Triceps Extension: Barbell Vs. Dumbbell

Man doing Dumbbell overhead triceps extension exercise. Flat vector illustration isolated on white background

If you are looking to increase your bench press max or build tricep muscles, the overhead tricep extension is one of the best bodybuilding tricep exercises around. The triceps extension works your triceps, the muscle group on the back of your upper arm. You can do this isolation exercise in a seated, lying or standing position and using a barbell or dumbbells. Dumbbells allow you to work each arm independently and offer more grip options, but they are harder to control than a barbell.

What are the benefits of the tricep extension?

Muscular arm

Obviously this popular strength training exercise helps the triceps brachii, just like bicep curls help the biceps.. But specifically they focus on the lateral head which is considered the strongest tricep head. You will also see growth in the medial head and long head of the tricep as well. Lifters will only see growth in the tricep though as it is an isolation exercise and not a compound exercise like deadlift. However it will also help to strengthen the shoulder joint and elbow joint. Other triceps exercises that can be done to build muscle in the triceps is the triceps kickback or triceps pushdown.

What is proper form for the triceps extension?

The triceps extension involves straightening your elbow against resistance. STart with your arms at a 90 degree angle and extend your elbows while holding a dumbbell or barbell in your hands. Whether you are in a standing, seated or lying position, your upper arms remain perpendicular to the floor throughout the movement. If you allow your elbows to move forward during the elbow extension, you will reduce the hypertrophy and muscle activation. Keep your wrists neutral and only move at the elbows.

In a lying tricep extension, or skull crusher, your starting position will be on a flat bench with the weight over your upper body/head area. In a standing tricep extension, the position will be similar to an overhead press, with the weight going behind your head instead of in front.

Barbell Triceps Extension


Using a barbell offers more control and range of motion than using two dumbbells. It is easier to control one weighted bar with two hands than it is to control two weighted bars. However, barbells are longer, heavier and more unwieldy than dumbbells. An Olympic barbell is 7 feet long and weighs 45 lbs. without any extra weight plates. This may be too much weight for the triceps extension exercise. However, you also can use an EZ curl Bar, which is a shorter, lighter bar with angled grips. Remember to keep your arms shoulder-width apart throughout the repetitions.

Dumbbell Triceps Extension


Use one dumbbell and work both arms together, or use two dumbbells and work each arm independently. If one arm is stronger than the other, the stronger arm will compensate for the arm imbalances during a barbell triceps extension, but the weaker arm has to hold its own if you use two dumbbells. This makes single-arm extensions a good option.

Dumbbells offer more grip and weight options. They are available in lighter weights, as little as 5 lbs. You can use an overhand grip, a neutral grip -- palms facing each other -- or a combination of these two grips. Kettlebells and resistance bands can be used in a similar manner.


Whether you use dumbbells or a barbell for the triceps extension exercise, have a spotter, if possible. During this exercise, you lower the weight directly over your head. If you lose control, you could injure yourself. If you don't have a spotter, you can self-spot if you use a dumbbell. Perform the extension exercise with a dumbbell in one hand and spot yourself with the other hand. Consult a personal trainer before starting a muscle growth exercise routine or before taking supplements.