Using Science, Jeff Nippard Ranks the Best and Worst Triceps Exercises

As part of his best and worst exercises YouTube series, fitness professional Jeff Nippard compiled a list of 20 common triceps exercises and ranked them from S-tier, for Super, to F-tier, or fail. 

For an exercise to avoid the pits of F-tier, Nippard says it should fulfill the three following criteria:

High tension on the muscle in the stretched position

Feels good and not painful

Simple and easy progression

The science graduate also considered how effectively each exercise works the three triceps muscles – long or rear head, medial or middle head, and lateral or outer head. 

Check out Nippard’s color-colored triceps exercise tier rating system in the video below:

Note: Nippard discussed the exercises in the following random order and not by their tier list rankings. 

Cable Triceps Pressdown 

Nippard started the list with the most popular triceps exercise and compared three common variations: straight bar overhand, underhand, and rope cable pressdowns

Nippard performed one set, each using the same weight and technique. He was strongest on the bar with an overhand grip at 16 reps; the rope was close behind at 12 reps, and underhand produced only 10 reps. 

Nippard explained that bars lock a more stable lift and involve the triceps more. Ropes involve too much forearm stabilization, and reduced triceps focus. If you like rope pressdowns, prioritize form over weight.

Nippard put the overhand bar press down in A-tier, rope in B-tier, and underhand press downs in C-tier. If not for underwhelming long-head activity, bar press downs would be S-tier. 

Overhead Cable Triceps Extension

Overhead extensions pick up where pressdowns fall short in their range of motion. The rear-facing long head is the only triceps muscle that attaches at the elbow and shoulder, so you must get the arms overhead to fully stretch and activate them [in a stretched position]. 

Nippard mentioned a 2023 study where overhead extensions caused 40 percent more triceps growth than pressdowns (1). “Getting that long head into a more lengthened position seems to be doing something important for muscle growth,” says the exercise educator. 

If using a straight bar, Nippard ranks overhead extensions at the highest S-tier. Rope gets an A-tier, although he admits it may be similarly effective. 

Katana Cable Triceps Extension 

Besides feeling like a badass warrior, katana cable triceps extensions are efficient and can help spot imbalances. It hits the triceps separately while training them simultaneously. 

Nippard recommends setting the bar at waist height or slightly higher to angle the arms 30-40 degrees forward in the scapular plane. Many find this position more comfortable. 

Katana extensions require longer setup times and have a slight learning curve. Nippard tentatively placed them in the A-tier while he decided if they should be ranked higher. 

Katana Overhead Extensions Setup Tips

Nippard shared a few pointers for getting into the starting position of Katana overhead extensions. 

Facing the machine, grab the cables with the same side hand and spin 180 degrees with arms overhead.

Start with the cables crossed in front of you then duck forward under your arms.

[Related: A Guide to the Best Pre-Workouts, Tested and RD Approved]

Dumbbell Seated French Press  

Dumbbell French presses are a variation of free-weight overhead extensions that achieve the same long-head benefits. Sitting vs. standing provides more stability and better triceps isolation.

However, using both hands to lift a heavy dumbbell behind your head can feel awkward and hurt your wrists. Because of this, the B-tier is a fair grade for the French press. Nippard occasionally includes them. 

One-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Extension 

Some people prefer one-arm dumbbell overhead extensions as they’re less restricting. You can find the most ergonomic angles, get more range of motion, and detect left-to-right imbalances. Plus, they’re a great option when you only have dumbbells to train with. Nippard places them in A-tier. 


Nippard favors barbell skull crushers over all other free-weight triceps exercises. This lying extension creates high tension during the stretch, especially if you arch the bar behind your head rather than stopping it at your face. An EZ curl bar offers more wrist comfort and can maximize triceps tension by holding your arms back at an angle. 

Barbell skull crushers joined the prestigious S-tier; Nippard doesn’t feel as good using dumbbells, so they go one spot below. 

JM Press 

The JM press is a hybrid close-grip press and skull crusher; while some people love it, Nippard gets elbow pain. Plus, it doesn’t stretch the long head like a skull crusher. The scholar doesn’t hate them, though. “I think it’s a solid lift that should have some strength carry over to your bench press,” he reasons. 

Nippard does, however, like the Smith machine version. It locks you into a fixed path, helps isolate the triceps, and prevents the front delts and triceps from taking over. 

The Smith and free-weight JM press get ‘A’ and B-tier placings, respectively.

Cable Triceps Kickback

Changing direction in the literal sense, cable triceps kickbacks are one of Nippard’s two must-have isolation techniques. That’s because peak triceps long head contraction is only attainable with the arms behind you. Nippard prefers doing kickbacks upright, holding a cable machine rail, and leaning back. Although, bent-over cable kickbacks are just as good.

Dumbbell kickbacks are not part of Nippard’s triceps routine, as there’s no tension during the negative. He instead recommends dumbbell overhead extensions as a better free-weight alternative. 

Nippard declared cable triceps kickbacks an A-tier exercise. 


Bodyweight dips stimulate the triceps long head with rearward arm motion and train all the pushing muscles simultaneously. Advanced exercisers can also progress using a weighted belt or dumbbell. 

Nippard isn’t as enthusiastic about captain’s chair dips because they irritate his joints, so he gives them a subjective B-tier rating. The bodybuilder feels bench dips are better; however, they’re harder to progress, which gets them C-tier treatment. Machine dips are a solid B-level contender.

Close-Grip Bench Press & Push-Up Variations 

The classic close-grip bench press builds raw overall triceps strength but limits long-head growth. Although they’re still A-tier, close-grip [Shoulder width] push-ups are a bodyweight alternative, but loading is an issue for this C-tier variation

Diamond push-ups are more sustainable as the narrower support base makes them harder. Nippard also loves them as a workout finisher and ranks them in B-tier.

Nippard’s Four Triceps Growth Tips 

Presses are important but not enough for long-head gains

You need isolation exercises for maximum growth

Overhead extensions are the best isolation exercise 

Use a variety of shoulder angles (e.g., arms overhead and neutral)

Nippard’s Overall Best and Worst Triceps Exercises

After analyzing 20 popular triceps exercises, Nippard feels cable overhead extensions offer the best all-around triceps gains. “It’s actually been validated as a superior exercise in long-term hypertrophy studies,” he reiterates. Dumbbell kickbacks, while a solid triceps exercise, would be Nippard’s last choice.

Thankfully, no triceps exercises on Nippard’s list were damned to F-tier or even D-tier. So his worst picks are still solid moves!

Featured image: @jeffnippard on Instagram

The post Using Science, Jeff Nippard Ranks the Best and Worst Triceps Exercises appeared first on BarBend.


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