Pain-Free Exercise For Tris

If you have trouble with developing your triceps, especially the long-head, you’re not alone. Many people develop elbow issues because of cumulative overload on the joint from heavy usage.  Stretch position exercises, such as overhead extensions, can cause irritation and inflammation.

This could be one of the main reasons that many people start to lose a lot of triceps mass as they age.  They simply can’t perform overhead-extension movements due to the associated pain with that movement, particularly when trying to do them as the first exercise in a triceps routine.

A good POF-based alternative would be cable pushouts.  These are performed with a cable attachment set to the high position, and usually with a rope attachment, but a V-bar or other attachments are fine.  You position yourself so that you’re facing away from the weight stack, lean forward at about 40-degrees and keep your elbows tight close to the side of your head.  Then perform your extensions.

Since the weight pulls from an upward angle instead of straight back, the elbow joint sees a bit less stress, yet the long head will still get plenty of work.  As an added bonus, there’s resistance when your arms are close to the locked-out position, so the outer-triceps head gets worked as well.

If that exercise still causes pain, you might be better off getting rid of all direct stretch-position triceps exercises; at least until your elbow fully heal.  There’s still hope for the long-head development, though… Pullovers!

MRI studies show that the long head is used heavily when pulling the arms from an overhead position downward (or forward as is the case with the pullover). Keep a slight bend in the elbows, and be sure the weight doesn’t move down beyond your torso. Control your tempo, too, so that you don’t injure your shoulder joint.

I’ll often end my triceps routine with dumbbell pullovers, even after doing full-range  POF.  Because I currently do arm work the day after back, I do either dumbbell pullovers or stiff-arm pushdowns for lats, which gives a significant jolt to the triceps that it ensures a good amount of indirect work on non-arm day.

As mentioned above, if you aren’t a fan of the DB pullovers, you can substitute them with stiff-arm pushdowns, but still make sure to use a weight you can control.  A pullover machine can work well, too, but it takes a bit more focus to ensure that you’re getting a fair amount of triceps involvement.

About the Author

Jonathan Lawson has been working in the health and fitness industry for over 20 years; weight training for 21 years, competed in numerous bodybuilding competitions, worked for IRON MAN Magazine for 17 years, co-owns where he has co-published over 15 e-books and writes a daily training blog.  He has appeared on the covers of, and been featured in, dozens of international magazines, books and e-books.