Lying Triceps Extension (Form, Muscles Worked, & Alternatives)

January 16, 2023

The lying triceps extension is one of the granddaddies of triceps development. I credit this exercise and a few others for my triceps growth because it’s one of the few that gives you a deep-loaded stretch.

Further, it can be loaded relatively heavily compared to other exercises making it a true triceps builder. But how do you do the lying triceps extension to maximize muscle growth?

How To Do The Lying Triceps Extension With EZ Bar

The traditional lying triceps extension is a skull crusher. But there’s a superior way of performing these to explode your triceps growth. And that’s adding extra range of motion. You could call this a lying triceps extension or, to some extent, a PJR pullover. Here’s how to do it:

  • Lying on a bench, hold the EZ bar with straight arms slightly behind your head. The closer grip feels much better on the shoulders vs. a wide grip.
  • Slowly lower the EZ bar to the top of your forehead by bending the elbows. Then let the load lower behind your head so your elbows point to the ceiling.
  • Reverse the movement by slightly pulling your elbows forward and extending them simultaneously.

Lying Triceps Extension Muscles Worked

The lying triceps extension works the triceps, as evident by the exercise name. Which heads of the triceps? Mainly the medial and lateral head.

Anatomy Triceps

However, when adding the extra range of motion, we also involve the triceps long head. Why? The long head of the triceps is a biarticular muscle meaning it crosses the shoulder and elbow joints. It assists with elbow and shoulder extension.

Therefore, by flexing the elbows and shoulders simultaneously, we get an immense long head triceps stretch under load, increasing its involvement even though the long head is maximally activated with the arms directly at your side, like when doing a triceps pushdown [1].

Lying Triceps Extension vs. Skull Crusher

Lying Triceps Extension Alternatives

The range of motion is the main difference between this lying triceps extension and the skull crusher. While these terms are used interchangeably, I refer to this variation as the lying triceps extension.

But why add the extra range of motion? As mentioned in the previous section, we can supercharge triceps growth by getting the large triceps stretch.

A recent study had subjects perform 5 x 10 of either overhead triceps extensions or triceps pushdowns for 12 weeks [2]. They found the overhead triceps extension condition led to a 1.5 more significant difference in long head triceps muscle growth than the triceps extension (28.5% vs. 19.6%, respectively).

By adding the extra range of motion to the lying triceps extension, we get better long head triceps muscle growth while targeting the lateral and medial head. It’s a win-win!

Further, skull crushers can aggravate the elbows, especially when done heavy or for long periods. The extra range of motion variation is much easier on the elbows as you don’t need to put the brakes on to stop the bar from hitting your head.

So, if getting big triceps is on your mind, this is one of the exercises you should do. I credit this exercise (among a few others) for blowing up my triceps.

Lying Triceps Extension Alternatives

Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension

Dumbbells make an excellent alternative to the EZ bar lying triceps extension. It allows your arms to rotate naturally, reducing any wrist, elbow, or shoulder pain you may experience on a fixed bar. I find lowering the dumbbells in a neutral wrist position and then supinating the wrists during the lifting portion feels best on the triceps.

You can get a better squeeze at the top when your palms face upward, especially on the lateral and long head.

Barbell Lying Triceps Extension

Using the barbell is another alternative if you don’t have an EZ bar. However, I don’t typically recommend it as it can be brutal on the wrists, elbows, and shoulders if you struggle with mobility. You will need to play around with grip width.

While I suggest using the narrow grip on the EZ bar, a wider grip on the barbell feels better.

Kettlebell Lying Triceps Extension

Kettlebell lying triceps extensions are great as the weight hangs below your hands. You’ll find it better keeps the tension on your triceps when performing the exercise. Further, it’s a good alternative if you suffer from wrist, elbow, or shoulder pain since it’s not a fixed bar.

Skull Crusher

Of course, we have the skull crusher as an alternative to the lying triceps extension with extra range of motion. Instead of going behind your head, you lower the bar to your forehead and then extend your elbows to the starting position.

Your shoulders won’t move, so everything is concentrated around the elbow. Personally, I’m not a fan of skull crushers, as the elbows can take a beating. There are many more elbow-friendly triceps exercises you can use instead.


Don’t sleep on the lying triceps extension. Add this to your arm training routine next time you’re in the gym. I promise you’ll feel it the next day if you’re not used to the triceps stretch under load.


1. Kholinne, E., Zulkarnain, R. F., Sun, Y. C., Lim, S., Chun, J. M., & Jeon, I. H. (2018). The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta orthopaedica et traumatologica turcica52(3), 201-205.

2. Maeo, S., Wu, Y., Huang, M., Sakurai, H., Kusagawa, Y., Sugiyama, T., … & Isaka, T. (2022). Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position. European Journal of Sport Science, 1-11.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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