You can get wickedly effective triceps workouts done with dumbbells. But many people limit their dumbbell triceps exercises to the dumbbell kickback. While there may be a place for it within a training session, it is far from the most effective triceps exercise.
So, I've listed the most effective dumbbell triceps exercises you can use in your next workout. But to get big triceps, we need to know a little triceps anatomy.
The triceps consist of three muscle heads. Hence the name triceps. These three heads are:
The triceps are the prime movers for elbow extension (straightening the elbow). However, the long head crosses two joints making it biarticular. These are the elbow and the shoulder.
So not only does the long head extend the elbow, but it also extends the shoulder. This long-head muscle (along with the lateral head) will give you the most meat on your triceps.
All three heads of the triceps don’t work in unison through elbow extension . For example, the medial head of the triceps only becomes fully involved in the movement when the elbow is flexed past 90° (think the bottom of a skull crusher). In contrast, the long head maintains a constant capacity to generate force at a wide range of elbow angles .
Based on muscle activation research, the shoulder position heavily influences the contribution of each muscle head . Here is how to effectively target each muscle head of the triceps based on shoulder position:
The long head of the triceps generates the most significant forces at 0° shoulder elevation, or a vertical upper arm, compared to the medial or lateral head .
However, since this study, exciting research has demonstrated the power of training at long muscle lengths for hypertrophy .
As the long head of the triceps crosses the elbow and shoulder, it is highly susceptible to stretch and extreme muscle lengths. The lateral head and medial head of the triceps only cross the elbow joint extending the elbow.
The triceps long head also extends the elbow and the shoulder. To show how effective training the triceps at long muscle lengths is, a recent study took 21 healthy young adults and had them perform 5 x 10 for 12 weeks.
They had one arm perform overhead triceps extensions and the other perform triceps pushdowns. They found the overhead triceps extension condition led to a 1.5 greater difference in long-head triceps muscle growth than the triceps extension (28.5% vs. 19.6% respectively) . And greater triceps size in the lateral and medial heads (14.6% vs. 10.5%).
It’s speculated that increased metabolic stress or build-up of anaerobic by-products within the muscle turning the environment acidic, is a key mechanism of the increased muscle-building response.
This shows that while EMG muscle activation data can provide a clue as to which exercises may result in better hypertrophy, it is not the only data we can use. Based on the current research and my own experience, I have listed the best triceps exercises with dumbbells.
Best Triceps Exercises With Dumbbells
Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension
The overhead position places the long head of the triceps under full stretch, and the lateral and medial heads are stretched as the elbow flexes. This is one of the ultimate dumbbell triceps exercises for mass. Here’s how to do it:
Incline Dumbbell Skull Crusher
The incline dumbbell skull crusher places the long head of the triceps under stretch but not to the extreme of the overhead position. You'll feel a dramatic difference from the overhead triceps extension at the elbow. You'll need to warm your elbows up before doing this exercise. Here’s how to do it:
Dumbbell Skull Crusher
The dumbbell skull crusher on the flat bench is easier on the elbows than the barbell variation. However, as with all skull crusher variations, you must perform a pushdown or pressing exercise beforehand to warm the elbows up adequately. Here’s how to do it:
Rolling Dumbbell Triceps Extension
The rolling dumbbell triceps extension is one of my favorite triceps exercises. It's far easier on the elbows than skull crushers and lets you use heavier loads. The triceps pump is unreal when performing high-rep sets. Here's how to do it:
The PJR pullover is the rolling triceps extension leveled up. It's the same as the lying triceps extension with extra range of motion, but instead of an EZ bar, it's with dumbbells. I class the stretch experienced during this exercise similar to the overhead triceps extension but with heavier loads.
I credit this exercise to packing on much of the mass on my triceps. Here’s how to do it:
The Tate press was named after legendary Powerlifter and owner of Elite FTS, Dave Tate. He used this exercise to add pounds to his bench press. Here’s how to do it:
Dumbbell Floor Press
While not a triceps isolation exercise, the dumbbell floor press will build strength and size on your triceps and shoulders. Because the floor stops the movement, it's like performing partial bench presses. You must push predominately with your shoulders and triceps to execute the lift. Here's how to do it:
Incline Dumbbell Kickback
I don’t rate triceps kickbacks as effective exercises for growing horseshoe triceps. But, they can have their place in a program for variation and to be used in a superset or finisher. Interestingly, an old muscle activation study found this exercise to elicit the greatest activation in the long head of the triceps.
However, with the recent research, I presented at the beginning of this article, it may not be a great muscle builder because the long head is trained in a shortened position. Regardless, give this a try and see how it feels. Here's how to do it:
Triceps Workout With Dumbbells For Beginners
A1) Dumbbell Floor Press
3 x 8
B1) Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension
4 x 10-12
C1) Incline Dumbbell Kickback
3 x 15
Triceps Workout With Dumbbells For Advanced Lifters
A1) Dumbbell Rolling Triceps Extension
3 x 10
B1) Incline Dumbbell Skull Crusher
3 x 10-12
C1) Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension
3 x 12-15
D1) Dumbbell Floor Press
2 x 15-20
D2) PJR Pullover
2 x 10-15
Expand your triceps workout from the kickback to these best triceps exercises with dumbbells. However, many dumbbell exercises that isolate the triceps need warm elbows. Otherwise, you can cause some issues in the future.
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