Dumbbells are a tool that age like fine wine. They’re great for beginners, and stay relevant throughout your training career. They’re a staple in almost every commercial gym, and their nearly-universal availability means there are plenty of benefits in store for you if you take the time to develop dumbbell mastery. Working out your triceps with dumbbells is no exception.
Your triceps are an aptly-named triple-headed muscle group that synergize well with the wide selection of exercises and various range of motions available with dumbbell work. You can even make a decent argument that your triceps require dumbbell-specific training if you want to realize your muscle-growth potential.
From beginners to maximal muscle to joint health, there are more than enough reasons to put a weight in each hand and get to work. Here are the five best dumbbell triceps workouts.
Best Dumbbell Triceps Workouts
- Dumbbell Triceps Workout for Beginners
- Dumbbell Triceps Workout for Muscle
- Dumbbell Triceps Workout for Strength
- Dumbbell Triceps Workout for Minimalists
- Dumbbell Triceps Workout for Stability
When you’re just starting out, a few basic exercises per workout are really all you’ll need to stimulate muscle growth, gain strength, and improve coordination. The long-term benefits of dumbbell training come from an increased level of comfort and coordination — controlling two individual implements can be hard at first.
In this respect, dumbbells can be a double-edged sword, but once you get the hang of them you’ll see a greater and greater return on investment. Keep things simple and let time do the work for you.
To get a good workout in as a beginner, all you need is a few good pressing exercises and something overhead. Although certain dumbbell triceps exercises may not stay relevant long-term, take advantage of everything you can to build a baseline of strength and coordination.
Basic pressing will build your strength, overhead work will hit specific areas for better growth, and a kickback can be a super-effective finisher for when fatigue really kicks in.
- Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press: 3×10
- Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extensions: 3×12
- Dumbbell Triceps Kickback: 3×15
Building muscle requires a good amount of volume and intensity, especially for a multi-headed muscle group like the triceps. You can also prioritize your exercise selection around the different heads of the triceps to maximize growth. Although building muscle normally calls for more sets, repetitions, and exercises, the triceps are usually involved in full-body compound exercises as well. Keep that in mind when planning your workouts for the week.
Muscle growth can occur across many different intensity and repetition ranges. In order to maximize growth, take advantage of both pressing and extension exercises. You can go heavier for less repetitions using a press and lighter on extension exercises to build volume. For all of these exercises, you’re going to want to select a weight that brings your muscles close to failure by the end of the set in order to see the best growth.
- Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press: 3×8-10
- Tate Press: 3×10-12
- Dumbbell Skull Crusher: 3×12-15
- Single-arm Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extensions: 2×15
Strength is about moving as much weight as safely as possible. The best way to build strength is to increase the loads you’re working with, drop the repetitions lower, and utilize longer rest periods. Pressing variations will always be a staple for building strength because it keeps the joints in a strong position to avoid injury. Any extension based exercises should be modified to avoid placing too much stress across the joints. For example, you could replace skull crushers with a rolling dumbbell triceps extension if you’re experiencing elbow discomfort.
Adapting some of the major barbell strength exercises is a brilliant idea for getting strong with dumbbells. The strength benefits of the barbell are hard to beat, but the movement patterns can be modified to suit dumbbells, too. While absolute loading might not be as intense, the benefits of strength-based unilateral training cannot be undersold.
Since the dumbbells will require more stability to train with, you should err on the side of higher-repetition strength training parameters to mitigate your risk of injury.
- Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press: 4×6
- Dumbbell JM Press: 3×8
- Rolling Dumbbell Triceps Extension: 3×10
Sometimes you just want to get in and out. Although there can be a ton of fun nuances to maximize triceps growth, there are also effective ways to get big arms with some straight-forward no-nonsense hard work. Put your head down and get close to failure and get out.
The aim of this workout is to find low-skill-but-high-intensity triceps exercises to make for a quick trip to the gun show. Using as much external stability, bilateral movement, and moderate weights to get a lot done in a little bit of time.
- Dumbbell Floor Press: 4×8
- Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extensions: 4×10
- Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks: 2×20
The most challenging part about dumbbell training is the stability demands on the shoulders and core. Without the ability to resist the independently loaded (or single-sided) exercises from shoving you around, it would be impossible to see the maximal benefits. Not only that, your increased stability has a direct impact on your ability to train effectively overall.
Let’s call a spade a spade here, though, the real fun about stability-based workouts is that they are extremely challenging.
A stability-based dumbbell triceps workout can serve as a “systems check” for your individual limb strength and coordination. The observations you make based upon how hard or how easy on one side versus the other can help you address weaknesses or muscle imbalances. Testing yourself with a stability workout can then be fine-tuned to help improve your findings.
- Single-Arm Neutral Grip Dumbbell Z-Press: 2×10
- Single-Arm Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench Press: 2×10
- Standing Single-Arm Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension: 2×15
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Skull Crusher: 2×12
Note: Perform all exercises one arm at a time.
Benefits of Working With Dumbbells
Dumbbell workouts are a fantastic addition to any training program as they allow for a unique training stimulus. They also open up a wide range of exercise choices that stray from the normal barbell or bodyweight presses that might normally dominate a triceps workout. Similarly, with dumbbells any muscle, strength, mobility, or stability differences are put on full display for you to address later.
Individualized Range of Motion
One of the most obvious benefits of a dumbbell when compared to a barbell or even some calisthenics exercises is the fact that they accommodate your body type. With a barbell, your arms and shoulders are going to be locked into a fixed range of motion regardless of how long your limbs are.
This can become inefficient in some cases and painful in others, making certain exercises difficult to progress on. In these cases, switching your favorite barbell exercise to a dumbbell variation can help you keep seeing big progress without banging up your joints.
Better Exercise Selection
Much like individualized range of motion, dumbbells are also extremely effective at providing a much broader range of exercises for your training library. Barbells are fantastic for pressing, but you might benefit from longer or deeper ranges of motion than a barbell would allow.
A prime example of this is the difference switching from barbells to dumbbells can have on the skull crusher. Both exercises aim to train the triceps in an overhead position, but dumbbells should allow for a much better range of motion for each arm, leading to a more comfortable, and possibly effective, experience set-to-set.
One of the biggest benefits of dumbbell training is unilateral development. Using an implement in each hand exposes any differences in strength, coordination, and allows you to balance your muscular development. Many of these aspects can be masked by bilateral exercises until they become big problems. Structuring your training around dumbbells helps head off these issues long before they can become big enough problems to halt your training.
Anatomy of the Triceps
To maximize the growth and development of the triceps you’ll want to target each muscle head with specific exercises that bias the area. The best way to do this is by knowing a bit about the anatomy of the triceps themselves. While considered one muscle group, your triceps actually have three distinct “muscle bellies” (thus, “tri”ceps).
The medial head of the triceps originates and inserts from the back side of the humerus (upper arm bone) to the olecranon process (point of the elbow). Based on its orientation, exercises that take the elbow from a fully flexed position to a fully extended position will train it really well. Think most standard forms of pressing here.
The lateral head of the triceps also originates and inserts from the back side of the humerus (upper arm bone) to the olecranon process (point of the elbow). The difference between the medial and lateral head of the triceps is that one is positioned on the outside of the arm (lateral head) and the other towards the inside of the arm (medial head).
Similarly to the medial head, exercises that fully flex and extend the elbow are going to be effective at building the lateral head.
The long head of the triceps is unique because it originates and inserts from the scapula to the point of the elbow. Since it spans across a different position than the medial and lateral heads, a different arm orientation can help stress it more than the others. Placing your arm back behind your head is a great way to stress your long head of triceps a bit more (think overhead triceps extensions).
In the world of training implements, a mixed bag of barbells, dumbbells, cables, calisthenics, and bands help cover the bases of muscular development. Barbells are where heavy lifting thrives and often gets more than its fair share of time within a program. Calisthenics can be great for beginners and are often big points of personal pride. Dumbbells are difficult to work with, and can expose gaps in your physical prowess.
While that may sound like a deterrent, the benefits are just as potent. If you invest some time in building skill and coordination with dumbbells, you can take your triceps training to the next level. Think outside the barbell box, and your newfound gains will thank you.
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