tricep dumbbell kickback

Tricep Dumbbell Kickback: What You Need To Know

Tricep kickbacks are a highly effective exercise to isolate the triceps muscle.  It is common amongst top athletes, bodybuilders, moms, elderly, youth; literally, anybody can benefit from this amazing exercise.  It will help you build your arms while also contributing to your upper body strength.  Utilizing this movement is easy to work into your exercise program as it can be trained on either an upper-body day, pushing day, or arms day.  The tricep is fairly simple to do as long as you follow some simple steps.

  1. Be sure to use a light dumbbell
  2. Grab the dumbbell in your hand and then bend over so that your back is fairly horizontal.  Use a neutral grip
  3. You can place your other hand on your knee for support but preferably use some sort of object such as a weight bench
  4. While in this bent-over position, pull your arm back so that your upper arm is flush with your back
  5. From here, DO NOT let your elbow move.  It should remain stationary throughout the exercise
  6. Now, “kickback” the weight by extending your elbow.  Your arm should become parallel with your body
  7. Now let the dumbbell come down slow and controlled

via Gfycat

What Muscles Does The Tricep Dumbbell Kickback Work?

The dumbbell kickback is a triceps-specific move, hence the name.  Being so, it’s not going to train a multitude of muscles. Triceps kickbacks are going to primarily act as a strength-building exercise for the triceps muscle.  However, there are still some stabilizer muscles that will be involved to allow a correct exercise motion. 

tricep dumbbell kickback muscles worked copy

Since you perform the muscle bent over, your core muscles must fire to provide a strong base.  Your upper back is used isometrically as well to mitigate forearm movements and maintain stability.  If your elbow moves, you know you need to fire your back muscles more. 

Benefits Of The Tricep Dumbbell Kickback

Being that it is a triceps isolation exercise training the triceps, the biggest benefit is going to be bigger and stronger triceps.  This is the first and most obvious benefit.  Still, utilizing the triceps kickback on a regular basis is going to offer more than that. 

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Creating strong triceps muscles is going to have a lot of carryover to other lifts as well.  For example, any upper body pushing movement you perform is going to utilize the triceps as they’re the primary mover to extend the arm.  This means the triceps kickbacks are going to create a stronger bench press and overhead press.

The other benefit is going to be creating “tone” arms (“tone” is just a word used to describe the presence of muscle and little fat).  Some trainees, especially women, don’t care about having huge lifts, pushing heavier weight, or increasing their triceps strength.  However, you still need some muscle if you want to get away from “flab”.  Tricep kickbacks are one of the most popular movements to use this.

The third benefit is you don’t need heavyweight to perform triceps kickbacks; in fact, you probably aren’t able to, especially while still using good form.  The triceps are the perfect exercise to perform with lightweight as you get the most “bang for your buck” per lb.  Even guys who have been lifting for a while only use around 20lbs.

Coming off number three, tricep kickbacks are easy to do while traveling or at home.  You can use light bands and still get intense work due to the small amount of resistance needed.

Tricep Dumbbell Kickback Mistakes To Avoid

While the dumbbell kickback is a relatively simple movement, a lot can go wrong; and it does.  There are a few common mistakes that trainees make which will instantly ruin the effectiveness of this awesome triceps exercise.  DO NOT do these!

  1. Using heavyweight.  As mentioned above, tricep kickbacks are a triceps isolation exercise whose form can have a huge impact on its effectiveness.  This is why you use lightweight.  Often times trainees go way too heavy and perform this movement with horrible form.  You aren’t going to achieve anything AND you’ll look silly in the gym.   “Leave your ego at the door” definitely applies to the tricep kickbacks.   Use lighter weight and do the exercise correctly.
  2. Improper form.  Even with lighter weight, trainees will often use improper form.  This is easiest seen in the starting position when a trainee will have their upper arm down at an angle rather than a straight line.  When you perform the movement, be sure to have your upper arm as parallel to the ground as possible.
  3. Performing reps too fast.  There are very few times when performing reps quickly is the correct method to use.  However, this is even more true for the kickback.  As with any other exercise, performing reps too fast creates too little time under tension which results in not enough stimulus.  In addition, because of the way the triceps extension is set up, the weight can begin to act as a pendulum swinging back and forth.  You don’t want this.  Take your time with the movement and go slow.
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The Best Triceps Kickback Variations And Alternatives

It’s never a bad idea to have more tools in your arsenal when it comes to weightlifting, as long as they are effective.  Here are some of the best triceps kickback variations.

1. Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdown

The reverse grip tricep pushdown is the underused brother of the triceps push-down.  However, instead of using an overhand grip, you use an underhand grip.  You will be able to feel the difference in the tricep activation immediately.  Performing the movement in this manner isolates the triceps to a higher degree and takes out the anterior deltoid which is sometimes used.  

3. Single Arm Rope Triceps Extension

The single-arm rope triceps extension is very similar to the kickback in that you use a neutral grip in the same movement.  The only difference is that you are standing up and using a pulley system.  This places the resistance above you which allows you to pull the rope straight down.  It is very effective and feels very similar to the triceps kickback.

3. Rope Overhead Tricep Extension

The rope overhead triceps extension is a favorite among exercise professionals.  It is somewhat similar to overhead dumbbell extension but arguably more comfortable and it allows trainees to use a heavier load AND set-up without assistance (which is sometimes needed with heavy dumbbells).  It is very easy to set up and allows a full extension of the tricep with a relatively heavy load. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I build triceps fast?

You don’t. Muscle growth takes time to achieve.  That being said, there are a few variables you can manipulate to maximize growth

1. Train your triceps at least twice a week. This will allow you to get in the maximal amount of quality volume.  Being that the triceps is a small muscle, you may even be able to work it three times a week effectively
2. Stick to using a moderate weight with moderate reps.  This would look like using a load within the 8-12 rep range.  Using this type of load is the best way to maximize volume with a sufficient load for muscle growth
3. Use a variety of tricep exercises.  Novelty is always a good thing when it comes to muscle hypertrophy.  (This is not the same as muscle confusion).  Utilizing a variety of exercises will allow you to hit the triceps a little differently as well as allowing optimal growth of all the heads

What weight should a tricep kickback be?

Light. You should be able to do at least 8 solid reps with good form.  As mentioned above, trainees will often go way too heavy, even if they think they are using lightweight.  The tricep kickback is a difficult exercise to perform in terms of the load it allows you to use.

Garett Reid

Garett Reid is a sports and performance consultant. He has over 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry and has worked in virtually every field; strength & conditioning coach, gym owner, educator, and consultant. Garett also has extensive experience working in the international sector in China and Thailand. Garett currently has his Masters in Exercise Science and holds his NSCA CSCS and CISSN certification. He will begin work on his Ph.D. this year.

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