When it comes to training triceps, most movements are performed using the cable pulley. Movements like the triceps pushdown, either with ropes, a single cable pulley, or a straight bar attachment, are almost always found in a typical chest and triceps or bodybuilding training split. Today however, we’re going to talk about the best dumbbell triceps exercises, to give you some more variety, as well as added functional strength and muscle mass.
The triceps brachii is a major muscle of the upper arm. The triceps run along the humorous bone, from the shoulder down to the elbow. Along with the biceps, it allows for extension and retraction of the forearm. The triceps muscle is a voluntary muscle, meaning it’s a muscle you choose to move.
“Triceps” means “three heads”, which refers to the segmentation of the triceps muscle into three different muscles. The triceps consist of the long, lateral, and medial head.
- Long head: Running from the shoulder blade down along the length of the humerus (upper arm bone)
- Lateral head: Positioned on the outer side of the back of the arm
- Medial head: Located on the inner side of the back of the arm
Dumbbells never get enough credit. Serious strength and mass can be made when you incorporate dumbbells into your training routine. And it’s safe to assume that if you are weightlifting, that you are already using dumbbells in your training regimen to some degree.
Dumbbells require greater muscle activation and muscle stabilization. They also eliminate strength and muscular imbalance, improving balance, coordination, and posture through actively recruiting the core and improving midline stability and strength. Lastly, dumbbells provide more freedom of movement and active range of motion, which is paramount in building greater strength and muscle mass.
The single arm triceps kickback is one of the most popular dumbbell triceps exercises, yet often gets criticism. The kickback is a difficult dumbbell triceps exercise, in terms of muscle activation. It must be performed with full range of motion and at the right arm angle, to full contract the triceps brachii. Otherwise, it can feel like you aren’t fully utilizing your triceps.
- Start by kneeling on a bench support yourself with your none working arm and knee.
- Ensure your chest is flat facing the bench, at a 90-degree angle.
- With one arm, and dumbbell in hand, hold the dumbbell against your pec
- Fully extend your elbow until your arm is straight and contract your triceps
- Slowly return your arm back to a 90-degree angle to starting position, with minimal arm movement, using your elbow as a hinge.
The narrow grip dumbbell press or Hex Press, is a compound movement, that doubles over as a chest and triceps exercise. The narrow grip dumbbell press is an effective exercise to activate the triceps as well as emphasize the inner chest to bring a full and develop aesthetic.
- Lie flat on a bench with two dumbbells in hand
- Press the weight above you over your chest
- Place the dumbbells together and slowly lower the weight to your chest
- Pause, then push the weight back up
The seated dumbbell overhead triceps extension can be performed with one arm as a single unilateral movement, or a bilateral movement, using one dumbbell with two hands. Either variation will help develop bigger and stronger triceps, as it emphasizes a full range of motion, and can be performed for volume, to build more muscle mass.
- Position yourself on a bench with a single dumbbell between your hands fixed in a diamond grip
- Raise and press the dumbbell over and directly above your head
- Bend the elbows and slowly lower the weight behind your head forming a 90 degree bend at the elbows
- Once your arms are fully contracted and extended, reverse the movement, raise the dumbbell back up, overhead to starting position.
Intimidating as it may sound the dumbbell skull crusher is a popular and effective dumbbell triceps exercise. Often used in bodybuilding programs and found in some of the most popular bodybuilders training routines. The skull crusher not only works your triceps, it also works your chest similar to a dumbbell pullover, without the full contraction. The skull crusher is a good triceps dumbbell exercise to activate the medial head of the triceps, as compared to standing triceps extensions or other exercises in which your upper arm is at your side.
- Lie down flat on a bench with a single dumbbell of minimal or moderate weight to start.
- Position your head at the top of the bench, and with a diamond grip using both hands, press the dumbbell overhead. This can also be done unilaterally with two dumbbells, one in each hand.
- Flex your elbow and lower the weight over the top of your head, until your arms are fully extended behind you
- Press the weight back up overhead to start position.
Rep and set protocols merely depend on what your desired goal is. I generally recommend aiming for at least 4 sets of challenging weight, with progressive overload, with a rep range starting at 16 and working your way down, with an increase in weight, with no less than 8 reps. This will get you the best results to build more muscle mass and strength. If your goal is purely body aesthetics, increase your workout volume, and slightly decrease the load. Increase to 5-6 sets, and either increase your reps to failure, or aim for at least 14-16 reps per set. Now, if you just want to build more strength, decrease the rep count, increase the weight, and decrease total sets between 3-4, while increasing time between reps for active recovery to push heavier loads.
Dumbbells are an often-underrated training implement in bodybuilding. A mix of dumbbell exercises, machines, and functional strength training will improve overall performance, physique, and strength. Dumbbells can help increase core strength, mobility, and increase total body strength across strength training movements.
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