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The best dumbbell tricep exercises and workouts for mass

Here are the 9 best dumbbell tricep exercises for building muscle mass.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd May 2022
A weight lifter demonstrating two of the best dumbbell tricep exercises during his mass building workout

There are many excellent tricep dumbbell exercises that you can perform to build muscle and strengthen your arms. However, even though many of the movements work the same muscles, some of the free weight tricep exercises emphasize different regions of the triceps.

So, depending on which area of your triceps you need to work on, you’ll want to choose certain DB tricep exercises over others.

After giving you a rundown of the best tricep dumbbell exercises for building bigger arms, I’ll also walk you through 4 dumbbell tricep workouts that will truly transform your triceps if you follow them consistently.

Related: Cable tricep workouts

The 9 best dumbbell tricep exercises for muscle growth

Here are 9 of the best dumbbell tricep exercises for hypertrophy and strength development. You’ll learn the pros and cons of each movement and find out how to perform each tricep dumbbell exercise with the optimal muscle-building technique.

1. Dumbbell skull crusher

A man showing how to do dumbbell skull crushers with the proper form

If I could only do one dumbbell exercise for triceps development for the rest of my life, it would 100% be the DB skull crusher. This is because, unlike pushdowns and the like, skull crushers emphasize the single biggest muscle in your upper arms, which is to say, the long head of the triceps.

Located on the inside of your upper arm, development of this crucial muscle can often mean the difference between having twig arms and triceps that fill your t-shirt sleeves.

If you have one tricep bigger than the other, then dumbbell skull crushers are one of the best tricep dumbbell exercises that you can perform because they force you to train each arm independently, which, in turn, drastically improves the symmetry of your triceps.

Sure, you could lift more weight on an equivalent barbell tricep exercise, but your triceps really don’t know how much resistance you’re lifting. Like any muscle, the triceps simply respond to tension, and using dumbbells over barbells is one of the best ways to improve your mind-muscle connection and get better results.

  1. Grab a pair of weights with a neutral grip and lie back on a bench.
  2. Press the weights up and then lower them behind your head.
  3. Keep going until you feel a deep stretch in the long head of your triceps.
  4. Flex your triceps to reverse the motion, and keep going until your elbows reach full extension.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

2. Dumbbell overhead extension

A man performing a standing dumbbell overhead tricep extension exercise

Performing your tricep exercises with dumbbells rather than with barbells is a great way to improve the symmetry of your upper arms. But sometimes, you just need to lift heavy weights to give your fast-twitch muscle fibers the mass-building tension that they deserve.

In this scenario, the dumbbell overhead extension is an excellent choice because you’re lifting the same weight with both hands, which enables you to put a ton of tension through your triceps.

Although you can do this exercise standing up, I recommend doing it in a seated position so that you can maintain a rigid core (with the help of the backpad) and thus keep the focus of the movement firmly on your triceps.

  1. Grab a moderately heavy dumbbell with both hands and press it over your head.
  2. Lower the weight behind your neck in a controlled manner until you feel a deep stretch in your triceps.
  3. Reverse the motion by flexing your triceps forcefully. Keep going until your elbows are locked out.
  4. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps.

3. Dumbbell kickback

A man doing tricep kickbacks

The dumbbell kickback is one of the most commonly recommended tricep exercises for women. However, even though the kickback is often considered more of a “shaping” exercise than a mass-building movement, it has one unique benefit that will spur your triceps onto new growth.

Unlike other dumbbell tricep exercises, the kickback trains the all-important long head of your triceps in its fully shortened position—this is why the peak contraction is so intense.

So many lifters train their tris in lengthened positions with skull crushers and overhead extensions, which is an absolute muscle for gaining size, but then they forget all about the other half of the range of motion, which leaves them with sub-par results.

  1. Grab a pair of light dumbbells and bend over at the waist.
  2. Bring your shoulders up so that they’re in line with your torso.
  3. While keeping your shoulders stable, flex your triceps forcefully until your elbows are completely extended.
  4. Hold the peak contraction for a second and then slowly release the contraction.
  5. Perform 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps.

4. One arm dumbbell overhead extension

A man performing a standing one arm dumbbell overhead tricep extension

As mentioned, performing your tricep workouts with dumbbells is an excellent way to promote the development of proportional upper arm muscles. After all, what good are big triceps if they have no symmetry?

The one arm dumbbell overhead extension is one of the best DB tricep exercises for putting the long head under that all-important, growth-stimulating eccentric muscle stretch.

Even though you might not be lifting a ton of weight, the one arm DB extension is a true mass builder when you perform it with a generous range of motion. It’s one of the most important unilateral tricep exercises out there for gaining size and symmetry.

The only downside is that the movement can be quite elbow-intensive when you shoot for a big stretch, so you might want to seek out more elbow friendly tricep exercises if it bothers your joints.

  1. Grab a dumbbell and press it over your head.
  2. Bend your elbow to lower the dumbbell behind your neck.
  3. Keep lowering the weight until you feel a strong stretch in the long head of your triceps (likely when your forearm and bicep make firm contact).
  4. Reverse the motion by flexing your triceps forcefully. Keep going until your elbow is locked out.
  5. Do 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps per arm.

5. Dumbbell close grip bench press

A man doing a dumbbell close grip bench press

Doing your tricep workout with dumbbells doesn’t mean that you have to lift light weights. Sure, lightweight, high rep sets are a great way to finish off your tris after a hard session, but there are no rules that say you can’t lift heavy with dumbbells.

The dumbbell close grip bench press combines tricep-taxing resistance with symmetry-sculpting technique to form an unbeatable mass-building exercise.

Unlike the regular close grip bench press, you’ll be performing this underrated exercise with a neutral grip, which is great for your shoulder health and tricep activation.

Just make sure to do this movement at the start of your free weight tricep workout (when your triceps are at their freshest) so that you can take full advantage of the exercise’s high loading potential and grow your fast-twitch muscle fibers.

  1. Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells with a neutral grip, and then lie back on a flat bench.
  2. Tuck your elbows into your sides and brace your core.
  3. Press the weights up explosively until your elbows are locked out.
  4. Lower the dumbbells back down to your chest under control.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps.

6. Rolling tricep extension

A man doing a rolling tricep extension with dumbbells

The rolling tricep extension makes an excellent addition to any DB tricep workout because it really stretches the long head of your triceps, which is a crucial muscle for getting bigger upper arms.

The rolling extension is like a dumbbell skull crusher but with an added pullover motion.

This tweak gives your triceps a stronger stretch in many cases (i.e., if you were previously lowering the weights to your forehead during skull crushers) and allows for heavier loading—ideal for a fast-twitch muscle group like the triceps brachii.

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and then lie back on a bench.
  2. Press the weights up with a neutral grip and then lower them toward your shoulders by breaking at your elbows.
  3. As the dumbbells are about to touch your front delts, roll your shoulders back so that the weights are now behind your head.
  4. Once you feel that unmistakably intense triceps stretch, reverse the motion by simultaneously pulling your shoulders forward and extending your elbows forcefully.
  5. Repeat the motion for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps.

7. Close grip dumbbell pushups

A man doing dumbbell push ups

Performing a triceps workout with dumbbells doesn’t mean that bodyweight exercises should be off the table completely (granted, bodyweight movements are much harder to externally load than free weight drills).

If you do your tricep exercises at home or even at the gym, then the close grip dumbbell pushup is a great way to make regular pushups easier on your wrists. This is because when you place your hands on the dumbbell handles, you’re putting your wrists in a joint-friendly neutral position.

The only potential downside is that the dumbbells could slip if they’re on a slippery surface. But if you don’t have access to dedicated pushup handles, then the dumbbell pushup is still a good tricep-building exercise.

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip.
  2. While holding the weights firmly, place them on the floor at a slightly less-than-shoulder-width distance and then get into the pushup position.
  3. Tuck your elbows into your sides and then lower your chest down to the ground.
  4. Once your chest touches the floor, reverse the motion by pushing your hands into the dumbbell handles and extending your elbows.
  5. Perform 3-5 sets of 10-30 reps.

8. Dumbbell JM Press

A man doing a dumbbell JM press

The dumbbell JM press is one of the more unique tricep exercises in this list because it’s typically performed with a barbell for maximum bench press carryover.

However, by performing the JM press with dumbbells, you can make sure that both of your triceps are getting roughly equal amounts of work, which might help you to keep the bar straighter during the bench press.

The main downside of the movement, which makes it an automatic no-go for certain lifters, is the fact that it puts a lot of tension on the tricep tendon, which can cause a lot of elbow discomfort for some individuals.

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie on a bench.
  2. Press the weights up so that they’re directly over your shoulders.
  3. Flare your elbows out to around 45 degrees and then lower the weights down to your chin or neck in a controlled manner.
  4. Press the weights back up explosively and repeat for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps.

9. Dumbbell Tate press

A man doing a dumbbell Tate press

The Tate press makes a great addition to any of your tricep dumbbell workouts because it will help to boost your bench press and build your upper arms. [1]

Named after Elite FTS founder Dave Tate, the Tate press is a mass-building tricep movement that no serious lifter should ignore.

Sure, the amount of shoulder internal rotation might be uncomfortable for a few people, but it really is a great movement for building a stronger bench press lockout and improving your pressing power in general.

  1. Grab a pair of weights with an overhand grip and then lie back on a bench.
  2. Press the weights up so that your thumbs are facing each other.
  3. Lower the dumbbells down to your chest by breaking at your elbows. Your elbows will naturally flare out as you do this.
  4. Reverse the motion by forcefully flexing your triceps. Keep going until your elbows are locked out.
  5. Squeeze your triceps for a second, and then begin your next rep.
  6. Perform 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps in total.

Best dumbbell tricep workout routines

Now that we’ve gone through the various dumbbell exercises for triceps development that you can do, it’s time to look at some actual dumbbell tricep workouts that you can follow.

Below you’ll find tricep dumbbell workouts for different goals and aims, including muscle growth, strength development, getting a pump, and achieving a good triceps workout with dumbbells at home.

Tricep dumbbell workout 1: Strength

A man performing a free weight tricep workout with dumbbells

If you want to boost your bench press, supercharge your pressing power, [2] and just generally develop monster triceps, then this is the best tricep workout with dumbbells that you can possibly follow.

This deceptively simple workout routine trains your triceps with various rep ranges and different movement patterns so that no fast-twitch muscle fiber is left untapped.

All of these 3 exercises are geared toward heavy loading because they’re two-arm lifts. This means that you can prime your triceps for explosive lifting, which will no doubt carry over nicely to your compound exercises.

These tricep weight exercises require nothing other than dumbbells and a bench, meaning that you can do this workout at home with minimal equipment. Of course, if you don’t have access to any weights, then you can still do a variety of tricep workouts at home without weights if you have a bit of imagination.

1: Dumbbell close grip bench press — 5 sets of 5-7 reps

2: Dumbbell JM press — 4-5 sets of 6-10 reps

3: Two-arm dumbbell overhead extension — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

Tricep dumbbell workout 2: Hypertrophy

A man doing some tricep workouts with dumbbells

If you want to build strong triceps but are mainly training for hypertrophy and aesthetics, then this is the best triceps dumbbell workout for you.

Built around key tricep exercises and a variety of muscle-stimulating rep ranges, this high-volume tricep training routine will maximize tricep hypertrophy by hitting your tris from every angle—literally.

Close grip bench presses, which make a great addition to a chest and tricep dumbbell workout as well, train your triceps in the middle of the triceps brachii’s anatomical range (when it’s neither maximally shortened nor maximally lengthened).

Skull crushers and overhead extensions provide your triceps with a growth-provoking eccentric muscle stretch, and tricep kickbacks challenge your tris in their fully contracted position.

Try to rest around 2 minutes between each set in this tricep free weight workout so that you can attack each set with as much strength and intensity as possible (shorter rests are okay for kickbacks, where the primary goal is getting a good pump and contraction).

1: Dumbbell close grip bench press — 4 sets of 6-8 reps

2: Dumbbell skull crusher — 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps

3: One arm overhead extension — 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps

4: Tricep kickback — 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps

Dumbbell tricep workout 3: Pump

A weight lifter performing some tricep dumbbell exercises during his workout

Need a quality tricep pump before going out? Whether you want to give your elbow joints a break with a high rep routine or whether you want to pump up your triceps for vanity reasons, this no-nonsense, pump-inducing dumbbell tricep workout routine will serve you faithfully for many months and years.

This simple yet effective routine combines many of the best free weight tricep exercises into one convenient workout that you can easily complete in 20 minutes or less.

Yes, that’s right; the aim is to rest 30-60 seconds between sets to maintain a skin-splitting pump.

Don’t worry too much about the weight; just use dumbbells that feel fairly light and that enable you to get a great triceps stretch and contraction during every fiber-tearing rep that you perform.

You can also do this dumbbell only tricep workout in superset fashion alongside a free weight bicep workout if you want to save time and get a massive arm pump.

1: Dumbbell lying tricep extension — 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps

2: One arm overhead extension — 3 sets of 15-20 reps

3: Tricep kickback — 3 sets of 20-30 reps

Workout 4: Triceps workout at home with dumbbells

A man demonstrating some good tricep dumbbell workouts for building muscle mass

No gym, no problem. This home workout will build your triceps with nothing other than a pair of dumbbells and a weight bench. And actually, you can do many of these tricep dumbbell exercises on the floor, so a bench is by no means mandatory.

Combining heavy lifting with high rep pump work, this intense DB tricep workout trains your tris from a variety of angles so that you can stimulate the broadest possible range of muscle fibers.

There are also many dumbbell exercises for your forearms and biceps that you can do if you want to create an entire arm workout that you can perform at home.

1: Dumbbell overhead extension — 5 sets of 8-12 reps

2: Tricep kickback — 3 sets of 12-15 reps

3: Skull crusher into close grip bench press — 2-3 sets to failure

How to work out your triceps with dumbbells

Doing your tricep workouts with dumbbells is a great way to build upper arm mass while ensuring that both of your triceps receive similar amounts of work and thus develop more or less in proportion.

However, if your technique is sloppy or if your approach to tricep training isn’t incorrect, then even with plenty of effort, you’re still going to get sub-par results.

With that in mind, the next section teaches you how to get big triceps with dumbbells by using the optimal mass-building form and improving your mind-muscle connection.

Make good form your number one priority

A man demonstarting some good DB tricep exercises

When you’re doing tricep exercises with dumbbells, using the proper form can easily mean the difference between building titanic triceps that demand attention and battering your elbows beyond belief.

With this reality firmly in mind, you should seek to limit elbow stress by increasing shoulder involvement in key exercises. Let me explain.

Say you’re doing a skull crusher (also known as a lying tricep extension), rather than lowering the weights to your forehead, you want to allow some backward shoulder movement so that you can bring the weights behind your head.

This crucial tricep extension modification is a double whammy because it protects your elbows while placing the long head of your triceps under a much deeper stretch, which ultimately results in fewer injuries and faster muscle growth.

You should also avoid ego lifting because lifting excessively heavy weights over a small range of motion leads to sub-par triceps stimulation and drastically increases the amount of torque going through your elbows.

Instead, use a moderate amount of weight and control the dumbbells at all times over a big, tricep-stretching range of motion.

Improve your mind-muscle connection

A man demonstrating how to work your triceps with dumbbells

Improving your mind-muscle connection is one of the best ways to get more from your tricep dumbbell exercises—even if you don’t increase the resistance.

Remember, your triceps just respond to tension. They can’t read the number on the side of the dumbbell, and they don’t really care how much weight you’re lifting.

Therefore, by focusing on your triceps stretching and squeezing under load, you can make them do more work without actually increasing the poundage that you’re lifting. Think about keeping your upper body as tight and stable as possible while just contracting your triceps.

The mind-muscle connection isn’t as important when you’re lifting heavy because performing explosive reps should be your number one priority. However, with dumbbell tricep exercises and resistance band tricep exercises, the stretch and contraction is everything because you’re performing single-joint movements.

Don’t neglect progressive overload

Two dumbbells on the floor

Okay. So I know that I just told you to prioritize your form and mind-muscle connection—and I certainly stand by my recommendation—but once you’ve nailed the optimal mass-building technique, lifting heavier dumbbells should be your next priority. [3]

Now, you don’t need to increase the resistance every week or even every month on your isolation exercises. The point of progressive overload is to simply get stronger over time, and it can be as simple as performing 12 reps instead of 10 reps with the same weight.

Successful progressive overload over the course of many months is an especially good indication of muscle growth on tricep isolation exercises because the triceps are the only muscle moving the weight. So, if the resistance went up, then it’s highly likely that your triceps got bigger.

Read More: Kettlebell exercises for triceps

Conclusion: Should you be performing tricep dumbbell workouts or not?

A lady doing some free weight tricep exercises with dumbbells

As mentioned, doing tricep workouts with dumbbells is a great way to build triceps that are not only big and strong but proportional and balanced too.

Compared to a tricep bar workout, dumbbell tricep workouts are also more time-efficient because you don’t need to load weights onto a bar—you just grab a pair of dumbbells and start training those tris!

There’s also a wide variety of dumbbell tricep exercises that you can perform, which means that you won’t get bored easily, nor are you likely to have any weak points in terms of triceps development.

References

  1. Dewar, M. (2022, March 3). How to Do the Tate Press for Thicker Arms and Bigger Pressing Numbers. BarBend. https://barbend.com/tate-press/
  2. Tate, D. (2019, August 18). Pressing Power. T NATION. https://www.t-nation.com/training/pressing-power/
  3. MasterClass. (2021b, September 20). Progressive Overload: 6 Progressive Overload Techniques. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/progressive-overload-guide
James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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