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Kneeling Tricep Kickbacks: Exercise Overview and How-To Guide

kneeling tricep kickback exercise overview

The kneeling tricep kickback is a variation of kickback performed with the lifter on their knees, often with one hand resting atop the floor or their own legs for support. 

In comparison to conventional kickbacks, the kneeling variation is most frequently performed in situations where a non-adjustable cable machine is present, or if the lifter wishes to avoid “cheating” the repetition by moving the legs.

Kneeling Tricep Kickback at a Glance

Equipment Requirements

Dumbbells

Main Muscles Targeted

Triceps Brachii

Difficulty

Novice

Sets, Reps, and Load Recommendations

Moderate weight for 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions

How to do Kneeling Tricep Kickbacks

Kneeling Tricep Kickback
  1. To perform tricep kickbacks in a kneeling position, the lifter will begin by lowering themselves into a forward-kneeling position, placing a pad beneath their knees if needed. The non-working arm may be placed on the ground, braced against a nearby object or atop one leg for support.
  2. If performing the exercise with a dumbbell, the dumbbell should be held beneath the chest with the upper arm placed parallel to the torso, jutting slightly above. The forearm should be bent at a 90 degree angle as the dumbbell is held.
    Otherwise, if using cables or bands, the lifter will kneel facing the anchor/machine and pull the band to the side of their ribs, forearm at a 90 degree angle to the elbow.
  3. Ensuring the core is braced, head facing forwards and lower back neutral, the lifter then squeezes their triceps and extends their forearm at the elbow. The upper arm and elbow must remain stationary as they do so.
  4. Once the arm is fully extended and the triceps adequately contracted, the lifter then allows the resistance of their equipment to draw their forearm back around. 
  5. With the forearm returned to a 90 degree angle to the elbow, the repetition is now considered complete.

Additional Tips

Kneeling tricep kickbacks provide a more stable base with which to train the triceps. Lifters can take advantage of this by lifting somewhat more weight than would be used for the standing or seated variation of kickback.

However, it is important to remember that the kneeling position can compromise the lower back if poor technique is employed. 

Ensure the core is lightly braced and that the lower back remains neutral throughout the set.

What Muscles Do Kneeling Tricep Kickbacks Work?

The kneeling tricep kickback is considered to be an isolation exercise. 

anatomy of triceps brachii

Like all other isolation exercises, only a single muscle group is actually dynamically contracted – in this case that being the triceps brachii.

Because of the position of the humerus in relation to the shoulder and elbow joint, it is the lateral head of the muscle group that is targeted to the greatest degree among all three heads. Of course, the remaining two long and medial heads are nonetheless still contracted as primary movers.

Common Kneeling Tricep Kickback Mistakes to Avoid

Though the kneeling kickback is somewhat safer and more stable than its more upright counterparts, the following common mistakes should be avoided for the best possible workout.

Insufficient Range of Motion

Specific to sports science, the term “range of motion” simply refers to the extent to which a specific movement is performed in relation to a joint. 

dumbbell kneeling tricep kickback muscles targeted

For the majority of tricep kickbacks, this will often involve the forearm beginning at a 90 degree angle and extending at the elbow until the entire arm forms a straight line. This range is then reversed with the forearm traveling backwards until it is once again in its original position with the elbow bent.

In order to work the triceps to the greatest degree, completing this entire range with each repetition is absolutely vital. Failing to complete the entire ROM will result in poor muscular hypertrophy and issues like sticking points, instability or poor mobility.

Rounding the Lower Back

Because this particular variation of kickback is performed in a kneeling stance, it is especially vital to ensure that the back and underlying spinal column is protected through proper positioning. 

dumbbell kneeling tricep kickbacks

Not only should the core be lightly engaged in order to help stabilize the trunk, but the lifter must also ensure that their lower back is relatively flat and neutral by hinging forward at the hips, rather than curving at the waist.

Furthermore, the lifter must also make use of their non-working arm (if performing the exercise one handed) to support the torso. 

Snapping the Forearm Backwards

Apart from completing a full range of motion, the lifter must also ensure that a sufficient length of time under tension is created throughout said ROM. 

Rapidly throwing the dumbbell backwards or otherwise snapping the elbow into full extension will not only reduce this length of time, but also lead to the elbow joint absorbing more force than necessary – potentially leading to injury.

Failing to Isolate the Triceps

In relation to performing the exercise with excessive momentum, failing to properly isolate the triceps through poor positioning or accidentally activating other muscles can defeat the purpose of the movement.

This is most commonly seen with the latissimus dorsi or posterior deltoid heads, where the position of the upper arm (generally detached from the torso) can cause the exercise to turn into a row, rather than a kickback. 

The only actual strain felt during the exercise should be within the triceps themselves. Likewise, no other joints should be actively moving other than the elbows. 

Following these two cues will ensure that the triceps are isolated in their contraction.

Who Should Do Kneeling Tricep Kickbacks?

Generally, kneeling tricep kickbacks are most effective when used by more experienced lifters who are already quite familiar with the more upright variations of tricep kickback. 

The greater loading capacity and stability allow such individuals to truly maximize tension and load on their triceps without other muscles coming into play.

Remember to avoid kickbacks of all kinds if you have a history of elbow issues, especially regarding the tendons therein. Speak to a medical professional to ensure no injuries occur.

References

1. Boehler B. Masteres Dissertation. University of Wisconsin; Madison, WI, USA: 2011. Electromyographic Analysis of the Triceps Brachii Muscle during a Variety of Triceps Exercises.