9 Best Tricep Exercises With Dumbbells + Sample Workout

tricep exercises with dumbbells

Of the 1250 exercises in the Fitbod app, 31 use dumbbells and target primarily triceps.  

I’ve analyzed every single one for its effectiveness in building muscle.  

Through this process, I’ve reviewed the research, consulted strength training experts, and used my 20+ years of coaching experience to develop the top 9 list of the best dumbbell tricep exercises.

Key Takeaways

  • The #1 best dumbbell tricep exercise is the close-grip dumbbell squeeze press.
  • Training the triceps with dumbbells addresses muscle balances, helps you train with different ranges of motion, and lets you train around joint discomfort.

Best Triceps Dumbbell Exercises

Dumbbells allow me to help my clients find angles to isolate their triceps better, all while helping to minimize joint stress and discomfort.

Below is a list of 11 dumbbell exercises that target the triceps.

Note: All these exercises can be found within the Fitbod app and are listed in no particular order.  They all have a time and place within a well-structured strength training routine. 

1. Dumbbell Squeeze Press 

This compound upper body movement primarily targets the triceps and chest. By taking a narrower grip than a normal bench press (elbows closer to your sides), you force the elbows to bend more and shift more emphasis to the triceps.

According to Jeremy Either, Fitness YouTuber with 4.7 million subscribers, the dumbbell squeeze press is his top dumbbell tricep exercise.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on a bench and grab a pair of dumbbells.
  • Lower the weights to the bottom of your chest, keeping the elbows stacked over the wrists and tucked into the body.
  • Push the dumbbells back up to straighten the arms, and repeat. 

Pro Tip: You can vary the width of your hands based on comfort levels (sometimes too narrow will cause discomfort in the wrist and shoulders).

2. Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is a partial range of motion exercise primarily targeting the tricep, with some chest involvement. 

This partial range of motion targets the triceps more effectively because it forces the triceps to initiate the movements off the floor (rather than having the chest muscles initiate the movement as they would in a normal bench press) and to control the lowering portion of the lift (eccentric) back down to the floor.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on the floor with two dumbbells pressed above you (elbows straight).
  • Bend the elbows slowly until they softly touch the floor. This will occur before the weights get to chest level.
  • Maintain tension and push the weights back up to straight arms.

Pro Tip: You can adjust the angle at which your elbows are flared or tucked into the body to find what feels best. Typically, the elbows should be more tucked vs flared to isolate the triceps.

3. Seated Triceps Press

The seated triceps press is a great way to target the triceps, and the position of the dumbbell is different from other typical triceps exercises. Since the dumbbell is positioned overhead, your muscles will get a full range of motion.

How To Do It

  • Sit on a bench holding a dumbbell with both hands above your head. Keep your arms straight and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbell behind your head, keeping your upper arms stationary. Lower it until your forearms are at least parallel to the floor.
  • Extend your elbows to lift the dumbbell back to the starting position, focusing on engaging your triceps.

Pro Tip: Concentrate on moving the weight in a controlled arc, keeping the elbows tight and pointed towards the ceiling, which better targets the tricep muscles, especially the medial and lateral heads.

4. Dumbbell Skullcrusher

The dumbbell skullcrusher is helpful if you find a strength imbalance between sides (one arm being stronger than the other). This skull crusher variation is also good for those who have wrist discomfort with a bar, as you can adjust your wrist position as needed with dumbbells.

How To Do It

  • Lie on your back with dumbbells in each hand, and the arms extended above you.
  • Lower the ends of the dumbbell to the sides of your forehead, only bending at the elbows.
  • Your elbows should be in line with your shoulders, or slightly behind them (towards your head), but not flared out.
  • Push the weights back up by straightening at the elbows without moving your elbows forward or backward, then repeat.

Pro Tip: Focus on lowering the weights slowly towards your head, for both safety reasons and to place higher demands on the triceps (also decreasing elbow joint stress).

5. Single Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extension

This exercise is a variation of a typical dumbbell triceps extension. It’s performed using a single arm, which adds instability to the movement. This is an effective move to prevent compensating for strength discrepancies you may have between your left and right arms.

How To Do It

  • Stand or sit with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in one hand and raise it above your head. Fully extend your arm.
  • Keep your upper arm still, and bend your elbow to lower the dumbbell behind your head until your forearm is at least parallel to the floor.
  • Engage your triceps to straighten your elbow and return the dumbbell to the starting position above your head.

Pro Tip: When performing this exercise, stand or sit with your body slightly leaned forward, and position the arm being worked in a way that your elbow is not just above but slightly forward of your head. This adjustment ensures a more natural and effective arc of movement, targeting the tricep muscle through its full range of motion.

6. Dumbbell Triceps Extension

This is a dumbbell exercise great for targeting the long head of the triceps. This can be done with two arms grabbing one heavy dumbbell, or by each arm having a dumbbell in it.

How To Do It

  • Grab the dumbbell(s) and place them overhead.
  • Bend at the elbows, and allow the dumbbells to lower themselves behind your head, as low as you can go.
  • Push the weights back up by straightening the elbows, and repeat.

Pro Tip: If you have one arm stronger than the other then do this movement with a dumbbell in each hand.

7. Standing Dumbbell Triceps Extension

Performing a triceps extension exercise standing instead of seated adds instability to the movement. It’s an isolation movement that helps you build functional strength in your muscles. 

How to Do It

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell with both hands above your head. Your arms should be fully extended.
  • Slowly bend your elbows to lower the dumbbell behind your head. Keep your upper arms close to your ears and elbows pointing upwards.
  • Engage your triceps to straighten your arms, returning the dumbbell to the starting position above your head.

Pro Tip: Imagine pushing the weight slightly forwards rather than just up. This slight forward trajectory engages the long head of the tricep more effectively. 

8. Tate Press

The dumbbell Tate press is similar to the skullcrusher, however, it has you perform the movement with the elbows flared out rather than pointed forward. By doing this movement with the elbows flared, you can place more emphasis on the long head of the triceps.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on the bench as you would for a skull crusher (above).
  • With your arms extended above you, point your elbows out to the sides.
  • Let the elbows bend so they still point out to the sides, with the thumbs dropping towards the inner chest.
  • Touch the chest with the dumbbells, then push the weights back up into the starting position by extending the elbows, and repeat.

Pro Tip: Focus on bending at the elbow, as this will increase the tension placed on the triceps.

When doing a dumbbell press, Fitness Trainer and Nutritionist, Sean Nalewanyj advises keeping your feet on the ground as opposed to having them up on the bench. He explains:

“You want your feet on the ground to give you a nice, stable position to press from.”

9. Dumbbell Triceps Kickback

The dumbbell triceps kickback is an isolation movement targeting the long and medial head of the triceps. 

By performing this on an incline bench rather than bent over, you allow the shoulders to be placed in a more stable position, allowing you to perform them with better technique.

How To Do It

  • Set the bench to a 30-45 degree angle, and lie chest down on the bench, with your upper chest hanging off the end of the bench.
  • With dumbbells in your hands, straighten your arms back behind you, ensuring your elbows are in line with your torso.
  • Bend the elbows to slowly lower the weights back to around a 45-degree angle at the biceps, but ensure your elbows do not lower from being in line with the torso.

Pro Tip: Keeping your elbows in line with your torso as you bend and extend at the elbow will help you recruit your triceps more effectively.

How Do Dumbbells Affect Muscle Activation of The Triceps? 

The tricep is made up of three smaller muscles, each layered on top of one another to form the muscle group, the “triceps” (long head, lateral head, medial head)  Depending on the type of dumbbell exercise you do, it will impact different heads of the triceps.  

Long Head of the Triceps

The long head of the triceps runs from the entire length of the back of the arm, from the shoulder to the elbow (crosses the elbow joint)

Exercises that have you extend the arms above your head are the most effective for targeting this tricep head.  

For example, the best exercise that targets the long head is the Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension.

Lateral Head of the Triceps

This muscle runs along the outside of the back of the arm (the part furthest away from your midline) and is often seen visually by the side (the lump on the side of the arm). 

The lateral head of the tricep is best targeted with movements like close-grip push-ups, dips, and Tate presses.

Medial Head of the Triceps

The medial head of the triceps is located on the inner side of the back of the arm (closest to the midline) and is best targeted when you perform movements that extend the arms with an underhand grip. 

The most effective exercises for targeting the medial head of the triceps are underhand cable pushdown or triceps kickback (palms to the sky as you reach back).

Need a workout program? Try Fitbod for Free.

Benefits of Training the Triceps With Dumbbells

Although you can train your triceps in a variety of ways, there are three key benefits to training them with dumbbells.

Address Muscle Imbalances

Dumbbells allow you to address any muscle weakness and imbalances that might not be noticed if training with a barbell or machine. Dumbbells force your muscles to stabilize loads in a coordinated manner, all while making each arm lift the weights equally.

When you’re performing barbell or bodyweight movements, your stronger side may take over for your weaker side to help you extend your elbows. With dumbbells, each side has to work independently, so both triceps have to work equally as hard.

Therefore, training the triceps with dumbbells can be especially helpful for those who want to ensure both arms grow symmetrically, rather than having one arm bigger or stronger than the other.

Help You Train Different Ranges of Motion

Training with dumbbells allows you to train movements in a larger range of motion than most standard bars and machines. You can often go deeper into a position (elbow flexion) without having to worry about the bar touching your chest or body. 

The deeper you can go into elbow flexion, the more your muscles have to work to extend your elbows back to the start position (straight arms).

Therefore, training the triceps with dumbbells can be a great way to stimulate more muscle growth and increase joint health as you progress your movements with control, and strengthen your connective tissues and muscles.

Train Around Joint Discomfort

Sometimes, lifters will complain of joint discomfort when training with a bar or machine, as you are often locked into one range of motion. Dumbbells allow you to work around that by adjusting the angle of the movement to best suit your needs.

For example, some lifters feel discomfort in certain machine and non-dumbbell movements, such as when doing a close grip bench press using a barbell or Smith machine. Dumbbells allow them to work around joint discomfort and find angles that work better for them.

If your wrists, shoulders, or elbows are not the biggest fans of the movements you’re doing, dumbbells allow you to customize the ranges of motion, angles, and positions in which you move the joints. 

Related Article: Should You Train Triceps Together?

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercise videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.

Sample Triceps Workout Routine With Dumbbells

Below is a sample workout routine you can do with dumbbells.

Note: All of these exercises can be found in the Fitbod app, however, the workout below is just an example that can be used to help you design your own plan.

Related Article: Looking to build more lean muscle? Here are 19 tips!

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Best Triceps Exercise Using Dumbbells?

The best triceps exercises using dumbbells are the ones you feel the most (muscle working and muscle soreness). I recommend choosing exercises that target each head of the triceps, such as the close grip bench press (long and lateral head), overhead triceps extension (long head), and triceps kickback (medial head).

Can You Build Triceps With Dumbbells?

Yes, you can build triceps with dumbbells, just like you can build them with barbells, body weight, and machines. The key to building your triceps with dumbbells is to make sure you are training all heads of the triceps and adding volume (reps and sets) and load (weight) on a week-to-week basis.

How Can I Increase My Triceps Size With Dumbbells?

If you want to increase triceps size (with dumbbells or any other form of weight), train all heads of the triceps. You also want to ensure you train in a variety of rep ranges (5-10, 10-20, and even 20-30) to determine which range gives you the best growth.

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.