Behind bars, large well-developed “back arms” are a status symbol—sort of like gator-skin boots at a honky tonk bar.

In the free world, hypertrophy enthusiasts know that the triceps compose two thirds of the total arm measurement; the strength enthusiast realizes that the triceps are the prime mover for locking out any pressing movement. Bottom line, well-developed triceps are an important part of physical culture.

Elbow Pain

Skullcrushers are a brutally effective exercise for building strong, massive triceps. So why doesn’t everyone just do heavy skullcrushers, build massive triceps and be on their merry way? Elbow pain—which is caused by the excessive strain in the stretched position at the bottom of the skullcrusher.

SEE ALSO: How to Deal with Elbow Pain>>

For decades powerlifters and other strength athletes have reaped the benefits of using chains on squats, presses and pulls. However there seems to be some unwritten rule that chains have to be used on just “the big three” and once in a blue moon on other core movements. To this I say nonsense! 

I want to share with you an unconventional exercise that will more effectively overload your triceps than skullcrushers, and at the same time will save your elbows. I have used this exercise with an assortment of clients ranging from bros to top pros. The exercise is the chain triceps extension.


Chain triceps extensions are performed by attaching chains with a carabiner to the same apparatus you use to perform triceps cable pushdowns. The benefits are you are able to get some of the stretch (lacking in cable) that you feel with a barbell. As your arms flex (bend) to the stretched position, the chains unload on the floor.  This removes much of the strain off of the elbows.  As you extend (straighten)  your elbows back to the starting position, the chains start to lift off the floor again, giving you the continuous tension and peak contraction advantage of the cables.

As you complete the extension, more force will be required to finish the lift. As the range of motion lengthens, resistance becomes amplified. The result is an opening of the anabolic gateway, simply because you are forced to recruit more muscle fibers. This means more growth and more strength!

Here’s Al Davis, world record holding bench presser, performing chain triceps extensions.

Final Thoughts

Everybody wants some big ol’ triceps but no one wants elbow pain. You have the will, now you have the way. Please share with us on social media what you think of the movement after giving it a try.

Time to hit the pig iron!