Welcome back to Bro Basics, a series which covers exercises that are popular and can be useful but are often done inadequately and solely for aesthetics, and shows the exercises’ broader function and how to perform them correctly.
In our first installment in this series, we covered how to do a classic bro exercise: the bicep curl. Today, we’re going to work the other side of your upper arm with another gym rat classic: the tricep extension. For insights on how best to perform this exercise, I talked with my strength coach and head of Barbell Logic Online Coaching, Matt Reynolds.
The Anatomy of the Tricep(s) Muscle
Before we look at how to perform different tricep extension variations, let’s do a quick anatomy lesson:
Like the biceps muscle, which we commonly refer to with the singular bicep, even though it’s technically the biceps muscle, plural, as it has two “heads” or parts, while we typically refer to the tricep of an arm, it’s technically the tricepsmuscle, as it consists of three heads: the lateral head, the medial head, and the long head. Each of these fascicles or bundles of muscle fibers has a specific functional role and can essentially be considered independent muscles. The three heads join together in a single tendon just above the elbow, and are what allow you to extend the elbow joint.
An important note about the triceps’ long head, which starts at the scapula and crosses the shoulder joint: to ensure that you work it and the entirety of the triceps muscle, you’ll want to perform tricep extensions in a way that uses the muscle’s full range of motion. This means that you’ll have a bit of shoulder movement during your tricep extensions and won’t merely be bending your elbow — more on this in a bit.
Why Do Tricep Extensions?
Strengthens a functional movement you do multiple times a day. The triceps muscle is what allows you to extend your arm at your elbow and straighten your arm. Think about all the daily movements you do that require elbow extension — throwing a punch, pushing a stalled car, climbing, shoveling, throwing, pressing heavy objects over your head. Tricep extensions can increase your force and capability in all of these movements by making your triceps stronger.
Contributes directly to the main barbell lifts. Whenever you bench press or shoulder press, your triceps play a significant role in your ability to successfully complete the lift. The triceps really come “online” at the lockout for the bench press and shoulder press. For many lifters, weak triceps cause plateaus in these two lifts. Tricep extensions are the best accessory exercise to strengthen this weak