Who wouldn’t want big ‘ol meaty triceps? Not only do they help you bench 4 plates, but they also fill out a sleeve pretty quickly.
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Yet, most people seem to focus on biceps – curls for the girls, am I right? Well, how about JM Presses for the Homies? … Wait, no that doesn’t really work, does it?
Anyways, here are 13 of the best dumbbell triceps exercises that deserve a spot in your routine.
13 Best Dumbbell Triceps Exercises
Why are tricep exercises so important? Well, the triceps make up – looking at volume – most of the upper body. They’re even larger than the lats (which you can also train more directly with dumbbell back exercises)!
Let’s give them the attention they deserve with dumbbells.
1. Dumbbell JM Press
The JM press! Not many know about this movement, and even fewer know you can do it with dumbbells. Invented by a powerlifter named John Mark (hence “JM”), these are originally done with a barbell.
Yet, if you struggle with wrist mobility or only have dumbbells, they’ll work perfectly fine. Essentially, they’re a combination of a close-grip bench press and a skull crusher. Yes, that’s right – the dumbbells will be aimed at your neck – so be careful.
These will work the entire tricep without placing strain on the chest and shoulders … or throwing you off balance as heavy cable pushdowns do. Take care to watch elbow pain.
Here’s how to perform the dumbbell JM press:
- Set a bench to its flat position. Lie face up on it with arms straight in the air, holding two dumbbells against one another (palms facing towards one another).
- From there, slowly begin to bend the elbow allowing the dumbbells to make their way toward your neck (shoulders should not move).
- You’ll notice that your biceps stop you from going too deep. This is where you’ll start pushing the weights back up to their original position. That’s one rep.
- Complete 4 sets of 6 – 12 reps.
2. Dumbbell Skullcrushers
These are extremely similar to the JM press, with one small change – the elbows move slightly towards the head, allowing for more stretch of the triceps. The dumbbells will have more ROM going on either side of the head.
Many have theorized for years that muscles grow better in their lengthened position, although its actual application is limited. That said, studies do suggest we need to keep these types of movements in our training plan to grow optimally.
Here’s how to perform the dumbbell skullcrusher:
- Set a bench on its flat position. Lie face up on it with arms straight in the air, holding two dumbbells against one another (palms facing towards one another).
- From there, shift your elbows slightly up only by about 3 – 5 inches. Then, slowly begin to bend the elbow, allowing the dumbbells to make their way toward your head and letting them move past either side of your head.
- Once you can’t go any further, return the dumbbells to their original position by pressing them up. That’s one rep.
- Complete 3 sets of 6 – 12 reps.
3. Single Overhead Dumbbell Extensions
As we just saw in the study referenced earlier, training a muscle in its lengthened position certainly has its place! The overhead extension can be done with virtually any exercise but was done with dumbbells by Arnold so… why not use dumbbells?
While this movement (and any other overhead movement for that part) will hit all the parts of the tricep, there will be a significant amount of pressure on the long head.
Now, technically, you can do this exercise standing, seated, or even with a cable attachment. But for the purpose of this article, I’ll be using the standing variation.
Here’s how to perform the single overhead dumbbell extension:
- Stand firmly, holding one dumbbell overhead. Have one arm grab a nearby stationary object for stability.
- Slowly allow the dumbbell to lower behind the head, bending the arm in order to do so.
- Once the arm can’t bend any further without shifting the shoulder, extend the arm, moving the weight back to its original position.
- That’s one rep. Complete 3 sets of 10 – 12 reps.
4. Double Overhead Dumbbell Extensions
Like the exercise before – just with two hands. It’s pretty remarkable how similar these movements are, right? Wait ‘till you learn that a dumbbell press and a dumbbell fly are also basically the same… anyways!
This is exactly the same as the one before (#3). However, it’s strongly advised you do this on the shorter bench, allowing the dumbbell a good ROM.
Why even consider both? Well, apart from the fact that some people have dumbbells that can only be moved with two arms, sometimes we can progressively overload more this way once we become stagnant on one arm.
Here’s how to perform the double overhead dumbbell extension:
- Stand firmly (or sit on a short bench) with the dumbbell at chest level. Hold the dumbbell on the inside of the one-weighted end. You should form a diamond shape with your two hands around the bar in the middle.
- Carefully raise the dumbbell overhead.
- While allowing your arms to bend, lower the weight slowly, aiming the dumbbell towards the back of your head (you might need to push your head forward slightly).
- Once you can’t lower the dumbbell anymore, push it back to its original position. That’s one rep.
- Complete 3 sets of 8 – 15 reps.
5. Tate Press
No, Mr. Andrew Tate (thankfully) did not invent this one, and if I’m being honest, I’m not quite sure why this one is called that…
Anyways, this is where we start playing with elbow positioning to overload the triceps and particular parts of the muscle. The Tate press will not only overload the long head of the triceps, but it’ll also be good for injury prevention.
A tiny bit of anecdotal evidence – various powerlifters and other strength athletes claim that the Tate press is really good at strengthening the joints of the elbows and shoulders. Seeing as these guys can all bench 500 lbs, I believe them.
Here’s how to perform the Tate press:
- Set a bench on its flat position and lie face up on it, arms straight in the air, holding two dumbbells against one another (end to end).
- By allowing the elbows to extend to the side, lower the dumbbells down to your chest.
- When they’re just about on your chest, simply push them away from your body to their original position. That’s one rep.
- Complete 2 sets of 10 – 15 reps.
6. Single-Arm Tricep Kickbacks
Kickbacks get a bit of a bad rap in the fitness world, and there’s some truth to that. See, they don’t provide a great resistance profile.
That said, they can be effective for beginners or those who are just looking to learn muscle anatomy. Of course, you could look at other variations of this exact movement that’ll be slightly better, such as using a cable attachment.
The kickback is a golden oldie and will actually work the entire tricep muscle. That said, because, for half of the rep, you aren’t working against gravity, it’s probably not the best exercise on this list…
Here’s how to perform the single-arm tricep kickback:
- Set a bench on its flat position, and place your right knee and hand on the bench (bending over to do so). Hold a dumbbell in your left hand.
- “Row” the dumbbell to a position where your upper arm is in line with your torso.
- By extending around the tricep, push the dumbbell until your arm is straight. Then, return to the original position. That’s one rep.
- Complete 3 sets of 10 – 12 reps.
7. Close-Grip Push-Ups on Dumbbells
Dumbbells offer us the unique opportunity to change our grip for certain movements. Not only could this help us avoid elbow or wrist injury, but it can also help shift the load onto different parts of the triceps.
When it comes to close-grip push-ups, doing them on dumbbells allows for greater ROM with far less wrist pain.
Now, all push-ups will hit all the heads of the triceps. That said, it’ll also (obviously) hit the chest and shoulders. Maybe not be the best isolation exercise for the triceps, but still, something that can be used with great success. You can even add weight by wearing a weighted vest or using a weight plate on your back.
Here’s how to perform the close-grip push-up on dumbbells:
- Place the dumbbells right next to one another on the floor.
- Hold the dumbbells on their bars and assume the push-up position.
- Do a push-up, but have your elbows tucked, meaning they’re as close to your torso as you can get them. This moves the load onto the triceps and away from the chest.
- Complete 5 sets of 20 – 30 reps.
8. Close-Grip Dumbbell Press
Another exercise that’ll not only be hitting the triceps but also the chest and shoulders. That said, this exercise could help you build a better mind-to-muscle connection. It’s also nice to have a variety of exercises in your repertoire for you to choose from.
The triceps consists of two main parts – the short and long head. Both of these will be active in most movements (including this one), and while certain exercises are better for one head, you can’t completely isolate one head from the other.
Here’s how to perform the close-grip dumbbell press:
- Set a bench on its flat position. Lie face up on it with arms straight in the air, holding two dumbbells against one another (end to end).
- Lower the dumbbells by bending the arms around the shoulders and elbows. Like the close-grip push-up, try to keep the elbows as close to the body as you can.
- Once the dumbbells are as low as you can bring them, simply press them back to their original position. That’s one rep.
- Complete 3 sets of 10 – 15 reps.
9. Lying Side Extensions (for Long Head)
These are very… different. Unless someone has tried them (and knows how effective they are), you’re likely to get a few looks in the gym.
Some of the other folks at the gym as you’re cranking out lying side extensions:
But these are pretty darn useful if you’re limited on equipment. Again, messing with elbow position and/or angle can greatly change the whole exercise.
There are two variations of this exact exercise, but first, we’ll look at the option focused on the long head. We’ll also be looking at one that focuses on the short head.
Here’s how to perform lying side extensions (for long head):
- Set a bench on its flat position. Lie on your side, with a dumbbell in the arm of the side that’s not on the bench.
- Bring your elbow up to 90 degrees relative to the body whilst holding a dumbbell in a neutral-grip position (thumb towards the ground).
- Keeping that elbow angle, extend the dumbbell around the elbow until the arm is straight. You can even turn the dumbbell (pronation) to really squeeze the tricep.
- Once your arm is straight, return the dumbbell to its original position – slowly.
- That’s one rep. Complete 3 sets of 12 – 15 reps per arm.
10. Lying Side Extensions (for Short Head)
Again, we’ll be doing something that’s a little “odd” to get the best out of this workout. Working both heads of the tricep is crucial if you want full-arm development.
So we’ll be changing the way we hold the dumbbell – this time going for a reverse grip. This shifts more of the load to the short head … just make sure not to drop the dumbbells.
Here’s how to perform lying side extensions (for short head):
- Set a bench on its flat position. Lie on your side with a dumbbell in the arm of the side that is not on the bench.
- Bring your elbow up to 90 degrees relative to the body while holding a dumbbell in a reverse-grip position (the dumbbells should be vertical with your body).
- Keeping that elbow angle, extend the dumbbell around the elbow until the arm is straight.
- Once your arm is straight, return the dumbbell to its original position. Do this slowly.
- That’s one rep. Complete 3 sets of 12 – 15 reps per arm.
10. Stop-n-Go Floor Press Skullcrushers
Let’s say you don’t have a bench, but you still want to do skullcrushers. What are you to do? Well, fear not, because I have the solution.
The floor press has been used by powerlifters for years, and while they prefer a barbell, we can make use of the versatility of the dumbbells to overload the triceps. This exercise won’t be doing much for the chest or shoulders but will certainly hit the triceps.
Another great thing about these is the amount of growth it creates within the elbows. Connective tissue grows slower than muscles, so having a movement that’ll strengthen those parts is extremely beneficial.
Here’s how to perform the stop-n-go floor press skullcrusher:
- Lie flat on the floor on your back, holding two dumbbells above your body with your arms straight.
- By bending the elbows, allow the dumbbells to lower. Aim to have them go above your head, meaning your elbows might be a bit higher than your shoulder line.
- Keep lowering the dumbbells until they reach the ground. Have them sit on the floor for a two-second count before extending them back to their original position. That’s one rep.
- Perform 3 reps 8 – 12 reps.
These may seem odd, but the introduction of isolation-based movements creates a new stimulus not only for the muscles but the elbows as well. So ensure you’re warmed up before attempting these.
11. Dumbbell Dips
Dips! How have we gone this long without mentioning these?! These bad boys are one of the oldest and best ways to grow your triceps.
While adding weight isn’t something a lot of us can do right off the bat, as you get stronger, you should be adding extra weight to your dips to make them even harder.
Dips will hit the entire tricep, but they’ll also overload the chest and put some strain on the shoulder. With that in mind, it’d be a good idea to ensure your chest and shoulders are warmed up well prior to attempting these.
Here’s how to perform the dumbbell dip:
- Either set up a dipping bar or a stool for you to do the dips on.
- Place a dumbbell between your feet or on your lap, respectively.
- Either grab the dipping bar and extend your body fully or place your palms on the edge of the stool (fingers off the side). Create a straight line with your body.
- Lower yourself slowly – on either variation – until your ROM runs out. Then, press yourself back to the original position (the stool version might place a lot of strain on the shoulders – be careful).
- That’s one rep. Complete 3 sets of 5 – 12 reps.
12. JM Press Plus a Rollback
The penultimate exercise is one I actually did a lot while training for my international rugby debut – and they suck. No, really, if you ever thought you had semi-decent triceps, I’d urge you to try these and see if you still think so.
They’re similar to both the JM press and the skullcrusher … but with a slight twist. Instead of only moving the arm around the elbow, you’ll be using the shoulders, too. This allows you to shift the load from one part of the tricep to another and lengthen the hell out of it at the same time. (We also have a list of our favorite dumbbell shoulder exercises if you wanted to give those a whirl.)
Here’s how to perform the JM press plus a rollback:
- Set up the bench and dumbbells as you would for a normal JM press.
- Once the dumbbells are as low as they’ll go, move the entire arm upwards by rotating around the shoulders. Keep moving until the dumbbells are on either side of your head.
- From there, extend the dumbbells up to their original position. That’s one rep.
- Complete 2 sets of 10 – 15 reps.
13. The Ultimate Tricep Push-Up
95% of people won’t be able to do this. It’s very hard and potentially dangerous, but for those of you who feel like trying something nearly impossible, have at it. Just remember to be careful and to know your limits!
Because of the loading profile, this exercise will work the triceps and chest as well as the lats. The lats and triceps are attached to one another, which is why stretching one or the other can be felt by the other.
Here’s how to perform the ultimate tricep push-up:
- Place two dumbbells on the floor next to one another.
- Assume the push-up position, lower in relation to the dumbbells, about 5 to 10 inches from your hands. Then grab the dumbbells and hold the push-up position to first see if you can hold that position.
- If you can, lower your body in a movement that is similar to a skullcrusher. Once your chest is close to the ground, push yourself back up. That’s one rep.
- Perform 2 sets to failure – be careful!
This is the last exercise on the list for a reason. It’s really hard and often done by calisthenic athletes. Those are some of the strongest people on the planet relative to their body weight, so don’t be a hero. Make sure you can do the movement before you face plant into the floor…
Anatomy of the Triceps
The triceps, as mentioned, are the largest muscles in the upper body, at least by volume. They’re larger than the chest and even the lats, something I found hard to believe.
Because of this, they need quite a lot of load to get them to grow, contrary to popular belief. This means you can really go heavy to get them nice and big.
The triceps brachii consists of three parts, namely the:
- Long head
- Lateral head
- Medial head
All of these share the function of causing elbow extension, basically straightening the arm. However, the long head plays another role by causing adduction and extension of the upper arm around the shoulder joint. This is where the JM press plus a rollback would be applicable, really overloading that long head, as you’ll be moving the upper arm around the shoulder joint.
We often mentioned that a certain exercise would shift the load onto a specific head. This is because the heads are located at specific parts of the arm. By using elbow and wrist angles, we can move the load.
The long head is more likely to be overloaded in overhead movements like skullcrushers and overhead extensions. Meanwhile, push-ups and bench pressing movements are more likely to overload the short head.
However, it’s important to focus on all the parts of the tricep as well as the elbows. Elbow pain or tendinitis affects a lot of lifters and usually comes down to using too much volume.
If you’re suffering from tendonitis, take some volume out of the program or just skip training arms altogether. The sooner you solve that problem, the better, and it won’t solve itself – trust me. You could also look at massage therapy or supplementation if needed.
3 Triceps Training Benefits
Well, first and foremost, we have to mention just how sick it looks to have big arms – right? The triceps most up much of the upper arms, and bigger arms are even more likely if you complement your triceps training with dumbbell biceps exercises.
What? That’s not a real benefit? Well, I’ll be damned…
Injury prevention is something we all should want, especially as we age. Resistance training has been shown to be one of the best things you can do not only to avoid muscle injury but bone fractures as well.
See, training the triceps (or any muscle) will cause a release of a hormone called IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), which attaches to bone tissue. This causes the bone to increase in density, which will offset the decrease in bone density we see in aging adults.
Because the triceps also play a big role in moving the arms/hands, having stronger triceps could also help with daily injury prevention.
The health benefits of any resistance training are immense. Not only do we know that training increases lean muscle mass, but combined with an appropriate diet, we could also see a reduction in cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk and even improve mental health!
Any training will help with this, not just tricep exercises.
Could Help With Arthritis
It could even help with arthritis! Yes, you read that right. Training the triceps could help manage the inflammation and pain we relate to arthritis.
Of course, it’s certainly not a cure and is more of a preventative measure. But it has to be said that training the upper arm seems to help those who suffer from arthritis and other cartilage-related illnesses/injuries.
If you have (or suspect you have) arthritis, please talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.