Ultimate Tricep Dumbbell Workout for Athletes – Garage Strength

Ultimate Tricep Dumbbell Workout for Athletes

Serving a stiff arm, shooting a ball, throwing a shot put, or locking out a jerk. All these actions require the same thing - STRONG AF triceps. The triceps muscles are a group of muscles that serve countless roles for athletes.

Not only are triceps important for sports performance, they are important for the ego too. You can spend hundreds of hours training your biceps as you try to grow your arms. The real secret to huge arms…is huge triceps!

The triceps typically account for 55% of upper arm muscle mass, while the biceps only amount to 30%. So let’s look at some of the best dumbbell triceps exercises that you can throw into the upper body days of your strength training program.


What Are the Tricep Muscles?

The Triceps Brachii, more commonly known as the triceps, is a key muscle located on the back of the upper arm bone, opposite of the biceps. The muscle plays a crucial role in arm movements, such as extending the elbow joint and providing stability for the shoulder. What makes the triceps unique is its structure, consisting of three different heads: the long head, lateral head, and medial head.

Long Head

The long head of the triceps is unique from the other two heads, in that it originates on the scapula (shoulder), rather than on the arm. As the longest of the three heads, the long head makes up the overall mass and shape of the triceps.

The long head extends down the back of the arm, joining the other two heads to form one common muscle tendon that inserts into the forearm. The long head is involved in movements that require shoulder extension, making it essential for actions like reaching overhead. Targeting the long head when exercising is important for well-rounded tricep development, with an emphasis on strengthening movements involving shoulder and elbow extension.

Lateral Head

The lateral head of the triceps plays a crucial role in upper arm function and aesthetics. Located on the outer portion of the arm, the lateral head largely contributes to the overall width and definition of the triceps muscle. Originating on the back of the humerus (arm), the lateral head is actively involved in movements that require elbow extension. Emphasizing this head not only improves the appearance of the arm but also contributes to functional strength. Incorporating lateral head targeted exercises in your workout routine is key to achieving a defined and strong tricep muscle.

Medial Head

Located on the back of the arm, the medial head of the triceps adds thickness and mass to the tricep muscle, as it inserts into the shared common tendon. The medial head participates in movements that require elbow joint extension, providing stability and strength during pushing and lifting activities. Balancing the overall appearance and strength of the triceps muscle by including exercises that specifically target the medial head is essential for preventing muscle imbalances and optimizing upper body strength.

Dumbbell Triceps Exercises to Use

In the pursuit of well-defined, strong arms, the triceps play a crucial role. Dumbbells, with their versatility and accessibility, are an excellent tool for targeting and isolating the triceps.

Miracle Gro

A Garage Strength native exercise, similar to an overhead tricep extension or a skull crusher, the Miracle Gro is a great exercise to blast all three heads of the triceps while working the shoulders, lats, and core. The movement forms a connection from the triceps, through the deltoids, and to the thoracic spine. Perform the Miracle Gro to improve stability in the shoulder and that overhead lock-out position.

How to Perform the Miracle Gro:

  1. Lay perpendicular to a flat bench, with your upper back and the bottom of your neck resting on the bench.
  2. Hold a dumbbell directly over your face with open palms and the arms extended. Slowly move the dumbbell past your head, and as your arms pass your ears, flex your elbows to get a deeper stretch in the triceps.
  3. Lengthen the triceps as deep as possible, and then extend the dumbbell back into the starting position.

Neutral Grip Dumbbell Press

The neutral grip dumbbell press is a variation of the traditional dumbbell press that involves using a neutral grip, where the palms face each other. This exercise provides unique benefits, targeting the chest, shoulders, and all three heads of the triceps while decreasing the stress placed on shoulder joints.

This would be an alternative to incline or close grip bench press.

The neutral grip of the press not only decreases shoulder stress, but it allows for the engagement of different muscle fibers, emphasizing the inner chest and triceps. The grip provides better stability during the pressing motion, allowing for controlled, balanced movement.

How to Perform the Neutral Grip Dumbbell Press:

  1. Sit on the edge of the bench with your dumbbells. Hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip, palms facing each other.
  2. With the dumbbells resting on your thighs, lie back, and extend the arms to press the dumbbells over the shoulders.
  3. Begin to slowly lower the dumbbells by bending the elbows, and keeping the elbows tucked. Allow the elbows to bend to form a 90-degree angle or slightly less, just until the dumbbells come close to or touch the shoulder/chest.
  4. Return to the starting position, pressing dumbbells up and extending your arms.

Close Grip Dumbbell Press

Focusing on the lateral and medial head of the triceps, the close-grip dumbbell press is a great exercise for building mass and strength. The exercise not only works the triceps but also targets the chest and shoulders.

This variation of the dumbbell press incorporates a neutral, narrower grip than the traditional dumbbell press, making this a great exercise to blast the triceps. The close grip of the press reduces stress on the shoulders, and helps to improve lockout strength during pressing movements.

How to Perform the Close-grip Dumbbell Press:

  1. Sit on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip, palms facing each other.
  2. With the dumbbells resting on your thighs, lie back, extending the arms to press the dumbbells overhead. The dumbbells should be above the chest.
  3. Hold the dumbbells with a close grip, bringing them together closer than shoulder width. The dumbbells should be touching.
  4. Lower the dumbbells slowly, allowing your elbows to form a 90-degree or slightly lower until the dumbbells lightly touch the chest.
  5. Return to the overhead lockout position, placing an emphasis in extending through your triceps

Dumbbell Floor Press

Ideal for those who struggle with shoulder discomfort in the bench press, the dumbbell floor press limits range of motion, working all three tricep heads, placing emphasis on the long head. This exercise adds increased stability, as your body is in direct contact with the ground, making it a great exercise for those who struggle with balance. It reduces strain on the shoulders by preventing excessive shoulder extension and can be done at home with minimal equipment, making it an easily accessible exercise for those without access to a gym.

How to Perform the Dumbbell Floor Press:

  1. Sit upright on the floor, with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Lie on your back onto the floor, with knees bent and feet flat.
  3. Extend the dumbbells straight up towards the ceiling, locking out the elbows overhead. The dumbbells should be above the chest/shoulders.
  4. Position the dumbbells at a 45-degree angle, and slowly lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest, initiating the movement with your elbows.
  5. Lower the dumbbells until the upper arms touch the floor, keeping the elbows tucked.
  6. Return to the starting position by fully extending the arms.

Dumbbell Tate Press

Named after powerlifter Dave Tate, the dumbbell tate press is a great exercise that blows up the triceps. This exercise isolates the triceps by eliminating assistance from other muscle groups, targeting the lateral and long head of the triceps.

The dumbbell tate press incorporates a unique movement pattern, involving elbow extension and shoulder adduction, engaging different parts of the triceps. It avoids excessive stress on the shoulders and can be extremely beneficial for athletes looking to isolate the muscle group.

How to Perform the Dumbbell Tate Press:

  1. Sit on a flat bench, with dumbbells in each hand.
  2. Lie down on the bench, holding dumbbells with an overhand grip with palms facing forward. Fully extend the arms, holding the dumbbells above your chest.
  3. Begin to lower the inner portions of the dumbbells toward the chest, with the dumbbells touching each other on the way down.
  4. Allow the elbows to flare out, and initiate the movement by bending the elbows.
  5. Once the dumbbells touch your chest, reverse the motion by extending the elbows, and locking the arms out overhead. The inner portion of the dumbbells should remain touching until you return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Telle Extensions

This movement is often used with a barbell or an ez-curl bar, but you can definitely get away with using dumbbells. If the miracle gro and the chest press had a baby, you would get the Telle extension.

The Telle extension is a great tricep exercise that puts the entire upper arm through a full range of motion. This movement recruits motor units within every head of the tricep which is one of the key points behind the Telle extension being used for sports performance and strength.

If you want EVEN MORE range of motion for your triceps, you can do Telle extensions on a decline bench. For now, we will stick to the basics and how to do it on a flat bench.

How to Perform Telle Extensions:

  1. Lay flat on a bench with your arms extended at the top of a pressing position. The dumbbells should be a neutral grip.
  2. Slowly lower the dumbbells toward your head as if you were doing a skull crusher. You will then go past your head into a full extension as if you were doing a miracle gro.
  3. As you reach full extension, bend the elbows to fully lengthen the triceps. At this point you have completed the eccentric portion of the lift.
  4. Keeping your elbows bent, use your lats to pull the dumbbells to the base of your chest - maintaining the neutral grip press position once you arrive.
  5. Finish the movement by pressing the dumbbells upwards to the starting position.

Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extensions

The dumbbell overhead triceps extension is a very effective movement for targeting the long head of the tricep muscle. The overhead extension of the arms isolates the triceps, making it a great exercise for building strength and size of the entire muscle.

How to Perform the Dumbbell Overhead Tricep Extension:

  1. Sit on a bench or stand with your back straight, keeping your core engaged. Hold one dumbbell with both hands, using your palms to support the underside of the dumbbell head.
  2. Lift the dumbbell overhead, extending the arms to be fully straight.
  3. Keeping your arms close to your ears and elbows staying in the same position, slowly bend the elbows to fully lengthen the tricep muscle and lower the dumbbell behind your head.
  4. Using the elbows to contract the triceps, extend your arms back to the overhead position.

Skull Crushers

A key staple in any tricep workout, dumbbell skull crushers single out the triceps, allowing for a deep stretch and huge engagement of the muscle for growth. Skull crushers target all three heads of the tricep, providing a great muscle pump and balanced development of the muscle.

Because of the range of motion skull crushers provide, the movement also engages other elbow flexors, increasing overall upper body strength. Skull crushers can be easily modified—whether it be laying on a flat bench or an incline bench to engage various muscle groups.

How to Perform Dumbbell Skull Crushers:

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, lie on a flat or incline bench.
  2. Extend the arms fully in a lockout position, holding the dumbbell above your chest. Your palms should be facing each other, in a neutral grip.
  3. Keeping your arms close to your ears and your elbows in the same position, slowly lower the dumbbell to the sides of your head by bending your elbows to stretch the triceps, keeping your elbows pointed at the ceiling.
  4. Once the triceps are fully stretched and engaged, extend your elbows, and return to the overhead position.

Dishonorable Mention: Tricep Kickbacks

The well-known dumbbell tricep kickback, is a simple exercise used by many. But is it truly an effective exercise for strength and growth gains? We say otherwise.

Tricep kickbacks when compared to the many other tricep exercises available lack for several reasons. Tricep kickbacks place the tricep muscle group in a limited position during the majority of the movement. The weight resistance is at its peak when the arm is fully extended, however, it limits the tricep muscle’s full range of motion.

The kickback, “swing” like motion creates a habit for individuals to use momentum to perform the movement, rather than a controlled action when contracting the tricep. The swinging motion lessens targeted engagement of the triceps and causes other muscle groups to contribute to the exercise.

The exercise in all may not provide sufficient resistance to create significant muscle groups. Individuals often use light weights for tricep kickbacks, preventing the opportunity for progressive overload and strength improvement.

While the tricep kickback is a simple, easy exercise to incorporate, using powerlastic bands instead of a dumbbell will provide constant resistance and allow you to bet a better squeeze at the top of the contraction.

Sample Tricep Dumbbell Workout

Using Dumbbells vs a Barbell

More Range of Motion

Dumbbells offer a superior range of motion compared to barbells because of their unique design and the individual movement they provide. Dumbbells have the advantage of range of motion, contributing to their popularity in resistance training and muscle development. One key factor is the ability to move each arm or leg independently, unlike a barbell where both hands are fixed to a bar. Dumbbells allow for unilateral movement, which means each arm can move in its range of motion. The weights can accommodate for differences in anatomy in each arm, as well as muscle imbalances.

Exercises performed with dumbbells follow a more “natural” path since the weights allow the body to move through natural motions without being constricted to a barbell. Whether performing compound movements or isolation exercises, dumbbells create various angles and planes of motion. The free movement pattern enhances muscle engagement and can contribute to a more functional development of muscles.

The increased range of motion with dumbbells requires greater stabilization efforts from muscles, especially from surrounding joints. The recruitment of stabilizing muscles not only increases joint health but also improves overall strength and balance. Adding the challenge of individual stabilization from dumbbells makes them very effective for explosive gains in primary and secondary muscles.

Isolating the Upper Arm

Dumbbells are highly effective for isolating the upper arms by targeting specific muscle groups, promoting overall development. Unlike a barbell where the arms move together and recruit supporting muscle groups, dumbbells allow for free movement of each arm, which is very important for singling out specific muscle groups such as the lateral or long head of the triceps.

The variety is essential for targeting different areas of the upper arm such as the shoulders versus the biceps, triceps, etc. Having the ability to change grips alone from a neutral grip to palms facing forward targets different muscles, something a barbell may not be able to do.

The vast amount of upper arm exercises available for dumbbells outmatches what is available for barbells. Being able to change grips and have a free path for the weight to move, the possibility for creating an upper arm exercise is endless. Whether it be changing a grip to neutral to target the triceps, or switching from standing to lying down position for some skull crushers, the adaptability that dumbbells have allows more freedom in creativity when creating an upper arm workout that isolates specific muscles and produces massive growth.

Improving Imbalances

Muscle imbalances occur when there is an uneven development in strength or mobility between differing muscle groups, or between the right and left sides of the body. Adding a stimulus that challenges and shows the imbalances is important for improving and diminishing the differences in muscle.

Unlike barbells where muscle imbalances can hide as one part of the body can overcompensate for the other, dumbbells expose imbalances and instabilities. When using dumbbells, the body must recruit stabilizing muscles that may not be regularly used in exercises to help control the independent weight. Each side of the body is equally challenged. Barbells remove the need for stability recruitment, limiting the ability to improve different weaknesses in the body.

For those with discomfort, injury, or an extreme muscle imbalance, dumbbells allow for options to increase or decrease weight unilaterally, meaning the athlete can choose to lower the weight on one side of the body. By doing this, the athlete can begin to bridge the gap between the imbalance, working toward improving strength across the whole body.

Bottom Line

Getting bigger arms means getting bigger triceps. Above are some of the best dumbbell tricep exercises that you can throw into your workout to actually get SWOLE! Working the triceps is just like working any other muscle group in the body. If you work the triceps through a full ROM and push the volume during accessories your arms will explode.

Take the sample workout provided in the article and run through it on your next arm day. Although if you’re looking for a long term fix, the Peak Strength app creates programs from over 700 exercises to give you the athletic physique you’re looking for! Try a week of free workouts for free at peakstrength.app.

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Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!

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