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Exercise 101: Triceps Extension Using Free Weights

Name of Exercise —Free weight triceps extension

Purpose —To develop strength in the back of the upper arms

Muscles Used —Muscles of the back of the upper arms (triceps brachii)

Starting Position:

This exercise can be performed using a barbell or a dumbbell.

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  • While sitting down on a bench, pick up one dumbbell in each hand or grasp the barbell with your hands about 12 to 14 inches apart.
  • Lie down on the bench on your back and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the bench.
  • Start with the dumbbells or barbell positioned over your chest and your arms fully extended.
  • Keep your feet and low back flat on the bench.

Downward Movement:

  • Inhale, then let your elbows flex, enabling the bar to be lowered toward your face.
  • Keep your elbows pointing away from your face during the exercise.
  • Lower the bar until it touches your forehead.

Upward Movement:

  • Exhale, then extend the elbows and push the dumbbells or barbell upward until your arms are fully extended.
  • Remember to keep your feet and back flat on the bench and do not raise your chest.

Trainer Tip:

Remember to initiate the movement with the muscles in the back of your upper arms and not with your hands.

Repetitions, Sets, and Weight:

The number of repetitions (reps) and sets you should do depends on your strength goals.

In general, muscle strength works to increase basic function of the muscle and is the typical goal of workouts. Muscle endurance is important to people who participate in endurance activities, such as running or biking, and muscle power is beneficial for athletes who need to use sudden quick movements, such as sprinting, basketball, and football.

Beginners should start with a basic routine and gradually move toward a strength, endurance, or power routine.

Beginner: 1 set of 12 to 15 reps 

Muscle Strength: 1 to 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps

Muscle Endurance: 1 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

Muscle Power: 1 to 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps

Use a weight that is heavy enough to perform the desired number of reps and sets for your skill level using good form. When you are able to perform more reps and sets than is outlined in your category, try to increase the weight you lift by 5% to 10%. Your strength goals may change as you progress.


Let's Move!—Department of Health and Human Services

President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition


Health Canada

Public Health Agency of Canada


Selecting and effectively using free weights. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: Accessed August 8, 2016.

The basics of starting and progressing a strength-training program. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: Updated January 13, 2012. Accessed August 8, 2016.

Triceps extension. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: Accessed August 8, 2016.

Last reviewed August 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 8/8/2016