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Incline Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks: Exercise Overview and How-To Guide

incline tricep kickback exercise overview

Building upon the already effective training stimulus of conventional dumbbell kickbacks, the incline variation sets the torso atop an incline bench, chest-down. This allows for a greater range of motion and improved tension during eccentric contraction. 

Essentially, performing kickbacks at an incline makes them better for building muscle mass.

Incline Tricep Kickback at a Glance

Equipment Requirements

Incline Bench and Dumbbell(s)

Main Muscles Targeted

Triceps Brachii

Difficulty

Moderate

Sets, Reps, and Load Recommendations

Moderate weight for 2-4 sets of 8-16 repetitions

How to Do Incline Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks

Incline Dumbbell Tricep Kickback
  1. Setting an incline bench at an approximate 45 degree angle and lying chest-down atop it, the lifter then holds a dumbbell beneath their chest with the upper arm raised slightly above and behind the torso. 
  2. The elbow (and upper arm) should be kept as close to the sides as possible, the dumbbell held in a neutral position with the elbow bent. 
  3. The forearm itself should be at a 90 degree angle relative to the elbows, although a greater incline may allow for a more dramatic degree and thereby a greater range of motion. Ensure tension is kept if performing the exercise in this manner.
  4. Now in the correct stance, the lifter will squeeze their triceps and extend the arm at the elbow – straightening it out parallel to the body.
  5. When the elbow is fully extended and the triceps are completely contracted, the lifter then slowly lowers their forearm by bending at the elbow while keeping as much tension in the triceps as possible.
  6. Once back in the starting position, the repetition is considered to be complete.

Additional Tips

The main issue with free weight tricep kickbacks is a lack of tension during the latter and starting phase of the movement. 

Less time under tension equates to poorer muscular response to training, making the kickback rather difficult to perform optimally if you possess poor triceps control or bend the elbow excessively without the requisite torso orientation.

As such, if only performing the movement at a 45 degree angle, stick to a 90 degree angle of elbow flexion. If the torso incline is more dramatic, you may also use a more dramatic ROM as far as starting elbow flexion goes.

What Muscles do Incline Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks Work?

The incline tricep kickback is classified as an isolation exercise, since only one joint is actually dynamically involved – therein requiring only one muscle group to actually be contracted as well.

anatomy of triceps brachii

If performed with the upper arm parallel to the torso and the elbow kept as close to the sides, the lateral head will be targeted to the greatest degree among the three tricep heads.

Common Incline Dumbbell Tricep Kickback Mistakes to Avoid

To get the most out of incline dumbbell kickbacks, avoid the following mistakes. Not only do they make the exercise ineffective, but these errors can also potentially lead to injury if combined with other risk factors.

Snapping the Elbow

Tricep kickbacks as a whole are considered a poor exercise for individuals with elbow tendinopathy, as the movement can compress the joint when it fully extends the forearm while under load.

Even in cases where no elbow issues are present, lifters should still minimize how much pressure the joint withstands by ensuring that no excessive momentum is used during a kickback. 

The easiest way to prevent this is to simply control the concentric phase of the movement, avoiding “snapping” the elbow into a state of extension by performing the exercise too rapidly.

Poor Range of Motion

As is the case with most other exercises, the incline tricep kickback must be performed with an emphasis on a large range of motion. 

incline tricep kickback

Each repetition should begin and end with the forearm at a 90 degree angle to the elbow at the least, with the apex of the movement featuring full arm extension at the elbow.

Failing to complete a full range of motion can cause the triceps to develop inefficiently, or otherwise lead to problems relating to sticking points, poor mobility, overuse injuries and poor lifting habits.

Detaching the Elbow From the Sides

To ensure that the triceps are worked to the greatest degree and not a separate muscle, the elbows should remain as close to the sides of the torso as possible. 

incline tricep kickback

Detaching them can cause other muscles such as the posterior deltoid head or latissimus dorsi to activate, as the triceps will have less opportunity to work in isolation.

A good cue to follow for this particular mistake is to feel the triceps “squeezing” against the sides of the body as the apex of the ROM is reached, indicating that the upper arm and elbows are in the right position.

Rowing the Dumbbell

In a similar vein to proper elbow positioning, lifters must also make sure that they are actually contracting the triceps alone. 

Those attempting to lift too much weight (or are sufficiently fatigued) may find themselves rowing the dumbbell by raising the shoulder or scapula, rather than solely extending at the elbow. This is a mistake, as it contracts muscles like the trapezius or latissimus dorsi, rather than the triceps.

Ensure that the sole moving joint is the elbow itself, and that the exertion of the exercise is felt only in the upper arm.

Is the Incline Dumbbell Tricep Kickback the Right Exercise for You?

The incline variation of dumbbell tricep kickback is undoubtedly better than most other forms of the exercise – featuring a larger range of motion, better triceps contraction and a reduced risk of poor technique.

Remember to avoid all forms of tricep kickback if you have a history of elbow issues. Speak to a medical professional prior to attempting exercises involving elbow extension/flexion while under load.

References

1. Tanton LC, Cappaert TA, Gordon PM, et al. Strength, Size, and Muscle Quality in the Upper Arm following Unilateral Training in Younger and Older Males and Females. Clinical medicine Arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders. 2009;2. doi:10.4137/CMAMD.S1180