essential for safe and effective training. Using proper form allows you to train your triceps optimally without putting yourself at risk of an injury or ache. 

The most important tip to remember for barbell triceps extension is to use the appropriate load. That way, you can maintain proper form, train through a full range of motion, and reduce your risk of ego lifting. The tip is essential for the standing variation, which requires excellent core stability.

Training through an extended range of motion is also crucial for making each repetition more effective. Lower the barbell until you feel a stretch in your triceps, then lock out your elbows for a strong muscle contraction.

Warming up well before barbell triceps extension is the final tip to keep in mind. A good warm-up improves your performance, helps you form a good mind-muscle connection with your triceps, and prevents joint discomfort (3). Dynamic stretching, light cardio, and some warm-up sets with lightweight are always good for preparing your body.

Variations and Modifications of the Triceps Extension with a Barbell

1. EZ Bar Triceps Extension

man tricep tricep extensions barbell

The EZ bar extension is a variation where you use a smaller and lighter curved bar. Doing so is beneficial for preventing discomfort in your elbows or wrists. Plus, given that EZ bars weigh less, using one is suitable for beginners who cannot yet use a standard barbell.

2. Back-Supported Seated Triceps Extensions

The back-supported seated extension is a variation that teaches you how to do the exercise from an upright position. The good thing is that you can support your torso, which reduces stability requirements. 

3. Incline Bench Barbell Skullcrusher

The incline bench skullcrusher is a variation you do on a gym bench. But instead of lying on a flat surface, you elevate the back support to around 30 degrees. The variation is nothing special but can help you engage your triceps better. Some people also report feeling a more significant stretch on the triceps.

Mistakes to Avoid

The most common mistake with triceps extensions relates to the load people use. Using a barbell predisposes us to load more weight, but we can’t forget that our goal is to isolate our triceps. Because of that, we should use a light enough weight and do at least eight solid repetitions on every set.

Another significant mistake to look out for is allowing your elbows to travel back and forth. For example, your elbows would move back when lowering the weight, then travel forward as you extend them. Doing so isn’t necessarily harmful, but it prevents you from isolating your triceps. Fix the mistake by anchoring your elbows in position, even if that means using less weight.

Arching your lower back is the third error to know and avoid. A low back arch can occur with all three variations, but it’s most common on the standing overhead triceps extension. Avoid arching because that places unnecessary stress on your lower back, increasing your risk of an injury. Instead, engage your abs before each set and maintain a rigid torso.

Similar Exercises to the Barbell Triceps Extension

Triceps Rope Pushdown

The rope pushdown is an effective isolation exercise for the triceps. The movement has a good overloading potential and a considerable range of motion. Plus, using a rope forces you to maintain proper technique and use the right amount of weight.

Triceps Dips

man tricep dips

Dips are a compound exercise that trains a range of muscles and emphasizes our triceps. Unlike chest dips, where you lean your torso forward, the triceps variation forces you to maintain a more upright torso. In doing so, you shift the emphasis to your triceps, causing them to do more of the work.

Triceps Kickback

man triceps kickback dumbbell

The triceps kickback is one of the simplest and most overlooked exercises for inflating the back of the upper arms. Kickbacks are effective because they isolate the triceps and prevent other muscle groups from contributing. Plus, the range of motion is excellent, and you only need a dumbbell.

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