10 Exercises To Build Lockout Strength

Sep 14, 2021

Lockout strength for competitive exercisers is paramount to their success on a number of levels. And this isn’t the case just for max effort overhead lifts, lockout ability spans across almost every single event in competition. CF athletes are constantly asked to lock weight out whether it be dynamically or isometrically in a variety of scenarios. 

Of course, the variations included in this article are applicable to anyone that may be lacking in the lockout department or maybe your triceps are a weak point and need some attention – we’ve got you covered.

But first, let’s go down the list of events/movements where it’s imperative for a Competitive CrossFitter to have a strong lockout:

  • Jerks
  • Snatches
  • Muscle-ups
  • Overhead Carries
  • Ring Dips
  • Bar Muscle-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Handstand Push-ups
  • Handstand Walking
  • Odd Object Overhead carries
  • Walking Overhead Lunge Variations
  • Burpees
  • Bench Press Variations (appeared this past weekend in Wodapalooza.)

And I’m sure we could continue to add to this list, but you get the point. CF’ers are asked to have both a strong (max effort strength) as well as an enduring lockout (strength endurance.)

With that said – we’ll need to encompass variations that cover all of our bases in terms of strength development. We’ll also need to work multiple planes of movement rather than simply going overhead to improve overhead.

What this list does NOT include is the obvious movements like your standard bench press or floor press as well as the classic shoulder press, push press, and push/split jerks – it’s safe to assume most CF athletes are already performing those movements on a regular basis.

So what’s really needed are variations that will allow us to target the triceps and deltoids from novel angles – this will allow us to make gains without putting you at risk of an overuse injury. It will also allow you to build upon limitations that may exist.

One final point that is important to know – the variations that are chosen in this article are intended to NOT exacerbate common aches & pains that many if not most CF athletes experience – this will play into the logic behind many of these choices.

Here’s what I have for you to build massive tri’s & delts without taking away from your current training plan.

#10 Push-ups On Kettlebells

The challenge here is twofold: 1) increased level of stability requisite 2) Increased range of motion. The kettlebells also provide a “wrist-friendly” version of the push-up – most competitors’ wrists are taking a beating on a weekly basis so variations like this are a nice change.

Programming should involve more of a strength-endurance emphasis of 15+ repetitions per set, but that’s not to say you couldn’t add additional loading and push more submaximal strength in the 6-8 rep range.

#9 Kettlebell Triceps Extensions

Improving triceps strength via triceps extensions won’t come as shock, but using kettlebells alters the positioning of the load making this version more joint-friendly.

I’ve seen athletes that complain of elbow pain with the dumbbell version have zero issues when switching to a kettlebell. Again, a common theme for CF competitors is going to be to find variations that do NOT exacerbate pain points (you’d be hard-pressed to find a CF athlete that does not have a few nagging aches and pains.)

Repeated effort emphasis with programming – sets of 3-4 x 10-15.

#8 Bar Dip Lockouts

It won’t come as a shocker that I love concentric based movements, especially if you’ve read this article here, but the dip lockout is a favorite of mine for a few reasons.

First off, CF athletes perform dips in a VARIETY of scenarios on rings and/or a bar. More times than not athletes are using a “kip” which increases the speed of the eccentric portion of these movements. As you can imagine, this is where these athletes will experience things like DOMs and other potentially deleterious effects.

But of course, we know the dip has a number of benefits, but it wouldn’t make sense adding insult to injury programming additional dip work on top of what the average athlete is already performing.

Instead, we opt for the “dip lockout” which can be loaded and used to emphasize extension of the elbow joint. These tend to be far more joint-friendly and have a nice carry-over to other CrossFit specific patterns.

For programming, 6-10 rep schemes work well.

#7 SSB Overhead Press Off Of Pins

I wish there was an emoji that could quantify how much I love this variation because this is a brilliant variation that I learned from Joe Lasko from Westside Barbell.

While you can perform this with a standard straight bar, the effect just isn’t the same for many reasons such as the pad having “give” to it, and camber of the barbell, and the general “awkwardness” this barbell presents going overhead.

If you have access to a SSB this one is a must. Go for sets of 5-8 setting the pin level at chest, eye, or forehead level.

#6 Dumbbell Floor Press With A Neutral Grip

For pain-free performance, it’s tough to beat the DB Floor Press with a neutral grip. This variation much like it’s barbell counterpart does work the top-range of your press and even though the range of motion is less, without the use of the legs to drive the loading one can handle tends to be roughly 10% less of the bench variation.

Of course, you can perform this one with a pronated grip as well, but for CF athletes, I find the neutral grip to be more advantageous in terms of keeping the glenohumeral joint centrated and thus decreasing stress on the front deltoid.

This variation is going to stress all three heads of the triceps group. One caveat is to make sure you have a spotter to help you get the dumbbells into place. 

For programming 4-5 sets of 6-10 reps

#5 JM Presses off of pins

The JM Press is a staple in Conjugate Programming and rightfully so. Why is the variation effective? It places a great deal of stress on the lateral head of the triceps.

This variation can be done a number of ways – personally I prefer with the safety squat bar (handles removed), but it can be done with a barbell as well. You’ll notice the execution is slightly different with a barbell vs. SSB.

For programming – 5-6 sets of 6-8 reps

#4 Incline Tate Presses

Another variation to stress the lateral head of your triceps as well as the anconeus. This variation is another staple in Conjugate Programming.

This variation I recommend to be done with lighter loads for higher repetitions as this is an easy exercise to cheat with and turn into more press than an extension.

For programming 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps 

#3 Half-Kneeling Bottoms-up Kettlebell Press

Out of all of the variations listed this one is least “sexy” but a variation that will allow you to perform for either rehab or prehab as well as to identify asymmetries from left vs. right.

In fact, you’ll likely be able to see the differences from one side vs. the other even with modest loads. I’ve seen some athletes easily perform the prescribed reps on one side while NOT being able to perform them on the other side.

If this is the case for you, it may be time to drop the weight and really focus on reprogramming better motor patterns.

For programming, 3-4 sets x 5-6 reps per side.

#2 Overhead Kettlebell Carry

A staple for CF Competitors which a huge carryover to things like overhead walking lunges variations and handstand walking.

This particular variation can be done in a number of ways (with a barbell or bamboo bar) for an increased level of difficulty, but I prefer the kettlebells for simplicity and the unilateral component. Kettlebells also tend to be more user-friendly for variations like this vs. a standard set of dumbbells.

For strength work perform 4-5 rounds of 90 ft. Rest 60-90s between rounds. For strength-endurance work – 400 meters for time with lighter loads.

We also favor using these in a mixed-modality setting regularly similar to what a CF competitor could see in competition with a variety of moving parts

#1 Bench Press Off Of Pins Against Bands

The pin lockout bench press is an incredible exercise to build absolute strength. This is the exercise that we’ll likely perform for max effort work progressively building to a 1 rep max, but that does not mean you couldn’t perform this variation using the submaximal method building to 3-6RM – dead stop on each repetition. This can be performed from a variety of heights with a variety of grips.

Since you’re starting from the bottom we can strategically target individual mini-maxes or sticking points and adjust pin height to align with our individual limitations.

It’s important to establish more than a few records and retest them every 12-weeks to ensure your programming is working.

Additionally, if you have access to accommodating resistance or a specialty bar like a football bar you’ll have even more variations to choose from.

With Max Effort work make sure you rotate your variations weekly though.

For programming – Max Effort Work – rotate variations weekly: Build to a 1RM from three heights – 4” above chest, 6” above chest, 8” above chest – Submax Work: Build to a 3-6RM


Building lockout strength for the CF competitor is a must but easily forgotten as there so many modalities to focus on each week.

Instead of trying to “do it all” one session this work should be centered around “upper-body intensive days.” For our athletes, this occurs twice a week on a max effort upper day as well as a Dynamic Effort Upper day.

This work also should also add to your current plan and NOT take away from it – this is a common mistake many trainees make trying to layer multiple programs.

Just remember, it’s difficult to serve multiple masters – if your lockout is a weakness give it the attention it deserves, your elbows will thank you for it!