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Daniel Mesa

Barbell Tricep Extension: How To & Benefits

barbell tricep extension

The heavy tricep extension is one of the best strength training exercises for building strong triceps with good definition. This exercise, which is also called “skull crushers,” works the triceps muscles well, giving your upper arms a more sculpted look and making your arms stronger. In this guide, we’ll get into the details of how to do the barbell tricep extension properly. We’ll give you helpful tips to improve your form, point out common mistakes to avoid, talk about the muscles that are worked during the exercise, and list the many benefits it brings.

How To Do Barbell Tricep Extension


Lie down on a bench or the floor, holding a barbell with a grip slightly narrower than shoulder-width. Extend your arms fully, and ensure your wrists are aligned with your forearms.


Begin by bending your elbows and lowering the barbell towards your forehead in a controlled manner. Keep your upper arms stationary and your elbows pointed towards the ceiling. Lower the bar until it is just above your forehead and your triceps are fully stretched.


Push the barbell back up by extending your elbows and returning to the starting position. Remember to keep your upper arms stationary throughout the movement.

Our Tips For Barbell Tricep Extension

Tip 1: Maintain Control and Avoid Jerking

The barbell tricep extension requires a deliberate and regulated pace. Not only does performing the exercise with jerky motions compromise your form, but it also places an unnecessary burden on your joints and muscles. 

Focusing on a controlled tempo maximises tension on your triceps throughout the entire range of motion, which is essential for muscle growth and strength development. Control also reduces the risk of injury and guarantees that your triceps, not momentum, do the majority of the work.

Tip 2: Choose the Right Weight

The weight you choose for the barbell tricep extension should give you a tough workout without letting you get out of shape. Choosing a weight that is too heavy could affect your form, making the exercise less effective and increasing your risk of getting hurt. 

On the other hand, if you use too small of a weight, you won’t get enough resistance to help your muscles grow. You need to find the “sweet spot” where you can do each repetition with good form and a little bit of trouble to get the best results.

Tip 3: Use a Spotter

Adding a spotter to your barbell tricep extension exercise can be very helpful, especially when you’re lifting heavier weights. Spotters make sure you’re safe by holding the weight for you if you’re having trouble with a rep or when your muscles give out. With this safety net, you can push without worrying about getting stuck under a big load. 

A helper can also boost your confidence, making you more likely to try lifting heavier weights. This can help you get stronger and build more muscle in your triceps.

Common Barbell Tricep Extension Mistakes To Avoid

Mistake 1: Flaring Elbows

Letting your elbows flare out throughout the movement might put unnecessary strain on your shoulder joints and take the focus off your triceps. You can prevent this by consciously maintaining your elbows pointed upward during the entire workout. By making this modification, you may strengthen your triceps without putting undue stress on your shoulders.

Mistake 2: Using Excessive Weight

The temptation to use excessively heavy weights when lifting is understandable, but doing so can lead to poor form and even injury. Instead, you should focus on using a weight that helps you to keep good form. By taking this route, you can rest assured that your triceps are getting the work they need to grow without being overworked.

Mistake 3: Arching Your Back

During a barbell tricep extension, keeping your spine in a neutral position is important. The workout’s effectiveness is reduced because the weight is no longer supported by the triceps when the back is arched too far. Maintaining a flat back against the bench or floor will help you exercise more safely and effectively.

What Muscles Do Barbell Tricep Extension Work? 

Triceps Brachii (Triceps)

The triceps brachii, or just triceps, is a three-headed muscle on the back of your upper arm. It is the main part of the barbell tricep extension. It’s what makes the elbow joint move outward. This practice works the triceps well and keeps them active, which helps build muscle and strength.

Anconeus Muscle

The heavy tricep extension works not only the triceps but also the anconeus muscle. This smaller muscle is next to the triceps and helps to bend the elbow. Even though the anconeus is less noticeable than the triceps, it helps keep the movement stable and in control during the activity.

Lateral Head of Triceps

During the dumbbell tricep extension, the lateral head of the triceps, also called the lateral head of the triceps, is especially worked. This part of the muscle is on the outer side of the upper arm, and it helps the triceps grow in a balanced way.

Medial Head of Triceps

The middle part of the triceps muscle group is the medial head, also called the medial head of the triceps. During this exercise, it works a little less than the lateral head, but it still works enough to make sure that the muscle works and grows in a healthy way.

Long Head of Triceps

The long head is the biggest and most inner head of the triceps. It is the last of the three heads that make up the triceps. It runs along the back of the arm, and the heavy tricep extension works it hard. Targeting the long head helps make the muscles look balanced and good-looking as a whole.

Barbell Tricep Extension Benefits

Benefit 1: Muscle Hypertrophy

The barbell tricep extension stands out as a foundational exercise for those wanting to increase triceps muscle growth significantly. This exercise stimulates muscle repair and growth by causing tiny tears, or microtears, in the muscle fibers when performed on the triceps. 

Consistent training followed by sufficient rest allows these regenerated muscle fibers to increase in size and strength, ultimately leading to more defined and sculpted arms. This hypertrophy not only makes the arms seem better but also helps make the upper body stronger and more balanced. 

The barbell tricep extension is an essential tool for people wanting well-developed and defined triceps, especially when combined with progressive overload, which involves gradually increasing the weight and intensity of the exercise to drive muscular growth further.

Benefit 2: Increased Upper Body Strength

Triceps strength is directly proportional to upper body strength; thus, doing barbell tricep extensions is a great way to build muscle in that area. Pushing exercises rely heavily on the triceps, including the bench press, the shoulder press, and the dip. These complex workouts rely on the strength and power these muscles provide to overcome opposition. As a result, you’ll be able to execute these motions more easily and precisely. 

People can enhance their strength and performance across a variety of upper-body workouts if they focus on building up their triceps. Having more upper body strength is beneficial for several reasons, including enhanced athletic performance and the ability to push or lift heavier objects in everyday life.

Benefit 3: Joint Stability

In addition to the obvious strength and muscular increases, barbell tricep extensions also contribute significantly to joint stability, especially around the elbow. Maintaining correct form throughout the exercise’s range of motion calls for controlled movement. The stabilizing muscles and tendons near the elbow are actively worked, which improves the joint’s overall strength and durability. 

Injury from hyperextension or strain during exercise or daily life is less likely to occur as a result of this improved stability. The barbell tricep extension is an excellent exercise for encouraging joint stability, which not only aids in injury prevention but also provides a firm basis for upper-body strength training.

Alternatives To Barbell Tricep Extension

Exercise Option 1: Dumbbell Tricep Extensions

Tricep extensions with dumbbells are a versatile option for those with a barbell. With dumbbells, you can move each arm separately, which can help fix muscle weaknesses in your triceps. The range of motion can be slightly different, allowing for a deeper stretch at the bottom of the movement. This can improve muscle engagement and flexibility. This exercise makes your core and surrounding muscles work harder to keep you stable, making a more complete workout.

Exercise Option 2: Tricep Pushdowns

When done on a cable machine, tricep pushdowns target the triceps while involving as few other muscles as possible. This isolating exercise works on extending the elbow joint, which keeps the muscle tight the whole time. Because the cable machine’s resistance can be changed, you can make the load fit your fitness level. This makes it a good option or addition to barbell tricep extensions. People who want to isolate and develop their triceps should do a lot of tricep pushdowns.

Exercise Option 3: Close-Grip Bench Press

Even though the close-grip bench press is most often used to work the chest, it also greatly works the triceps. When you move your hands closer together on the dumbbell, the focus moves from the chest to the triceps. This multi-joint exercise not only helps build strength in the upper body but also adds to the benefits of barbell tricep extensions. You can add the close-grip bench press to your program to work on multiple muscle groups at once, making your workouts more effective.

Bottom Line On The Barbell Tricep Extension

The barbell tricep extension is a fundamental exercise for anyone who wants to improve the aesthetics and strength of their arms. You can effectively target the triceps muscles, achieve significant muscle growth, and enjoy the benefits of increased upper body strength and joint stability with proper technique, consistent training, and attention to form.


Can I perform barbell tricep extensions while standing?

While the exercise is typically performed lying down, standing barbell tricep extensions can also be effective. Standing variations engage the core and stabilizing muscles to a greater extent.

How often should I include barbell tricep extensions in my routine?

Including this exercise 1-2 times a week, along with a variety of other tricep and upper body exercises, can contribute to balanced muscle development.

Is it normal to feel elbow discomfort during this exercise?

Some individuals might experience minor discomfort, especially if their form is not ideal. Consider adjusting your form or consulting a fitness professional if the discomfort persists or worsens.

Can beginners perform barbell tricep extensions safely?

Beginners can perform barbell tricep extensions, but starting with a lightweight is recommended to focus on proper form and prevent strain or injury. It’s advisable to seek guidance from a fitness professional when incorporating this exercise into your routine for the first time.

Can I substitute the barbell with an EZ-bar for tricep extensions?

Yes, using an EZ-bar instead of a straight barbell is a common exercise variation. The unique shape of the EZ-bar can be gentler on the wrists and provide a slightly different angle of motion. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals who experience discomfort in their wrists or want to target their triceps from a different angle.


  1. Maeo, S., Wu, Y., Huang, M., Sakurai, H., Kusagawa, Y., Sugiyama, T., Kanehisa, H., & Isaka, T. (2023). Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position. European journal of sport science, 23(7), 1240–1250.
  1. Sumiaki, M., (2023) Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position, European Journal of Sport Science, 23:7, 1240-1250, DOI: 10.1080/17461391.2022.2100279