How to Do the Dumbbell Triceps Extension

The triceps extension can be performed with dumbbells in ways.

In this version of the dumbbell triceps extension, you start by holding a dumbbell in two hands with arms extended above the head. You lower the weight behind the head then return it to the starting position. The triceps extension develops the triceps muscles at back of the upper arms.

Find out more about weight training terminology and exercise description if you need background information before you try this exercise. Print a formatted copy of this exercise. See more dumbbell exercises.

The Starting Position

Dumbbell triceps extension
(c) Paul Rogers
    1. Select a dumbbell of a weight that can be held above the head with two hands. If you're new to this exercise, start with a light weight to learn the form and technique.
    2. Sit on a bench or chair with your back straight and feet planted flat on the floor at a comfortable width apart.

      The exercise can also be done standing. Place your feet should width apart.
    3. Grasp the dumbbell around the shaft ensuring a firm grip. You may also place the dumbbell so that the weight firmly rests on the palms of upward facing hands, with thumbs wrapped around it. Raise the dumbbell above the head. Brace the abdominal muscles.
    4. Plan to do 10 to 12 repetitions for one to three sets of the exercise to start. Increase the weight and number of sets to suit your program.

    The Exercise Movement

    Dumbbell triceps extension
    (c) Paul Rogers
      1. Lower the dumbbell in a slow and controlled motion behind the head until the elbows are flexed to full range of motion. Don't impact the bones of the cervical spine at back of the neck.
      2. Return the weight to the starting position with arms extended above the head. 
      3. Repeat the exercise for the number of repetitions and sets prescribed in your program.

      Points to Note

      Man Doing Triceps Exercising
      Man Doing Triceps Exercising. Getty/E+/pixelfusion3d
      • Single-arm versions of the exercise are optional. You would normally choose a lighter weight for the single-arm exercise. You can use each arm by holding a light dumbbell in each hand above the head and alternating the movement behind the head as you would for the two-handed exercise.
      • Another variation is to use only one dumbbell until the set is complete and then swap the weight to the other hand and repeat. 
      • This exercise can also be performed with the low pulley cable and a rope attachment utilizing the same motion against the resistance.
      • In all versions, keep the back straight, brace the abdominals and don't contact the vertebrae behind the neck as the weight is lowered.

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