French Press Exercise Guide — How to, Muscles Worked, & Benefits

chris bumstead french press

The French press will explode your arms. 

Numerous exercises are explicitly designed to enhance an athlete’s upper body strength. Research indicates upper body muscle training can significantly increase endurance and elevate athletic performance (1). The French press exercise is premier for those seeking to achieve muscular arms.

In this article, we conduct an in-depth analysis of the French press, shedding light on the muscles it engages and its unparalleled advantages. We provide a comprehensive, step-by-step guide on how to execute this exercise correctly to maximize its benefits. Moreover, we explore several exciting alternative exercises that target similar muscle groups, ensuring you derive the utmost value from your fitness regimen. 

Techniques & Muscles Worked

The French press is an effective strength training exercise that targets the long head of the triceps. Other secondary muscles targeted include the pecs, rhomboids, traps, rotator cuffs, and delts. During this exercise, the core muscles, like the abs and obliques, are needed for stabilization.

You can perform the French press standing or on a flat bench, lying down or seated. The equipment used for this exercise includes free weights like dumbbells, barbells, EZ bars, or kettlebells. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to do the French press standing with a barbell.

  1. With an overhand grip, grab a barbell and place your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Stand up straight with the barbell and extend your feet shoulder-width apart with a slight bend at your knees.
  3. Next, lift the barbell above your head and slowly bend at your elbows (your palms are facing up at this point). This is your starting position.
  4. Keep your elbows stationary and pointing upwards. Next, slowly and in a controlled manner, lower the barbell just behind your head till your forearms touch your biceps.
  5. Pause for about 2 seconds, then slowly lift the barbell, extending your arms and elbows back to the starting position. 
  6. Repeat this movement for as many reps as you desire.

Jay Cutler Performing the French Press 

One athlete who performs the lying French press as part of their triceps routine is four-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler. Watch him do the movement below: 


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The French press is a go-to exercise for bodybuilders looking to strengthen their upper bodies and build massive arms. Below is a list of benefits of doing the French press.

Builds Bigger Arms (Triceps)

The French press primarily targets the triceps, which comprise 3/4 of the arms. This muscle is also essential for pushing exercises and arm strength. The constant tension on the tricep muscles induces muscle hypertrophy, ultimately leading to bigger arms.

Improves Form & Strength for Other Exercises

Regularly doing the French press strengthens your elbow flexors and tricep muscles. This improves your strength and form on other pushing exercises like close-grip bench presses and push-ups (2).

Strengthens Core & Other Secondary Muscles

This exercise activates and strengthens your core muscles, such as the abs and obliques. It also extends to other secondary muscles, like the traps and rhomboids. Strengthening your core muscles can help with balance and proper body coordination and reduce your chance of injuries.

Improves Mind-Muscle Connection

The triceps are the primary muscle target when performing this exercise. The French press allows you to isolate and focus solely on your triceps. This creates a better mind-muscle connection, thus improving your focus and muscle activity on the target muscles (3).


The French press is an excellent isolation exercise for building big, well-defined arms and other upper body muscles like the shoulders and chest. However, limiting yourself to this exercise can cause a plateau. Experts advise mixing in different exercises targeting similar muscles to help you get the most out of your workouts. Below are some alternative exercises for building similar muscles.

Tricep Dips

The triceps dip is a bodyweight exercise that targets the muscles at the back of the upper arm (triceps). This includes other secondary muscles like the chest, shoulders, and core muscles. Tricep dips can be done with a chair, bench, or at a dip station.

Triceps Pushdowns

Tricep pushdowns are a strength training exercise that targets the triceps. This routine also engages the chest and abs. You perform this exercise on a cable machine.

Diamond Pushups

Diamond push-ups are bodyweight exercises that engage the triceps more than traditional push-ups. They also target your chest, shoulders, and core muscles for stabilization. For more resistance, you can add resistance bands or a weight plate to engage the muscles with more resistance and increase muscle growth.


What does the French press exercise work?

The French press exercise primarily works the triceps muscle at the back of your upper arm. You can do the standing or lying French press variation. Secondary muscles targeted include the pecs, rotator cuffs, and delts. Core muscles, like the abs and obliques, are used for stabilization during this exercise.

What is the difference between the French press and skull crushers?

French press and skull crushers target similar muscles using similar movements. The French press and skull crushers differ significantly in their execution. You can perform the French press while standing or seated, whereas you do skull crushers by lying flat on the bench in either an incline or decline position. 

Is the French press performed sitting or standing?

You can perform the French press exercise sitting or standing, depending on your preference. Look at the above exercise guide to see how to perform this exercise standing.

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  1. Marterer, N., Mugele, H., Schäfer, S. K., & Faulhaber, M. (2023). Effects of Upper Body Exercise Training on Aerobic Fitness and Performance in Healthy People: A Systematic Review. Biology, 12(3), 355.
  2. Stronska, K., Golas, A., Wilk, M., Zajac, A., Maszczyk, A., & Stastny, P. (2022). The effect of targeted resistance training on bench press performance and the alternation of prime mover muscle activation patterns. Sports biomechanics, 21(10), 1262–1276.
  3. Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M. D., Sundstrup, E., Brandt, M., Jay, K., Colado, J. C., & Andersen, L. L. (2016). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. European journal of applied physiology, 116(3), 527–533.
Terry Ramos
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and ISSA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.