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One-Arm Tricep Kickbacks: Exercise Overview and How-To Guide

one arm tricep kickback exercise overview

The one-arm tricep kickback is essentially a bent-over tricep kickback performed with a slightly more upright torso. 

In actual practice, one-arm tricep kickbacks are a moderately effective, convenient and relatively low-risk way of targeting the triceps without interference from other muscle groups.

One-Arm Tricep Kickbacks at a Glance

Equipment Requirements

Dumbbell

Main Muscles Targeted

Triceps Brachii

Difficulty

Novice

Sets, Reps, and Load Recommendations

Moderate weight for 2-3 sets of 8-16 repetitions

How to do One-Arm Tricep Kickbacks

One Arm Tricep Kickback
  1. To perform a single arm tricep kickback, the lifter will begin by first gripping a dumbbell in their working arm as they hinge the torso forwards. The opposite arm should extend to support the upper body, generally by placing the palm atop an object like a bench.
  2. The repetition should begin with the forearms at an approximate 90 degree bend to the elbow, dumbbell held in a neutral grip. The torso should be around an incline of 30-40 degrees.
  3. Ensuring the lower back is neutral and that the upper arm is parallel to the side of the torso, the lifter then contracts their triceps and slowly extends their arm at the elbow.
  4. Once the elbow is fully extended and the triceps are concentrically contracted, the lifter then slowly releases tension in their triceps as they allow their forearm to bend back to a relative 90 degree angle.
  5. Now back in the original starting position, the repetition is considered to be complete.

Additional Tips

One-arm tricep kickbacks are most effective when specifically performed as a unilateral movement. 

Take advantage of its one-sidedness by truly focusing on slow and controlled contraction of the triceps, taking your time with each repetition.

Another highly effective tip to try out is experimenting with upper arm positioning in relation to the angle of the torso. The more horizontal the upper body, the higher the upper arm can be to maintain tension in the triceps.

What Muscles do One-Arm Tricep Kickbacks Work?

As is clued in by its name, one-arm tricep kickbacks target the three-headed triceps brachii located along the dorsal and lateral sides of the upper arms.

anatomy of triceps brachii

In particular is the lateral head, which contracts and lengthens to the greatest degree due to the position of the upper arm relative to the rest of the body. Although the two remaining medial and long heads are also worked intensely, the lateral head is comparatively emphasized further.

Common One-Arm Tricep Kickback Mistakes to Avoid

In order to maximize the effectiveness of the one-arm tricep kickback (and prevent injury) aim to correct the following common mistakes.

Insufficient Range of Motion

Because dumbbell tricep kickbacks tend to lose tension in the triceps near the originating point of the ROM, it is especially vital for lifters to complete a full range of motion with each repetition. 

An excessively short range of motion can lead to overall poor triceps development, instability and even increased strain on the elbow joint as needless volume is performed to reach sufficient set intensity.

Each repetition should begin and end with the forearm at a 90 degree angle to the elbows at the least, whereas the opposite end of the movement should involve nearly full elbow extension.

Excessive Momentum/Poor Tempo

As an isolation exercise targeting a relatively small muscle group, tricep kickbacks must be performed with a sufficiently slow and controlled tempo – avoiding jerking or swinging the dumbbells as much as possible.

Performing the exercise with excessive momentum generated by muscles other than the triceps can shift emphasis away from the principle mover, leading to poor development, greater strain on the elbows and a significantly greater risk of injury.

Poor Torso Angle

The one-arm tricep kickback features a somewhat more upright upper body than other kickback variations. This is primarily adopted to reduce strain on the lower back or to otherwise reduce the risk of cheating the repetition.

one arm dumbbell tricep kickback

In order to get the most out of this unique aspect, lifters should ensure that they are adopting a torso angle between 30 and 40 degrees. 

Too high will cause tension and range of motion to be reduced, whereas too far forwards defeats the purpose of the exercise and may be more strenuous on the back.

Detaching the Upper Arm From the Sides

In order to avoid “rowing” the dumbbell or otherwise recruiting muscle groups other than the triceps brachii, it is vital for the upper arm to remain parallel to the side of the torso – keeping it as close as possible in said position.

Are One-Arm Tricep Kickbacks the Right Exercise for You?

The one-arm tricep kickback is practically identical to conventional kickbacks apart from a slightly more upright angle to the body. The mechanics, intensity and developmental benefits at a larger scale remain much the same. 

If you are seeking targeted hypertrophy of the triceps brachii, then tricep kickbacks are absolutely the correct exercise. For a similar type of training stimulus, look into triceps extensions, pushdowns or the many other variations of tricep kickback out there.

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.