Your triceps are an incredibly important muscle!
They’re so much more than just “glamor muscles”, despite the fact that they’re among the only muscles people see every day.
Triceps give your arms definition and far more size than the biceps. In fact, between 55 and 65% of your arm size comes from the triceps muscles. Your biceps have a fraction of the growth potential that your triceps do. If you want bigger arms, you need to spend more time training your triceps.
But the muscles aren’t just for show. They’re the first muscles that are engaged with any “push” movement.
Your triceps are engaged in every single pushing movement—the shoulder presses, bench press, push-ups, handstand push-ups. Whether the target is your chest (bench press) or your shoulders (shoulder press), your triceps have to work to aid the larger muscle groups in doing the pushing work.
Your triceps also play an important role in your upper body and arm mobility. They help move your arms at the elbows and improve your range of motion. They’re vital for any activity that utilizes upper body muscles (particularly swimming and boxing).
To put it succinctly: you need to spend time strengthening your triceps. Your ability to exercise and lift heavy depends on it!
- Understanding Your Triceps Muscles
- Top 23 Dumbbell Tricep Exercises That Work Great
- 1. Overhead One-Handed Dumbbell Extension
- 2. Overhead Two-Arm Dumbbell Extension
- 3. Dumbbell Kickback / Single-Arm Tricep Kickback
- 4. Bent-Over Triceps Kickback
- 5. Close-Grip Dumbbell Press
- 6. Close-Grip Dumbbell Push-Up
- 7. Dumbbell Skull Crusher
- 8. Tate Press
- 9. Incline Kickback
- 10. JM Press
- 11. Dumbbell Seated Triceps Dips
- 12. Triceps Gravity Press
- 13. Dumbbell Half-Bench Skull Crusher
- 14. Eccentric Dumbbell Skull Crusher to Press
- 15. Dumbbell Triceps Extension to Gravity Press
- 16. Dumbbell Floor Press
- 17. Dumbbell Cross-Body Triceps Extension
- 18. Plank Triceps Kickback
- 19. Reverse Grip Dumbbell Press
- 20. Angled Single-Arm Overhead Extension
- 21. Prone Double-Arm Triceps Kickback
- 22. Single-Arm Neutral Grip Dumbbell Z-Press
- 23. Standing Eccentric Triceps Extension
Understanding Your Triceps Muscles
The triceps assist in the stability of the shoulder joint by retraction and extension of the elbow joint, as well as assisting with shoulder flexion. The triceps muscles on the backs of your arms are actually made up of three parts:
- The long head. This is the “inner” part of your upper triceps, the part closest to your body.
- The lateral head. This is the “outer” part of your upper triceps, the part farthest from your body.
- The medial head. This is the lower part of your triceps, which sits just above your elbow. It’s also the smallest part.
The long head connects to your scapula (shoulder bone), the lateral head is connected to your humerus (upper arm), and the medial head is connected only to the lower part of your humerus with a tendon that stretches down to the ulna (one of your forearm bones).
The triceps serve the function of extending your forearm from the elbow, as well as helping to extend and adduct (move inward) the arms at the shoulder.
The medial head does most of the work of extending the arm, but it’s the two upper heads—long and lateral—that develop the serious pushing power. Hence, they also develop the greatest size.
Go stand in the mirror and flex the muscles on the back of your arm. You’ll notice that you naturally extend your arm downward, of which the upper two heads are flexed. Often, the long head (closer to your body) is larger than your lateral (outward) head. This is because of the two heads, the long head is more engaged in pushing activities.
What does this mean for your triceps training? It means that you need to incorporate exercises that focus more on the lateral head, to help you develop better overall strength. Expanding the lateral head also helps build greater muscle definition and arm breadth. Your arm will get thicker and the lateral part of your triceps muscle will be more visible than the long head, when viewed from the front.
To improve the definition and strength of both long and lateral heads, it’s a good idea to train using dumbbells. Barbell triceps exercises engage both arms at once, which typically builds more strength in the long head (which does more of the “pushing” work). This isn’t at all a bad thing—it helps you to develop greater push power—but it does focus more on the long head, the larger of the two upper triceps heads.
Using dumbbells isolates your arms, forcing them to work one at a time and giving you greater focus on the specific part of the muscle you want to target.
We’ve collected our favorite dumbbell exercises for triceps below, and you’ll find that incorporating them into your workout can help you build serious power while still allowing you to focus on the specific part of the triceps you want to strengthen and grow.
Top 23 Dumbbell Tricep Exercises That Work Great
Here are the 23 triceps exercises you should add to your exercise arsenal:
1. Overhead One-Handed Dumbbell Extension
If you want a good “starter” movement that targets your triceps, the overhead dumbbell extension is your best choice. The one-handed variation allows you to rotate your arm to just the right angle to target both the lateral and medial triceps heads according to your specific musculature and joint mobility.
You’ll find that it’s very easy on your shoulder with great options for adapting posture and form according to any instabilities or limitations (caused by injuries), but because it’s all on one arm, you may find it has a higher risk of straining your elbow and overworking the medial muscle head. It’s always best to start light and work your way up to greater weight in order to perform this exercise safely.
2. Overhead Two-Arm Dumbbell Extension
There’s a trade-off when you switch from one-handed to two-handed: you get better stability and greater power in the two arms combined, but your potential range of motion is limited and you are unable to target specific parts of the muscle by adapting your form.
Still, for those who want to maximize gains, doing the overhead two-handed dumbbell extension is the way to go. You get both arms involved in the lift, which allows you to push together (push off each other, too) in order to lift more weight. You’ll often find that the combined force of your two arms is more than double the force of a single arm lifting alone.
3. Dumbbell Kickback / Single-Arm Tricep Kickback
This movement is the crème de la crème for your triceps workout, one guaranteed to hit all three muscle heads. It’s an isolation movement that only allows movement at the elbow, and it requires you to keep your shoulder and torso perfectly still in order to maximize its effectiveness.
The beauty of this exercise: it’s incredibly easy to do and typically requires fairly light weight. It’s a great “finishing” move to maximize triceps muscle growth and strength.
4. Bent-Over Triceps Kickback
For those who want to maximize core strength while getting an excellent triceps workout, this kickback variation is the way to go. It’s the same as the regular kickback—isolated arm movement at the elbow—but instead of supporting your weight on a bench, you’re bent over and using your core muscles to keep yourself steady and your torso isolated.
Unlike the regular dumbbell kickback, you can perform this either one-handed or using both arms at the same time, depending on your preferences.
5. Close-Grip Dumbbell Press
The Bench Press is a classic chest exercise, but by shifting your grip close together on a barbell, you emphasize the anterior delts and triceps more. Using dumbbells can simulate the close-grip barbell press, giving you a workout that hits your triceps and the shoulder muscles they help to stabilize—and, as a bonus, strengthens your chest even more.
The effort of keeping the two dumbbells close together while bench pressing them will maximize the effectiveness of this triceps workout, and you’ll find it does wonders for your triceps’ long head. Just make sure to keep your elbows tight by your side—if they flare out, the workout’s focus shifts away from your triceps to your chest.
6. Close-Grip Dumbbell Push-Up
For bodyweight training, Push-Ups are among the “superstar” exercises! They engage every “push” muscle in your body, harness your core, and even force you to squeeze your glutes and legs to keep your lower body stable as you work out.
While the focus of standard Push-Ups is on your chest, switching to a Close-Grip (hands just 2-4 inches apart) targets your triceps and shoulders much more effectively. Using a pair of dumbbells as a solid platform to grip elevates your body off the ground and allows for a much deeper Push-Up, and lets you adapt the posture of your hands and wrists to maximize the focus on your triceps.
7. Dumbbell Skull Crusher
Skull Crushers are an absolute beast, but don’t worry, no one ends up with a skull crushed! They’re simply given that name due to the way the weights are lowered toward your face/forehead, using the strength of your triceps to push the weight back up.
Using dumbbells for Skull Crushers delivers a two-handed workout, but isolates the weight in each hand to force both of your arms to work at maximum capacity. For those with strength imbalances (one arm stronger than the other), switching to dumbbells allows you to highlight the imbalance and pay extra attention to the weaker arm.
8. Tate Press
The Tate Press could also be called a “Chest Crusher” because it’s like the skull crusher exercise, just with your arms shifted inward toward your body rather than up toward your head. It’s definitely an awkward-looking exercise, and it requires a great deal more control and strength than most people realize. It’s definitely a movement for an experienced lifter, but it can maximize the targeting of your lateral triceps head to build definition on the outside of your arm.
Fair warning: this can be tough on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Start with very light weight until you master the proper form, then slowly increase as your joints adapt to the unfamiliar movement.
9. Incline Kickback
Using an incline bench adds an extra element of isolation to your Kickbacks, and allows you to target the muscles at a slightly different angle. You’re still going through the full 90-degree range of motion, but the focal point changes because your body is at a 45-degree angle rather than perfectly flat.
This shifts the focus from your upper triceps to your lower triceps, strengthening the medial head and increasing the power around your elbow. The medial head spends the most time under tension, making it the most effective option to grow your lower triceps in both size and power.
10. JM Press
The JM Press is a “hybrid” exercise, which combines two different exercises—the Skull Crusher and the Close Grip Dumbbell Press—to deliver a more well-rounded, harder-to-complete workout.
Simply put, you start with a Close-Grip Dumbbell Press, and at the top of the concentric phase, you shift into a Skull Crusher. Once you complete the Skull Crusher, you lower the weights to your chest for another Close-Grip Dumbbell Press. That counts as just ONE repetition! You’ll find after 6-8, your triceps are screaming.
11. Dumbbell Seated Triceps Dips
Dips are an amazing bodyweight movement that targets your triceps, with some focus on your shoulders, chest (all the “push” muscles), and upper back muscles. Doing them using a pair of dumbbells allows you to work closer to the ground and reduce the weight on your arms.
You’ll need a pair of dumbbells that provide a sturdy, solid base of support, as you’ll be standing them on their sides. But the added effort of maintaining your balance despite an unstable weight can increase both triceps and core engagement overall.
12. Triceps Gravity Press
Unlike most other exercises on this list, muscle contraction at the top or deep stretch is not the goal of the triceps gravity press. This exercise aims to keep your triceps under constant tension throughout the lift and will smoke your horseshoe muscles by the time you’re done with it.
Lie on a bench while holding a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip. At the starting position, your lower arm should be parallel to the floor. Keep your core tight and extend your arms overhead as far as possible while keeping your forearms parallel to the floor. Slowly return to the starting position, and repeat for reps.
13. Dumbbell Half-Bench Skull Crusher
Although the conventional dumbbell skull crusher is a great exercise to beef up your arms, adding a little variety to the mix never hurts. The dumbbell half-bench skull crusher will help build core strength, stability, and muscle mass. The exercise also reduces the chances of using momentum while performing the lift as you’re literally hanging off the bench.
Lie on a flat bench so that only half your back is placed on the pad. Grab a dumbbell with a neutral grip on the side that is off the bench. Extend your arm so that it is perpendicular to the floor. While keeping your elbow pinned, lower the dumbbell until it is at the side of your head. Return to the starting explosively. Repeat for recommended reps before switching sides.
14. Eccentric Dumbbell Skull Crusher to Press
If you cannot choose between the neutral-grip dumbbell press and the skull crusher on your triceps day, you should try the eccentric skull crusher to press as it gets you the best of both worlds.
Lie on a bench while holding a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip. Your arms should be extended and perpendicular to the floor at the starting position. Without moving your upper arms, lower the dumbbells until they are at your ear level. From this position, pull the dumbbells to the sides of your chest in a single sweeping motion. Press the dumbbells back to the starting position. Repeat for recommended reps.
15. Dumbbell Triceps Extension to Gravity Press
The dumbbell triceps extension to gravity press makes your arms work in two planes — horizontal and vertical, ensuring you get the best bang for your buck.
Lie on an exercise mat with your feet placed flat on the floor. Place a pair of dumbbells at the sides of your head and grab them with a neutral grip. While keeping your elbows close to your body, extend your arms so they are perpendicular to the floor — this will be your starting position.
Slowly lower your forearms until they are parallel to the floor. While keeping your forearms parallel to the floor, extend your arms overhead as far as possible. Return to the starting position by bringing your elbows over your shoulder and extending your arms.
16. Dumbbell Floor Press
The dumbbell floor press is different from the close-grip dumbbell press in that it allows you to work with heavier weights and increases your range of motion.
Lie on an exercise mat and place your feet flat on the floor. Grab a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip and place your elbows at your sides — this will be your starting position.
While exhaling sharply, lift the dumbbells so the dumbbells are over your shoulders at the top and your arms are perpendicular to the floor. Return to the starting position in a slow and controlled motion.
17. Dumbbell Cross-Body Triceps Extension
The cross-body triceps extension is one of the most under-utilized arms exercises. It is a variation of the dumbbell skull crusher that focuses on the medial triceps head.
Lie on a flat bench and grab a dumbbell in one hand. Extend the arm so that it is perpendicular to the floor. Without moving your upper arm, lower the dumbbell until it is a few inches away from the opposite shoulder. Return to the starting position and repeat for reps before switching sides.
18. Plank Triceps Kickback
If you’re running short on time and want an exercise that’ll help you build horseshoe triceps while setting your abs on fire, boosting core stability, and burning an awful lot of calories, the plank triceps kickback is what you need.
Get into a high-plank position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Grab a dumbbell in one hand with a neutral grip and row it to your side so that your elbow is at your side. While keeping your upper arm glued to your side, extend your arm straight. Return to the starting position and repeat for reps before switching sides.
19. Reverse Grip Dumbbell Press
If you want triceps that look like a horse kicked you in the back of your arms, you need to add the reverse grip dumbbell press to your exercise arsenal.
The reverse grip dumbbell press is a wrist and forearm-friendly version of the reverse grip barbell press. Using dumbbells allows you to better isolate the triceps, helping achieve a better pump.
20. Angled Single-Arm Overhead Extension
As you have more lifting experience under your belt, the conventional single-arm overhead extension might start feeling a little too easy. It’s when you know it is time to introduce the angled single-arm overhead extension to the mix.
You’ll perform this exercise on an incline bench angled at around 45-degree to the floor. Performing the lift at an angle puts the back of your arms under constant tension.
21. Prone Double-Arm Triceps Kickback
The prone double-arm triceps kickback is a great exercise for beginners or folks who have a hard time maintaining a mind-muscle connection with their triceps in the bent-over position.
This kickback variation is harder than the incline kickback as you have to keep your upper arms parallel to the floor throughout the exercise, which is more exhausting than holding them at an angle.
22. Single-Arm Neutral Grip Dumbbell Z-Press
The single-arm neutral grip dumbbell Z-press is a functional exercise that can help you put more meat on the back of your arms and build insane pressing strength.
Focus on your triceps while performing the lift by actively contracting your triceps throughout the movement. Squeeze the life out of your triceps at the bottom. Explode through the concentric (upward) part of the lift and contract at the top. Return to the starting position, pause at the bottom, and repeat for reps.
23. Standing Eccentric Triceps Extension
To perform the standing eccentric triceps extension, stand upright with a shoulder-wide stance while holding a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip. Extend your arms straight so that they are parallel to the floor.
While maintaining an upright torso, bend at your elbows to bring the dumbbells towards your head as if doing a biceps curl. Return to the starting position while squeezing your triceps as hard as possible. The exercise is best done with lighter weights.
Read more about triceps:
- Best Old-School Triceps Workouts
- Best Triceps Exercises For Building Bigger and Stronger Arms
- Long Head Triceps Exercises for Thicker, Stronger Arms
- Build Bigger Triceps with Skull Crushers
- Lateral Head Triceps Exercises for Bigger Arms
- Supersets For Bigger, Stronger Biceps and Triceps
- Best Methods For Getting Jacked Triceps
- Best Triceps Pushdown Alternatives
Your triceps are very important muscles for maximizing “pushing” power, and for giving your arms the definition and size you want. It’s always a good idea to spend time focusing on your triceps and building the strength that will keep your elbows and shoulders strong in whatever you do.
Use the list of exercises above to help you craft an effective, targeted training session to pay extra attention to your triceps. Test them out, find which feel best for your current fitness and mobility level, and work to increase your strength. As you grow stronger and more mobile, incorporate the other more difficult movements into your routine.
The time you spend working out these crucial push muscles is never wasted!