8 Best Dumbbell Triceps Exercises (Huge Bodybuilding Arms)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: March 11, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
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As a fitness trainer, I've seen many people limit their tricep workouts using a few cable press-downs.

Cable press-downs aren't entirely bad, but to build that massive bodybuilding arm, you need to perform accessory work and heavy pressing. And dumbbells are the best way to archive that.

In this article, I will provide everything I have found in my 10+ years of experience and the best exercises you can perform using dumbbells to develop bigger triceps.

Quick Summary

  • The best dumbbell tricep workouts are close grip dumbbell bench press, overhead, tricep extension (single arm), rolling dumbbell triceps extension, triceps kickbacks, half, bench skull crusher, dumbbell floor press, incline dumbbell kickbacks, and close grip dumbbell pushups.
  • These workouts are excellent for targeting and developing the tricep muscle and may be performed with dumbbell motions, including kickbacks, overhead extensions, and close-grip presses.
  • According to the National Institute of Health, the triceps consist of three distinct muscle heads: the lateral, medial, and long heads, each requiring specific exercises for optimal development.
  • In my view as a trainer, dumbbell tricep movements can help develop endurance in the upper body, sculpt the triceps, and even improve overall athletic performance when included in a daily workout routine.

The Best Dumbbell Tricep Exercises

Woman lifting dumbbell showing back and triceps

1. Close Grip Dumbbell Bench Press

I often emphasize to my clients that the close-grip dumbbell press is not just a triceps exercise. It actively engages your shoulders and chest too, but the real powerhouse here is your triceps. They're the main muscle group doing the heavy lifting in this compound exercise.

Since it's a multi-joint movement, you can really ramp up the weight. This makes it a fantastic choice for those looking to build strength.

How to perform: 

  1. Lay flat on a bench with your arms fully extended over your chest and a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Your arms should be placed on your shoulders, palms facing each other.
  3. Bending at the elbows, lower the dumbbells.
  4. After the action, your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees and close to your sides.
  5. Push up until your hands are entirely stretched above your chest again.
  6. Repeat for reps.
  7. These may be performed with both arms simultaneously, alternating from right to left, or with a single arm at a time.

2. Overhead Tricep Extension (Single Arm)

The overhead tricep extension employs a flexed shoulder to target the long head by putting it through a significant stretch under load.

Training them one at a time allows you to concentrate on each arm separately, making the most of each rep and set.

How to perform:

  1. Sit on a flat bench with your shoulders extended and your dumbbell held like a hammer, with your elbow pointed diagonally away from your body.
  2. Flex the elbow to lower the weight.
  3. Once you've achieved a nice stretch, contract the triceps to return the elbow to its starting position.
  4. Repeat for reps.

3. Rolling Dumbbell Triceps Extension

Man holding dumbbells performing rolling dumbbell triceps extension

The rolling dumbbell triceps extension is a version of the lying dumbbell extension and works the tricep muscles.

The extra pullover during the rolling dumbbell extension enhances the tricep muscle's range of motion and total stretch, contributing to further muscle growth.

How to perform: 

  1. With a neutral grip, pick up the dumbbells from the floor (palms facing in). Sit on the bench with the tips of the dumbbells in the hip crease.
  2. Lay back and bring the dumbbells close to the chest to get into position. Take a deep breath, and then push the dumbbells to lockout at the peak once you're in place.
  3. Drop the weights to your shoulders by releasing your elbows and keeping a neutral grip.
  4. Let your upper arms stretch overhead once your forearms have reached parallel or slightly below (similar to a pullover).
  5. Pull the elbows to return to the starting position when the arms reach full extension.
  6. Lengthen the elbows while flexing the triceps to lock out the weight.
  7. Repeat for reps.

4. Triceps Kickbacks

I find dumbbell kickbacks to be quite challenging; they not only engage the core but also effectively target the medial and lateral heads of your triceps.

"The triceps kickback lets you concentrate on carving detail into the arm muscle. The exercise may help us concentrate on that ultimate squeeze."

- Ebenezer Samuel, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

How to perform: 

  1. Get a flat bench and place a dumbbell on the right-hand side at one end to prepare for the dumbbell tricep kickback.
  2. Place yourself on the right side of the bench, with your left knee and your left hand on the bench.
  3. Grab the load with your right hand using a neutral grip. Maintain a straight back and a forward gaze.
  4. Tuck your right upper arm into your chest and bend your elbow to produce a 90° arm angle with the upper arm and forearm. This is your starting point.
  5. Lift the dumbbell behind you using only your elbows until your arm is completely extended.
  6. Pause, then drop the dumbbell to return to the starting position.
  7. Perform this exercise for the required repetitions, then switch to your left arm.

5. Half Bench Skull Crusher

Doing skull crushers on an inclined bench

The half-bench dumbbell skull crushers cancel one of the most common mistakes on skull crushers.

If people don't have a lot of shoulder motion range overhead, they react by arching their back.

Because you can't truly arch your back from that half-bench position, your refined shoulder mobility develops.

How to perform:

  1. Lay on a bench with one hand on a dumbbell.
  2. Transfer your weight to that side such that the spine, half of your body, and one glute are entirely off the bench.
  3. To maintain a robust and steady base throughout the workout, squeeze the glute and tighten your core.
  4. Raise the dumbbell to form a 90° angle with your body. To assist you in maintaining your balance, extend the opposite arm straight out to the side.
  5. Hinge the elbow to drop the weight straight down behind your head, then tighten your triceps to return it to a 90° angle.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

6. Dumbbell Floor Press

As a trainer, I've found that this technique's super-solid stance lets you challenge your triceps with heavier loads than many other exercises, while also engaging the surrounding muscle groups.

How to perform: 

  1. Lay flat on your back with both knees bent and your legs flat. Grasp a pair of dumbbells, elbows out at a 45° angle from the sides.
  2. Maintain your lower back pushed into the floor, dumbbells straight up over your chest, and arms extended.
  3. Pause at the top.
  4. Bend your elbows slowly to drop the dumbbells back down until the backs of your upper hands parallel the floor.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

7. Incline Dumbbell Kickbacks

Woman on an incline bench doing dumbbell kickbacks

From a visual standpoint, the triceps' long head constitutes the muscle's most prominent part.

Incline kickbacks allow the triceps long head to experience maximum stress over the lateral and medial heads.

How to perform:

  1. With a neutral grip, grab a pair of dumbbells.
  2. Support your body by lying face down on a 45º incline bench.
  3. Tuck your upper arms into your body and bend your elbows to produce a 90° angle with your upper arms and forearms.
  4. Raise the dumbbells behind you using only your elbows until your arms are completely extended.
  5. Pause, then return the dumbbells to the beginning position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  7. You may perform this exercise unilaterally. But the double-sided form works best for this one.

8. Close Grip Dumbbell Push Ups

I find using dumbbells as a stationary base in this workout enhances the push-up range, even though you're not actively pulling or pushing the weights.

Push-ups may be associated with exercising your chest, but changing the position of your hands and using dumbbells will assist in moving a great deal of strain onto your upper arm.

How to perform: 

  1. Begin in a tabletop plank posture with one hand on each dumbbell. The dumbbells should be immediately beneath your shoulders, with your palms facing each other, forming a 'narrow grip' stance.
  2. Bend your elbows and descend your body to the ground from here. Instead of flaring outward, your elbows should glide past your sides.
  3. Push yourself slowly back to the starting position and repeat for repetitions.

If you're looking for more ways to increase mass, check out our article on: The Best Triceps Exercises for Mass

Anatomy of the Tricep

Woman showing tricep muscles

To enhance triceps brachii growth and development, engage each muscle head with particular workouts that bias the region.

The simplest way of doing this is to understand the anatomical structure of the triceps.

While your triceps are considered one muscular group, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), they have three different "muscle heads": the lateral, medial, and long head [1].

1. Lateral Head

According to the NIH, the triceps lateral head originates from the rear side of the humerus (upper arm bone) and enters the olecranon groove (point of the elbow) [2].

The triceps medial and lateral vary in that one is located on the outer side of the arm (lateral head), while the other is situated within the arm (medial head).

Exercises that completely flex and cause elbow extension will be beneficial for developing the triceps lateral head.

2. Medial Head

Flexing medial heads in triceps

The triceps medial head starts and inserts from the rear side of the humerus to the olecranon process (point of the elbow).

Workouts that cause full elbow extension (moving the elbow joint from a completely contracted to a fully extended posture), depending on its orientation, will train it exceptionally well.

Consider the most common types of pressing.

3. Long Head

As the NIH notes, the long triceps head is distinctive in that it originates and enters from the scapula to the elbow tip [3].

Because the long head is located differently than the lateral and medial tricep heads, a varied arm orientation can strain it more than the others.

Putting your arm behind your head is a great technique to put additional strain on your long head of triceps (consider overhead dumbbell triceps extensions).

Benefits of Training Triceps With Dumbbells

Holding dumbbells above head for tricep training

"Dumbbell triceps exercises allow for higher muscular activation, which activates extra muscle fibers for better outcomes. Thus, if you want to gain muscle, look no further than the reliable dumbbells."

- David Wiener, Level Three Personal Trainer

Strength training for both women and men, like dumbbell triceps exercises, develops your muscle groups on a cellular level.

Each muscle cell gets stronger.

In reality, strength exercise makes the entire body stronger and healthier.

The benefits of tricep dumbbell workouts are:

1. Single-Arm Focus

From my experience as a personal trainer, it's pretty common to be a bit lopsided — almost everyone has a favorite hand and some natural quirks (yep, even that one liver plays a part).

But here's what I've noticed: using the same weight in both arms often lets the stronger side dominate, which can actually make imbalances worse.

What's the great part about dumbbells? They allow you to work each hand individually, evening out the effort and smoothing out those asymmetries. This approach is incredibly effective, especially if you're finding it challenging to coordinate your mind and muscle actions.

2. Freedom of Movement

Doing tricep exercises

You can control the position of dumbbells by twisting your wrist and moving them separately.

This lets you tweak your technique to get the optimal mind-muscle connection and identify strategies to alleviate discomfort or joint pain.

Anecdotally, barbell extensions may cause elbow joint discomfort in many lifters.

The remedy might be as simple as substituting dumbbells.

3. Compound Lifts

When you use dumbbells, you can exercise with compound movements and get the most out of your routines.

If barbells aren't your thing, you don't have to limit yourself to isolated exercises.

A neutral grip dumbbell bench press targets the triceps, chest, and front delts, simulating a close grip bench press.

In this case, dumbbells also enable you to exercise alone, closer to failure, without the risk of crushing yourself beneath a bar.

4. Enhanced Range of Motion

Dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion compared to barbells or machines.

This increased range is crucial for fully stretching and contracting the triceps, leading to better muscle growth and flexibility.

5. Versatility in Exercises

Dumbbells offer a wide array of exercise variations for triceps training, from overhead extensions to kickbacks.

This versatility keeps workouts interesting and can target the muscles from different angles for comprehensive development.

FAQs

Can You Build Triceps With Dumbbells?

Yes, you can build triceps with dumbbells. Dumbbell triceps exercises develop the triceps muscle by causing it to move against resistance.

What Are Good Dumbbell Tricep Workouts?

The good dumbbell triceps workouts are neutral-grip dumbbell bench presses, lying dumbbell tricep extensions, dumbbell kickbacks, overhead triceps extensions, and dumbbell tate presses.

How Do You Hit All 3 Muscles in Your Tricep?

You hit all three muscles in your triceps by performing exercises such as overhead triceps extension, triceps pull-downs, and dumbbell floor presses.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536996/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6136322/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29418118/
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About The Author

Senior Coach
Tyler Sellers is a trained athlete and author with contributions to publications like Men’s Health, The Healthy, Fox Business, NerdWallet, Weight Watchers, and MSN. His unique approach extends beyond physical techniques, emphasizing the significance of mental techniques like the flow state and mind-muscle connection.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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