The key to a bigger bench? Bigger triceps.
Lets face it: bench is why we’re all here. We all wanna be the guy who reps 315 like it’s no big deal. And if you’re really going for the top, you might be aiming for 405 or even 500. The truth is though, a strong chest isn’t enough on its own to get you there.
What I see the most in clients who struggle with bench is that their triceps just aren’t strong enough to push through the top half of the lift. If you’re struggling with something similar, it may be time to bust out the dumbbells and give your triceps some extra work.
Over the years, I’ve found that not all tricep accessories are created equal. That’s why in this guide, I’m going to focus only on my top 4 favorites: the tate press, dumbbell rollback, dumbbell kickback, and everybody’s favorite, skullcrushers.
Top 4 Dumbbell Tricep Exercises
1. Tate Press
Tate Press Technique
To perform this exercise, grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them above you similar to doing a db bench press. Then bring the inside part of the dumbbell toward the centre of your chest — don’t let the upper arm or dumbbells rest on your chest in the bottom range. To lock-out, reverse the range of motion, but try to keep the dumbbells together until your arms are locked.
Programming Tate Press
This exercise can either be done with both arms at the same time or single arm. I prefer the single-arm variation as I feel like I can isolate the tricep to a greater extent and work on any imbalances between the right and left side. This exercise is one I'll assign in the 10-12 rep range during a volume block and in the 6-10 rep range in a heavier strength block.
2. Dumbbell Rollback
Start with the dumbbells up and bend at the elbow until they are flat next to your head. Relax for a split second and then drive them up quickly. The rolling dumbbell extension works both the short head and long head of the triceps muscles, unlike skull crushers or tricep rope pushdowns.
Programming DB Rollbacks
For variation, dumbbell kickbacks can be performed either on a flat bench, incline bench, or on the floor. Best suited for the 12-15 rep range in volume blocks, I’ll also program this movement in the 8-12 rep range during strength blocks.
3. Dumbbell Kickback
To perform this exercise, stand with your knees bent and lean forward slightly, similar to a barbell row, with a dumbbell in each hand. Keeping your back straight, bend your dumbbell-holding arm 90 degrees at the elbow so your triceps are aligned with your back and your biceps are perpendicular to the floor.
Then, engage your core and your triceps and hinge at the elbow, lifting the dumbbell up and back as you try and straighten your arm. Your triceps should stay still; only your elbow moves. Guide the weight upward until your arm is straight, pause, then lower back to 90 degrees. That's one rep.
Programming DB Kickbacks
I like to put a big emphasis on really contracting the tricep muscle at top for a good 1 count. These are definitely a heavy volume exercise so one i'll assign in 15-20 rep range in high volume sets and 12-15 in strength blocks.
4. Dumbbell Skullcrusher
This exercise has a very similar setup to the db rollback, but you don't add the extra shoulder motion at the end. While laying down, keep your arms vertical and simply bend at the elbow downwards and back up.
Programming DB Skullcrushers
I do prefer to keep these as dumbbell skullcrushers instead of using a barbell or ez bar to allow for even usage of each arm. And similar to the kickbacks, I'll typically assign this as a high volume accessory, usually in the 15-20 rep range for volume sets and 12-15 for strength blocks.
What are your top 4?
To make it short: don’t skip accessories. Weak triceps are oftentimes the main limiting factor in slow or stalled bench progression, so working in isolation movements after your barbell sets are absolutely crucial to ensuring optimal results in the long run.
And besides, it’s not like we’re talking about split squats here. These are triceps. You know, the pump that makes you look and feel absolutely gargantuan? Enjoy yourself a little.