The triceps extension works your triceps, the muscles on the back of your upper arm. You can do this single-joint 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.
The triceps extension involves straightening your elbow against resistance. Hold your upper arms still 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, you will reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. Keep your wrists neutral and only move at the elbows.
Barbell Triceps Extension
Using a barbell offers more control 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 Bar, which is a shorter, lighter bar with angled grips.
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 weaker arm during a barbell triceps extension, but the weaker arm has to hold its own if you use two dumbbells.
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.
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.