Are you looking to build bigger and stronger triceps? Look no further than this dumbbell triceps workout.
Your triceps make up two-thirds of your upper arm lean mass. While the much smaller biceps get most of the attention, you must dedicate equal time and effort to your triceps if you want to fill out your sleeves with a pair of muscular arms.
Building quality upper arm muscle mass takes time and hard work. The good news is that it doesn’t require a fortune in advanced training equipment.
A set of dumbbells and a determined mindset are all you need.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned bodybuilder, these dumbbell tricep exercises will take your triceps training to the next level.
Benefits of Dumbbell Triceps Training
You can build tremendous triceps using a variety of equipment: machines, a barbell, a cable machine, resistance bands, and your body weight. However, dumbbell tricep workouts offer a few distinct advantages.
- Range of motion. Dumbbell workouts allow for a more natural range of motion than machines or barbells to fully engage the triceps and promote muscle growth.
- Versatility. Dumbbells are versatile and can be used for a variety of exercises for your entire body, not just your triceps. You could build a fantastic physique using nothing but dumbbells.
- Unilateral training. Dumbbells allow you to train each arm independently, making it easy to identify, prevent, and correct strength imbalances between your right and left sides.
- Safety. You don’t have to worry about getting stuck under a pair of dumbbells. Worst case scenario, you simply drop them on the floor.
- Money and space. Dumbbells are ideal when training at home if you have limited space for an extensive home gym. They only take a little room, especially if you get adjustable dumbbells, and are reasonably inexpensive. Also, they are a one-time purchase. Once you have them, there are no recurring fees, and quality dumbbells will last you a lifetime.
Triceps Anatomy and Function
The triceps, or triceps brachii, is located on the back of the upper arm, opposite your biceps, and connects to your elbow and upper arm bone (humerus). The muscle gets its name from the fact that it has three “heads” or sections that join together at the elbow: the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head.
The long head is the largest, making up around half of the triceps muscle volume, and runs down the back of the arm. A fully developed long head has a significant impact on the overall appearance of a larger tricep and on big arms in general.
The lateral head and medial head of the triceps are located on the outer and inner sides, respectively.
The main function of the triceps is elbow extension: to straighten your arm at the elbow joint. For example, when you push a door closed, your triceps is the muscle responsible for extending your arm.
The triceps help stabilize the elbow joint when your forearm and hand are doing fine movements such as writing. The long head of the triceps muscle also assists with extension and adduction of your arm at the shoulder joint.
You use your triceps in many everyday movements that require upper body strength, such as pushing, pulling, and lifting. In the gym, triceps strength is crucial in exercises such as push-ups, bench presses, and triceps extensions.
The tricep muscles are some of the largest in the upper body. It’s twice as big as the biceps and makes up roughly two-thirds of your upper arm size.
Many people are surprised that it is more significant in size than the latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major, two muscles that most think of as “large.”
Most triceps exercises are isolation movements, meaning they require the movement of only one joint, the elbow joint in the case of the triceps. Isolation exercises are great for targeting a specific muscle group, but a balanced workout also includes compound exercises: multi-joint movements that engage multiple muscle groups at the same time.
StrengthLog’s dumbbell triceps workout contains a mix of compound and isolation movements, hitting your muscle fibers from all angles for optimal development.
What Training Equipment Do You Need?
All you need for this dumbbell tricep workout is a set of dumbbells and your body weight. That’s it.
A training bench is practical but optional.
One pair of fixed dumbbells can be enough for beginners, but ideally, you want two. Depending on the angle of the movement, you’re stronger in some exercises than others, and a single pair of dumbbells might be too light or heavy in some scenarios.
- Recommended beginner dumbbells for women: a pair of 5 and 10-pound dumbbells.
- Recommended intermediate dumbbells for women: a pair of 10 and 15-pound dumbbells.
- Recommended beginner dumbbells for men: a pair of 12 and 20-pound dumbbells.
- Recommended intermediate dumbbells for men: a pair of 15 and 25-pound dumbbells.
An even better option is to get a pair of adjustable dumbbells that allow you to change the load on the fly with the flip of a switch. You can also use them for a range of exercises for other body parts that might need significantly heavier weights.
Of course, if you’re doing this triceps workout in a commercial gym, you’ll have all the dumbbells you’ll ever need.
Warming Up Before Your Dumbell Triceps Workout
A good warm-up before your triceps workout helps prepare your muscles for the upcoming work by increasing blood flow and enhancing joint mobility and flexibility. It could even reduce the risk of injury.
The following warm-up routine is a good way to prepare for some heavy tricep action.
- Start with 5–10 minutes of light cardio, such as jogging in place or jumping jacks to raise your heart rate and get your blood flowing. A cardio warm-up before hitting the weights isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s a great way to increase your body temperature, and a warm body is a high-performing body.
- Do some dynamic warm-up movements to loosen up your triceps and shoulders. Good examples include arm circles and overhead triceps stretches.
- Grab a lightweight dumbbell and do a couple of triceps extensions. The weight should be light enough that you don’t have to exert yourself. Perform 1–2 sets of 10–12 reps to get your triceps accustomed to the movement.
StrengthLog’s Dumbbell Triceps Workout: the Exercises
This workout consists of two to four exercises depending on your training experience: three dumbbell exercises and one bodyweight exercise.
Beginners don’t need as much training volume and should focus on the bread-and-butter exercises. Experienced lifters add isolation work to specifically target the triceps without engaging other muscle groups and further muscle growth.
You’ll incorporate the following exercises in your workout to effectively target all three tricep heads and promote muscle growth, strength, and symmetry.
The close-grip push-up is one of the best compound movements and mass-builders for your triceps, and you don’t even need any equipment to do it, only your body weight.
The push-up comes in two main variants: the regular push-up, which equals the bench press for building chest muscle mass and strength, and the close-grip push-up. By bringing your hands closer together, you’re putting more load on your triceps, forcing them to grow bigger and stronger.
In addition to being one of the best exercises for building triceps mass, close-grip push-ups recruit your chest and shoulders, making it a great compound exercise that simultaneously works all your upper-body pushing muscles. They also engage your core muscles, which helps improve your overall stability and balance.
Research shows that including a bench press-type exercise and isolating triceps extensions in your workout is a good idea for maximizing triceps growth.1
To get the most out of close-grip push-ups, maintain good form throughout the exercise. Keep your elbows close to your upper body, your core engaged, and your back flat.
You can also modify this exercise if it is too challenging or easy.
- Perform your close-grip push-ups on your knees if you struggle with the regular version.
- If the regular close-grip push-up feels too easy, elevating your feet on a bench or a chair is an excellent way to make it more challenging.
How to Perform Close-Grip Push-Ups
- Start in a high plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart and your fingers pointing forward. If your wrists feel uncomfortable in the bent position, you can make fists and balance on your knuckles instead. Knuckle push-ups are a bit tougher, though, as you extend the exercise’s range of motion.
- Bring your hands closer together so that they are directly under your shoulders.
- Lower your body down toward the ground while squeezing your shoulder blades together and keeping your elbows close to your body. Your elbows should be pointing backward, not out to the sides.
- Push your body back up to the starting position, keeping your core engaged and your back flat.
- Repeat for your desired number of reps.
Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension
The lying triceps extension might be the most effective exercise for bigger triceps. Not only does it allow you to use a heavy weight, but you also perform the movement with your upper arms in a position that maximally activates all three heads of the triceps. It’s a cornerstone for all experience levels in this dumbell triceps workout.
Unlike in the skull crushers exercise, lower the weights behind your head instead of your forehead. That way, you get a greater range of motion and engage the long head, the largest of the three triceps heads and the one that contributes the most to your arm size, more.
How to Perform the Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension
- Lie down on a flat bench with your feet on the floor and a dumbbell in each hand. If you don’t have a bench, lie on a carpet or an exercise mat instead.
- Raise the dumbbells over your chest with your palms facing each other and your arms extended.
- Keep your elbows pointing straight up and lower the dumbbells behind your head, bending your elbows.
- Lower the dumbbells as far as comfortable while maintaining control and tension in your triceps muscles. If you’re performing the exercise without a bench, lower the dumbbells until they are about to touch the floor.
- Reverse the motion and extend your arms back up to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension
The dumbbell overhead tricep extension, also called the French press, is one of the best tricep exercises to emphasize the sizable long head. For optimal development, you want to include some overhead variation of the dumbbell tricep extension in your triceps workout.
Research shows that overhead extension exercises produce at least a 1.4-fold (or 40%) greater increase in triceps growth compared to triceps pushdowns. Even when using a significantly lower weight.2
The key to making the overhead dumbbell triceps extension maximally effective is to use a lighter weight, focus on control and a full range of motion, and put a greater emphasis on performing the movement with proper form. Leave your ego outside the weight room for this one.
You can perform the overhead triceps extension standing up, as in the video below, but the seated dumbbell tricep extension on a bench or chair is equally effective.
How to Perform Dumbbell Triceps Extensions
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in your right hand at shoulder height.
- Raise the dumbbell over your head with your right arm fully extended.
- Keeping your upper arm stationary and close to your head, lower the dumbbell behind your head by bending your elbow.
- Get a good stretch in your triceps at the bottom, then extend your arm back up to the starting position while keeping your upper arm fixed in place.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps, then switch to the other arm.
Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks
The triceps kickback is a pure isolation movement for your triceps. If done right, that is.
The dumbbell kickback has a bad rep for being a waste of time and energy in your triceps training, and that might very well be so if you don’t perform it correctly. Many trainees perform it in a way that takes away from the triceps and allows other muscles to do the work.
The two common mistakes that make the kickback a poor choice for building your triceps are:
- You raise your upper arm too high, which lessens the force you put on your triceps in the fully contracted position.
- You don’t raise your upper arm enough. If you drop your elbows and lower your upper arms below parallel, you decrease the load and tension on your triceps.
To make the kickback a worthwhile exercise for building triceps mass, keep your upper arm stationary and parallel to the floor throughout the movement. Don’t use too heavy a weight that forces you to involve other muscles.
How to Perform Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in your right hand with an overhand grip.
- Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back straight and your left hand resting on your left thigh.
- Raise your right upper arm until it is parallel to the ground, with your palm facing inwards.
- Keeping your upper arm stationary and close to your side, straighten it until it is fully extended in a straight line with the dumbbell behind you. Ensure you keep your upper arm parallel to the floor throughout the repetition.
- Contract your triceps at the top of the movement, then lower the dumbbell back down to the start position with control.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps, then switch to your left arm and repeat the exercise.
Creating the Best Dumbbell Triceps Workout
Now we have the best tricep dumbbell exercises (and one bodyweight exercise) for building terrific triceps. Let’s combine them into a workout. Or rather, three workouts: one for beginners, one for intermediate lifters, and one for advanced trainees.
The dumbbell workout for beginners consists of one compound movement and one isolation exercise: the close-grip push-up and the dumbbell lying triceps extension.
Together, they hit all three heads of the muscle and make the ideal combo for your triceps workout.
Perform this workout twice weekly, and you’ll tick all the boxes for building triceps strength and size.
At the intermediate level, you have a few months of training experience under your belt. You are ready for a higher training volume for the best results.
The intermediate-level workout consists of the same exercises as the beginner workout but with overhead extensions added to give the long head of the triceps additional attention.
Also, you switch close-grip push-ups and dumbbell lying triceps extensions around and start with the latter. You can do more push-ups at this level but still want to be in the moderate rep range. By doing extensions first, you pre-exhaust your triceps and reach muscular failure sooner.
Two weekly workouts are the sweet spot for continued tricep growth and development.
- Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
- Close-Grip Push-Ups: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
- Dumbbell Standing Triceps Extension: 3 sets x 10–12 reps
Recent research shows that you might need 20 weekly sets per muscle for optimal growth as an advanced trainee or bodybuilder, particularly for the triceps.3
When performed two times per week, this workout has you covered and guarantees maximal mass gains regardless of your training experience.
The advanced dumbbell triceps workout is similar to the intermediate, but you add dumbbell kickbacks at the end of the session and finish the workout with high-rep isolation sets for a great pump.
- Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
- Close-Grip Push-Up: 3 sets x 8–10 reps
- Dumbbell Standing Triceps Extension: 3 sets x 10–12 reps
- Dumbbell Kickbacks: 3 sets x 12–15 reps
Progressive Overload: the Key to Growth
Progressive overload is a fundamental training principle for gaining strength and muscle mass.
Your muscles adapt to the stress of exercise, and to continue making progress, you must gradually escalate the demands you place on them. You can achieve this by increasing the amount of weight you lift or the number of repetitions you perform.
If you practice progressive overload, this workout routine will keep your triceps growing. Try to do one more repetition than you did last workout, and when you can complete the recommended repetition range for all sets of an exercise, increase the weight.
If you’re using fixed dumbbells, pick the next pair up the rack, or if you’re using adjustable ones, flip the switch for the next heavier weight option.
Progressive overload is the most effective way to continually challenge your body and make progress towards your fitness goals, be they getting stronger and more muscular in general or developing the best triceps the world has ever seen.
How to Integrate the Dumbbell Triceps Workout into Your Training Routine
While muscular triceps are essential for both aesthetics and physical function, you want to train all muscle groups to ensure a balanced physique, with no muscle group being significantly weaker or smaller than another.
The dumbbell triceps workout fits right into your regular training routine, whether you’re doing pure arm workouts or splitting your biceps and triceps into back+biceps and chest+triceps sessions, for example.
Here are three examples of complete dumbbell-oriented workouts to inspire you when designing your own.
Chest and Triceps Dumbbell Workout
- Dumbbell Chest Press
- Incline Dumbbell Press
- Dumbbell Chest Fly
- Close-Grip Push-Up
- Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension
- Dumbbell Standing Triceps Extension
The Push Workout of a Dumbbell Push/Pull/Legs (PPL) Split
- Incline Dumbbell Press
- Dumbbell Chest Fly
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Close-Grip Push-Ups
- Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension
Dumbbell Arm Superset Workout
- Dumbbell Bicep Curls + Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension
- Hammer Curl + Close-Grip Push-Ups
- Preacher Dumbbell Curls + Dumbbell Triceps Extension
- Concentration Curl + Dumbbell Kickbacks
And don’t forget your lower body! Big triceps and well-developed arm muscles don’t look their best withour a lower body to match.
Track Your Progress with StrengthLog
The best way to keep track of your progress is with a workout log. Doing so helps you stay consistent, set and achieve specific goals, track your progress over time, identify patterns in your training, and hold yourself accountable to your fitness goals.
StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever. It’s like a personal trainer in your pocket.
Download StrengthLog for free, keep track of your weights and reps, and try to beat your previous numbers each triceps workout.
Good luck with your training!
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 34(5):p 1254-1263, May 2020. Varying the Order of Combinations of Single- and Multi-Joint Exercises Differentially Affects Resistance Training Adaptations.
- Eur J Sport Sci. 2022 Aug 11;1-11. Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position.
- J Hum Kinet. 2022 Feb 10;81:199-210. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy.