The Toughest Dumbbell Triceps Workout Out There
This routine uses supersets and tempo training to really test your triceps
Anyone who’s spent time in the weights room knows a good arms workout works the biceps but gives as much, if not more, attention to the triceps—the three-pronged muscle that makes up the bulk of the upper arm. “Stronger triceps are the key to bigger arms, fuller sleeves, heavier lifts and all-round improved athletic performance,” says Lewis Paris, personal trainer with corporate wellbeing platform Gympass.
If you’re well versed in arms sessions already and want to specifically target your triceps, this eight-move session from Paris will push the backs of your upper arms to the limit.
How To Do This Dumbbell Triceps Workout
The workout is divided up into four supersets, harnessing a mixture of strict isolation exercises like skullcrushers and kick-backs to encourage hypertrophy, and heavier, more functional compound moves such as push-ups and floor presses.
Paris has given a range of sets, reps or rest for some exercises to help you to match the difficulty of the session to your level.
Focus on following the tempo dictated with each exercise to maximize the results of this workout. The first number is the time in seconds to perform the eccentric (lowering) phase of the move. The second is the pause at the bottom of the move. The third is the time to complete the concentric (lifting) section of the lift. The fourth is the time to pause at the top of the lift.
For example, a tempo of 3021 means you lower the weight for three seconds, then the zero means you don’t pause before pressing the weights up for two seconds, then pause for one second at the top.
The workout requires dumbbells, and a weights bench if you’re at the gym, but if you’re at home you can perform those moves lying on the floor. Two sets of dumbbells are preferred: one light pair for the isolation moves and a slightly heavier pair for the compound lifts. A pair of adjustable dumbbells, like the ones you’ll find in our round-up of the best dumbbells, are ideal if you’re at home.
Paris suggests beginning with a short warm-up of walkouts into push-ups and side plank rotations to activate your upper-body muscles and ready your body for action.
1A Tate press
Sets 2-3 Reps 15 Tempo 3021 Rest 0sec
Lie on a bench (or the floor) with your lower back pressed down to engage your core. Hold dumbbells with straight arms above your chest, palms facing forwards. Allowing your elbows to flare out wide, slowly lower the weights to your chest, then press them back up to the start. You should feel that the exercise is targeting your triceps rather than pecs.
Paris says “The iconic Tate press [created by powerlifter Dave Tate] helps to improve your overload capacity at the elbow joint and therefore increase your overall pressing strength. Start light.”
1B Unilateral triceps extension
Sets 2-3 Reps 15 each side Tempo 3121 Rest 90sec
Again, keep the weight light. Hold one dumbbell overhead with your arm straight and biceps close to your ear. Keeping your upper arm in place, bend your elbow to slowly lower the weight behind your head, pause, then press back up, pause, and repeat.
Paris says “Working unilaterally helps address any imbalances and weaknesses, as you build strength and stability in the triceps.”
2A Neutral-grip floor press
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 3111 Rest 0sec
Lie on your back with your upper arms resting on the floor, elbows bent at 90°, holding heavier dumbbells with your palms facing. Press your lower back into the bench or floor, then drive the weights straight up, pause, lower for three seconds until your arms tap the floor, pause, and repeat.
Paris says “This is such a versatile move. Performing it from the floor adds a level of safety, allowing you to confidently load heavy which greatly improves pressing power, arm lock-out and triceps strength. It’s also great for injury-prone lifters and complete beginners.”
2B Diamond push-up
Sets 3 Reps To failure Tempo 3111 Rest 2-3 min
On your knees, place your hands close together on the floor so that your index fingers and thumbs form a diamond shape. Lift your knees off the floor and extend your arms, with your body in a straight line from head to heels. Slowly lower your chest towards your hands, keeping your elbows close to your body. Pause briefly at the bottom of the move, then drive back up to the start position.
Paris says “The diamond push-up is a great compound exercise targeting the triceps and chest. The narrow grip helps to recruit your stabilizing muscles for better support and pushing power in your lifts.”
3A Close-grip dumbbell press
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 3111 Rest 0sec
This variation of the classic dumbbell bench press helps protect your shoulders from wear and tear. Lie with your lower back pressed into the floor or bench. Hold the dumbbells with your palms facing and the weights pressed firmly together. Drive the weights straight up, pause, lower slowly, pause, and repeat.
Paris says “Pressing the weights together throughout this lift increases the time under tension required for effective hypertrophy.”
Sets 3 Reps 10 Tempo 3111 Rest 2-3 min
Lie on your back, holding a pair of light dumbbells overhead with your arms extended and palms facing. Keeping your upper arms still, bend your elbows to slowly lower the weights to the sides of your head, pause, then drive back up to the start, pause, and repeat.
Paris says “Locking your upper arms in position challenges the strength and stability of your shoulder joints and muscles, while simultaneously isolating the triceps.”
4A French press
Sets 3 Reps 12-15 Tempo 3111 Rest 2min
Hold one heavier dumbbell in both hands and raise it overhead. Cradle the bottom of the highest head of the dumbbell, with your hands overlapping. Keeping your upper arms close to your ears and elbows locked in position throughout, slowly lower the weight behind your head as far as you can, pause, drive it back overhead, pause and repeat.
Paris says “This exercise especially targets the long head of the triceps as it challenges the muscles to work through their full range of motion and then to contract when in full extension.”
4B Triceps kick-back
Sets 3 Reps 12-15 Tempo 3111 Rest 2 min
Holding dumbbells by your sides, hinge forward at your hips, bending your elbows to 90°. Keeping your upper arms pinned to your body, contract your triceps to extend your arms. Pause, slowly lower the weight back to the starting position over the count of three (this is the eccentric phase), pause, and repeat.
Paris says “The kick-back is a tough and commonly overlooked isolation exercise, which has the triple benefit of working all three heads of the triceps in unison.”
5 Triceps stretch
Sets 2 Time 30-45sec each side
If you’ve made it this far your arms will be inflated like hot air balloons and engorged with lactic acid. Now’s the time to kick-start your recovery if you hope to lift a finger over the next few days. Raise one arm overhead and bend your elbow to bring your hand behind your head and down your back. With the opposing hand, grab your elbow and gently press down to lengthen the stretch. Breath deeply while holding the stretch.
Paris says “Your arms will probably continue to seize up over the next few hours and days, so introduce some active recovery with this stretch and variations of the movement to keep blood flowing and the muscles growing.”
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Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix. Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.