french press lifting

French Press Lifting with Barbell or Dumbbell: Exercise & Workout

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In this article, we will talk about what is considered to be the best work out for the triceps. We will discuss how to do the French Press exercise and its variations. If you wish to understand more about working on your trapezoids, you might be interested in articles about what is a pump exercise and pumping out trapezoids.

A key issue experienced by 50% of fitness trainees is that the load carried when performing basic exercises is taken by non-target muscles. For example, those doing a close-grip bench press would often complain that the load goes to the front delts, pecs, and anywhere else except the triceps. It’s the same for the bars. No matter how you perform this, the load is still almost entirely taken by the chest and shoulders. There isn’t any significant mechanical tension on the triceps. The triceps is a major muscle on the back of the upper arm.

According to a study by sports scientist Chris Beardsley, mechanical tension is the primary factor in muscle growth. Also known as muscle fiber deformation, mechanical tension stimulates the muscle fibers to increase in size. If the mechanoreceptors don’t receive impulses signaling changes in muscle shape, anabolic signaling cascades do not occur. There would be no protein build-up in the muscle fibers because there is no muscle protein synthesis. Significant tricep build-up and strengthening cannot be expected.

The French Press exercise, also known as triceps extension, is the solution to this. It is an excellent isolation exercise for the triceps. The key term here is “isolation”, and so the target muscle will be left to do most of the work. In a French Press, there is an opportunity to do some “cheating”. By making some adjustments, the necessary work can be shifted more to the triceps.

This can be beneficial, just like in the Kris Gethin 12 week fitness program where the mentality coming into the gym is to build up muscles along with motivation. However, it can be risky if the athlete pushes to lift weights beyond his capability because it would be too close to the face and the arms might get pulled backwards and injure the shoulder and elbow joints.

This is why the French Press is the perfect exercise because it allows the athlete to maximize the use of the long head of the triceps. The triceps, which make up about 70% of the arm’s muscle mass, is usually left behind and does not progress along with the rest of the muscles when exercising.

Under-developed triceps restrict the buildup of the pectorals, deltoids, and biceps. In order to achieve a balanced development of the triceps along with defined and muscular arms in general, the French Press must be included in the training program.

What Muscles Does The French Press Work?

This type of training is widely done in powerlifting and bodybuilding due to the fact that it is extremely effective in targeting the triceps. Apart from the triceps, the French press technique also provides indirect “work” of a number of other muscles:

  • rectus abdominis and oblique muscles;
  • pectoral muscles (upper and lateral);
  • shoulder rotator cuff;
  • deltoid muscles;
  • back muscle, particular the rhomboid
  • trapezius; and the
  • flexor carpi radialis.

Barbell French Press

The French Press workout is most popularly done with a barbell, but you can also use dumbbells or a arnold schwarzenegger blueprint workout E-Z bar. A weighted E-Z bar is preferred over a weighted straight bar because it allows more natural movements for the elbows and wrist joints.

  1. The initial position – From a standing position, grasp the E-Z bar loaded with the desired weight. Palms must be facing forward. Keep the wrists straight. Bend the knees slightly to find a stable position. Keep your core tight. Raise the bar above your head, extending your arms.
  2. The movement – Slowly lower the bar behind your head, focusing on the movement. Then, lift it back to the initial position. Keep your elbows in the same position and don’t swing your arms. Continue lowering the bar behind the head and lifting again in a somewhat semicircular arc motion until the target number of reps is reached.
  3. Breathing – Inhale while lowering the bar, exhale while lifting it.

Here are a few tips and reminders on the technique:

  • Don’t raise the elbows during the movement, otherwise, the triceps will not be worked correctly.
  • Start lifting back up from behind the head only when the forearms touch the biceps.
  • The E-Z bar is recommended because it has a more comfortable grip, less painful on the wrists, and reduced torque in the elbows.
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Other Versions of French Press Exercise

The most common variation of this triceps exercise is performing it in a seated or lying position and using either a straight barbell or dumbbells.

Seated position – This is the same as the standing French Press but it provides more balance and stability for obvious reasons. The back support of a weight bench would be extra useful.

Lying position – This one deserves a bit more explanation. It’s not as easy as just “rotating” the standing position by 90 degrees. Once you lie on a flat bench your elbows point straight up (arms are vertical). You lower the bar behind your head keeping your elbows pointing up and then lift the bar again. You notice that when you lower the bar you can’t actually bring it behind your head without moving your elbows. Just go down as much as you can (probably just behind your head).

Using Dumbbells: Just repeat the exercises described above but with dumbbells instead of an E-Z bar. Maintain the same orientation of your palms that you have when you perform the French press with an E-Z bar. As with dumbbells, you can do the exercise standing, sitting or lying on a flat bench.

Incline French Press

The Incline French press is another variation of this exercise. This gives the lateral and medial triceps more work.


  1. Set up for the incline French press by loading the appropriate weights onto an E-Z Bar or barbell and then sitting with your back flat against an incline bench.
  2. Grasp the bar with a close grip (just within shoulder width) using an overhand grip (palms facing forward).
  3. Raise the bar straight above your head until your arms are nearly fully extended (keep a slight bend in your elbows). This is the starting position.
  4. Slowly lower the bar down just slightly behind the head by bending at the elbows. The bar should come down as far as comfortably possible or when it is about even with your head.
  5. Slowly raise the bar back to the starting position, thus completing one rep.
  6. Repeat for desired reps.

Here are a few tips and reminders on the technique:

  • Focus on moving the weight with your triceps, keeping control of the weight as you slowly lower and raise the bar.
  • Keep your body as still as possible, moving only your forearms.

Dumbbell Tricep Extension

For this style, you can choose whether to perform the exercise while standing or sitting on a bench.

  • Take a dumbbell, bring it up while watching over your shoulder. It should be at a right angle with the floor.
  • Turn your hand so that the trajectory of movement is directed towards the head. Getting a dumbbell from behind your head is a common mistake.
  • With your free hand, support the working arm to keep it stable for the duration of the exercise.
  • The first 10 reps can be done with a smaller load for a lightweight workout. After that, increase the weights and perform 3 sets of 10 reps each.
  • You can work with one dumbbell using two hands.

French Press Exercise: Useful Tips

  • When you are performing this exercise lying on the floor, you can take the bar yourself and you will not need the help of a partner.
  • The French Press with dumbbells may seem a more comfortable movement for elbows, but is viewed as less powerful and riskier (you need perfect control).
  • Doing the French Press while lying on a step platform will be very convenient because the bar will not touch the weights on the floor.
  • Do not lower the bar down to the forehead, only up to the crown of the head.
  • Take your arms back before the start of the exercise and keep them allotted. Keep them arms focused so that the triceps will not lose the load when the bar is at the highest point of movement.
  • Do 3 working sets of arms extensions on the upper block for 8-10 reps up to the point of “failure”.
  • Unlike other strength exercises in which 6-8 repetitions is the max, you can do about 10-12 repetitions in the French press thereby reducing weight and injuries.
  • The most effective French bench press is with a curved bar with a close grip.
  • The most strenuous style is standing or seated. The less risky option is on an incline bench. The most uncommon style for the French bench press is the Decline French Press wherein the is inclined downwards the inclined bench or on a horizontal bench.
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Benefits of Doing French Press with Dumbbells

Doing the standing French Press with dumbbells is an exercise that can develop and fix disproportions in the arm muscles’ form and size. Another advantage of this variation is that it is practical for beginners as well those whose triceps are lagging.

Lagging or underdeveloped triceps are common in many people. Having to do 20 kilograms in the French Press, even while following the correct technique and the appropriate number of sets and reps can be too much. The best solution is to use dumbbells and work on them until you can progress to a heavier barbell. At this point, it is recommended that you read more about weight plates.

When you’re ready to use a barbell with weight plates, then you can move forward with working out on the bench press. Results will be greatly evident as you progress with further tricep-isolation movements. All thanks to the reasonable and gradual approach starting with using just dumbbells at the start.

Dumbbell French Press Muscles Worked

The French Press has a great impact on the heads of the triceps. Properly executed techniques and amplitude of movements will allow you to stretch the fibers of the triceps, especially its long head. If an inclined bench is used, instead of a horizontal one, the tension will extend further to the lateral and medial bundles. Apart from the triceps, chest and forearm muscles are also used in this exercise.


  • Exhale through the mouth when pressing, and inhale through your nose when returning to the starting position.
  • Always check the position of the elbows. They should be as close to each other as possible. Otherwise, the back muscles would be too tense.
  • Stretch your elbows fully. This contributes to maximum triceps reduction.
  • Do not bend your back or lift your buttocks on the bench. Otherwise, the stress will be directed to other muscles.
  • Choose the right weight to stretch your arm enough at the end of the workout.
  • Do not reduce the range of motion for greater efficiency.
  • If your wrist hurts, wrap your hand with elastic bandages or use bracelets.

Kettlebell French Press

If there is no bench available for use, you can do a French Bench Press with a Kettlebell on the floor. You can choose to do this with or one or two weights. If you’ve had a high level of training and strength, then you can take two weights. However, at this point in the discussion, the focus is on using one weight for the training.

The biomechanics of this exercise is, in fact, quite simple. For starters, you just will need a kettlebell shell. A weight of 8 kg or 16 kg is recommended. There is no need to rush into taking heavy 24-30 kg weights. It is, after all, a trial run first.

  1. Take the weight, press it to the chest, and lie on the floor. Bend your legs at the knees.
  2. Press the head and lower back to the floor.
  3. Take the weight by its body or by the handle, and lift it above the chest.
  4. Elbows should maintain position. You need to bend the arms at the elbow joints, just lowering our forearms with the weight.
  5. After performing the negative phase (lowering), we need to perform an extension of the arms. It is here that the shoulders, particularly the triceps, will work as much as possible.
  6. Do 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.

As you already know, the mass of the arms not only involves the biceps but also the triceps. Located on the back of the arm, the triceps make you two-thirds of the upper arm. This is the reason why you should not focus only on the biceps. The triceps also needs attention and work.

In general, this simple exercise can be performed at home with weights similar to a kettlebell. Just always remember to always maintain your position. If you move your elbows back, the exercise will be more like a pullover.

Uncommon Variation

The least popular variation of this exercise is doing it with dumbbells. This option is usually taken when a barbell cannot be used. It is also used to work on disproportions on the arm muscles and form.

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However, it is still one of the best exercises for the triceps and so fans of this variation would not bother to get off the bench and get a barbell instead. It is also worth noting that working out on a rowing machine can also develop the triceps.

How to Correctly Do French Press Lifting?

Here are a few key points to remember if you want to get the most out of this exercise:

  1. Never use a weight that is too heavy

This is one of those moves that can cause some serious damage if you attempt to lift a weight that is too heavy because it is not only quite close to your head but also has the potential to pull your arms backwards. So always start off light and work your way up, regardless of whether you are using a dumbbell, EZ-bar, or a barbell to perform this French press exercise.

  1. Use a narrow grip

If you want to get the most of this move, you should always use a narrow grip to place maximum emphasis on your triceps, and then press upwards with your arms. Everything else should be locked in place, i.e. your head, neck, shoulders, and back.

  1. Keep your elbows tucked in

It is also important that you try not to relax your elbows and allow them to flare outwards. This move can easily cause elbow pain if it is performed badly, so you really want to keep your elbows tucked in and facing forwards to reduce the risk of injury.

  1. Don’t lock your arms out

As with any kind of arm exercise, it is never a good idea to fully extend your arms as far as possible when performing this move because this will place a lot of strain on your elbows, and could easily result in an injury.

  1. Focus on the movement

You should always pay attention to what you are doing and focus on the movement when doing the French Press because if your form starts to suffer, or you start to run out of strength, for example, you could easily drop the weight on your head. So aim to do a certain number of reps by all means, but always know when to stop.

french press exercise

When to Do French Press Lifting?

The French Bench Press is recommended at the end of the training. This is very important because this exercise is quite traumatic. At the beginning of the workout, you can take a lot of weight. You would not have the opportunity anymore because your triceps and elbow joints would be too overloaded to do other exercises after standing exercises. It is better after a bench press, bars, swings, push-ups, and others. It is possible to do warm-ups with minimal weight, like an empty bar.

Load Progression

The progression of the load is a key principle without which the triceps will not develop even if all the variations are performed. It is important to focus on the progression because it differs somewhat from the technique and routine of other exercises. It is crucial to be cautious about the addition of weights on the barbell. It is advisable to keep it slow and steady at 1-2.5 kilograms per progression

It is better to perform the exercise at 5-7 sets with a higher number of repetitions at about 12-20 reps. So, after the 20th rep of the 7th set, you can add more kilograms to the weight.

Overall Benefits

The French Bench Press is the most effective exercise in building up the triceps. Bench presses, parallel bar dips, and other exercises are not as effective. Taking into consideration that is an isolation exercise, you can pull the triceps separately from the pectorals and deltoids. Interestingly, the development of the triceps is already noticeable after the first training. This is especially the case for those who have been focused on basic workouts and not doing isolation exercises.

You will immediately see the results in the mirror and on the measuring tape. You will also feel the drastic improvements in doing basic exercises such as the standard bench press. It is here where you will realize the differences and impact in the load progression compared to the standard press. The key distinction is really in the development of the triceps.

Just follow the correct techniques and recommendations and you will achieve fully developed, strong, and fully developed triceps and arms in general.

  1. Allan Morrow says:

    So what muscles do french press load the most?

    • admin says:

      The main muscle worked in French press is triceps (lateral head of triceps, medial head of the triceps, long head of the triceps). Also back, abdominal muscles and the muscles of the wrist are loaded.

  2. wowww says:

    Is french bench press better than push ups?

    • admin says:

      With the correct technique, the pushup is just as effective for building chest and arms as the bench press. But bench press is harder due to the absence of support from feet, so you are benching more weight.

  3. Charlie says:

    There is an opinion, quite popular, that the French press can also be done by lowering the bar to the forehead, and not to the crown. In other words, both are correct. Is that true?

    • admin says:

      According to the correct technique, in lying French press the bar should be lowered to the top of your head (almost touching it). In standing and seated variations the weight goes behind your head to the possible angle.

  4. cutnbulk says:

    Could you explain where should my elbows be when I bench?

  5. stellox says:

    Could you explain how do I choose the bench press variation?

    • admin says:

      Compared to the flat bench press, the incline bench press more heavily targets the upper pecs. Flat bench evenly targets the lower and upper pec while it can affect your shoulders. Incline bench puts more stress on the upper pec and front delts and has a steeper learning curve when it comes to proper form.

  6. engma says:

    I’ve heard of so many terms used in bodybuilding, so what exactly a French Press exercise?

  7. richb says:

    Alright, so the French Press targets the triceps. Great! But what other exercises can do that?

    • admin says:

      You can do push-ups and dips to work your triceps. However, the French Press, especially on a bench, is the most effective approach to getting defined and stronger upper arms.

  8. kidfit says:

    Won’t too much time be taken doing a French Press that I can use to target other muscles?

    • admin says:

      The triceps are often neglected in other exercises. The French Press not only focuses extensively on the triceps, but it also works on the deltoids, pectorals, and the lats.

  9. sept12 says:

    There seems to be a lot of styles in doing the French Press. What are the different positions to take in doing it?

    • admin says:

      The standard French Press is done standing. You can also do it seated or lying on a horizontal bench. Doing it on an incline bench is said to be the most effective.

  10. card9090 says:

    My gym has a pretty complete set-up, but which equipment and weights should I use?

    • admin says:

      As discussed earlier, you can workout on a bench or even on the floor. As for the weights, use whichever you are comfortable with: straight barbell, curl bar, E-Z bar, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.

  11. mc$ad says:

    When I bring down the weight in a lying French Press, how far should I lower it down?

    • admin says:

      The correct technique is to lower it down to your crown or just above your head. In a standing or seated French Press, it should go down just behind your head.

  12. Alicia DeBerry says:

    This is a very informative article. I now know how to perform this exercise safely and I was happy to read about modifications to the exercise. That way you can still get the benefit without harming yourself.

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