FEELING STRONG ENOUGH to go sleeveless to show off the big guns is a go-to gym goal. If you're coming up short on your triceps training, however, you're not going to be able to show off even half of what you're hoping for when you throw on a cutoff. You need an exercise that flips the script—like the lying dumbbell triceps extension.

Achieving maximum arms gains requires a three-headed attack approach to your triceps muscles—the lateral, medial, and long heads. No matter how many reps of pushdowns and skullcrushers they knock out during workouts, however, many people miss out on hitting the long head of the triceps.

The long head of the triceps isn't just needed for that desired arm symmetry; it's also responsible for day-to-day movements such as elbow and shoulder extension. This is where a major move such as the dumbbell lying triceps extension should come into play if you really want to build up your arms.

Benefits of the Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension

The lying dumbbell triceps extension is visually similar to a host of other exercises; pullovers, skull crushers, and even seated triceps extensions come to mind. What separates the dumbbell lying triceps extension is that it hits all three triceps muscles—while also allowing for a greater stretch to the long head of the triceps than other exercises.

The lying dumbbell triceps extension is also a little more shoulder friendly, and you actually get some core work as well. Another advantage, according to Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., you can personalize the movement according to your training style and mobility limitations to help pack on additional arm size.

“The best part of it to me is at the very top of the dumbbell lying triceps extension, your triceps are working overtime,” Samuel says. “This is a great exercise for just about anybody who wants to grow their arms. If you want big triceps, you want this move in your routine.”

Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension

  • Triceps
  • Core

You're isolating your triceps muscles, so they'll be the main focus of the exercise. But you'll also be forced to keep up your core integrity, too.


Who Should Do the Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension

The lying dumbbell triceps extension is a valuable accessory movement for all types of trainees. "If you want big triceps, you want this move in your routine," says Samuel.

How to Do the Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension

You'll need a dumbbell and a bench to do the dumbbell lying triceps extensions.

The Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension Setup

To perform this move, ideally you want your upper arms to form a straight line with your torso without arching your back as you bring the dumbbell over and behind your head. Doing this requires you to keep your ribcage down to the bench and keeping your abs tight.

Problem is, not everyone has that that much of midsection mobility to completely eliminate the arch. By lying on the bench, we have some luxury of getting feedback that we’re keeping our abs nice and tight during the move—or not. And from a personalization standpoint, that’s a reason why this move separates itself from many other triceps exercises.

  • Grab a dumbbell, wrapping your thumbs around each other touching one side of the bell.
  • Lie back on a bench, placing your head near the end of the bench.
  • Squeeze your glutes and focus on driving your feet into the ground.
  • Reach back as far as you can with the dumbbell. Be careful not to create a giant arch with your back—you don’t to turn this into a pullover. Instead, squeeze your abs tight and maintain tension with your glutes
  • Begin to drop the dumbbell behind your head, driving your elbows toward the ceiling. Avoid flaring your elbows—keep your arms tight and close to your torso. Work to get a deep stretch at the bottom—the goal is to get your forearms perpendicular to the ground.
  • Straighten your elbows to drive the weight up, moving your elbows forward into shoulder extension.

How to Add the Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extension to Your Workout

The lying dumbbell triceps extension will torch your tris, and it’s one exercise you can add to many different areas of your training routine. It can work as a legitimate opening or second exercise on triceps day, or it can even stand alone on a push day, when either chest or shoulders dominate the workout.

Keep the reps on the high side. Three to four sets of anywhere from 10 to 15 reps should do the trick. For this exercise, packing on as much load as possible isn’t the objective. Still work to get that maximum stretch at the bottom of the move while working to keep your elbows tight to your torso as possible.

Jeff Tomko
Jeff Tomko is a freelance fitness writer who has written for Muscle and Fitness, Men's Fitness, and Men's Health.
Headshot of Brett Williams, NASM
Reviewed byBrett Williams, NASM

Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men's Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.