6 Tricep Exercises with Dumbbells
If it’s arm day and you’re gearing up to give your triceps some attention, you might instinctively gravitate towards the cable machine. But this piece of equipment isn’t the only ally for toning the upper arm muscles—dumbbell workouts can be just as effective as cable tricep workouts, with some choice benefits of their own.
The advantage of free weight tricep training lies in its versatility: Not only do you have more range of motion, but dumbbells require us to take the lead, rather than rely on a machine to do the work for us.
Ready to strengthen the muscle group and build stronger triceps? Whether you’re heading to the gym or working out at home, this guide will spotlight 6 superior tricep exercises to try with dumbbells. Plus, we’ll throw in some expert tips on how to pick the perfect weights and rep count for your next upper-body sweat session.
Why Exercise Your Triceps with Dumbbells?
Located at the back of the upper arm, our triceps are responsible for bringing the arms towards the body, stabilizing the shoulder, and extending the elbow joints.1 There are a few key reasons why you may opt to build their strength using dumbbells:
- Mimics real-life lifting – Lifting a dumbbell over your head is very similar to taking a heavy item off a high shelf, or heaving that 25-lb suitcase into the overhead compartment on an airplane. The more familiar the motion, the better you’ll be able to use your improved strength in day-to-day life.
- Improved balance and coordination – Dumbbells help improve your balance and coordination since you’ll need to exert more control with each movement. Cable machines, on the other hand, do most of this for you, as they don’t always encourage you to activate your stabilizing muscles.
- Variety – As the dumbbell is a free weight it offers up a plethora of exercises and variations that a fixed machine just can’t compete with.
Finally, dumbbells make amazing equipment for at-home or at-the-office strength training for those days when you can’t make it to the gym. Plus, we don’t think your boss would be too happy about a cable machine under your desk!
6 Dumbbell Tricep Workouts
Before diving into these tricep exercises, it’s crucial to ensure you’re working with the correct weight of dumbbells. Too-heavy dumbbells could throw off your form and make you more susceptible to injury; a too-light set is a recipe for inefficient workouts and slow-to-yield results.
The perfect weight should make those last few reps feel challenging, but not impossible. If you feel like you can reach desired rep count for each set while maintaining proper form, you’ve chosen the right weight. If you feel like you could easily surpass your chosen rep count, opt for a heavier one.
Remember: The goal is to fatigue your triceps, which will encourage them to adapt and strengthen with each workout. Once you’ve found that “Goldilocks” sweet spot, it’s time to get lifting.
So when it’s upper arm day, consider doing these dumbbell tricep exercises along with the classic reverse fly and pullover exercise.
#1 Folded Triceps Kickback
This dumbbell exercise is an invigorating jumping-off point for any tricep routine. The tricep kickback is a simple, slow, and an excellent way to warm up your elbows—and any exercise that trains muscles individually can help to correct any muscle imbalances.2
Here’s how to start this tricep exercise:
- Lean your upper body forwards, creating a 90-degree angle at your waist. Keep a slight bend in the knee and imagine knitting your ribs towards your navel.
- Pick up a dumbbell with one hand and rest your other hand on the small of your back.
- Bring the dumbbell towards your upper body, stopping when your elbow is parallel to your side. Keep your arm close to your body for each rep. Repeat until your arm feels tired, then switch to the other side.
Variation: You can also perform this triceps exercise with weights in both hands, working both arms simultaneously.
#2 Close-Grip Dumbbell Press
For this exercise, you’ll lay on a bench, which will target your triceps as well as your shoulders and chest. Here’s how to do it:
- Lie supine (face up) on a flat bench and two dumbbells and feet planted on the floor
- Hold your dumbbells above you keeping your arms close to your body.
- Lower the dumbbells until your upper arms are parallel with your torso. Then, lift them back up until your arms are perpendicular to the floor. Repeat.
#3 Dumbbell Skullcrusher
Don’t be alarmed by the name—done safely, this tricep exercise won’t involve any contact with your head! Stay on your flat bench, take one of your dumbbells, and begin:
- Lay down on the bench and plant your feet firmly on the floor.
- Grab one dumbbell by the weights with both of your hands and hold it above you. Your arms should be angled straight up towards the ceiling.
- Bending at the elbows and keeping your wrists firm, guide the weight towards your forehead. Extend the arms; repeat.
Note: For single-handed triceps exercises, it’s best to use a lower weight. You might go a grade heavier for exercises where you’re using two arms simultaneously.
#4 Dumbbell Triceps Extension
You can sit or stand for this dumbbell exercise. It targets all three heads of your triceps (lateral head, medial head, and long head) simultaneously.
Whether you’re doing a standing or seated tricep extension, take one dumbbell, and begin this triceps workout:
- Grab your dumbbell by the weighted ends with both hands. Hold it behind your head.
- Lower the dumbbell as far as feels natural, then raise it just before you can fully extend your arms. Repeat.
Variation: You can take this dumbbell tricep extension exercise one arm at a time using a lighter weight. Use the same motion and rest your non-lifting arm on the elbow of the lifting arm. This can help improve alignment and proprioception.
#5 Triceps Gravity Press
Don’t be surprised if you “feel the burn” with this exercise—it’ll require you to keep your triceps constantly working to keep the dumbbell from dropping.
Find a flat bench and two dumbbells, and begin:
- Lay on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand; forearms should be parallel to the floor. The bottom of each weight should be next to your cheek.
- Extend your arms past your head, maintaining the same height as the starting position. Bend at the elbows and repeat.
#6 Dumbbell Z-Press
Someone else stole the bench? No sweat (well, maybe some). This triceps exercise requires no bench, and it’s easy to learn if you’re just building your skills with dumbbells.
Grab one or two dumbbells depending on your preference, and begin:
- Sit on the ground with your legs in front of you, forming an “L” shape on the floor. Tuck your belly button towards your spine, and bend at your knees if your hamstrings feel tight.
- Grab a dumbbell with each hand, or take it one at a time.
- Begin with your arm fully folded and the dumbbell just above your shoulder. Keep your elbows tucked towards the midline.
- Raise the dumbbell above your head until your arm is fully extended and slowly bring it down. Go easy on your triceps—controlling on the descent of the dumbbell is key for this exercise.
How to Choose the Correct Number of Reps
The good news is that there are plenty of dumbbell tricep exercises to add to your workout routine, but it comes down to the reps and sets. Generally speaking, there are three main things you may want to focus on building at the gym: endurance, strength, and hypertrophy. All of these can be objectives of your strength training workout, which creates a well-balanced routine when coupled with aerobic exercise.
Whichever strength training objective you set for yourself on any given gym day will help you determine the ideal weight for your dumbbell tricep exercises —light, moderately heavy, or heavy.
Additionally, each fitness goal will influence how many reps and sets you use to organize your tricep workout session. Let’s take a look at each to find your ideal routine:
- Endurance – When you want to increase the amount of time your muscles can work, you’re training for endurance. Aim for a lighter weight, with more reps per set, like 10 to 14 reps per set, and 2 to 3 sets.
- Strength – Training strength means increasing the amount of weight you can lift by gradually working your way up the dumbbell rack from week to week or month to month. Aim for 6 to 10 reps per set, with 3 to 6 sets.
- Hypertrophy – Hypertrophy refers to the process of muscle tissue breaking down and then rebuilding. Resistance exercise is one of the most robust ways to activate this biological mechanism—and it requires the fewest reps and sets.3 Aim for 4 to 6 reps per set, and a maximum of 2 sets.
Work Out Smarter with Chuze Fitness
With correct form and a little insight, experimenting with exercises for your triceps will have you feeling like a master of the dumbbells in no time. But learning your way around each new piece of equipment shouldn’t ever feel boring—we want to keep each sweat session fresh and engaging.
Chuze Fitness is all about welcoming fitness fans of all levels to discover new ways of working out and building a routine feeling inspiring. Switch up your workout with group classes, on-demand iChuze virtual workouts, and an inclusive fitness community that cheers you on with each milestone you pass.
Chuze Fitness experts are here to help you every step of the way. Learn about our memberships and stop by a location by searching “gyms near me” online to see what’s in store for your future in fitness.
Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.
- NCBI. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Triceps Muscle. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536996/
- Ace Fitness. The Benefits of Unilateral Training. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/pros/expert-articles/7035/the-benefits-of-unilateral-training/
- UNM. How do muscles grow? https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/musclesgrowLK.html