When I talk with clients who have been struggling to build bigger triceps, I often find they do the same 2-3 movements every workout. Without understanding the anatomy behind the triceps, they often fail to fully develop the muscle and add unnecessary wear and tear to the joints.
Dumbbells allow me to help my clients find angles to isolate their triceps better, all while helping to minimize joint stress and discomfort.
The 10 best tricep exercises with dumbbells are:
- Close-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
- Dumbbell Floor Press
- Dumbbell Deficit Push Up
- Dumbbell Skullcrusher
- Incline Skullcrusher
- Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension
- Dip with Dumbbell
- Dumbbell Tate Press
- Incline Dumbbell Triceps Kickback
- Dumbbell JM Presses
In this article, we will discuss the anatomy of the triceps, how to target each area of the triceps, and share with you some of the best dumbbell triceps exercises you can do to add size and strength to your triceps.
Additionally, we will offer you a sample triceps workout routine you can do with dumbbells to show you how to train your triceps effectively.
Anatomy of the Triceps
The triceps are located on the back of the upper arms, and are primarily responsible for straightening the elbow (elbow extension). Strong triceps not only contribute to arm size, but can also increase your pressing strength and muscle endurance in exercises like the bench press, push up, and even overhead press.
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 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).
This long muscle is used during most movements that extend the elbow (straighten the arm), however exercises that have you extend the arms above your head (i.e. overhead triceps extension) are the most effective for targeting this tricep muscle.
Lateral Head of the Tribes
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 exercises that are most effective for targeting the medial head of the triceps are underhand cable pushdown or triceps kickback (palms to the sky as you reach back).
Benefits of Training the Triceps With Dumbbells
Although you can train your triceps in a variety of ways there are 3 key benefits to training your triceps with dumbbells.
Address Muscle Imbalances
Dumbbells allow you to address any muscle weakness and imbalances that may exist that may 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 movements (and some body weight 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 litters who want to make sure both arms grow symmetrically, rather than having one arm bigger or stronger than the other (which is likely most lifters).
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, as 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 recipes 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 movies you are 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?
10 Best Triceps Dumbbell Exercises
Below is a list of 10 exercises that target the triceps that you can do with dumbbells.
Note: All of these exercises can be found within the Fitbod app.
1. Close-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
This is a compound upper body movement that 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.
How To Do It
- Lie down on a bench and grab a pair of dumbbells.
- Lower the weights to the bottom of your chest, making sure to keep 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 floor press is a partial range of motion exercise that primarily targets the tricep, with some chest involvement as well.
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. Dumbbell Deficit Push Up
This exercise has you perform a standard push up with your hands grasping dumbbells. By doing the push up with your hands on the dumbbell handles, you increase the range of motion and increase the demands placed on the triceps (and chest).
How To Do It
- Grab two dumbbells, and set yourself up in a plank position (one hands on each dumbbell.
- Slowly lower yourself so that your chest touches the floor. Depending on the size of the dumbbells (height), you will notice you are lowering yourself into a lower push up.
- Push yourself back up, and repeat.
Pro Tip: You can do these with a narrower grip to really increase the demands on the triceps.
4. Dumbbell Skullcrusher
The dumbbell skull crusher is helpful if you find you have a strength imbalance between sides (one arm being stronger than the other). This skullcrusher 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 forwards or backwards, 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. Incline Skullcrusher
The incline skullcrusher is similar to a regular skullcrusher (above) but is performed on an incline bench. By doing it on an incline bench you are able to increase the range of motion and force the triceps to work harder to extend the elbows.
How To Do It
- Set the incline on the bench to 25-45 degrees.
- Start with the dumbbells lined up slightly behind your head, and then lower the weight to the forehead.
- Push the dumbbells back up to the initial starting position, and repeat.
Pro Tip: By starting the weight slightly behind you at the top, you keep tension on the triceps throughout the entire movement.
6. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension
This is a dumbbell exercise that is 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. Dip with Dumbbell
The dip is a compound upper body exercise that trains the triceps (long and lateral heads), chest, and shoulders. When doing the dip, you want to focus on lowering yourself by bending the elbows all while not letting them flare out too much. This will force you to use the triceps more.
Performing the dip with a dumbbell between your feet is a great way to increase the difficulty for those who find bodyweight dips to be too easy.
How To Do It
- Set yourself up on dip bars, either parallel bars or slight angled ones with a dumbbell between your feet.
- With your arms fully extended, and your body hanging, slowly bend the elbows and dip yourself as low as you can without hunching the shoulder forwards.
- At the bottom of the movement, pause, and then push yourself back up by extending the elbows, and repeat.
Pro Tip: You can adjust the amount you lean forward as you lower yourself to see what feels most comfortable on your shoulders.
8. Dumbbell 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 forwards. By doing this movement with the elbows flared, you can place more emphasis on the lateral heads of the triceps.
How To Do It
- Lie down on the bench as you would for a skullcrusher (above).
- With the arms extended above you, point the elbows out to the sides.
- Let the elbows bend so that they still are pointing 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.
9. Incline Dumbbell Triceps Kickback
The dumbbell kickback is an isolation movement that targets 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 which allows you to perform them with better technique.
How To Do It
- Set a 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, making sure 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 make sure 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.
10. Dumbbell JM Press
The dumbbell JM press is similar to the dumbbell skullcrusher, and trains the long and lateral heads of the triceps. Unlike the skullcrusher, the JM press has you lower the dumbbells so that they are in line with the chest, chin, or somewhere in between. This aiming point offers you more options to customize the angles that feel best on the joints and muscles.
How To Do It
- Lie down on a flat bench, chest up, with dumbbells in your hands, straighten above you.
- Bend the elbows to slowly lower the weights down to your upper chest or chin, making sure to keep the elbows in (not flared out). The elbows can also drop some to the floor, as long as they stay pointed towards your hips.
- With the elbows bent and triceps loaded at the bottom of the movement, push the dumbbells back up by straightening your arms, and repeat.
Pro Tip: Think about bending your elbows towards your hips, and keep them from flaring out on the way down.
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 exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
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 workouts.
- Close-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press: 4-55 sets of 10 reps, resting 60-90 seconds
- Dumbbell Skullcrusher: 3-4 sets of 10 reps, superset with diamond push up
- Dumbbell Close-Grip Bench Press: 3-4 sets of max reps, using the same weight as the skullcrushers.
- Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension: 3-4 sets of 12 reps, resting 45 seconds
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 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, bodyweight, 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), make sure you are training all heads of the triceps. You also want to make sure 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 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.