Tricep Dumbbell Kickback 101 | Form, Benefits and Variations!

By
Mike Kenler
October 13, 2020

Tricep Dumbbell Kickback

The tricep dumbbell kickback is a versatile and effective exercise that targets the triceps muscles in the back of your arms. The triceps are one of the most important muscles involved in upper body stability and conditioning.

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

Muscles Worked by Tricep Dumbbell Kickback

Primary Muscle Groups:

Given its name, it comes as no surprise that the tricep dumbbell kickback primarily works your triceps. The triceps muscle is comprised of three “heads:” the long, medial, and lateral head. While the tricep kickback works all three heads of the muscle, it especially targets the lateral head of the triceps.


Secondary Muscle Groups:

Although the tricep dumbbell 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 to upper back contract to stabilize the upper body. In addition, your core muscles activate to provide strength and support during the exercise motion.

Tricep Dumbbell Kickback Benefits

1. Strength and Size Gains

The tricep kickback is one of the premier exercises proven to strengthen your triceps muscle. Stronger triceps are crucial for completing so many other upper body exercises. Without strong triceps muscles, it will be difficult to properly train your chest, shoulders, and other upper body muscle groups.

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

2. Triceps Isolation

The dumbbell kickback is an isolation exercise. This means that unlike other exercises such as the push-up or bench press, the tricep kickback specifically targets the tricep muscle.

This unique advantage is especially important for bodybuilders, athletes, or anyone else seeking to focus on improving the strength and appearance of their triceps without necessarily working other muscle groups.

3. Minimal Stress on the Wrists

Throughout the tricep dumbbell kickback, your wrists remain in a neutral position. In other words, there is no rotation or added stress placed upon your wrists. Some people find that heavier straining exercises like the close-grip bench press or weighted dips can be uncomfortable or can cause irritation and pain in their wrist joints.

If this sounds like you, try out the tricep kickback and take the tension off of those wrists!

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How to Do Tricep Dumbbell Kickback 

Equipment:

For this exercise, you will need a pair of dumbbells.

Setup:

1. Grab a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing each other. 

2. Assume a standing position with your feet roughly hip width apart. 

3. Keeping your back straight, hinge at the waist until your back is roughly parallel to the floor. 

4. Bring the dumbbells close to your chest. Bend your arms so that your elbow forms a 90 degree angle with your forearm. Inhale.

Action:

1. With your elbows in a fixed position, contract your triceps to bring the dumbbells behind you until your arms are fully extended.

2. Squeeze your triceps at the top of the rep, pause for a moment, then slowly return to the starting position. Exhale.

3. Repeat this motion for your desired number of reps. 

Recommendation:

If you are new to the tricep dumbbell kickback, choose a light weight to begin and complete 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps. If you are more comfortable with the form, grab a pair of heavier dumbbells and stick to the 6-8 rep range for 3-4 sets. 

Tricep Dumbbell Kickback Mistakes

1. Flaring of the Elbows 

Many weightlifters tend to flare out their elbows when doing the tricep dumbbell kickback. When your elbows flare out, you increase your risk of injury to the shoulders and you remove tension from the triceps. Make sure to keep your elbows tucked in to practice proper form and maximize your gains.

2. Using Momentum

Far too often, I see people swinging their arms and using momentum to lift the dumbbells up during the tricep kickback. Usually, this happens because they try to lift too much weight. Instead of allowing ego to get in the way, choose a lighter weight and focus on perfecting your form.

You will see better results and you won’t risk injury in the process!

3. Rounding Your Back 

Rounding your back is a surefire way to bring about a back injury, as a rounded spine compromises the stability of your body positioning during the dumbbell kickback. Instead, plant your feet firmly against the ground, engage your core, and keep your back flat during the exercise motion.

Tricep Dumbbell Kickback Variations

1. Resistance Band Kickbacks

Grab the handles 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!


2. 1-Arm Cable Kickback

Kickbacks can also be performed unilaterally. Set up a pulley machine to roughly thigh height. Assume the standard kickback set up position and grab the handle with one arm. Contract your triceps to bring the cable up and back. Squeeze your triceps at the top of the rep and return to the starting position. Repeat!

3. Alternating Kickback Holds 

Assume the standard kickback set up position. Bring the dumbbells up and back and straighten your arms. Keeping one arm straight, return to the starting position with the other arm and perform a kickback. Then, keep that arm in a fixed position and a perform a kickback with the other arm. Keep alternating arms and repeat this motion!


Tricep Dumbbell Kickback Alternatives

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

1. Alternating Tricep Pushdown:

The alternating tricep pushdown is a powerful triceps isolation exercise. Attach a resistance band to a hook or doorframe above your head. Keep your elbows tucked in to your sides and press down with one arm. Contract your triceps at the bottom of each rep and keep alternating arms. Repeat!


2. Overhead Triceps Extension (with rope)

The overhead triceps extension strengthens the long head of your triceps. Set up a pulley machine with the rope attachment at roughly hip level. Facing away from the machine, grab the rope with both hands and bring the bottom of the rope behind your head with your arms bent.

As you extend upwards, pull the rope apart and straighten your arms. Squeeze your triceps hard at the top of the rep and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat!


3. Barbell Skull Crushers

The barbell skull crusher is another great alternative to the dumbbell kickback. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Hold the barbell with your arms straight above your chest with an overhand grip. Keeping your elbows in a fixed position, bend your arms and bring the barbell towards your forehead.

Squeeze your triceps to lift the bar up to the starting position. Repeat!

Looking for More Triceps Workouts?

Follow along to this 5-minute dumbbell triceps workout! 

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

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