Cable Tricep Kickback 101 | How To Build Bigger, Stronger Triceps!

By
Mike Kenler
July 9, 2021

Cable Tricep Kickback

The cable tricep kickback is proven to be one of the most effective tricep isolation exercises. 

If you want to improve your upper body strength, size, and aesthetics, the cable tricep kickback is for you! 

Muscles Worked By The Cable Tricep Kickback

Primary Muscle Groups:

Given its name, it comes as no surprise that the cable tricep kickback primarily works your triceps. 

The triceps muscle is comprised of three “heads:” the long, medial, and lateral head. 

While the cable tricep kickback works all three heads of the muscle, it especially targets the lateral head of the triceps.

 

Secondary Muscle Groups:

Although the cable tricep kickback is an isolation exercise for your triceps, it also secondarily works several other muscle groups. 

Your rear deltoids and other muscles in your mid-upper back contract to stabilize the upper body.

In addition, your core muscles activate to support your midsection in the bent over position throughout the exercise motion.

Cable Tricep Kickback Benefits

1. Bigger And Stronger Triceps

The cable tricep kickback is one of the most powerful tricep exercises. 

Strong triceps are important for excelling in many other upper body exercises such as the barbell bench press, chest dips, and more.

Growing your triceps muscles isn’t just for show — it will improve your performance in other exercises at the gym!

2. Triceps Isolation

The cable tricep kickback is an isolation exercise. In other words, kickbacks allow you to train your triceps without emphasizing other muscles.

Tricep isolation exercises are especially useful for bodybuilders, athletes, or anyone else seeking to target their triceps without necessarily working other muscle groups.

3. Improved Mind-Muscle Connection

Mind-muscle connection refers to the process of mentally focusing on contracting your muscles during an exercise, rather than aimlessly moving your body to carry out the exercise motion. 

The cable tricep kickback allows you to specifically focus on exercising one tricep at a time, thereby increasing your mind-muscle connection and triceps hypertrophy.

How To Do The Cable Tricep Kickback 

Equipment:

For this exercise, you will need a cable machine. An attachment is optional.

Setup:

a) Set up a pulley system at roughly knee height (you can adjust the height to your comfort level). 

b) Face the pulley system and hinge at the waist until your back is nearly parallel to the floor. 

c) Grab the cable elevating your elbow bringing it close to your chest on one side and pin it. Bend your arm so that your elbow forms a 90 degree angle with your forearm.

Action:

a) With your elbow in a fixed position, contract your tricep to bring your hand behind you until your arm is fully extended.

b) Pause for a moment, squeeze your tricep at the top of the rep, then slowly return to the starting position. 

c) Repeat this motion for your desired number of reps and feel free to switch sides. 

Recommendation:

If you are new to the cable tricep kickback, choose a light weight to begin and complete 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps. 

If you are more comfortable with the form, load on some more weight and stick to the 6-8 rep range for 3-4 sets. 

Cable Tricep Kickback Mistakes

1. Flaring Your Elbow

Many weightlifters tend to flare their elbow out wide when doing the cable tricep kickback. 

When your elbow flares out, you actually transfer tension away from the tricep and into your rear delts. While there is nothing wrong with training your shoulders, you are trying to isolate your triceps. 

To fix this mistake, be sure to tuck your elbow in close to your body. 

2. Moving Your Elbow

Another common cable tricep kickback mistake is allowing your elbow to stray from its fixed position. Far too often, people tend to swing their arm away from their body to bring the cable backwards. 

Once again, this mistake removes tension from your tricep. Instead, lower the weight and focus on keeping your elbow completely still. Only your forearm should move during the exercise motion.

3. Rounding Your Back 

Rounding your back during the cable tricep kickback places excessive stress on your spine.

To avoid injury and safely target your tricep, plant your feet firmly against the ground, engage your core, and keep your back flat during the exercise motion.

Cable Tricep Kickback Variations

1. Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks

Dumbbell tricep kickbacks are by far the most popular kickback variation.

To begin, grab a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing each other.  Assume a standing position with your feet roughly hip width apart. 

Keeping your back straight, hinge at the waist until your back is roughly parallel to the floor. Bring the dumbbells close to your chest. Bend your arms so that your elbow forms a 90 degree angle with your forearm. 

With your elbows in a fixed position, contract your triceps to bring the dumbbells behind you until your arms are fully extended. Squeeze your triceps at the top of the rep, pause for a moment, then slowly return to the starting position. 

Repeat!


2. Resistance Band Kickbacks

You can also perform tricep kickbacks with a resistance band. 

First, grab the handles of the band with your palms facing towards you. Step on the resistance band with one foot and step back with your other foot. 

Keeping your back straight, hinge at the waist so that your back is nearly parallel to the ground. Contact your triceps to straighten your arms and press the handles backwards.

Squeeze your triceps at the top of each rep and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat!

3. 1-Arm Kettlebell Kickbacks

You can still train your triceps unilaterally with handheld weights.

To begin, grab a kettlebell with your palm facing inwards. 

Keeping your back straight, hinge at the waist until your back is roughly parallel to the floor. Bring the kettlebell close to your chest. 

Then, complete the kickback with the same form as the cable tricep kickback. Repeat!

Cable Tricep Kickback Alternatives

If you enjoyed the cable tricep kickback, check out these alternative tricep exercises to improve your upper body training:

1. Rope Tricep Pushdown:

With your feet shoulder width apart, face a pulley machine with an attached rope, v-bar, or solid straight bar hanging at chest height.

If you are using a rope, grab the rope towards the butt end with your palms facing together. If you are using a bar, grab the bar with your palms facing down.

Make sure your chest is high, your shoulder blades are together, and you are bending slightly forward to initiate the exercise.

With your elbows tucked in tight to your sides, bring the attachment down until your arms are fully extended. Pause at the bottom of the repetition and flex your triceps for maximum contraction. 

Slowly release the weight and return to the starting position. Repeat!

2. Barbell Skull Crushers

Lie down on the ground or a flat bench with your feet planted firmly on the ground. 

Hold the barbell above your chest with an overhand grip and your hands roughly shoulder width apart. Engage your core.

With your elbows in a fixed position, hinge your elbows to slowly bring the barbell down just over the top of your forehead. 

Contract your triceps to extend your arms back into the straight position at the top. Repeat!

3. Close Grip Overhead Extension

Assume a standing position with your feet roughly shoulder width apart. Grab each side of the kettlebell so that your palms face each other. 

Hold it horizontally above your head with the weighted end pointing forward.

With your elbows tucked in and your arms close to your head, slowly lower the weight until your elbows and forearms make a 90-degree angle. 

Keep your upper arms still and allow your forearms to move freely. Next, use your triceps to drive the kettlebell upwards in a controlled fashion to the starting position. Repeat!


Looking For More Triceps Workouts?

Follow along to this 5-minute resistance band triceps workout!

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing | Certified in Plant Based Nutrition at T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies