Best Dumbbell Tricep Exercises
So you want to build bigger triceps and you only have access to a few pairs of dumbbells?
No problem! You’re not going to have to make any sacrifices, because the muscle growth you can achieve training triceps with dumbbells are just as good as with other equipment, IF you choose the most effective exercises.
That’s what I’m going to help you with.
I’ll show you what exercises to add to your tricep dumbbell workout whether you’re training for tricep strength, power or hypertrophy. There will be a metabolic exercise combination to drive hypertrophy as well.
Total body? Yes, they do exist when it comes to the triceps.
And of course, a corrective triceps exercise since I can never totally separate the physical therapist from the strength coach.
Last but not least, a miscellaneous exercise that doesn’t fit cleanly into any other category, but is able to get full contraction and maximum shortening of the triceps muscle better than any other exercise. There aren’t very many of these when it comes to dumbbell exercises.
I recommend that you choose a couple of these exercises for triceps to add to your regular arm workout or upper body workout depending on your goals, rather than trying to combine them all into a single dumbbell triceps workout.
If you’re looking for a complete triceps workout, and you’re NOT limited by equipment, you can check out the Perfect Triceps Workout I put together.
BEST EXERCISES FOR YOUR TRICEP WORKOUTS WITH DUMBBELLS
- Dumbbell Upright Dip
- Dumbbell Close Grip Bench Press
- Dumbbell JM Press
- Bodyweight Plyo Diamond Cutter Pushup
- Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension
- Floor Dip Into Close Grip Dumbbell Pushup
- Overhead Extension Thruster
- Dumbbell Devil
- Dumbbell Triceps Kickback
One of my favorite dumbbell tricep exercises incorporates the use of a dog leash. It’s a cheap workaround to take your home workout to the next level! I’ll show you the exact set up.
Let’s break each of these dumbbell exercises down, one by one! Don’t forget to take a quick look at the triceps anatomy graphic below so you can visualize the long heads, lateral head and medial heads of the triceps brachii muscle.
When it comes to building strength, you want to look for the exercises that allow you to load up with as much weight as possible, as often as possible.
These would be barbell tricep exercises that allow you to add weight over time. In the case of the triceps, if I had access to a barbell I’d run right over to perform the Close Grip Bench Press because we know that’s the heavy hitter.
You can perform this movement as a close grip dumbbell press, but before we go there, let’s take a look at another dumbbell triceps exercise that ties it for effectiveness.
In the Weighted Upright Dip, instead of leaning forward (which would be one of the best chest exercises), remaining upright places more demand on the elbows which hits the triceps much better.
Can we weight this exercise without a weight plate? YES. That’s where the dog leash trick comes in!
Just strap up a dumbbell using a dog leash like I’m showing you and you can get all the gains that you would by loading it with plates.
1.) DUMBBELL UPRIGHT DIP
Exercise Notes: Use my dog leash trick to secure a dumbbell around your waist. Maintain an upright body with your head and neck in line with your torso Bend at the elbows to slowly lower your body down and then straighten the elbows until your arms are completely straight at the top of the movement. Release the hands at the top to take stress off of the forearms.
In addition to remaining upright, there are a couple other things you’ll need to focus on in these triceps dips. To place more of the stress on the triceps, I like to finish by opening my hands and finishing through extension at the wrist to take the forearms out of the movement.
It’s easy to progressively overload this exercise, so it’s very conducive to those looking to build strength in their triceps with nothing but a pair of dumbbells.
Now let’s go back to the Close Grip Bench Press.
If you’ve seen my article on Best Dumbbell Exercises for Chest, we had to decide whether a dumbbell version of the bench press was equally as good as the barbell version.
In that case, the dumbbell version was NOT as good because of the high demand for stability on the shoulder joint. I made the point that 300lb bench pressers do not become 350lb dumbbell pressers.
However, when it comes to the Close Grip Bench Press, there is less trade off because of the position of the elbows and how it impacts the shoulders. When the elbows are out farther, the stability demands on the shoulder joint is much greater than when the elbows are down and in for the close grip setup.
In fact, it’s 1 ½ times less torque and stress on the shoulders and the major muscles around the shoulder girdle to support that.
2.) DUMBBELL CLOSE GRIP BENCH PRESS
Exercise Notes: Start position is lying on a flat bench with feet flat on the ground, and a pair dumbbells in each hand. Hands should be shoulderwidth apart with palms facing eachother, elbows tucked into your sides. Raise the dumbbells by straightening your arms and squeezing your triceps and then slowly lower yourself to the start.
You’ll find that when you make the swap to dumbbells you won’t have to sacrifice very much weight at all, which makes this another viable exercise selection for building triceps strength.
When you’re training for power, it’s about choosing exercises that allow you to move some weight, but more importantly, to move that weight quickly.
There’s a velocity component, and you need to be explosive when you perform the exercise.
The Dumbbell JM Press is a great option due to the ability to initiate the movement with your elbows driving your triceps into position, rather than the triceps overcoming the inertia on every rep.
An object in motion will tend to stay in motion. Getting the dumbbells moving will allows the triceps to kick in and explosively keep them moving up to the top of the rep.
3.) DUMBBELL JM PRESS
Exercise Notes: Starting position is holding dumbbells in each hand with hands directly over the chest, palms facing eachother. Bend at the elbows to lower them toward the bench and close in to your sides, as you lower the weight toward your ears. Then, explosively extend your arms back up to the starting position. Stop three or four reps short of failure on each set of this exercise.
There’s no need to sacrifice the amount of weight used, and the built-in acceleration makes this a great dumbbell power option, one of my favorite bodyweight exercises.
But I have one other great option, too!
When you’re training for power, the ideal exercise is one that allows you to explode your body or the weight through the concentric with no deceleration component.
Even in the JM press, at some point you’re decelerating the dumbbells as they reach full extension to protect the elbows.
However, that’s not necessary in this bodyweight Plyo Diamond Cutter Pushup.
4.) BODYWEIGHT PLYO DIAMOND CUTTER PUSHUP
Exercise notes: Start in plank position with your palms close together on the ground and a pair of dumbbells set up in front of your body shoulder width apart. From this plank position, lower your body into a diamond cutter pushup and then explosively push back up, tapping the dumbbells with your hands. Train to sub-failure by stopping 3-4 reps short of failure.
Here there is no limitation. You’re pushing concentrically through the ground, as explosively as possible, and the only thing that would stop you is the roof.
And I don’t think you’ll be able to push off the ground hard enough to get up there!
When training for power, you want to train sub-fatigue. Take a series of repetitions and stop about three or four reps short of failure. The same thing would apply to the Dumbbell JM Press.
If your goal is hypertrophy and gaining muscle mass and you feel as if you’ve used up all your newbie strength gains to drive this, it’s time for some additional weapons in your arsenal.
One of the best ways to do this is with eccentric overload of the muscle you’re trying to grow.
The lying triceps extension is a great exercise to do it with.
This is one of my favorite exercises. Period.
Because we can get enormous stretch on the long head of the triceps thanks to the of the positioning arms up and over the head.
5.) LYING DUMBBELL TRICEP EXTENSION
Exercise Notes: With dumbbells in each hand, start by keeping your upper arms slightly angled backwards instead of straight above your head with elbow bent slightly. Bend your elbows and lower the dumbbell beyond the top of your head. Extend your arms by squeezing your triceps up to the top of the movement.
There’s one big mistake a lot of people make in these tricep extensions, also known as the skull crusher exercise, that I want to make sure you avoid. They bring the dumbbells all the way up until their arms are straight up over their body.
You lose a lot of the tension applied to the triceps by doing that. Always keep them slightly angled backward throughout the entire exercise.
Want to make this exercise work even better for you?
Once you reach failure, another way to illicit hypertrophy and muscle gain is to train your triceps through failure and increase the intensity of your work.
After you can’t do any more concentric reps of the lying dumbbell extensions, then just drop the elbows and flare them out to your side in a dumbbell bench press position.
Now we can call on the chest and shoulders to help us get those dumbbells back up to the top. Then try to eccentrically control the weight on the way down.
You’re looking to perform as many eccentric-only reps as possible, and the only way you’re going to be able to get these dumbbells back to the top is by recruiting the help of those other muscle fibers.
While we know that eccentric and progressive overload are two ways to build muscle, we do have a third way.
You can also make gains by using lighter dumbbells and a metabolic training effect. Here we showcase a bodyweight combination that is performed in descending ladder fashion that only uses the dumbbells as props to keep the wrists in a healthy and neutral position.
6.) FLOOR DIP INTO CLOSE GRIP DUMBBELL PUSHUP
Exercise Notes: Start in floor dip position with hands gripping dumbbells on the floor behind the body, and feet hipwidth apart out in front of the body with legs parallel to the ground and knees bent just slightly. Lift your butt off the ground and perform dips by lowering your body toward the ground. Perform 10 reps and then walk your feet back into pushup position. Holding the dumbbells with each hand, perform 10 reps of close grip pushups. Alternate between 10 reps each of seated floor dips and close grip pushups for a great burn and the opportunity to resist that burn for tricep muscle gains.
In the Floor Dip, the most important part of the exercise is getting the arm back behind our body to allow for a full contraction of the long head of the triceps. You can do this in descending ladder format (10, 9, 8, 7, 6 etc. reps) or perform it in even numbers only.
You can continue to manually lighten the floor dip portion of this combo by bending your knees and placing your feet flat on the floor.
Likewise, you can manually lighten the close grip portion of the exercise by dropping to your knees to continue repping out.
The idea behind a metabolic exercise is to fight through every, single repetition AFTER the burn starts.
It’s not about just getting to that burn. If you want to achieve gains from metabolic exercises you need to be able to push through that burn and go as long and as hard as possible.
A total body triceps exercise might sound like an oxymoron, but there is a way we can train our entire body and make the triceps be the driver of the movement.
We can do this with the Overhead Extension Thruster.
If you’ve tried the traditional thruster before, you know that while this exercise incorporates a heavy dose of lower body, the action at the top of the movement is being driven by the strength and power of the shoulders.
But if we extend the arms up overhead with our elbows out in front of the body in the overhead triceps extensions portion of this exercise, we can allow the triceps to be the driver of the movement.
7.) OVERHEAD EXTENSION THRUSTER
Exercise Notes: Starting position is standing with your feet hipwidth apart in a squat position, straightening your arms into a straight line as you come up out of the squat. Push explosivley through the lower body portion of this move and keep the upper body portion steady and deliberate.
As a bonus, you’re getting an additional corrective benefit with these overhead extensions because they demand proper thoracic extension, just like it would at the top of an overhead dumbbell squat.
Speaking of corrective, I’ve got another one for you!
Did you know the triceps are responsible for more than just elbow extension?
In fact, the triceps muscle is more significant than you may have realized because it has an attachment that goes across the shoulder onto the scapula, which is the long head.
The long head is the largest component of the triceps muscle, and it’s important because there are many exercises that help it perform better at stabilizing the scapula and getting the arm back into extension behind the body.
The Dumbbell Devil is the ideal exercise to tap into this.
8.) DUMBBELL DEVIL
Exercise Notes: Starting position is lying face down with legs parallel to the ground and a dumbbell in each hand. Activate the rhomboids and the rotator cuffs to bring the shoulders off the mat and move the dumbbells in an arc like motion through the lower portion of the range of motion.
You may have seen me do an exercise called the Angels and Devils which brings your arms all the way up to the top in an arcing movement. However, in this case it’s better to home in on the bottom portion of the arc range of motion which really targets the triceps.
For some people, lying down on the belly and getting the dumbbells off the floor can be very difficult in and of itself.
To do so, you need to learn to incorporate the other muscle fibers that attach to the shoulder blade, like the rhomboids and the rotator cuff.
The Dumbbell Devil exercise helps us do that. The rhomboids participate, and the rotator cuffs externally rotate the shoulders to get them off the mat and keep them off as we go through this arc.
Our miscellaneous exercise will help us achieve what the other exercises thus far haven’t excelled in, which is getting full contraction and maximum shortening of the tricep muscle fibers.
You might be thinking to yourself, “How did we not do that with any of the previous exercises?”
Well, any exercise that ends with your arms out in front of your body is not able to achieve that maximum contraction. The only way to fully shorten the triceps muscle is to load the triceps in a position behind your body with the elbow joint straightened.
Here’s an exercise that gets kicked to the curb far too often, and it’s really good for this purpose!
9.) DUMBBELL TRICEPS KICKBACK
Exercise Notes: Starting position is holding a dumbbell in each hand, bend your torso forward with elbows tucked in to your sides, and extend your elbows backward to flex the tricep muscles. Be sure to keep the elbows fixed back behind the body. Don’t allow them to drift downward as you fatigue.
The most important thing you can do is establish your arm back behind your body at the beginning of the movement. Then try to fight and keep it there on every single repetition.
As you start to fatigue, those arms are going to start to drift down and they’ll want to start working their way toward the front of your body.
If you let them, you’re going to lose one of the main benefits of what we’re trying to achieve. You’ve got to keep that arm up as high as possible, which might mean using lighter weights.
I’ve given you my favorite dumbbell exercises for developing your triceps depending on what purpose or goal you’re training for. Remember, it’s not always about just trying to build strength or size. The exercises you choose should fpr tricep training should depend upon what you’re trying to train for.
Just as I did with this list of triceps exercises, I always make it a point to include the science behind my exercise selections in my ATHLEAN-X training plans. It’s what makes them work so well! If you are looking for a complete step by step workout program that already selects the best exercises for each muscle group of the body, try our Program Selector to see which of our programs best fits your current training goals.
- If you’ve only got dumbbells to work with, what would be the best exercises for tricep training? It depends on your training goal. I’ve shown you the best dumbbell triceps exercises for strength, power, hypertrophy, metabolic, total body, corrective and a special ‘miscellaneous’ exercise for full contraction and maximum shortening of the triceps. You can use these exercises to hit all three tricep heads.
- For strength my favorite dumbbell exercises are a Dumbbell Upright Dip and a Close Grip Dumbbell Press. With just a small equipment tweak, the Dumbbell Upright Dip allows you to load the weight in exactly the same way as with a plate. When you make the switch from a barbell to dumbbells on the Close Grip Press, you’ll find that you don’t have to sacrifice weight at all.
- For power I chose the Dumbbell JM Press and the Bodyweight Plyo Diamond Cutter Pushup. The JM Press has a built in acceleration that allows you to get the explosiveness you need. You will have a deceleration at some point in this movement, but the Plyo Diamond Cutter Pushup overcomes this limitation, unless you are strong enough to accelerate yourself through the ceiling!
- For hypertrophy we need to explore an eccentrically overloaded exercise, and the Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension is a great option for this. Once you tire out on the concentric reps, you can continue to rep out with the eccentric-only version.
- For a metabolic overload challenge, you can perform a Floor Dip Into Close Grip Dumbbell Pushup combo in descending ladder fashion. Find the burn, embrace it and stay in it as long as possible.
- If you’re short on time and looking for a total body move that also emphasizes the triceps, the Overhead Extension Thruster is an ideal option. It combines a heavy dose of lower body with the triceps being the driver of the upper body portion of the movement.
- As a physical therapist I like to include corrective movements, and the Dumbbell Devil helps to recruit the rhomboids and the rotator cuffs to externally rotate the shoulders to get them off the mat and keep them off.
- Finally, I’ve chosen a ‘miscellaneous’ exercise that will help us achieve the full contraction and maximum shortening of the triceps that the other exercises haven’t excelled at. This is the often overlooked Dumbbell Triceps Kickback.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.