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April 12, 2021 11 min read

Imagine this: You’ve just moved and are in the market for a new gym. You’re on the tour, trying desperately to ignore the sales push from whichever trainer has been tapped to take you around.

What would you need to see in order to know that this was the gym for you? Maybe a dedicated free-weights room? More than one cable station so you wouldn’t have to wait too long during the busy hours? A wide variety of cardio equipment, sure.

The Gym And Dumbbells

A few sexy, sweaty gym-goers, even better! But we’re willing to bet that if this imaginary gym lacked a full rack of dumbbells, for 5 to 100-plus pounds in 5-pound increments, well, you’d tell the pushy salesperson goodbye.

That’s because no single piece of training equipment surpasses the traditional best dumbbell in overall effectiveness and utility. Disagree? Think about it: The barbell is phenomenal, but it doesn’t allow for much variety of unilateral movements.

Kettlebells are great, too, but their unbalanced weight distribution, while beneficial in many cases, limits exercise choices. Machines and cables? They’re solid, but stabilizer muscles don’t always get worked sufficiently when training with them. Nope, you just can’t beat a set of dumbbells.

But that’s not to say that you should be doing every exercise in your home workout with dumbbells. As we said, other implements have benefits, too. So a better plan is to maximize dumbbells’ benefits by making sure that you’re using them to do the best possible exercise. So here are 11 effective exercises to give you a triceps workout.

1. Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press

Holding a dumbbell at the top of the press gives the shoulder stabilizers a great workout, and while doing this, you’re also working the core musculature since you must stabilize a weight on one side while performing a rep on the other.

Start: Lie faceup on a flat bench holding a pair of dumbbells. Begin in the up position of a press: arms extended toward the ceiling, dumbbells over your chest.

Action: Slowly bend your elbow to lower one dumbbell until it’s just outside your chest while keeping the other dumbbell in the up position. Press the dumbbell back up to the arms-extended position without locking out your elbow, then repeat with the opposite arm. Alternate back and forth between arms until all reps are complete.


2. Two-Point One-Arm Dumbbell Row

Unilateral movements are great because you have two sets to do instead of one, which requires more work, thus burning more calories per workout. The other nice thing about this exercise is it forces you to stabilize your torso using your core muscles.

Start: Holding a dumbbell  in one hand, assume a “two-point” stance, in which your feet are shoulder-width apart and staggered one in front of the other. Your nonworking hand can either be resting on your thigh to add stability or in the air unsupported.

A traditional one-arm dumbbell row uses a three-point stance in which the nonworking hand rests on a bench or other stable surface. Begin bent over with your torso as close to parallel with the floor as possible, head facing down and your working arm hanging straight toward the floor.

Action: Maintaining the natural arch in your back, pull the dumbbell straight up to your side. At the top of the movement, squeeze the contraction hard without letting your shoulder open up and your torso rotate. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to start position, repeat for reps, then switch arms.


3. Dumbbell Push Press

The great thing about adding a push press to your shoulder routine is that using your hips and legs to start the movement allows you to use more weight than you would be doing a traditional shoulder press.

Start: Stand in a shoulder-width stance holding a relatively heavy pair of dumbbells at your sides. Clean the dumbbells up to shoulder level and begin the set there with your hands facing forward.

Action: Initiate the rep with a very shallow dip at the knees and upward press with your legs to get the dumbbells moving up towards the ceiling. Simultaneously, use your shoulders to press the weights overhead until your elbows are extended but not locked out. Slowly lower the dumbbells to the start position and repeat for reps.


4. Incline Dumbbell Curl With Offset Grip

The offset grip places greater stress on the biceps because it forces you to work harder to keep your fists even, squeezing at the top for the optimal peak contraction. The angle of the incline also places greater stress on the biceps and triceps extension, putting them in a full stretch at the bottom of the movement without a kickback.

Start: Lie back on an incline bench holding a pair of dumbbells hanging straight toward the floor. However, instead of gripping each dumbbell in the middle of its handle, hold the outside of the handle, right up against the weight plate.

Action: Keeping your palm facing forward (not turned in toward you like a hammer curl) and your elbow in a fixed position at your side, curl one dumbbell up as high as possible, resisting the urge to let your pinkies drop.

At the top of the rep, turn your palm out and squeeze the contraction. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the start position, then repeat with the other arm. Alternate arms every rep.


5. Dumbbell Skullcrusher

This exercise is perfect because it makes each arm work individually, which allows for greater work capacity from each lying triceps extension to produce better results and the best triceps.

Start: Lie on a flat bench holding a pair of close grip dumbbells. Begin with your arms extended toward the ceiling, the dumbbell tricep extension over your face, and your palms facing each other.

Action: Keeping your elbows in tight and your upper arms stationary, lower the dumbbells toward the sides of your forehead. When your hands reach your head, contract your triceps to extend your elbows and return the dumbbells to the start position. Repeat for reps.

To make this exercise more challenging, instead of lowering the weights down toward your head, lower them behind your head so that your upper arms are roughly 45 degrees with the floor, then press the weights straight up from there, maintaining the same upper-arm angle.


6. Dumbbell High Pull

The high pull is much like the push press in that it allows you to use more weight in strength training since you’re starting the exercise with a thrust of the hips and a single arm.

Start: Stand holding a relatively heavy pair of dumbbells in a neutral grip in front of your thighs with your arms hanging straight toward the floor.

Action: Think of it as an explosive upright row. Dip down slightly at the knees and immediately explode up to initiate the movement. Bend your elbows to pull the dumbbells up as high as possible, to the point where at the top of the rep you shrug your shoulders to maximize your range of motion.

Each rep should be repeated as one explosive, continuous motion. Let the dumbbells fall back down to the start position - you won’t be able to pause with the weights at the top - and repeat for reps.


7. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat

With this exercise, you have to balance your body on one leg throughout the entire movement, which requires core strength. It also gives the hip flexors of your back leg a terrific stretch, killing two birds with one stone.

Start: Holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, place one foot on a stable box or bench behind you at a 90-degree angle with that knee bent and the other foot flat on the floor in front of you. The front foot should be far enough forward so that when you lower down, your knee doesn’t extend over your toe.

Action: Bend your front knee to lower yourself straight down toward the floor. When your front quad reaches parallel, press up through the heel to the start position. Complete all reps, then switch legs and repeat.


8. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift With Contra Load

Holding a dumbbell in the opposite-side hand to the working leg puts added stress on your core. So not only will you be hammering your hamstrings one at a time, but you’ll also be creating rock-solid abs at the same time.

Start: Stand holding a dumbbell in your right hand with your feet together and flat on the floor.

Action: Keeping your left leg planted with a slight bend in that knee, lower the dumbbell straight down toward the floor while bending at the waist, and lifting your right leg straight behind you.

Keep your back flat throughout the movement and lower the dumbbell to about mid-shin level, then contract your hamstring to return to the standing position. Repeat for reps, then switch the dumbbell to your left hand and complete reps with your right leg planted.


9. Dumbbell Single-Leg Standing Calf Raise

This exercise allows each calf muscle to work solely on its own, which will have a much greater effect on each calf.

Start: Place a block, step, or other raised surface near a stable structure that you can hold on to. Hold a dumbbell in one hand, grab the structure with the other hand for balance, and step up with the working leg onto the structure so that the ball of your foot is on the block and your heel is suspended in the air.

The nonworking foot should either be wrapped around the working ankle or suspended in the air. (This exercise can also be performed on a stair, provided the handrail is stable enough to support some of your body weight.)

Action: Lower the heel of your working leg down toward the floor to feel a stretch in the calf muscle, then extend your ankle to press straight up so that your hell rises above the block as far as possible.

Squeeze the contraction at the top, then lower back down. Repeat for reps with that leg, then switch legs (holding the dumbbell in the other hand) and rep out.


10. Dumbbell One-Arm Snatch

Snatches require everything from explosive power from your hips and posterior chain muscles to stability from your shoulders and core. Add this move to your arsenal of exercises and watch your other movements get stronger as you being from the starting position.

Start: Stand holding a relatively light dumbbell in one hand with your feet in a comfortable, athletic stance - somewhere around your shoulder width. Begin with the dumbbell hanging down toward the floor in front of you.

Action: Keeping the arch in your lower back, dip down slightly at the knees, then immediately and explosively extend your knees and hips while pulling the dumbbell overhead.

Your arm should remain extended throughout as you pull the dumbbell up in a traditional “snatch” motion. Let the dumbbell fall back to the start position, gather yourself, then repeat. Do the reps for one arm before switching to the other.


11. Dumbbell Renegade Row

This exercise is a great core exercise because it requires you to brace and stabilize your torso while using your lat muscles to perform a row. It’s an all-around terrific movement for many muscles involved including a triceps kickback and triceps muscle and will create a strong and safe back.

Start: Begin in a push-up position with your hands holding a pair of dumbbells resting shoulder-width apart on the floor, palms facing each other. Hexagon - or square-shaped dumbbells will minimize the chance of rolling, thus promoting safety; round dumbbells can be used by advanced trainees.

Action: Pull one dumbbell up in a rowing motion to your side while keeping the other dumbbell on the floor. Keep your core engaged by not letting your torso rotate as you perform the rep. Lower the dumbbell back to the floor, then repeat with the other arm. Alternate back and forth between arms until all reps are complete.


The Triceps

Now you may be thinking, how can I build big triceps by only using dumbbell tricep exercises? Although your exercise selection does become more limited, this does not mean that your gains will suffer as a result.

Through picking the right dumbbell tricep exercises, using proper form, and integrating them appropriately into your workout routine, you can use them to build muscle just as effectively as you would with any other exercise.

Looking to learn how you can target each of your muscle groups appropriately  (and effectively) - in addition to the triceps (no matter the equipment you have access to). Most people tend to focus on the biceps to grow big arms.

The truth is that the biceps constitute only one-third of the total upper arm mass, while the triceps constitute two-thirds of the upper arm mass. Putting greater emphasis on training your triceps is the best way to increase your overall upper arm mass.

Current research suggests maximum muscle hypertrophy occurs through workouts which produce significant metabolic stress while also maintaining a moderate degree of muscle tension. Progressive overload refers to an increase in the total amount of tension on your muscle fibers.

This is achieved by increasing the total amount of weight you lift over time. Metabolic stress refers to the repetition of an exercise until muscle failure is achieved. It’s important to note that reaching muscle failure each time can be counterproductive. 

If you reach failure on every set, you will exhaust yourself too early and decrease your performance on subsequent exercises. It’s better to come close to muscle failure, and completely fatigue your muscles occasionally.

Muscle damage refers to the microtears which occur while lifting weights. Micro Tears are repaired through proper nutrition (e.g adequate protein intake), and enough rest. Given appropriate rest and nutrition, your muscles will adapt over time and become more resilient (and therefore larger and stronger).

All of these key variables of hypertrophy are achievable using dumbbell tricep exercises, and so there’s no reason you can’t use these exercises to gain mass in your triceps. The triceps exist in order to extend the elbow.

Triceps are also important for stabilizing the shoulder and scapula during upper body movements such as the pull-up or push-up. When most people think of a big tricep, they’re referring to a developed long head, one of three tricep heads. The long head is what people tend to see when looking at a person’s arm.

When training your triceps, you’ll want to use triceps exercises that enable you to adequately hit all three heads in a body workout. By ensuring you’re activating all three heads, you will experience more significant growth and improved symmetry over time.

Dumbbells Used With Triceps

If you were to survey any group of young men and ask them what their favorite workout is, they would likely say arm day. Look at any action movie star, sex symbol, or cartoon hero, and one of the most common physical attributes is big arms.

As young men, it becomes ingrained in our minds that big arms equal strength, brute force, and a strong sense of sex appeal. One thing most people do not realize is that to get large guns of steel hanging off their shoulders, they need to work their triceps.

It is not uncommon to see beginners at the gym doing non-stop bicep curls in hopes of building bigger arms. The truth is if you want large arms, start working those triceps. Did you know the tricep makes up two-thirds of the arm? Triceps can be worked in a variety of different ways.

Whether it be with cables, barbells, or dumbbells the options are limitless. However, dumbbell exercises provide some of the best options for building large defined triceps. Dumbbells are one of the most versatile tools for building muscles at home or in the gym.

With just a simple pair of moderate-weight dumbbells, it is possible for an individual to have an amazing workout. Focus on time under tension and not necessarily the amount of weight being lifted for these exercises. It should never be about how much weight you can lift, but rather how much weight can be lifted safely with proper form.