Forget push-ups — try this 5-move dumbbell triceps workout to sculpt arm muscles

a photo of a man doing tricep dips on a bench
(Image credit: Getty/Nastasic)

Finding new ways to target and tire your triceps during the best arm workouts might feel limited, but we think we've found the solution. So put aside the effective but repetitive triceps kickbacks and standard triceps extensions and give this five-move triceps workout a go to take your arms to total failure.

Of course, exercises that target your triceps use elbow extension to strengthen them — which happens when you straighten your arms — but there are many more creative triceps exercises you can do to sculpt your arm muscles without relying on the standard kickback, cable or dumbbell extension. 

You just need one set of the best adjustable dumbbells and your body weight to do this workout. Here's a step by step and our lowdown on why these five moves are so effective.

Man performing bench triceps dips with legs extended in front of him during arm workout

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Bulging biceps might look great, but you won’t build strong, well-rounded, or sculpted arms if you don’t hit your triceps during arm workouts. That means including pushing and pulling exercises in your upper body workouts.

Your triceps run down the back of your arms and have a crucial function. They’re responsible for elbow extension and increasing your pressing strength, strengthening in the process. They support exercises like push-ups, bench presses and shoulder presses and a robust set of triceps will help increase upper body strength and muscular endurance. 

If you want to reach tri-heaven, you’ll need to target all three triceps heads (which is where the “tri” in triceps comes from) — the long head, which spans the entire backs of the arms, lateral head (think of the small, sculpted bulge along the back of the arm) and the medial head, which is closest to the body. Different exercises emphasize the various heads, and some target more than one, which can help you develop a well-rounded strength program for your arms. 

What is the 5-move triceps workout? 

You’ll need a set of dumbbells to perform the five exercises as a resistance circuit using a 45-second on and 15-second off format, repeating for 3-4 rounds or more for a longer workout. Aim to achieve a minimum of 8 reps per exercise during your working sets, working consistently and with control. Take 30 seconds rest between rounds.

1. Diamond push-up

The hand placement during diamond push-ups increases the load on your triceps. We recommend dialing in on your push-up form before trying this variation and starting on your knees until you can fully lower your chest to the floor. 

Start in a high plank position and create a diamond shape with your hands — index fingers and thumbs touching — then perform a push-up, lowering your chest to the floor as you bend your elbows, then explosively pressing the ground away as you extend both arms to engage your triceps. You could add a resistance band to make the move harder.

Find out what happened when one writer did diamond push-ups every day for a week

2. Dumbbell triceps dips

Rest your hands on a box or bench or two kettlebells with fingers pointed toward your body and extend both legs away from you. You could bend your knees to make it easier. Keep your back straight and bend your elbows to lower your body toward the floor, pause, then push back up to the starting position. For a challenge, balance one dumbbell across your thighs close to your hips. Here’s how to do tricep dips with proper form.  

3. Reverse grip push-up

These aren’t for the faint of heart, and your range of motion and wrist and forearm strength will play a role in how successfully you can perform them. If you own hex dumbbells, you can place them on the floor in front of you and grip them using an underhand grip, or use the ground to reverse the hand position.

The reverse grip involves turning both hands so your fingers point backward; this externally rotates the shoulders and encourages your elbows to move correctly. It’s commonly used in calisthenics to teach gymnastic push-ups. Once set up, keep your shoulders stacked over your wrists, then perform a push-up and keep your elbows close to your body. We recommend starting from your knees if you’re new to the move, or add one of the best resistance bands to progress the exercise.

4. Dumbbell Tate press

This triceps torcher can be done from the floor or using a workout bench. Set up for a bench press and hold two dumbbells over your chest with your arms extended. Touch the dumbbells together in the middle, bend your elbows, then slowly lower the dumbbell heads toward the center of your chest while keeping the weights close together. 

Lift the weights upward again and slowly extend your elbows back to your starting position. To work unilaterally, use one dumbbell and work one arm at a time. The Tate press focuses load on the long and lateral triceps heads.

Sphinx push-up

Vector male performing Sphinx push-up in two phases

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you have a shoulder or elbow injury or you’re hypermobile, we recommend exercising caution before your triceps when considering this exercise. Start in a straight-arm plank position and walk your hands forward a few steps. 

You should be able to draw a straight line from head to toe. Keep your core engaged, then lower both elbows onto the floor. Your shoulders should now stack over the elbows, palms are flat and arms at a 90-degree angle. Push back up into the starting position by lifting both elbows off the ground and keeping them close to your body. Perform from your knees until you get more familiar with the push-up variation. If it's not for you, try these 5 chest day variations instead.

Bottom line

Throwing your weight behind the moves reduces the efficiency and efficacy of the triceps exercises and won’t maximize muscular tension or load. Instead, use the hinge of the elbow to curl and extend, pausing for a beat during extension to really hit the triceps hard. 

Some research has shown that focusing on eccentric loading — that’s when the muscles lengthen under contraction — could be responsible for helping to grow muscle and build strength. To load the muscles for even longer, use the time under tension technique to slow each move down and count for 3-4 seconds during each phase of the move, including the eccentric phase (like the lowering phase of a push-up).

To help you understand how to program triceps workouts, the long heads are most active during overhead extension movements, whereas emphasis shifts to the lateral heads during exercises using a narrow grip — close grip push-ups, diamond push-ups and dips, for example. The medial triceps heads are targeted during underhand grip exercises like reverse grip push-ups and neutral grip pushdowns. 

There’s more than one way to build strength and muscle, so we’ve included calisthenics exercises (a type of bodyweight training) and free weights to give you the option of working with and without weights. And this is the best tip I’ve learned about growing muscle and building strength — spoiler, it involves using free weights over gym machines to strengthen your arms. 

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.