You can use dumbbells to hit all 3 heads of your triceps with a large range of motion. It’s time to move past the standard cable tricep pushdown.
Be sure to check out the tricep workouts I share so you can get the most strength and mass from your sessions.
Read on as I cover how to do each exercise, including cues, steps, tips, and recommended sets and reps.
Best Dumbbell Tricep Workouts for Strength & Size
Best Dumbbell Triceps Workout For Strength
Here’s a sample workout using the exercises above to increase your triceps strength.
Sets: Do 3 of each exercise.
- Neutral Grip Dumbbell Chest Press: 12, 10, 8 reps (increase each set's weight)
- Overhead Dumbbell Tricep Extension: 15, 12, 10 reps (increase each set's weight)
- Single Arm Tricep Kickback: 12 reps per arm
- Single Arm Overhead Tricep Extension: 12 reps per arm
- Chest Supported Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks: 12 reps
Best Dumbbell Triceps Workout For Hypertrophy (Size)
Here’s a sample workout using some of the best tricep dumbbell exercises.
The focus of this workout is volume.
Tip: Make sure all your sets are 1-2 reps within failure unless otherwise specified.
Sets: Do 3 of each exercise.
- Neutral Grip Dumbbell Chest Press: 15 reps
- Dumbbell Tate Press: 12-15 reps
- Dumbbell Skullcrusher: 12-15 reps (last set to failure)
- Overhead Dumbbell Tricep Extension: 12- 15 reps (last set to failure)
- Incline Dumbbell Skullcrushers x 12-15 reps (last set to failure)
Want to focus on bench press strength? Check out The Best Tricep Exercises To Increase Bench Press Strength
8 Best Dumbbell Tricep Exercises
1. Neutral Grip Dumbbell Chest Press
This is one of the best dumbbell tricep exercises to blast both the triceps and, secondarily, the pecs and shoulders. What makes this one of my favorite exercises is that you can go pretty heavy with these.
Also, this is typically a great pressing variation for people with shoulder or elbow issues.
How to Do a Neutral Grip Dumbbell Chest Press
- Set up like a normal dumbbell bench, but your palms will face each other.
- Tuck your elbows close to your torso as you lower the weight.
- Explode up, keeping the dumbbells parallel with one another.
Programming recommendations: If you’re trying to build strength, work up to sets of 8-10 reps. If you’re trying to pack on size and build muscle, aim for higher rep sets like 12-15 reps. 3-4 sets should be perfect.
Pro Tip: As you lower the dumbbells, take 2-3 seconds and focus on feeling your triceps. This is a great exercise to improve your mind-muscle connection.
2. Dumbbell Skullcrushers
This is a classic exercise that is probably being performed at some gym as you read this.
Oftentimes, people will do this with an EZ bar or barbell. If that bothers your wrists or shoulders, this dumbbell alternative might allow you to get a great tricep workout and not aggravate those injuries.
How to Do a Dumbbell Skullcrusher
- The starting position is the same as the neutral grip dumbbell bench press – just make sure your weight is significantly lighter.
- Unlock your elbow and slowly lower your dumbbells until they’re over your forehead.
- Use your tricep to drive the dumbbells back to their starting position.
Programming Recommendations: I find these more effective when going for higher reps. Perform 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps.
Pro Tip: Do one set where you keep your elbows locked and another, allowing your elbows to drift overhead slightly. Do the variation that you feel more in your tricep. That will be the better style for you.
3. Dumbbell Tate Press
This exercise is borrowed from the powerlifting world, and for good reason! It will hit all three heads of the triceps. It can be a little awkward at first. Make sure you’re doing it right.
How to Do a Dumbbell Tate Press
- Start lying flat on your bench, arms extended and palms facing down.
- Maintain a 2-inch gap as you bend at the elbows and have your dumbbells come inward.
- Use your triceps to extend your arms back forward.
Programming Recommendations: I found higher rep sets more stimulating for me and my clients. I’ll typically do 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps. Remember, take these slow and controlled.
Pro Tip: Don’t let the dumbbells touch, and use a 2-3 second tempo to lower down. You need to do this exercise slowly and control to gain maximum benefit.
4. Single Arm Tricep Kickback
This is a great exercise to focus on one arm at a time and can help expose and remedy muscular imbalances. You won’t need a crazy heavy dumbbell here to get a great pump in your tricep.
How to Do a Single-Arm Tricep Kickback
- Plant your knee and the opposite hand on a bench for support.
- Keep your elbow lifted and extend your arm up toward the ceiling.
- Slowly lower your arm back down.
Programming Recommendations: Higher reps are generally more effective with this exercise. 3-4 sets of 12 reps.
- Perform your weaker side first.
- Keep your elbow lifted the whole time. As soon as your elbow drops down, it reduces the tension on the tricep muscle.
5. Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extension
This is a great exercise to blast the long head of the triceps. Any overhead exercise flexes the shoulder, which puts the long head of the triceps on stretch, especially under load.
How to Do a Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extension
- You can perform this exercise sitting or standing.
- Allow your elbows to travel out laterally as you reach the dumbbell behind your head.
- Get a good stretch in the triceps, then drive the dumbbell back overhead.
Programming Recommendations: 3-4 sets of anywhere between 8-12 reps is what I program for the majority of my clients. This is an exercise where you can go decently heavy.
- Make sure you’re extending the dumbbell back enough for you to feel a significant stretch in your triceps each rep.
- If this bothers your shoulder or elbow, perform the single-arm version of this exercise.
6. Single Arm Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extension
This exercise is similar to the previous one. It’s just the single-arm version. When performing the double-arm version, this is a great choice for anyone with elbow or shoulder issues. It’s also a great option to work on muscular imbalances because you can focus on one side at a time.
How to Do a Single Arm Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extension
- You can perform this exercise sitting or standing.
- Allow your elbow to travel out as you reach your dumbbell behind your head.
- Make sure you get a stretch on your tricep, then extend your arm back overhead.
Programming Recommendations: Perform these on your weaker side first. Do as many as possible, then match that on the stronger side. 3-4 sets.
Pro Tip: Don’t cut your reps short! Reach the dumbbell overhead and feel that stretch. That’s where the gains are made.
7. Incline Dumbbell Skullcrushers
These are similar to the standard skull crushers. However, the change of the bench angle changes how it affects the triceps slightly. Both are important to include for well-developed arms.
How to Do Incline Dumbbell Skullcrushers
- Set your bench angle to 30-45 degrees.
- Palms should face each other like a dumbbell skull crusher.
- Bend at your elbows and reach your dumbbells toward your ears.
- Allow a little travel of your elbow – that’s okay.
- Use your tricep to extend back overhead.
Programming Recommendations: I’ll typically program higher reps for my clients with this exercise. 12-15 reps seem to be a solid rep range here. 3-4 sets.
- The weight you use should be similar to the normal skull crusher.
- Allow your elbows to travel forward as you reach your dumbbells toward your ears.
8. Chest-Supported Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks
This is an exercise I haven’t seen performed at many gyms but one that I use with my clients frequently. You’re supported by the bench, making this a great exercise for those with back pain.
How to Do Chest-Supported Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks
- Set up your bench with roughly a 30-45 degree angle.
- Make sure your chin is over the top of the bench.
- Keep your elbows lifted and extend your hands, squeezing your triceps.
- Lower down, but keep your elbows up the whole time.
Programming Recommendations: I’ll only use high volume with this exercise. 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps. For an extra burner, do your last set to failure.
Pro Tip: I can’t stress this enough – keep your elbows lifted. As soon as the elbows start to drop, much of the tension on the tricep is lost.
Things To Consider When Creating Triceps Workout
In general, the more often and the angles you can hit your triceps from, the better growth you will see.
According to this meta-analysis, most of your tricep training should utilize a full range of motion. How much range of motion depends on the exact exercise. That being said, there is some evidence that partial range of motion exercises can help build muscle.
The bottom line: partial range of motion exercises certainly have a place in total tricep training, but most of your training should be through a full range of motion.
The triceps are used in many compound lifts. For example, any pressing exercise will use at least a little tricep. Knowing that, I’d recommend putting your compound lifts with big ranges of motion at the beginning of your workout (like the neutral grip dumbbell chest press).
Move on to the single joint exercises, like the dumbbell skull crushers, later into the workout. With these exercises, I’ve found that higher volume leads to more growth.
Intensity & Frequency
Remember that if your workout isn’t challenging, it will probably not be effective. You should be 1-3 reps within failure for most of your sets. Especially for the later sets, you should be 1-2 reps to failure.
I’ve found that training the triceps in conjunction with another muscle group twice weekly is optimal for muscle growth. If you’re doing more than that, you might be going into the realm of junk volume. Make sure your sets are TOUGH, and two days per week is all you should need.
Anatomy of the Triceps
The triceps make up about 2/3rds of the upper arm muscle and are located on the back of the upper arm. The triceps help extend the elbow, like when you do a push-up or bench press.
Tricep means ‘three heads’ – exactly what the tricep has. That may sound strange, but a ‘head’ just means an attachment point.
The three heads of the triceps are: the long head, the medial head, and the lateral head.
The Long Head
The long head is exactly what it sounds like – it's the longest head of the tricep, going from the scapula to the elbow. It’s an important feature that it attaches to the shoulder. This means that the long head is responsible for elbow extension and helps stabilize the shoulder joint.
Practically speaking, whenever you perform tricep exercises overhead, you prioritize the long head of the triceps.
The Medial Head
This is the deepest of the 3 tricep heads. This part of the tricep only crosses the elbow joint, which aids in elbow extension. Interestingly, this is the only head that can contract independently.
The Lateral Head
The lateral head of the triceps sits on top of the medial head. This is the strongest part of the tricep muscle and gives the tricep the shape you can see on the outside arm.
The key to explosive tricep growth is to train all three heads, and we can do that with dumbbells.
Check out this article if you want exercises focusing on the lateral head! 10 Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises (That Actually Work)
The Benefits of Using Dumbbells to Train Your Triceps
There are three main benefits to using dumbbells to work out your triceps.
Freedom of Movement
One of the main benefits of using dumbbells is the ability to manipulate the dumbbells' position easily. Simply rotating your wrist slightly on certain exercises can change the feeling in the muscle or surrounding joints. If you’re using an EZ bar or barbell and find your wrists, elbows, or shoulders sore afterward, consider switching to dumbbells.
Improves Muscle Imbalances
Everyone has a dominant side that is slightly stronger or feels less awkward doing certain things. Using dumbbells to train can highlight these muscular imbalances and help rectify them. If you have a noticeably stronger side on certain exercises, consider the single-arm version to focus on one side at a time.
Ease of Access
Not everyone can access machines, cables, or barbells.
But if you workout at home you probably have a couple of pairs of dumbbells. You don’t need all the fancy bells and whistles to blow up your tri’s. Let's get into the triceps workout at home with dumbbells.
No equipment? No problem. Here are the Best Bodyweight Tricep Exercises (At Home & No Equipment)
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you build triceps with dumbbells?
You can hit all three heads of your triceps with just dumbbells. However, adding things like cables is great if you have access.
When should I train them?
There is no right or wrong answer to this necessarily. Hitting your triceps 1-2 times per week is optimal. You might be adding junk volume if you’re doing more than that.
Are 3 exercises enough for the triceps?
Three exercises are the minimum. You need at least 3-6 tricep-specific exercises per workout.
Need ideas for cable tricep exercises? Start here: Best Tricep Isolation Exercises (With Demos)
About The Author
Kurtis Ackerman is a personal trainer residing in Southern California. He is the owner and head trainer of KB Fitness. He competed in powerlifting and Strongman in his younger years. Now he trains a wide variety of clientele but specializes in working around injuries. You can connect with him on Instagram or LinkedIn.