Tricep extensions (for seniors)

In today’s episode of the exercise library, we’ll talk about tricep extensions. Tricep extensions for seniors are an effective way to build tricep strength. Read on to learn why tricep strength is important for seniors.

While I’ve talked a lot about the importance of compound movements and lower body strength, some isolation movements are more beneficial than others. For example in my opinion bicep curls are not a very useful exercise for seniors.

I don’t think tricep extensions are in any way necessary if you perform pressing compound movements like push-ups and shoulder press.

That said, tricep extensions can be effective for improving tricep strength which can help in performing those compound movements better if you are too weak to start straight with them.

Tricep extensions can also help you improve the elbow joint range of motion and mobility and they can even improve some conditions that cause elbow pain due to increased circulation and mobility.

Let’s start by looking at what exactly is a tricep extension.

What is a tricep extension

Tricep extension is an isolation exercise for the tricep muscles. It involves extending (thus the name) the elbow joint against an external resistance like a dumbbell, a Theraband or a cable machine.

This targets the tricep muscle that is located at the back of your upper arm. It’s a three-headed muscle just like the name suggests. The main function of the triceps is to extend the elbow joint and this is exactly what we are doing with a tricep extension.

The triceps extension can be performed in several different shoulder positions and forearm orientations. In a correctly performed tricep extension, the elbow joint is the only active joint, meaning that the shoulders shoulden’t move in any plane during the movement.

Another common error is to use your abs or bodyweight to help finish a tricep extension when performing them on a cable machine. It’s much more effective and easier to just choose a weight you can do the necessary repetitions without cheating so avoid doing this.

Besides the triceps, the tricep extension will activate the gripping muscles of your forearm and your core muscles quite effectively, especially at heavier weights.

The tricep muscle

The tricep muscle of the upper arm is called the Tricep Brachii officially. Tricep meaning three-headed and Brachii the upper arm.

Like we established a minute ago it’s main function is an extension of the elbow joint but it also several other important mechanisms like working as an antagonist and stabilizer for the biceps, fixation of the elbow joint during fine movements (like writing) and stabilization of the shoulder joint.

The long head (more on the back of the arm) is more responsible for sustained force production and synergistic control of the elbow and shoulder while the lateral head is more reserved for high-intensity force production. The medial head provides more precise low force movements.

The reason why the tricep muscle has this complex design is because of the types of movements our arms and hands have to able to perform.

While in day-to-day life we have to perform countless high precision arm and hand movements to perform things like writing, cooking, operating machines, etc. our arms also have to able to carry, lift and throw heavy objects occationaly.

The tricep muscle is very involved in pushing and throwing movements. When you think about the kinds of things our ancestors had to be able to perform to survive, like throwing spears and rocks with great force and pushing heavy objects to build shelters, it’s no wonder the tricep muscle is the strongest muscle of the upper arm.

The triceps can provide both the fine stabilazation for performing precise movements and the explosive strength for throwing objects.

In the gym, the triceps are involved in any pressing movement, like the bench press or the shoulder press. When you consider that powerlifters can lift several hundred pounds in these movements, you start to grasp how strong the triceps and the elbow joint actually are.

Variations of the tricep extension

The tricep extension can be performed in several different variations. It can be done in a standing or a seated position, above the head or in front of the body, on cable machine you can use different hand orientations, including a straight bar, a rope or a V-bar.

All of these are just variations of the same movement pattern and while they do target the tricep muscle a little differently, for our purposes it doesn’t really matter which one you pick.

For seniors, there really isn’t a need to hit the triceps from every possible direction, intensity range and volume as you are not a natural bodybuilder. The main objective should instead to just get as strong as possible without risking injury or too much stress.

Probably the most common variation of a tricep extension is the tricep pushdown with a cable machine:

If you don’t have access to a cable machine on a gym, you can do overhead dumbbell tricep extensions:

If you have shoulder issues that prevent you from doing overhead tricep extensions, you can do the tricep kickback.

Why tricep strength is important for seniors

Tricep strength is important for seniors for several reasons. Like you already learned the tricep muscles are involved in pretty much everything you do with your hand. From small and precise movements to throwing and pushing heavy objects.

Having a strong and mobile triceps and elbow joint will help you keep your hands stable. Many seniors lose dexterity and precision in their hand with age. Keeping your arms strong will help to prevent this, even though some conditions can be inevitable results of aging.

Tricep strength is also important for performing activities that require throwing or hitting like tennis, yard work, home improvement (hitting nails), etc. So keeping your triceps strong can help you enjoy your favorite activities longer as you age.

Finally, the triceps are important for injury prevention during falling. When you fall, especially slipping backward, you tend to brace for impact instinctively by using your hands.

When your whole body falls on your hand or hands, there are several places that can give out. Typically the wrist, the forearm or the elbow gives out, resulting in a broken bone or torn ligament.

A strong tricep combined with strong bones and shoulders from strength training will greatly improve your chances of avoiding a serious injury.

Since injuries from falls are one of the leading causes of hospitalization for seniors, doing everything you can to make your body stronger and to improve your balance is a good idea.


I hope you found this tricep extension tutorial for seniors useful and found a suitable variation of the movement for yourself. While you should definitely focus on compound movements, tricep extensions can be useful for building strong triceps and helping with injury prevention and pain.

Tricep extension is a great accessory exercise to do in the gym after performing compund pressing movements like the bench press, shoulder press, push-ups or any sort of press machine.

This way you get the benefit of compund movements that improve your functional strength by working your triceps, deltoids and pectorals muscles in tandem and the isolation work for the tricep muscles that helps to further improve their strength.

My recommendation is to add a couple of sets of around 8 to 12 repetitions at the end of your workout after you’ve finished your compound sets.  There’s no need to overcomplicate this, just do a few sets that feel relatively hard.

If you enjoyed this post, please bookmark my site and check out the other exercises in my exercise library. You can also join my e-mail list to receive a free weight training routine for seniors.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

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