In addition to helping you move weight on the bench press and military press, your triceps account for about two-thirds of the mass in your upper arm. And if you want to start pushing the limits of your shirt sleeves, triceps training is essential.
If size is the prize you’re eying, a new study published in the European Journal of Sport Science on July 12, 2022 (1), suggests that you might want to opt for overhead triceps extensions over cable pushdowns to maximize your growth.
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Overhead Triceps Extensions vs. Pushdowns for Muscle Growth
The study was conducted by researchers from Ritsumeikan University and the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Japan. It included 21 participants — 14 men and seven women around 23 years old — who performed overhead extensions and triceps pushdowns on separate arms using a cable machine. Participants performed each exercise for five sets of 10 reps after a short warm-up, and they took part in these workouts twice a week on non-consecutive days for 12 weeks. Every week, the weight increased for each exercise.
To properly compare the results, the participants had their one-rep maxes tested for each exercise and their arm mass measured using an MRI at the beginning and end of the study. Once the 12 weeks were up, researchers found that the participants grew stronger on each exercise but that there was around a 1.4-fold (or 40%) increase in triceps growth in the arms that performed the overhead extension compared to the pushdowns. This happened even though the overhead extensions usually involved lighter weight.
What the Study Says
According to the researchers, one possible reason for the increased muscle mass is that the long head of the triceps (the triceps brachii) is lengthened more during the overhead extension. This means that the participants saw more tension from the extensions despite using lighter weight during the exercise.
A longer range of motion isn’t the only possible explanation for the increase in mass. The researchers wrote that the decrease in blood flow to the triceps during the overhead extension could have “increased the metabolic stress within the muscle and promoted hypertrophy.”
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In short, it’s not entirely clear why there was more growth.
It’s important to note that this small study found that overhead extensions helped promote muscle growth compared to pushdowns, not that overhead extensions were the better exercise for your triceps overall. And there’s no evidence suggesting that overhead extensions and triceps pushdowns can’t be a part of your routine. (Remember that both movements increased strength equally in the participants.)
How to Do the Overhead Triceps Extension
To make sure you’re performing the overhead triceps extension correctly, follow these instructions:
- Step one: Attach a rope attachment to the low position of a cable pulley machine.
- Step two: Select a comfortable weight, grab the rope, and turn your body to face away from the machine. Take a couple of steps forward, so the cable is taut.
- Step three: Your elbows should now be bent, and your hands should be behind your head. Your elbows should also be facing forward and upwards.
- Step four: Let your hands lower with control. Once you feel a stretch in your triceps, fully extend your elbows by reaching the hands upwards and overhead. Then slowly lower your hands behind your head again and repeat. Keep your elbows in the same position throughout the entirety of the movement.
Check out our complete guide on how to do overhead triceps extensions.
More Triceps Training Content
For more information on working out your triceps, check out these other articles from BarBend:
- Maeo, Sumiaki & Wu, Yuhang & Huang, Meng & Sakurai, Hikaru & Kusagawa, Yuki & Sugiyama, Takashi & Kanehisa, Hiroaki & Isaka, Tadao. (2022). Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position. European Journal of Sport Science. 1-26. 10.1080/17461391.2022.2100279.
Featured image: Diablo Gato / Shutterstock