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6 Dumbbell Tricep Exercises Without A Bench (For Each Head)

In a lot of home gyms, a cable station is absent.

So figuring out how to effectively train the triceps is tricky!

As a personal trainer for almost 20 years, I’ve tweaked and adapted the best dumbbell tricep exercises for my clients.

And for many people, I would actually argue these exercises are better than using a cable machine…

  • They offer the widest range of movement of all
  • They’re unilateral, so train each side independently
  • And they’re available in a wide range of weights, so there’s something for every level of strength.

They also create a better overall technique. Because both sides working independently means imbalances in form and function are quickly highlighted.

As a personal trainer, I love using dumbbells both in my own training and with my clients, for all the reasons I mentioned. In this article, I’ll share the dumbbell tricep exercises I most commonly use so you can employ them in your own workouts.

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

Dumbbell tricep exercises infographic

Tricep anatomy – the basics

Before we go any further I want to explain what the triceps are and how to best train them with dumbbells.

The tricep is a muscle with three distinct ‘heads’…

Research shows us that the different tricep heads are activated at different angles. What this means is that they need to be exercised in different planes of movement, with different resistance patterns and at different angles in order to be fully activated across all three heads.

Relying on the same couple of tricep exercises will ultimately be limited in terms of effectiveness.

We know that in order to maximize hypertrophy gains we have to use a variety of approaches, in particular adjusting variables such as load (weight), sets, reps, rest periods, and training approaches.

The different angles approach is simply an extension of what we already know. It also adds scientific credence to what bodybuilders have known for decades – use a variety of exercises, train muscles from different angles, and adjust sets and reps. 

Finally, interesting research from 2020 into the rate of fatigue of the different heads of the tricep across various intensities and speeds of the tricep pushdown revealed some stark results.

What researchers noticed was that the different heads of the triceps fatigued at different rates when the intensity of the exercise was varied, suggesting that we should mix high and low intensities of work to get the most from our tricep training.


What the tricep does…

The triceps’ primary function is extending the forearm at the elbow joint, which opposes the action of the flexors such as the biceps. There’s also a slight involvement with shoulder movement, forearm rotation, and elbow stability.

It’s a simple movement, but one that is fundamental to a huge amount of exercise. It means having strong triceps doesn’t just look good in a t-shirt, it also helps you athletically and keeps your elbow joint nice and stable, reducing the possibility of an injury.


Tricep training – what we know so far 

There’s a tendency for readers of articles like this to think “oh, but he’s missed out X, Y, or Z exercise”. To help combat that I’ll summarise what we know so far, which will help to inform you about the decisions I’ve made with the exercises I’ve selected in this article…

Triceps need to be trained across a variety of angles

It’s no use performing an exercise in the same plane of motion and expecting to make huge leaps in strength and performance.

Take pushdowns for example – it doesn’t matter if you were doing them with a straight handle, a rope, a v-handle, or whatever – it’s fundamentally the same movement, in the same pattern, and performed at the same angle.

You have to mix the exercise and angles up if you want better results.

You have to mix the exercise and angles up if you want better results.

Mixing intensities in tricep training is important

The research shows us that the three heads of the tricep fatigue at different rates when it comes to exercise intensities. In order to maximize growth and strength across the muscle, we have to use a variety of intensities.

We do this by adjusting the weight, sets, and rest periods. This could mean we perform some exercises with heavy weights and longer rest periods, others at high speed, high rep, and with short rest periods. 

With that explained, it’ll help you to understand the dumbbell tricep exercises I’ve picked and why.


Dumbbell tricep exercises

These are the 6 dumbbell tricep exercises I use the most frequently in my personal training. They tick all of the boxes above in that they use a wide variety of angles, they are easy to manipulate in terms of weight, sets, and reps, and also they’re pretty easy to master from a technique standpoint.

1. Dumbbell tricep push ups

This is a great exercise for both the chest and triceps. I like to position the dumbbells closer together to really emphasize the work done by the triceps – the closer they are the more the triceps are worked. The wider they are, the more the chest is engaged.

This simple positioning of the dumbbells can change the target muscles dramatically.

The push-up is one of the exercises with a huge return on investment, so should feature highly in any program like this one.

Equipment needed for dumbbell tricep push-ups:

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do dumbbell tricep push-ups:

  • Position the dumbbells relatively close together – no wider than shoulder width
  • With an overhand or neutral grip, start with your arms at full extension
  • Keeping your core engaged and your back straight, slowly lower your torso towards the floor, bending at the elbows
  • Keep lowering your torso until you drop below the height of the dumbbells
  • Push back up to the start position

Dumbbell tricep push-ups muscles worked:

  • Triceps
  • Pecs
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Core

2. Dumbbell triceps skull crushers

Skull crushers are usually performed with a barbell, but I prefer the dumbbell version for a couple of reasons.

  1. The first one is safety – it’s easier to drop a barbell on your head (hence the name skull crusher) than the dumbbells which are to the side.
  2. The second reason is effectiveness – the dumbbells force each side to work independently, so there’s no chance of your stronger arm doing more of the work.

Isolating each side is far more effective in this sense, plus it leads to better technique. You can do these either on the floor or on a bench.

Equipment needed for dumbbell skull crushers:

How to do dumbbell skull crushers:

  • Lie back, with a dumbbell in each hand and arms at full extension, as if you were doing a bench press. Dumbbells should be in a neutral grip (palms facing each other)
  • Keeping your arms straight, move the dumbbells behind your head to make a 60-degree angle from your shoulder (as you can see in the gif above- this is important!)
  • Lower the dumbbells down as far as you can, keeping your elbows in the same position
  • Keep your core and glutes tight all the time and don’t allow your back to arch
  • At the bottom of the rep, pause and press the dumbbells back to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required

Dumbbell skull crushers muscles worked:

  • Triceps

If you’d like to expand on exercises similar to this one, you might find our 5 Tricep Pushdown Alternatives at Home article handy.

3. Dumbbell tricep kick-backs

Dumbbell tricep kickbacks have been (possibly unfairly) put into a patronized category of exercises.

Years of magazines recommending housewives do them with tins of beans to ‘tone their arms’ hasn’t helped their reputation, but they’re very useful if you are smart about how and when you include them in your program.

As an isolation exercise, a pre-fatigue method, or even a finisher, they’re great. They’re not going to build massive strength, but they’ll help to refine a physique and give your arms extra muscle. Perfect for adding volume to an arm workout. 

Equipment needed for dumbbell tricep kick-backs:

How to do dumbbell tricep kick-backs:

  • Stand with your torso and upper arm parallel to the ground. If you need to, put a hand on a bench to support this position
  • Bend your elbow to 90 degrees, with the upper arm remaining parallel to the floor and the dumbbell pointing downwards
  • Straighten the arm behind you, so your whole arm is pointing backwards
  • Bend the elbow back to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required

Dumbbell tricep kick-backs muscles worked:

  • Triceps
  • Rear deltoids 

4. Close grip dumbbell bench press

It’s easy to forget about the dumbbell bench press when it comes to tricep work because the assumption is that it’s a chest exercise.

It is, but it’s also an effective way of stimulating the triceps. Again, the additional benefit of the exercise with dumbbells is how easily you can adjust the position, making it more testing for the triceps.

If you look at the video you’ll notice that the lift is performed with a neutral grip and the dumbbells kept close together.

Even on the descent, they stay close to the body – the elbows are kept tucked in towards the torso, which further emphasizes the path of the weights and makes the triceps work hard.

Equipment needed for close grip dumbbell bench press:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do a close grip dumbbell bench press:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, lie back and position them over your chest
  • Use either a neutral (palms facing each other) grip
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells towards your chest, guiding your elbows close to the sides of the torso until you reach a good stretch
  • At full depth, pause and push the dumbbells back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Close grip dumbbell bench press muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Anterior deltoids
  • Triceps

5. Overhead dumbbell tricep extension

The overhead tricep extension is a similar move to the dumbbell tricep kick-back in that it’s not going to build you massive strength or size, but it’ll help to add volume and intensity to your workouts.

It’s a true isolation exercise in that it’s not only single-joint, but it’s also single-limb too. It’s an ideal way to tweak the angle of attack for a dumbbell tricep exercise.

When you do the overhead tricep extension with the full range of movement you don’t just engage the muscles with a longer time under tension, you also help to stretch the muscle so add an element of eccentric contraction to the training.

Finally, the upright position throughout the lift can help engage the spinal erectors and upper back.

Equipment needed for overhead tricep extensions:

How to do overhead tricep extensions:

  • Sit bolt upright on the end of a bench. Hold a dumbbell behind your head, arm fully bent, elbow pointing upwards
  • Extend the arm up overhead, straightening the arm fully
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell behind the head again, keeping the upper arm pointing up throughout the movement
  • Repeat as many times as required

Overhead tricep extensions muscles worked:

  • Triceps
  • Rear deltoids 
  • Spinal erectors

6. Dumbbell shoulder press

The dumbbell shoulder press is the same as the bench press in many ways – you automatically think of them as a shoulder exercise but forget they’re actually a great way of training the triceps.

I like the dumbbell shoulder press for the triceps because it’s an overhead pressing movement, making it a different action compared to the more common tricep exercises. 

Overhead pressing in all forms, but especially dumbbells have huge crossover benefits in sports too.

It helps to develop strength, power, hypertrophy, and upper spinal stability, so there’s much more to the movement than pure aesthetics – it’s a functional movement too. A must when training triceps with dumbbells. 

Equipment needed for dumbbell shoulder press:

How to do a dumbbell shoulder press:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, stand upright and hold the dumbbells at shoulder height
  • Use either a neutral (palms facing each other) grip
  • Press the dumbbells directly overhead, maintaining the neutral grip throughout
  • At full extension, pause and lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Dumbbell shoulder press muscles worked:

  • Deltoids
  • Upper pectorals
  • Triceps

Dumbbell tricep exercises – additional coaching points

These exercises are perfectly sufficient for all of your tricep training needs – they are a mixture of directions and they’re easy to adjust in terms of weight, sets, and reps. 

The way I would approach mixing these up is actually quite formulaic. The isolation exercises in the list (skull crushers, tricep extensions, and kickbacks) are the exercises I would keep low weight, high rep, short rest periods.

They’re difficult to push boundaries on in terms of strength and performance because the movements don’t allow for much.

With the compound movements (push-ups, bench press, and overhead press) I would look to make these my heavier exercises, building strength and power.

This could be done by adding a weight plate to your back for push-ups and using heavier dumbbells for pressing movements. This ticks the strength and power box.

Collectively these movements train the triceps at a range of different angles so will ensure the muscles are trained to their maximum efficiency. 


Dumbbell tricep exercises – the bottom line

At Strong Home Gym, we’re here to educate as much as possible. These dumbbell tricep exercises have provided you with a lot of exercise variety without having to go to the expense of buying a cable machine.

All of the exercises here are evidence-based and having read the article, you’re now in a position to build functional, effective tricep workouts using dumbbells yourself. 

For our thoughts on the best home gym dumbbells, take a look at the dumbbell review we’ve done. It’s the most in-depth dumbbell review on the web.

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

Photo of author
Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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