When you want to work your arms, a tricep workout with dumbbells is a great way to really challenge them. But you don’t need to devote a whole lot of time to that small muscle group.
Your triceps—the three-headed muscle that runs along the the back of your arm from your shoulder to your elbow—are considered an accessory or synergist muscle for bigger muscle groups like your shoulders and chest, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, founder of Strong with Sivan in Baltimore, MD, tells SELF.
“The accessory muscle helps the bigger muscles, which are the shoulders and the chest, to do the ‘pushing’ motion,” she explains.
That means your triceps are also firing during push-focused movements like chest presses, push-ups, and overhead presses. Because those exercises are compound movements—they work multiple muscle groups—they tend to provide a greater fitness benefit for the general exerciser simply looking to increase their fitness level or get stronger, Fagan says. So if you have a larger chunk of time for a workout, like 20 or 30 minutes, you’re better off working those larger muscle groups (which also target your triceps), rather than focusing on one small muscle group during that time.
The best way to work your triceps, then, is with a short “finisher” type of workout that you can tack onto the end of your upper-body routine, says Fagan. You’ll use lighter weights and little rest as you move from one triceps exercise to the next.
If you want to really smoke your pushing muscles, you can do this dumbbell triceps finisher after a chest workout or a shoulder workout. Doing it after a back workout, which works your “pulling” muscles, is also an option, since that way you’d be training opposing muscle groups during your workout and your finisher. (Plus, if you only have a few minutes and want to get some kind of movement in, you can do this triceps workout with dumbbells on its own too.)
“It’s a great way to finish your workout,” Fagan says. “You’re going to really fatigue those smaller muscles—you’re going to get burnout from a triset where we hit those muscles from different angles.”
So whether you have just seven minutes to do this triceps workout on its own or you want to use it as a triceps finisher, it’ll definitely challenge those muscles on the back of your arms. Here’s what you need to get started.
What you’ll need: One pair of light dumbbells. Because you’ll be working the same muscle with little to no rest, you should choose lighter dumbbells than you would if you were doing the moves in straight sets or alternating between different moves, says Fagan. (If you don’t have dumbbells, household items like water bottles can work too.)
- Triceps kickback in plank
- Overhead triceps extension
- Skull crusher
Complete the moves below as a triset, performing each move for 40 seconds before going right into the next exercise. After you complete the round, rest for 30 seconds. Complete 3 rounds.
Demoing the moves are Amanda Wheeler (GIF 1), a certified strength-and-conditioning specialist and cofounder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ+ community and allies; and Rachel Denis (GIFs 2 and 3), a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York State powerlifting records.