How to Do the Overhead Triceps Extension for Big Triceps and Stronger Presses

Build bigger arms and bigger presses with the overhead cable tricep extension.

Even if you’re main focus is picking up heavy weight, you shouldn’t let your arm training fall by the wayside. Bigger triceps often result in stronger upper body lifts. The triceps are responsible for aiding the chest and shoulders in all pressing movements. When looking to maximize strength, increase injury resistance, elbow stability, and bigger arms, look no further than the overhead cable triceps extension.

A person performs an overhead triceps extension with a resistance band.
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This triceps isolation exercise gives you the opportunity to add more training volume to the triceps. This helps you address any muscle growth issues or pressing weaknesses (due to weak triceps). By isolating the triceps, you can do so without adding extra stress and fatigue to your bigger muscles and body overall. In other words, train your triceps for bigger arms and bigger lifts. That makes the overhead cable triceps extension a win-win for pretty much any training goal you might have.

How to Do the Overhead Cable Triceps Extension

The overhead cable triceps extension is a triceps isolation exercise that is very similar to the dumbbell and barbell overhead triceps extension. You’re able to move through a longer range of motion when using cables, as the angle of your arms allow you to lower the pulley deeper than compared to most other triceps exercises.

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to perform the overhead cable triceps extension. This particular exercise guide will describe the rope attachment.

Step 1 — Grab the Handle and Face Away from the Stack

Set up the pulley at a low position. Grab the rope and face away from the cable stack. The cable itself should run from the low starting point to the overhead position. Extend your arms overhead. Keep your elbows straight.

A person prepares to perform an overhead triceps cable extension.
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Coach’s Tip: Brace your core and try not to allow your lower back to arch excessively. This will prevent you from tweaking your low back. It’ll also keep the emphasis where it belongs — on your upper body, specifically your triceps.

Step 2 — Reach Your Hands Overhead, then Bend the Elbows

Allow your elbows to bend so that your hands go behind your head. Your elbows should be facing forward and upwards.

A person performs an overhead cable triceps extension.
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Coach’s Tip: Don’t let your elbows flare out. It’ll be healthier for your shoulders and help ensure you’re not compensating for a lack of triceps strength. By keeping your elbows relatively tucked toward your ears, you’ll be getting an even deeper stretch in your triceps — for even better gains.

Step 3 — Get a Full Stretch, then Extend Arms Overhead

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.

A person performs an overhead cable triceps extension in the gym.
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Coach’s Tip: You can change the angle of this movement if you would like. Generally speaking, stick with the cables set to below chest height. This will maximize the stretch to your triceps, which in turn helps build bigger, stronger muscles.

Benefits of the Overhead Cable Triceps Extension

The overhead triceps extension serves a few key purposes in strength and muscle development programs. Below are two main benefits of performing overhead cable triceps extensions.

Build Bigger Arms

The triceps cover most of the arm. So if arm size is your goal, increasing the triceps size is key. One of the most effective ways to pack on triceps size is with overhead triceps isolation movements. These target the long head of the triceps, which can help cover the most ground in terms of mass gain.

Increase Arm Strength

Lest you think bigger arms are only an aesthetic goal, think again. Bigger, stronger triceps help aid in heavy bench pressing and overhead lifts. Because of this, they can help you overcome some pretty serious upper body plateaus.

Increase Elbow Stability and Joint Health

Stability around your elbow joint is key for injury prevention and health. Because most lifting challenges your elbows in some way, it makes sense to increase the muscle strength and control of the muscles that are responsible for extending the elbows. That’s what overhead cable tricep extensions do — all while adding in stability during elbow flexion and extension.

Muscles Worked by the Overhead Cable Triceps Extension

The overhead cable triceps extension is an isolation exercise that targets the triceps muscles. When done properly, it should not target any other muscle groups. That said, some other muscles do contribute as stabilizers.


You train your triceps during most pressing movements. However, unlike with overhead presses and the bench press, the overhead cable triceps extension is an isolation move that directly targets your triceps. This means that your triceps — particularly the long head of your triceps — do most of the work.


As an isolation exercise, the overhead cable triceps extension doesn’t target the shoulders directly. However, the deltoids do play an important role as stabilizers during this overhead movement.


Your core also doesn’t contribute directly to the overhead cable triceps extension — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t help out. Your core helps your torso resist being pulled backwards by the cable. This helps keep your entire body stable during the exercise.

Who Should Do the Overhead Cable Triceps Extension

Overhead cable triceps extensions are a great addition to any program, as they can help build bigger, stronger triceps and improve elbow health when trained properly.

Strength, Power, and Fitness Athletes

The overhead cable triceps extension is a movement that can be beneficial for all lifters of all levels, and can be added into any program. Stronger triceps help aid in upper body pressing movements. So, if you’re aiming to add weight to your upper body lifts, you’ll want this exercise in your program.


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It can also assist in injury resilience and added stability at the elbow joint. Therefore, powerlifters, strength athletes, and weightlifters can all benefit from this exercise in their training.

Regular Gymgoers

The cable overhead triceps extension is an isolation exercise that targets the triceps. Like the triceps pushdown, this exercise can help increase muscle growth of the triceps. Regular gymgoers who don’t train frequently may want to prioritize compound exercises to get the most bang for their buck. However, adding in isolation exercises like this one can round out a good program — especially if packing on size is a major goal.

Overhead Cable Triceps Extension Sets and Reps

If you are looking to build a bigger triceps and stronger lockouts in pressing, the overhead cable triceps extension can be a great accessory to add to your workout routine. This exercise is not programmed as a main strength lift, but rather as an accessory exercise.

Your elbows and triceps are often subjected to heavy loads in most pressing movements, you can typically train them with moderate to light loads to stimulate muscle growth.

To Build Muscle Mass

Building bigger triceps is one of the main reasons to train the overhead cable triceps extension. When done to failure, with moderate to light loads, this triceps isolation exercise can be a powerful source of muscle growth.

Start by programming three to five sets of 10 to 15 repetitions with moderate to heavy loads OR two to four sets of 15 to 25 repetitions with moderate loads to near failure. Keep rest periods between 45 and 90 seconds. 

You can build muscle with both higher and moderate rep ranges. The key thing is to train to near failure or failure, especially if the weights are lighter.

To Increase Strength

The overhead cable triceps extension is not a movement you typically train for top end strength, like the bench press or overhead press. Ideally, you want to build general muscle growth and strength in the five to 10 rep range. You can use this exercise to support your main strength movements like bench press, overhead press, and other compound upper body pressing movements.

Start by programming three to five sets of five to 10 repetitions with heavy loading, resting as needed. Note, that some people may experience elbow discomfort when training too heavy on this exercise. If this is the case, try training this exercise for more muscle growth, and using the main strength lifts (bench press, overhead press, and other multi-joint pressing movements) to build strength.

Overhead Cable Triceps Extension Variations

The overhead cable triceps extension is a very isolated triceps exercise. Because it is so isolated in nature, it is often only done with slight variations. The most common variations come from changing the attachment, using one arm instead of two, and altering the angle.

Straight Bar Overhead Cable Triceps Extension

This variation has the lifter use a straight bar, rather than the rope. This is a slight variation that can help to train the triceps and wrists slightly differently.

This can help alleviate any discomfort or overuse if all you do is train the rope. As with most variations, use the one that is the most comfortable on your joints.

One-Arm Cable Overhead Triceps Extension

This is a unilateral variation of the cable overhead triceps extension. It can be useful as a means to address muscular size, strength, and activation in one triceps over the other.

Using both hands for the exercise can lead to slight muscular and strength imbalances. Use the one-arm overhead triceps extension to address such issues.

Overhead Cable Triceps Extension Alternatives

You may not have access to a cable stack. Or you may just be looking for an alternative to do with dumbbells, bands, or bars, look no further than the three alternatives below. Each can be done in similar rep ranges and trained to failure to increase triceps muscle growth and strength.

Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension

The dumbbell overhead triceps extension is a direct alternative to the cable overhead triceps extension. Here, you’ll use a large dumbbell in both hands. You can also use two dumbbells, one in each hand.

Perform this the same way as with the cables, using a full range of motion. Always focus on moving the loads with your triceps.

Skull Crusher Pullover

The skull crusher pullover is done like a skull crusher. However, at the bottom of the movement, allow your elbows to reach back as if you were doing a pullover with bent arms. This will increase the stretch and lengthen the long head of the triceps, like it would during a triceps extension.

This exercise stretches and demands on your triceps, without you having to be upright. Because of this, you can help decrease stress on your back and keep you from using momentum.

Resistance Band Overhead Triceps Extension

Resistance bands help you train muscles to failure and get a good muscle contraction. You can set them up just like the cables. However, you’ll use resistance bands as resistance to give you a stretch, rather than adding weights. You can even attach the same rope as you do with cables, as long as you have carabiners.

This is a great exercise to do at home if you do not have cables. If you’re looking for an alternative that may decrease potential elbow stress, this move can also provide less loading at the deepest ranges of motion.

Final Word

The overhead cable triceps extension is a great isolation exercise to increase triceps muscle growth, elbow stability and strength, and improve pressing performance for most strength sports. Be sure to focus on a good muscular stretch and contraction, rather than lifting heavy. Adding overhead cable triceps extensions to any program can help build bigger arms, stronger triceps, and better lifts.


Why should I train the overhead cable triceps extension?

Training the overhead cable triceps extension can help increase arm size, improve triceps strength and pressing performance, and help decrease elbow injury from instability or weaknesses in pressing.

What should you do if overhead cable triceps extensions hurt your elbows?

Some lifters may find that this exercise, and maybe some other triceps exercises, are uncomfortable on the elbows. If you have elbow pain or discomfort, you can swap this out for lighter variations or try the resistance band variation. These can help you figure out if the loading demands were too much for the muscles or connective tissues.

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