How to Work Out Your Triceps With Dumbbells

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on July 08, 2022
5 min read

There are over 600 muscles in the human body. One of the most important is the triceps, which you use any time you straighten your arm. You use your triceps for fun activities, like dancing or bouncing a ball, and for chores, like vacuuming or washing windows. Strengthening your triceps can improve your quality of life while also giving you shapelier arms

To strengthen the triceps muscle, move it while being subjected to resistance. Using weights is one way to do this effectively. 

Dumbbells are simple and inexpensive fitness tools. It's easy to improve your arm strength if you know how to work out your triceps with dumbbells.

If you know that “tri-” means three, you might think there are three muscles in the triceps, but the triceps is a single muscle, the only muscle on the back of the upper arm. 

Triceps means three-headed, and the triceps muscle has three heads or points of attachment. 

The three heads of the triceps are:

  • Lateral head. This muscle attaches to the back of the humerus, the bone of the upper arm. It is located just below the shoulder, toward the outside of the arm (lateral means side).
  • Medial head. This head attaches to the back of the humerus, about halfway down the arm (medial means middle.) 
  • Long head. The long head of the triceps muscle attaches to the shoulder blade. It supports movements of the shoulder and the upper arm. 

The biceps and the triceps are partner muscles. When one contracts, the other relaxes. These two muscles are involved in almost every movement of the arm. You can strengthen them by doing exercises that work both muscles, like push-ups. You can also do exercises that isolate the biceps or the triceps. 

Consider these exercises when planning tricep workouts with dumbbells:

  • Triceps kickbacks. The advantage of this exercise is that almost anyone can do it. You can alter your stance if you have balance issues. 
  • Triceps extensions. This exercise is a little more demanding because you must raise the dumbbell over your head.
  • Lying overhead extension. This version of the triceps extension is good for people who have balance problems or dizziness when standing up.
  • Narrow press. Perform this variation of the chest press while lying on your back on the floor or on a bench. 
  • T Plank with torso rotation. This is a more demanding exercise that requires you to hold and move a dumbbell while maintaining a side plank position.

What are some triceps workouts? You can design your own using these tricep exercises with dumbbells. Feel free to add other arm exercises as well.

How to do a tricep kickback.

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand. 
  • Hinge at the hips and lean forward, keeping your spine straight.
  • Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle, bringing the weights next to the chest.
  • Slowly straighten both arms while squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  • Slowly return the arms to the starting position.
  • Repeat.

How to do a tricep extension:

  • In a split stance, use both hands to hold one dumbbell.  
  • Raise the dumbbell overhead, with elbows straight but not locked.
  • Slowly bend the elbows and lower the dumbbell behind your head until you reach a 90-degree angle, or slightly lower.
  • Slowly straighten the arms and raise the weights toward the ceiling.
  • Repeat.

How to do a lying overhead tricep extension: 

  1. Lie on your back on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Pick up a dumbbell with each hand and raise them toward the ceiling with elbows bent but not locked.
  3. Bend the elbows and lower the dumbbells toward your ears. 
  4. Slowly straighten the arms, raising the weights toward the ceiling.
  5. Repeat.

How to do a narrow press:

  1. Lie on your back on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other.
  3. Raise the dumbbells toward the ceiling.
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbells, bringing the elbows close to your sides.
  5. Repeat.

How to do a T plank with torso rotation: 

  1. Assume a side plank position with your weight on the left hand and the edge of the left foot.
  2. Pick up a dumbbell with your right hand.
  3. Rotating the torso slightly, move the dumbbell into the space below your body. 
  4. Straightening the torso, move the weight outward and upward, ending with the right arm pointing to the ceiling.
  5. Repeat.

Exercise has benefits even if you are limited by an injury, disability, or illness. Modifications can allow you to do strength training in a way that fits your needs. Try these changes:

  • Adapt the tricep kickback by doing one side at a time in a split stance. Rest the hand on the forward leg for support.
  • For even more stability, use a bench to do tricep kickbacks. Put one knee and one hand on the bench while you work the arm on the opposite side. 
  • Do tricep extensions seated or lying on a bench.
  • Do the lying overhead extension one side at a time, which engages the core.
  • Do the narrow press on a bench, which is less stable than the floor and engages more muscles.

Avoid these common mistakes when working out with dumbbells:

  • Not warming up first. Do some cardio or dynamic stretches so that your muscles aren't cold. 
  • Going too light on weight. A weight should challenge your muscles. 
  • Using poor form. If you can't maintain proper form, go to a lighter weight or fewer reps. 
  • Lifting too quickly. If you are swinging or jerking the weight, you are using momentum to move it.
  • Ignoring pain. If you have pain that goes beyond a gentle burn, stop the exercise. 

Strength training, such as tricep exercise with dumbbells, improves your muscles on a cellular level. Individual muscle cells actually get stronger.

In fact, the whole body gets stronger and healthier when you do strength training: