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Tricep Kickback Alternatives: For All Equipment Types

tricep kickback alternatives

Tricep kickbacks are great for one singular purpose; building the triceps

However, lifters with different goals, individuals without access to dumbbells or those of separate training disciplines may require more than just the kickback in their training. 

Tricep Kickback Alternatives Based on Equipment

  • Barbell – Lying Skullcrushers
  • Cable Machine – Cable Tricep Kickbacks
  • Bodyweight – Diamond Push Ups
  • To Improve Bench Performance – Close Grip Bench Press

If You Only Have Barbells: Lying Skullcrushers

Lying skullcrushers are another classic triceps isolation exercise best used as a kickback alternative if bilateral recruitment, a larger range of motion or greater loading capacity are the priority. 

lying barbell skullcrusher movement

Essentially, because a barbell is used and the lifter is engaging both triceps brachii muscles in a lying position, greater force output and a greater range of elbow extension is achieved. 

Equipment Requirements

Straight Barbell or Ez Curl Bar

Sets and Reps

3-4 Sets of 8-12 Reps of Moderate Load

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid turning the movement into a pullover by engaging the lats. The bar should be lowered from a point of complete elbow extension to one just over the forehead with the elbows bent.

lying barbell skullcrusher muscles recruited

Another common mistake to avoid is pressing the bar off the apex of the movement. Focus on squeezing the triceps and keeping the elbows as the sole moving joint.

How-to:

Lying Barbell Skullcrusher
  1. Position a loaded barbell over the chest with the arms fully extended, hands shoulder-width apart in a pronated orientation. The lifter should be lying along an exercise bench, feet planted, scapula retracted and a small arch in their lower back for greater safety.
  2. Beginning the repetition, the lifter allows the weight of the bar to slowly bend their forearms back at the elbows – the bar lowering towards their face in a curved arc. 
  3. With the elbows bent at a 90 degree angle and the bar nearly touching the forehead or nose, the lifter then squeezes their triceps and extends their elbows. This should pull the bar in the opposite direction, curving it over the chest and shoulders.
  4. With the arms fully extended over the chest once more, the repetition is considered complete.

If You Prefer Resistance Machines: Cable Tricep Kickbacks

For a machine-based variation and all the benefits that come with it, try performing tricep kickbacks with a cable machine and a D handle. 

cable tricep kickback

The exercise is performed in exactly the same way, only with the cable pulley positioned so that the angle of resistance is parallel to the torso, rather than in the direction of gravity.

Equipment Requirements

Cable Pulley Machine with D-Handle

Sets and Reps

3-4 Sets of 10-16 Reps of Low-Moderate Load

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Ensure that the pulley is angled appropriately to create a horizontal angle of resistance. 

Setting the pulley too high may cause other muscle groups like the lats to become involved, whereas a too low one can shorten range of motion.

cable tricep kickback muscles recruited

In addition, much like with the dumbbell variation, ensure that the elbow is as close to the side of the torso as possible.

How-to:

Cable Tricep Kickback
  1. The pulley is set slightly below the level of the torso as the lifter bends forwards at the hips, handle gripped in their working arm with the forearm hanging beneath the body and the elbow pressed against the sides.
  2. Now positioned appropriately, the lifter squeezes their triceps and straightens their arm by extending at the elbow, pulling against the resistance of the cable. 
  3. With the arm fully extended alongside the body, the lifter then slowly releases tension in their triceps – allowing the cable to pull their arm back into a bent position.
  4. At this point, the repetition is considered complete.

If You’re a Bodyweight Athlete: Diamond Push-Ups

Diamond push-ups are a compound calisthenics exercise involving a close hand placement for greater emphasis on the triceps brachii – especially the lateral head.

diamond push up

The diamond push-up is best used as a kickback substitute in cases where the lifter wishes for a more comprehensive and intense bodyweight alternative.

Equipment Requirements

None

Sets and Reps

2-3 Sets of 6-10 Reps with a Final AMRAP Set

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid flaring the elbows excessively, as this can lead to irritation and injury. 

diamond push up muscles recruited

In a similar vein, avoid “dive-bombing” the repetition, as this can also lead to excessive momentum being absorbed by the joints.

How-to:

Diamond Push Ups
  1. Enter a standard push-up stance with the hands splayed beneath the chest, forming a diamond shape with the thumbs and pointer fingers. The body must be flat with the legs straight and the core contracted.
  2. From this position, the lifter then bends at the elbows and slowly descends towards the ground, stopping once their elbows are fully bent.
  3. Initial half of the repetition now done, the lifter then drives through their palms and pushes themselves back up to a high push-up position.
  4. The repetition is now considered complete.

If You Want Better Bench Press Performance: Close Grip Bench Press

For strength athletes hoping to boost their bench press numbers with kickbacks, a smarter substitute may be to instead perform the close grip bench press instead.

barbell close grip bench press

Exactly as it sounds, the close grip bench press is a compound barbell movement replicating the overall movement pattern of a bench press – only with the hands set far closer than normal. 

This creates a greater emphasis on the triceps, building mass, power and gross strength with significant amounts of weight.

Equipment Requirements

Straight Barbell, Weight Plates, Bench/Rack

Sets and Reps

3-5 Sets of 5-8 Reps of Heavy Load

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid flaring the elbows as much as possible, as the CGBP is particularly dangerous for the shoulders if performed incorrectly.

barbell close grip bench press muscles recruited

How-to:

Barbell Close Grip Bench Press
  1. The lifter lies atop a bench with their scapula fully retracted and their hands gripping a barbell at or narrower than shoulder-width apart. The lower back should feature a small arch with the hips touching the bench alongside the upper back.
  2. Now in a secure position, the lifter unracks the bar and slowly lowers it towards their chest, ensuring the elbows do not point out to the sides.
  3. When the bar touches the chest, the lifter pushes through their palms and straightens their arms over the torso.
  4. Once the bar is held over the chest with the elbows fully extended, the repetition is considered complete.

Which Tricep Kickback Alternative is Best?

Although we’ve listed the most widely relevant kickback alternatives here, keep in mind that there are quite a few more (and several variations) still out there.

The “best” alternative will be whichever one best fits your specific training needs. A powerlifter will benefit more from the close grip bench press, whereas bodybuilders can maximize hypertrophy with the constant tension of a cable tricep kickback.

References

1. Kholinne E, Zulkarnain RF, Sun YC, Lim S, Chun JM, Jeon IH. The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta Orthop Traumatol Turc. 2018 May;52(3):201-205. doi: 10.1016/j.aott.2018.02.005. Epub 2018 Mar 2. PMID: 29503079; PMCID: PMC6136322.