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6 Effective Dumbbell Triceps Exercises For Growth

Triceps are important for strength on pretty much all pushing exercises as well as for big looking arms. What can you do to make them bigger and stronger with just a pair of dumbbells? Here’s what you want to know. 

In the list below you can find the exercises that really target the triceps. They are mostly isolation exercises that don’t involve much of the rest of the body. Most pushing exercises like push-ups, bench presses and shoulder presses also use the triceps. In many cases doing those is enough for some tricep growth but if you really want to focus on the size and strength of the tris, these are the exercises for you. 

These are the movements that target different parts of the triceps to get your them to grow but also make them stronger.

1. Dumbbell JM Press

The JM press is a great exercise that combines a close grip dumbbell press and a skull crusher. It’s an exercise that might feel a little bit unnatural at first but it’s worth the effort. Just start with a low weight until you know how to do it exactly because there is a chance you’ll hit yourself in the head with a dumbbell otherwise.

How to do it:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells
  • Lay down on a flat bench
  • Hold the dumbbells close to the chest.
  • Hold the dumbbells on the chest.
  • Squeeze the dumbbells together. (Knuckles facing towards your head)
  • Brace the core, glutes and drive the heels into the floor
  • Push the dumbbells up until the arms are extended. Keep squeezing the dumbbells together.
  • At the same time, bend the elbows and lower the elbows slightly. Keep the elbows above the torso
  • The dumbbells will come close to the face. Go slow and be careful
  • Extend the elbows and shoulders to get back to the starting position.

That might sound a bit confusing and it is actually a bit strange. Check out the video for a clear visual. 

This exercise can also be done on the floor in case there is no bench available. You’ll lose a tiny bit of range of motion and comfort but otherwise this is just as effective. 

2.  Dumbbell One Arm Overhead Extension

This exercise mainly targets the long head of the triceps. In the beginning it can be a bit difficult to get your arm in the right position but it’s not very complicated and after one or two workouts you’ll get the hang of it. 

How to do it:

  • Grab one dumbbell
  • Sit down on a stool or flat bench (as long as there’s nothing behind your head/neck/upper back)
  • Put the feet flat on the floor and brace the core
  • Shoulder press the dumbbell until your upper arm is next to your ear.
  • Bend the arm at the elbow while keeping the upper arm in place. 
  • Bend the elbow until the dumbbell is behind the bottom of the neck. (One head of the dumbbells can easily touch the vertebrae so make sure to go slow. 
  • From the bottom, squeeze the triceps to extend the elbow. Make sure to keep the upper arm and elbow in the same place. 
  • Finish the set and repeat for the other arm. 

3. Dumbbell Kickback

You’ll feel this one burn in one part of your triceps; the lateral head. This is one of the exercises that really targets that part where it can be hard to hit really hard with many other exercises. 

How to do it:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells
  • Bend over at the hips. Keep the back straight and a slight bend in the knees. 
  • Put the upper body into a roughly 45 degree angle to the floor.
  • Pull the upper arm behind the body until it’s parallel to the floor. 
  • Extend the elbow until the arm is straight. Make sure to keep the elbow and upper body stable.
  • Keep the arm extended at the top for a second and really squeeze the muscle.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell down until back in starting position.
  • Repeat.

4. Dumbbell Tate Press

The Tate press is not very well know but it’s a good alternative to the dumbbell skull crusher. The Tate press is quite similar although your elbows are flared out. 

There are two benefits to the Tate press; 1. It puts less stress on the elbows. If your elbows feel tight or painful on the normal DB skull crusher, try this variation. 2. You keep the dumbbells further away from your head. That’s obviously a bit safer. 

How to do it:

  • Get a flat bench
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells
  • Lay down on the bench, feet flat on the floor
  • Bring the dumbbells to the chest. 
  • Brace the core, squeeze the glutes and keep the shoulders down and back. 
  • Flare out the elbows to the sides.
  • Squeeze the triceps to extend the elbows
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the chest.
  • Repeat.

5. Close Grip Dumbbell Press

This is a great compound movement that also trains the chest but by keeping the dumbbells relatively close to each other you put much more stress on the triceps than with normal presses. 

How to do it:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells 
  • Lay down on on a flat bench, feet flat on the floor.
  • Hold the dumbbells on the chest with the hands in a neutral position. (Dumbbell handles parallel to the body)
  • Squeeze the dumbbells together. 
  • Brace the core, glutes and drive the heels into the floor
  • Push the dumbbells up until the arms are extended. Keep squeezing the dumbbells together.
  • Slowly return to the starting position. 
  • Repeat. 

This exercise can also be done on the floor in case there is no bench available. You’ll lose a tiny bit of range of motion and comfort but otherwise this is just as effective.

6. Dumbbell Skull Crusher

The name of this exercise might be a bit scary but it’s not as bad as you might think. The original name comes from the variation of the exercise that’s done with a barbell. With a barbell, if you let the weight go too low, the bar hits your head. With dumbbells there is nothing between your hands so this isn’t a problem. The dumbbells go next to your head, not on it. 

It’s a good exercise but since this one and number 5 are already combined into the JM press, it’s at the bottom here. 

How to do it:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells
  • Lay down on a flat bench, feet flat on the floor
  • Hold the dumbbells close to the chest
  • Brace the core and glutes
  • Push the dumbbells up until the arms are straight
  • Now move back the arms a few degrees while keeping them straight. You should feel a slight tension on the triceps to hold the arms in this position. 
  • Bend the arms while keeping the elbows in the same location. 
  • Bend until your hands are next to your ears. 
  • Squeeze the triceps to extend the elbow.
  • Repeat.

This exercise can also be done on the floor in case there is no bench available. You’ll lose a tiny bit of range of motion and comfort but otherwise this is just as effective. 

Bonus: Close Grip Push-up

This is not a dumbbell exercise but it’s just too good not to mention. If you have no equipment available at all, this is a great way to still give your triceps a good workout. Just like with pressing, the closer you put your hands together, the more focus there is on the triceps and the less there is on the chest. 

Triceps Anatomy

To understand why you need different exercises to get complete muscle activation in the triceps, some anatomy is good to know. 

There are three muscles in the triceps (hence the name; TRIceps). The three heads are the; Medial head, Lateral head and Long head. They all insert and attach to different places so they have slightly different purposes. 

Diagram with the location of the triceps in the body.
The triceps are highlighted red

The main purpose of the triceps is to extend the elbow but also abduction of the upper arm. (Bringing the arm from overhead towards the chest) So now we know that, we know how to exercise those muscles. The different heads of the triceps have slightly different purposes and the heads are activated differently at different angles of shoulder activation. That’s why just doing the same triceps movement all the time will leave some muscle gains on the table. You want to be doing elbow extensions with the upper arm and shoulder at different angles as well as bringing the upper arm down to get a full workout. 

The long and lateral heads are the visible ones from the outside. However, that doesn’t mean you should avoid the medial head. The medial head lies under the other two. That means training the medial head will push up the other two and make them bigger/more visible. For strength, the medial head is also very important since in many positions, it produces the most force. 

Are Dumbbells Enough To Build Big Triceps?

Dumbbells are great tools to build triceps. Dumbbells move separately from each other so the muscles of each arm have to lift the weight by themselves. They are easy to hold and use as well. As long as you get the training and recovery part right, the triceps will grow just fine using dumbbells. 

However, it is important to have a range of weights for the dumbbells. You want the resistance on every exercise to be optimal and if you only have one or two sets, you probably can’t get that on every exercise. 

The dumbbell weight you use should be heavy enough that you can JUST finish all the reps and sets with maybe a few reps left in the tank. It’s not necessary to go to failure every time but you should get close. 

For size, doing higher repetition sets (and thus with lighter weights) while for strength you should use lower reps but with higher weight. For triceps growth, use at least 12 repetition sets but more (up to 25) is possible. In general the higher repetition sets you do, the more you focus on hypertrophy (muscle growth) and less on strength. That’s why most people use 8-12 repetition sets. It’s a sweet spot between strength and size but if you want to focus on one over the other, you can adjust the amount of repetitions. As long as you also adjust the weights of course. 

How To Optimize Triceps Growth

Doing the right exercises is a great start but there are some other things to keep in mind as to optimize triceps growth. Here are the four most important ones. 

1. Train All The Muscles 

As you might have noticed, there are actually different muscles in the triceps area. It’s not just one muscle. And if you want to optimize growth, targeting all the different muscles in their own way is important. Different types of curls focus on different muscles. So if you always only do standing tricep curls, some of those muscles will be underdeveloped and you don’t have the size you actually could. 

2. Good Form

Using good form makes a difference. It means you’re using the muscles you intended to train. If you see people curling very heavy weights they clearly can’t handle and they’re moving them with their hips and bodies instead of triceps, do you think that is very effective? Not really, you only increase the injury risk because your body isn’t adapted to those weights but you don’t get any more triceps growth/strength gains because you aren’t actually using the triceps to move all that weight. 

Use weights that are light enough so you can end the set with proper form. The weight might be lighter but you’re actually doing everything with the triceps so they get hit just as hard or very likely harder than if you use a weight that’s too heavy. 

You can also film yourself during a workout and watch it back later. You might be able to see some things that go wrong with the form and correct it. 

3. Exercise Variety

Using different exercises doesn’t only target the different muscles in the triceps area, they also provide different training impulses and target the muscles from different angles. This helps provide different training impulses that help build muscle and strength faster.

Of course you don’t have to use completely different exercises every workout. Just cycling through exercises every few weeks/months is a good idea. Doing the same exercises every workout has it’s benefits. Mainly; you can use a linear progression and increase weight/reps/sets every workout and it’s easy to track. Your body also becomes better at the movements. So using the same workout for x amount of weeks and then changing it up provides a good balance. 

4. Recovery

While the triceps aren’t the biggest muscles and don’t take up too much recovery capacity, they’re probably not the only muscle you train. Your overall recovery has to be taken into account. Eating the correct amount of calories, macronutrients and micronutrients is very important for recovery as is sleep. Other things like supplements, sauna and massages can make a small impact. 

Take care of yourself and your body and muscle will grow faster/stronger if combined with proper training. Training is just one part of the puzzle. Recovery is an important other part.