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Seated Tricep Kickbacks: Exercise Overview and How-To Guide

seated tricep kickbacks exercise overview

The seated tricep kickback is a free weight isolation exercise most often performed in cases where a standing kickback is not feasible. 

Be it due to lower back strain, the need for stricter form or a lack of space, seated kickbacks are a tool worthy of consideration.

Exactly as its name implies, the seated tricep kickback is performed with the lifter seated as they extend a dumbbell behind their body at the elbow. This is done so as to build up triceps brachii mass and strength without the involvement of other muscle groups.

Seated Tricep Kickbacks at a Glance

Equipment Requirements

Dumbbell(s) and seat

Main Muscles Targeted

Core Muscles and Triceps Brachii

Difficulty

Moderate

Sets, Reps, and Load Recommendations

Lighter/Moderate weight for 2-3 sets of 8-16 reps

How to Do Seated Tricep Kickbacks

Seated Tricep Kickback
  1. To perform seated tricep kickbacks, the lifter will seat themselves atop a stable object, setting their feet flat on the floor and holding the dumbbell in a neutral grip besides their body.
  2. The torso should hinge forwards at a 45 degree angle, upper arm slightly above but nonetheless parallel to the sides of the upper body. The forearms should begin at a 90 degree angle to the elbow. Contract the core lightly and ensure the lower back is relatively neutral.
  3. Now in the correct stance, the lifter proceeds to contract their triceps and extend their arm at the elbow, keeping the upper arm stationary as they do so.
  4. Once the elbow is fully extended and the triceps are fully concentrically contracted, the lifter slowly allows the weight of the dumbbell to bend their elbow back around.
  5. With the forearms now at a 90 degree angle to the elbow and the triceps disengaged, the repetition is considered to be complete.

Additional Tips

Due to the seated position involved, maintaining proper lower back safety while still achieving a full range of triceps motion can be difficult. 

Lifters should ensure that they are both not curving their back and that their elbows fully extend at the apex of the repetition. Pressing the elbows into the sides of the torso while simultaneously squeezing the core can help achieve both goals.

What Muscles are Worked by Seated Tricep Kickbacks?

If performed correctly, seated tricep kickbacks should only really target a single muscle group – that, of course, being the triceps brachii muscles of the humerus.

anatomy of triceps brachii

Among the three heads of the triceps, it is the lateral head that is worked to the greatest extent by seated kickbacks. If you find that your triceps are underdeveloped when viewed from the side, the triceps kickback is the perfect move for you.

Common Seated Tricep Kickbacks to Avoid

Because the movement is performed in a seated position, this particular variant of tricep kickback is especially susceptible to poor positioning or a sub-optimal stance. Ensure none of the following stance or technique errors are present in your execution of the movement.

Incomplete Range of Motion

As will be the case with nearly all free weight exercises, performing seated tricep kickbacks with an incomplete range of motion can result in poor triceps development and issues relating to poor power output at certain muscle lengths.

dumbbell seated kickback

As much as possible, lifters should aim to maximize their range of motion with seated tricep kickbacks, ensuring that their torso is at an optimal angle, the forearm begins 90 degrees below the elbow and that a full range of elbow extension is used.

In most cases, an incomplete range of motion is either a result of attempting to lift too much weight or because the torso is too upright. Stick to lifting a moderate amount of weight and place greater focus on proper upper body orientation.

Generating Momentum With the Torso

Although the legs are largely eliminated as a risk factor for “cheating” the kickback, the angled position of the upper body while seated may feel unnatural for some lifters – leading them to unconsciously straighten at the apex of the repetition.

Of course, because this motion does not involve direct force output from the triceps, it will lead to less emphasis on the triceps themselves. 

In order to keep the seated triceps kickback an isolation exercise, the torso must remain stationary with the sole moving joint being that of the elbows.

Curving Upper or Lower Back

Another important stance mistake to look out for is a non-neutral curvature of the spine and back. 

Curving the upper back can lead to a more unstable elbow extension, whereas curving the lower back can increase the risk of lower back strain and injuries to the thoracic or lumbar spine.

dumbbell seated kickback muscles

Apart from lightly bracing the core and partially retracting the scapula, lifters should also familiarize themselves with maintaining back neutrality, even without a mirror present. This will help reduce any future risk of injury and is an excellent lifting habit to have.

Who Should Perform Seated Tricep Kickbacks?

Seated tricep kickbacks are a more convenient and strict version of an otherwise effective triceps builder. So long as they are performed with proper form, practically anyone can do them safely.

In particular are bodybuilders and other hypertrophy-focused lifters seeking truly targeted isolation of the triceps. Among exercises like overhead extensions or pushdowns, the kickback is considered excellent for working the triceps in isolation.

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.