Best Dumbbell Tricep Workout

Best Dumbbell Tricep Workout

If your gym is still closed and you’re relegated to training at home, a dumbbell set is the only equipment you’ll need for this intense tricep workout. The best dumbbell tricep workout will hit the muscle from a variety of angles to give you a great pump.

With the triceps making up roughly two-thirds of your upper arm size, neglecting tricep training in favor of endless sets for the more popular, but much smaller, biceps is a critical mistake. Instead, focus on building a set of horseshoe triceps to maximize your arm development. 

Relative to the much larger muscles of the back and legs, however, the triceps are still a small muscle group and are easy to overtrain. This tricep workout for beginners will get the job done effectively in only ten sets by utilizing some of the best tricep exercises that have stood the test of time.

Incline dumbbell press

We’ll start our tricep dumbbell workout with a mass-building compound lift—the 45-degree incline dumbbell press—to hit the long, lateral, and medial heads of the triceps fairly equally. Exercise performance is straightforward, with perhaps the trickiest aspect being “kicking” the bells up from the seated position while simultaneously lying back on the angled bench as they come to rest with fists hovering above your upper pecs. Practice positioning them with light weights before moving to more challenging weights.

In performing the actual press, tucking your elbows inward toward your sides at about a 45-degree angle is the most critical form cue. Wide elbow flaring to a more extreme 90-degree angle is practiced by some bodybuilders to place more of the load on the pectoralis muscles, but shoulder joint and pec tendon stress pose too great a pec-tearing risk to engage in this practice. Tucking the elbows is not only safer but also brings the triceps into play to a greater degree. 

Completing three descending sets of 10-8-6, going up in weight a bit each set, is an effective mass- and strength-building strategy. Keep strict records in your training journal and push yourself to add weight in good form whenever possible.

Lying dumbbell tricep extensions

Smartly designed dumbbell tricep workouts usually contain an extension variation to isolate the triceps muscles. Like the compound lift we began with, lying dumbbell tricep extensions hit all three triceps heads. Unlike our first exercise, extensions only minimally recruit the chest and shoulder muscles in a supporting role.

You can perform this tricep exercise lying on a bench or the floor. Start with arms extended in the bench press position. The important form point with either variation is to articulate only around the elbow joint as you lower the dumbbells to your shoulders and raise them back up. 

With the floor variation, some like to “roll” the bells back after the ends touch their shoulders until they come to rest flat on the floor for a brief pause. As long as the poundage selected allows full control over the weight in the stretched position, this is a safe and effective way of performing the lift that works the triceps over an even greater range of motion.

The elbow joint is not a large one and can become irritated and inflamed if overworked. Use higher reps and moderate poundages via the old standby 3 sets of 8-10 reps protocol to minimize this risk. 

Seated overhead dumbbell extension

The third movement in our best dumbbell tricep workout is the seated overhead dumbbell extension. As with the 45-degree incline dumbbell press, getting the dumbbell into position for the lift may be a trickier proposition than the straightforward performance of the lift itself.

Begin with the dumbbell resting on one end on your thigh. Grasp the handle with both hands and lift it while turning it over so the opposite end is resting on one shoulder. From there, arrange your hands in a diamond shape on the underside of the upper end and press the bell overhead.

Lower the bell behind your head with elbow flexion only and return it to the starting position overhead by extending at the elbow joint, keeping the upper arms vertical throughout the movement. Strive for a good stretch of the triceps muscles at the bottom, but always work within the limits of your mobility and use common sense to avoid shoulder discomfort in what can be a vulnerable position for many.

An effective triceps workout with dumbbells will place the heaviest compound lifts first in the exercise order and then include movements that should be performed with lighter poundages to isolate the target muscles. The seated overhead dumbbell extension falls firmly into the latter category and should be executed with moderate weights and higher repetitions, both for safety and for an adequate time under load to thoroughly tax the fibers. Try 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions and “chase the pump” as they say in bodybuilding circles.

Tricep kickback

Our final exercise is the tricep kickback. If you’re familiar with dumbbell rows, the starting positions are identical. Begin with one knee resting on a bench and one foot planted on the floor, holding a light dumbbell in the hand that’s on the plant foot side of your body. Bend forward at the waist, maintaining a flat back and engaged core, and rest the opposite hand on the bench for support. The bell should be hanging in a relaxed position at arm’s length.

To begin, perform a row until your upper arm is in line with your torso (approximately parallel to the floor). Hold this position and engage your tricep to fully extend your arm while keeping your upper arm locked tight to your side. 

The kickback is known to produce an excellent contraction, so you should feel a distinct cramping sensation in the muscle if you’re performing the exercise correctly. Two sets of 12-15 repetitions with a light bell in the 30-pound range will conclude our best dumbbell tricep workout and provide excellent fiber recruitment for even a strong and experienced trainee.

Bulging t-shirts and a set of horseshoe triceps await, so get to it!

Best Dumbbell Tricep Workout

  1. 45-degree incline dumbbell press — 10-8-6
  2. Lying dumbbell tricep extension — 3 x 8-10
  3. Seated overhead dumbbell extension — 2 x 10-12
  4. Tricep kickback — 2 x 12-15

Chuck Miller has been immersed in the pursuit of strength and the art and science of physical transformation as a coach, athlete, and writer for over thirty years. He is the author of Inside the Mind of an Iron Icon: on strength training and bodybuilding and is a monthly columnist for HARDGAINER 2.0 Visit CORE Strength and Conditioning to learn more about his background or to book a consultation.