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If you’re wanting to add size and increase strength to your triceps, all you need is a pair of dumbbells. When compared to more common tricep exercises such as bodyweight dips and cable tricep extensions, using free weights will effectively activate all heads of the triceps.
- Recommended Reading – 7 Simple Lateral Head Tricep Exercises To Explode Arm Definition
What’s more, using dumbbells won’t guide your range of motion allowing for more freedom of movement and use of stabiliser muscles.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best free weight tricep exercises.
8 Best Free Weight Tricep Exercises For Strength
Unilateral Cross-Body Triceps Extension
The unilateral cross body tricep extension is a variation of the dumbbell tricep extension exercise. This can be a great exercise for beginners but, when performing a unilateral movement remember to perform the same number of repetitions per side.
How To Do A Cross Body Tricep Extension:
- Lie back on a weight bench and keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Take hold of a dumbbell in the hand of the arm to be worked.
- Keep your elbow extended so your arm is straight up in front of you. This is your starting position.
- Place your opposite hand on the bicep muscle to help stabilize the working arm.
- Engage your core and bend the elbow joint slowly lowering the dumbbells down and towards your opposite cheek.
- Hold briefly once your elbow is at a 90 degree angle, before extending the elbow back up to the starting position.
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 before switching arms.
Single Arm Overhead Triceps Extension
As you’ll be standing during this exercise, make sure to brace your core to prevent arching of the lower back. If you don’t, you may put unnecessary stress on the lumbar spine potentially resulting in injury.
The focus of this tricep dumbbell workout is on the long head of the triceps with secondary muscles being the abdominals as you’ll be engaging them for balance and stability throughout the movement.
How To Do The Single Arm Overhead Tricep Extension:
- Start by standing up straight with feet at shoulder width apart.
- Take hold of a dumbbell and raise your arm up so that you’re holding the dumbbell just behind your head. This is your starting position.
- You should feel a stretch along the back of the arm.
- From here, extend the elbow so that you raise the dumbbell up and overhead.
- Your arm should now be straight but without locking out at the elbows.
- Squeeze the triceps at the top before lowering back to the start.
Single-Arm Triceps Kickback
The single arm tricep kickback is one of the best exercises to isolate the triceps. Keep in mind that you will need a bench or other similar support for this exercise to rest on.
How To Do The Single Arm Triceps Kickback:
- Place one knee and one hand on a bench and maintain a neutral spine. Your upper body should be parallel to the bench.
- Your opposite foot should be flat on the ground with a slight bend to the knee.
- Grab your dumbbell and hold it just in front of the shoulder joint. Your upper arm should be parallel to your spine.
- Keep your body in a fixed position whilst pushing your working hand back in an arc plane of motion.
- Once your arm is parallel to the ground, hold this position and squeeze the tricep to feel a stretch to the back of your upper arm.
- Bring the dumbbell back to just beneath the shoulder and repeat for the desired number of reps before switching sides.
The key to perfecting this exercise is to not let your elbow drop during the movement. Your arm and back should remain in line with the only movement being elbow extension. When you reach the eccentric part of the rep, where you return your arm to a bent elbow position, you should do this slowly for a good mind to muscle connection.
Close Grip Dumbbell Press
The close grip dumbbell press not only works your triceps but also targets your chest and shoulder muscles making it a highly effective compound movement and one of our favorite tricep dumbbell exercises.
It’s a multi-joint exercise, so you’ll likely be able to lift more weight and is a great way of building big arms and stronger triceps.
How To Do A Close Grip Dumbbell Press:
- Lie flat on a bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Extend your arms above your chest. Make sure your hands and directly above your shoulders.
- Your palms should be facing each other with the dumbbells together.
- Keeping the dumbbells together, slowly lower them down to your chest by bending your elbows.
- Stop when your elbows are at around a 90-degree angle.
- Pause briefly before pressing back up to the start.
When doing the close grip dumbbell press, you want to avoid excessive flexion through your wrists, as this can put a strain on your wrist joints which can cause discomfort and potential injury. You should also keep your feet on the floor rather than the bench, as it will help prevent lower back injuries. If you’re a beginner, start with a lighter weight and increase the weight as your strength increases.
JM Dumbbell Press
The JM press is named after JM Blakely, the bench press champion who designed this hybrid press-extension exercise. The aim of this exercise is to target the triceps without involving the shoulders.
If you want to further reduce the joint stress that comes with this exercise, you can do it with dumbbells instead of the barbells that are used in the original variation.
The primary muscle activated during this movement are the triceps with secondary muscles being the deltoids and pectoralis major.
How To Do The JM Dumbbell Press:
- Lie back on a workout bench whilst holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Extend your elbows so your arms are straight up towards the ceiling, you should be holding the dumbbells with a pronated grip.
- Very slowly bend the elbows and lower the dumbbells towards you chin.
- The aim is not to go as low as possible but rather until you feel tension at the elbows.
- Once you’ve reached as low as you can, hold briefly before slowly pressing back up to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Dumbbell Skull Crushers
Skull crushers, sometimes called lying tricep extensions, are an excellent exercise to build strength and increase size to your triceps. This isolation movement is one of the more common triceps dumbbell exercises.
How To Do Dumbbell Skull Crushers:
- Lie on a flat bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your feet flat on the ground.
- Hold the dumbbells up overhead with your palms facing each other.
- Bend your elbows, lowering the dumbbells down and behind your head. Your upper arms should remain stationary throughout.
- Once your arms are at approximately 90 degrees, pause so you feel a stretch along the back of the upper arm.
- Then, slowly bring the dumbbells back up overhead.
When doing this exercise, make sure your elbows remain tucked in and don’t flare out. The main aim of this exercise is to load the tricep muscles.
Pushups are always a good choice when improving upper body strength. Performing push ups with dumbbells helps to increase the range of motion, place more emphasis on the tricep heads and limit stress to the wrist joints.
Ideally, you’ll do this exercise with hexagonal dumbbells as these won’t require as much stability.
How To Do Dumbbell Pushups:
- Start the exercise by putting two dumbbells on the ground at around shoulder width apart.
- Get on to all fours and into a high plank position.
- Instead of placing your palms flat on the ground, take hold of a dumbbell in each hand.
- Lower your body toward the ground and stop before your chest touches the floor.
- Go back to the starting position and perform the desired number of reps.
When doing push ups, it’s important to avoid sagging through your hips. Instead, your core should be fully engaged, and your hips should be tucked under with your body remaining in a straight line. This will prevent any stress to the lower back area.
The Tate press, sometimes called the elbows out triceps extension, was made popular by Dave Tate, a renowned powerlifter. It’s one of the most effective triceps exercises with dumbbells that’s going to work the medial head of the triceps and can help to increase your max with the barbell bench press.
This is because it closely mimics the bench press be keeping the shoulder joints and forearms at the same position. This exercise can be done on an incline bench, flat bench or even a decline bench.
How To Do The Tate Press:
- Start by lying back on a bench whilst holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Hold the dumbbells up overhead with a pronated grip. Keep the dumbbells fairly close together. This is your starting position.
- From here, start to lower the dumbbells down towards your chest by extending the elbows out and turning the dumbbells in.
- At the bottom of the movement, the end of the dumbbells should be facing your chest.
- Pause for a second or two before slowly returning the dumbbells back to the start position.
A common mistake with this exercise is to allow the dumbbells to rest on the chest at the bottom of the movement. Avoid doing this as it will remove tension from the triceps muscle.
If creating a new triceps workout be sure to incorporate the above free weight exercises into your routine to maximise strength and muscle gains.
All you need is a set of dumbbells meaning you can perform these either at home or in the gym.
By increasing tricep strength you can help to support the shoulder joint and improve its range of motion. This is very important as the shoulder is a very mobile joint predisposed to injury.