Because of the tricep muscle anatomy, you need to perform exercises like the side leaning tricep extension where your shoulder is in flexion if you want to achieve the best results.
This is because the largest head of the triceps—the long head—acts on the shoulder joint as well as on the elbow. So in order to stimulate this muscle properly, you need to involve your shoulders in the movement.
Yet, unlike the dumbbell lying triceps extension, the side leaning triceps extension requires nothing more than a single dumbbell for you to get those gains. An exercise mat would, of course, make the movement slightly more comfortable, but it’s completely optional.
Related: Front to back triceps extensions
Side leaning tricep extension exercise details
- Main Muscles: Triceps
- Exercise Type: Strength
- Exercise Mechanics: Isolation
- Difficulty Level: Intermediate
- Equipment Needed: Dumbbell
How to do a side leaning tricep extension
- Place an exercise mat on the floor and grab a relatively light dumbbell.
- Lean on the mat with your bottom leg slightly bent, and your spare arm braced on the floor for support.
- Lift the dumbbell up so that your elbow is locked out.
- Lower the weight behind your head until you feel an intense stretch in your triceps (most likely when your biceps and forearm make contact).
- Reverse the motion by flexing your triceps until your elbow reaches full extension.
- Switch positions and arms; lie on your other side and repeat the movement with your other arm.
- Do 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps per side.
Variation: Stability ball side leaning triceps extension
Performing a side leaning stability ball triceps extension keeps your torso in a more upright position and means that you don’t have to bear as much weight on your support arm.
There’s no real advantage to the exercise ball variation in terms of muscle activation and results because you’re still performing the exact same lifting motion.
The only difference, as mentioned, is that doing the exercise against a ball provides better support and will likely be more comfortable for most people (not that the regular version is particularly uncomfortable).
Are side leaning tricep extensions effective?
Side leaning tricep extensions are a highly effective exercise that will make your triceps more toned and muscular if you train consistently.
Improved triceps isolation
Like the alternating dumbbell lying triceps extension, the side leaning tricep extension is a dumbbell exercise. This means that it’s an excellent muscle-building movement for isolating each of your triceps because you have to lift each weight separately.
Since you’re lifting one dumbbell at a time, you don’t have to split your focus across two limbs; you can channel all of your energy and focus into training each of your triceps.
So not only will you have a stronger mind-muscle connection with each of your triceps, but you’ll likely be able to lift more weight than if you were doing a similar exercise but training both arms together.
Again, this is simply due to the heightened focus that side leaning triceps extensions enable. Your central nervous system can only output so much force, and when it doesn’t have to split that force and strength, the arm that you’re training gets the full benefit.
Better long head development
The long head is bigger than the lateral and medial heads of the triceps. In fact, it’s likely significantly bigger than both of those heads combined, with many people estimating the long head to account for two-thirds of your triceps mass.
Therefore, if you want to improve the size or shape of your triceps in any way, then you need to prioritize the long head due to its prominence.
If the backs of your arms are flabby, then toning the long head via side leaning tricep extensions and an appropriate diet can make your upper arms look much leaner.
Of course, if you’re trying to gain mass, then the side leaning extension is also an excellent exercise because it trains your triceps with a very extensive range of motion. The larger the range of motion, the more opportunity there is to break down muscle fibers and stimulate hypertrophy.
Enhanced upper arm symmetry
Like the single arm lying triceps extension, the side leaning triceps extension is helpful for enhancing your upper arm symmetry. This is because, by training each arm separately, you can ensure that both of your triceps are receiving equal amounts of work and thus growing at the same rate.
Improving your muscle symmetry will help your physique to look more aesthetic and proportional; it’ll also help you to keep the bar straight during your compound pressing exercises because both of your triceps will be of similar strength.
Of course, if you happen to have a better mind-muscle connection with one of your triceps, then that triceps muscle may still receive more tension even though you’re doing the same amount of reps with both arms.
The good news is that the side leaning triceps extension is actually a fantastic exercise for improving your mind-muscle connection because it really lets you hone in on each of your triceps.
Requires minimal equipment
Floor tricep extensions are a convenient exercise if you work out at home because they don’t require any equipment apart from a dumbbell.
Yet, because you’re doing the exercise while lying with your back on the ground, the weights can often hit the floor before you achieve a full range of motion, which means that your triceps are left understimulated.
This is where the side leaning tricep extension comes in.
Since you’re leaning on the floor rather than lying on it, the side leaning tricep extension naturally provides a superior range of motion to floor extensions.
Specifically, the long head of your triceps will receive a much more intense eccentric stretch, which, besides giving you DOMS for days, will help to break down plenty of muscle fibers so that your triceps can grow back bigger and stronger.
Read More: Bent over tricep extension
The side leaning tricep extension is a rare breed of exercise; it’s remarkably effective for building muscle and toning up, yet it’s also incredibly convenient.
All you need to start gaining from side leaning tricep extensions is a dumbbell and a comfortable place to lean your body, which for most people, will be an exercise mat (but your bed or sofa could work too).
Since the side leaning triceps extension is a unilateral exercise, it’s naturally a great drill for enhancing your triceps symmetry because you’re training each arm separately.