Tricep kickbacks are one of the most effective exercises that bulk up our tricep muscles. This isolation exercise focuses on the triceps brachii muscle, which improves our upper arms and upper body strength. It stabilizes your shoulder joints and contributes to better movement when conducting daily activities or sports like basketball, tennis, and volleyball.
Before you hinge over and start swinging, it is important to pay attention to the movement as subtle details can make or break your exercise. We’ll break down everything you need to know about tricep kickbacks so you can reap the benefits of this valuable tricep exercise to its fullest.
This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:
- How To Do Tricep Kickbacks
- 5 Tricep Kickbacks Benefits
- Common Tricep Kickbacks Mistakes To Avoid
- Tricep Kickbacks Muscles Worked
- Tricep Kickbacks vs Skull Crushers
- Our Trainer’s Suggested Squat Reps, Sets, & Programs
- Tricep Kickback Variations
- Tricep Kickback Alternative Exercises
- FAQs about Tricep Kickbacks
How to Do Tricep Kickbacks
What You’ll Need:
- Weight Bench or steady knee-height platform: Use this for support as you perform a tricep kickback, though this is only optional.
- Dumbbells: Use the appropriate weight based on your goals and how much you can lift. Avoid lifting more than what you can take to prevent injury.
- Alternative equipment: You can also use Resistance bands or cables on the cable machine.
Step 1: Get into starting position
Stand tall with your back straight and feet shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend your knees with your shoulders directly over the hips. Your feet’s weight must be evenly distributed, gripping the floor for a stable position. Maintain a neutral neck and head position with your chin tucked throughout the movement. Think of it as if you were holding an egg under the chin!
Step 2: Prepare your legs
As you maintain a neutral spine, lean forward slightly. Your shins need to be vertical while your upper body is at a 30-45-degree angle. Your legs will begin working to support this position.
Step 3: Rotate your arms
Carrying a dumbbell in one hand, bring your upper arm next to your ribcage, elbows bent to a 90-degree angle. Rotate your arm outward to engage the back muscles while keeping the shoulder blades slightly down and back. The following reps need to begin from that position.
Step 4: Engage your arms.
Squeeze the triceps and begin straightening your elbows as you maintain your alignment. The whole movement must only occur at the elbows.
Step 5: Go back to starting position
Finish the tricep kickback by squeezing the triceps as you maintain a slight bend at the elbows. Bend the elbows and return to starting position. Repeat this exercise with the other arm and for the recommended amount of reps and sets based on your goals.
5 Tricep Kickbacks Benefits
1. Sculpt and Tone the Upper Arm
With proper form, tricep kickbacks can improve your shoulders’ and arms’ flexibility and stability. Tricep kickbacks are one of the best isolation exercises that target the triceps brachii muscles, working on the lateral head, medial head, and long head. Not only can it strengthen your upper arms and shoulders, but you also get to tone and sculpt them for more definition.
2. Build Functional Upper-Body Strength
The tricep kickback also strengthens your upper back muscles, which stay engaged throughout the exercise. It’s also helpful in supporting bone health and strength to prevent bone-related conditions.
3. It’s a Versatile Exercise
Tricep kickbacks are a versatile exercise you can easily adjust according to your fitness level. You can perform advanced variations of this exercise using different movements or equipment, which we will tackle below. You can also use the tricep kickback as a warm-up for more advanced tricep exercises like the diamond push-up or close grip bench press.
4. Improved functionality and mobility
Through improving your upper body strength and range of motion, this exercise helps you with everyday movements and other exercises like swimming, pushing, or lifting. Because performing a tricep kickback involved bending and unbending elbows, you can promote mobility in those particular joints.
5. Less stress on the wrists
Throughout this great exercise, your wrists stay in a neutral position, with no rotation or added stress on them. It’s a good choice for those who don’t want to add too much stress on the wrists while still working on the triceps muscles.
Common Tricep Kickbacks Mistakes to Avoid
You are dropping your elbows
It’s necessary to keep your elbow elevated so your upper arm stays parallel to the floor. That way, you can work against gravity, strengthening the triceps. Your elbow may drop when tired, but do your best to keep it in the proper form to truly work your muscles.
Rounding or arching your back
While focusing on your upper arm, you might relax your back, allowing the torso to sag during the tricep kickback. It’s important to engage your core and keep your back strong, as a strong spine helps you maintain proper alignment in the hips and shoulders.
Chin isn’t tucked
You must keep your chin tucked rather than looking straight ahead, as this may result in a sharp angle in the upper spine. You are more prone to injuries this way, so stare straight down at the floor for a long and straight back.
Elbows are locked
Do not lock out your elbows when extending your arm, as you end up putting unnecessary stress on the joint than tricep muscles. Keep your elbows slightly bent to avoid stressing the joints.
You are using too-heavy weights
You might want to show off or go even heavier than before, but if you can’t take the weight, you end up having poor form. You’ll also be more prone to injury, so use weights that feel challenging but aren’t impossible to carry. Work your way up gradually!
You use momentum
Don’t swing your arms and use momentum to lift your weights! This usually happens when using heavier weights, so start with lighter weights, focusing more on the correct form.
Tricep Kickbacks Muscles Worked
Here are the muscles the tricep kickback works on:
- Tricep muscle
- Lateral head
- Rear deltoids and mid to upper back
The triceps muscle is made up of the lateral, medial, and long heads, which are located at the back of your arms. This is responsible for extending and lengthening our forearm. It’s also responsible for shoulder adduction and extension. While the movement targets the three heads on the tricep muscle, the exercise focuses a bit more on the lateral head.
As for rear deltoids and mid to upper back, these muscles contract to stabilize your upper body, and the exercise contributes to building the upper-body strength. Your core activates to give you the strength and support as you do the arm workout.
Tricep Kickbacks vs. Skull Crushers
Both skull crushers and tricep kickbacks work on our triceps. However, skull crushers will place your triceps under a deeper eccentric stretch compared to kickbacks as they train the muscles in a lengthened position. On the other hand, tricep kickbacks train your triceps at a shorter anatomical position, producing a stronger peak contraction.
Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs
For Arm Muscle Toning
To attain toned arms, you will want to use lighter weights with more reps and sets. We recommend doing the tricep kickbacks for three sets of 10-16 times each. If you are starting, go for 8-12 reps per side, gradually increasing the number of reps.
For Strength Training
You’ll want slightly heavier weights with fewer reps when you are strength training. You can do two sets of about ten reps each. As you become more comfortable with the weights, you can lift a bit heavier, increasing the weight by about 5% per week.
Tricep Kickback Variations
Are you looking for an easier or more advanced variation of the dumbbell tricep kickback? Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned weightlifter, there is a variation made for you and your fitness goals.
Resistance Band Triceps Kickback
Resistance Bands are a great tool for tricep kickback since most resistance occurs at peak contraction when the arms are fully extended. Go slowly as you perform this exercise, returning the weight with control. You can work on two arms or one arm.
Alternating Kickback Holds
This is a more challenging variation than the two-arm tricep kickback, which allows more movement and intensity. Simply perform the two-arm tricep kickback, but this time is alternating arms and holding the position for a bit longer.
Standing Two-Arm Triceps Kickback
The standing two-arm triceps kickback is similar to the original, but this time, you are using one dumbbell in each hand rather than focusing on just one arm. When performing this variation, you might have to reduce the weight so you can brace your core better.
Cable triceps kickbacks
You can use a Cable Machine instead of dumbbells or resistance bands, which means you need to work against steady resistance throughout this exercise. You will notice the resistance more when lowering your forearm back to starting position during the second half of the tricep kickback.
Tricep Kickbacks Alternatives
Understandably, not everyone can perform tricep kickbacks or is looking for more tricep exercises to incorporate into their exercise program. Whatever the reason, there are alternatives to this exercise, such as:
Alternating Tricep Pushdowns
Alternating tricep pushdowns are a powerful triceps isolation exercise. It has a similar movement to the tricep kickbacks, using a resistance band to contract your triceps. Rather than kicking your arms back, you’re pushing them down!
Overhead Triceps Extension
Overhead Tricep Extension will strengthen your triceps’ long head, requiring a pulley machine with a rope attachment at your hip level. It can still target all three heads and aid your shoulder muscles.
Barbell Skull Crushers
Skull Crushers are a great alternative to kickbacks, focusing more on the long head, the most prominent part of the triceps. You can use dumbbells or barbells when performing this exercise, but make sure you take great care to avoid major injuries.
Bench Dips are one of the more popular bodyweight exercises that work on the triceps. You won’t need any fancy equipment but open space and a bench or sturdy chair. It helps build your triceps’ size and thickness, working more on the lateral head of your tricep.
This is another excellent bodyweight exercise, which you can do at home without equipment, just you and your mat. This is one of the best tricep exercises targeting the long and short tricep heads.