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5 effective dumbbell exercises for triceps that lead to gains

Can you target all three tricep heads with just dumbbells?

hands of man lifting dumbbells on rack in gym or fitness
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The triceps are one of the most important muscle groups in the body, as they help us extend our elbows and push things away from us. They are also a major contributor to our overall arm size and definition. But you don’t need a gym full of special equipment to work them out! All you need for your triceps is a quality set of dumbbells

In this article, we will show you five effective dumbbell exercises for triceps that will help you build strength, size, and definition in your arms. These exercises can be done at home or at the gym, and they’ll work for beginners and advanced lifters alike. All you need is a pair of dumbbells and a bench or a chair. Let’s get started!

Dumbbells on a track
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Can you target all three tricep heads with just dumbbells?

The triceps are composed of three heads: the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head. Each head has a different function and origin, but they all attach to the elbow in the same place. 

You need to target all three heads with different exercises to get the most out of your triceps workout. But what if you only have dumbbells at your disposal? Can you still work your triceps effectively with just dumbbells? The answer is yes. Dumbbells are versatile and adaptable tools that can challenge your triceps from different angles and ranges of motion. 

You can use them to perform isolation exercises focusing on one head at a time or compound dumbbell exercises involving multiple joints and muscles. You can also use dumbbells for various other muscle groups, like your shoulders or legs

Triceps on a man
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How often should you target the triceps for strength development?

The frequency of your triceps training depends on several factors, such as your goals, experience level, recovery ability, and overall training program. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some general guidelines to follow:

If you are a beginner, you can train your triceps once or twice a week as part of a full-body or an upper-body workout. Focus on learning each exercise’s proper form and technique, and use light to moderate weights. Aim for two to three sets of eight to 15 reps per exercise, and rest for 60 to 90 seconds between sets.

If you are an intermediate or advanced lifter, you can increase the intensity and variety of your triceps exercises and use heavier weights and lower reps. Aim for three to four sets of six to 12 reps per exercise, and rest for 30 to 60 seconds between sets. Some researchers found that increasing the frequency of workouts (in the same muscle group) from two times a week to three or four had little effect, so there’s not much reason for you to work your triceps more often.

Regardless of your workout experience and capabilities, you should always listen to your body and adjust your triceps training accordingly. If you feel sore, tired, or injured, you may need to reduce the frequency, intensity, or volume of your triceps workouts. You should also balance your triceps training with your biceps and other muscle groups to avoid muscle imbalances and overuse injuries.

A man picking up a set of dumbbells.
Anastase Maragos / Unsplash

5 effective dumbbell tricep exercises

Overhead tricep extension

The overhead tricep extension is one of the best dumbbell workouts there is, period. It’s an isolation exercise that targets the long head of the triceps, which is the largest and most visible head. You can use two dumbbells or only one.

Instructions:

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and raise them over your head, with your arms fully extended and your palms facing each other. Keep your elbows close to your ears and your shoulders down and back. 
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells behind your head, bending your elbows to 90 degrees or slightly lower. Keep your upper arms still and your core tight. Pause for a second at the bottom of the movement.
  • Squeeze your triceps and press the dumbbells back to the starting position, extending your elbows fully. Don’t lock your elbows or flare them out. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Close grip chest press

The close grip chest press is a compound exercise that works the triceps, the chest, and the front deltoids. It is similar to the regular chest press but with a narrower grip that shifts the primary emphasis from the chest to the triceps. This exercise can be done on a flat, incline, or decline bench, depending on which part of the chest you want to target.

Instructions:

  • Lie down on a bench with your feet flat on the floor and your back slightly arched. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lift them above your chest, with your arms fully extended and the dumbbells pressed together.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest, bending your elbows and keeping them tucked in. Stop when the dumbbells are level with your chest or slightly lower. Pause for a second at the bottom of the movement.
  • Squeeze your triceps and chest and press the dumbbells back up to the starting position, extending your arms fully. Do not lock your elbows or bounce the dumbbells off your chest. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Tricep kickback

The tricep kickback is an isolation exercise that targets the lateral head of the triceps, which is the smallest and most difficult to isolate head. It also works the rear deltoids and the upper back. This exercise can be done with one or two dumbbells, but it may be easier to do it with one arm at a time.

Instructions:

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Lean forward from your hips, but keep your back straight. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor. Bring your elbows up to your sides, forming a 90-degree angle with your arms. 
  • Keeping your upper arms still and your elbows close to your sides, extend your arms behind you, lifting the dumbbells as high as you can. Squeeze your triceps at the top of the movement and hold for a second. 
  • Slowly return to the starting position, bending your elbows and lowering the dumbbells. Do not let the dumbbells touch your shoulders or swing them. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Weighted bench dip

Bench dips are one of the best tricep workouts, and using a dumbbell takes them to a whole new level. For this exercise, add a dumbbell on your thighs for more resistance. You can use either one or two benches, depending on your preference and ability.

Instructions:

  • Place a bench or chair behind you and another one in front of you, about three to four feet apart. Sit on the edge of one bench with a dumbbell in your lap. Put your hands on either side of your hips. Your palms should be facing down, and your fingers should be gripping the edge of the bench. Place your heels on the edge of the front bench with your toes pointing up. Keep your knees slightly bent and your back straight. 
  • Move your hips off the edge of the chair and hold yourself up with your arms. Slowly bend your arms to lower your body until your upper arms are parallel to the floor or slightly lower. Keep your elbows close to your sides and your shoulders down and back. Pause for a second at the bottom of the movement.
  • Extend your arms and push yourself back to the starting position. Do not lock your elbows. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Tate press

The Tate press targets the medial head of the triceps, which is the least visible head. It also works the lateral head and the chest. This exercise can be done on a flat, incline, or decline bench, depending on which part of the triceps you want to emphasize.

Instructions:

  • Lie down on a bench with your feet flat on the floor and your back slightly arched. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and press them over your chest, with your arms fully extended and your palms facing each other. Rotate your wrists inward so that your palms are facing your feet, and your thumbs are pointing toward each other. 
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest, bending your elbows and keeping them tucked in. The dumbbells should move in a semi-circular motion as if you are hugging a barrel. Stop when the dumbbells are level with your chest or slightly lower. Pause for a second at the bottom of the movement.
  • Squeeze your triceps and press the dumbbells back to the starting position, extending your arms fully. Do not lock your elbows or rotate your wrists. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Christine VanDoren
Christine is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist with an undergraduate degree from Missouri State University. Her…
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