What Is a French Press Exercise?


The French press is an isolation exercise that focuses primarily on your triceps, which are the muscles located at the back of your upper arm. Sometimes referred to as a triceps extension, you have options when it comes to performing the French press. Your can stand, sit or lie on your back, and you can use a variety of weighted equipment.

Equipment Options

  • Three common pieces of equipment can be used -- dumbbells, a weighted or unweighted barbell and an EZ curl bar, which is barbell with a zigzag grip in the shaft. Not as common is a specialized French press machine -- found at well-equipped gyms -- used to work your triceps while seated. The machine typically has a cable running from a padded lever arm to a stack of weights.

Basic Technique

  • While standing or sitting, hold the weight and start with your arms extended above your head. Move only your forearms, bend your elbows, lower the weight behind your head and return to the starting position. If you lie on your back, start with your arms extended above your chest and toward the ceiling. Bend your elbows by moving your forearms back to lower the weight to just behind your forehead and then return to the starting position. To use a machine, set the amount of weight on the stack, sit with the back of your upper arms resting on the pad and grasp the handles. Move only your forearms, push the handles forward against the resistance and then return to the starting position.

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