Tricep Kickback: Exercise Overview and How-To Guide

tricep kickback exercise overview

For isolated development of muscle mass in the triceps, few movements come close to the convenience and specificity of the tricep kickback. 

Traditionally a free weight movement, tricep kickbacks are excellent for acting as a finisher move near the end of a push day workout – or as a substitute to more demanding movements like rope tricep extensions or the close grip bench press.

Despite these benefits, the tricep kickback may be ineffective as far as range of motion and tension during eccentric contraction are concerned. 

Though nonetheless still excellent for targeting the lateral head of the triceps, a firm understanding of the strengths and weaknesses inherent to the movement must be grasped in order to understand its placement in a triceps workout.

Tricep Kickback at a Glance

Equipment Requirements

Dumbbell or Cable Machine

Main Muscles Targeted

Triceps Brachii



How to Do Tricep Kickbacks

Dumbbell Tricep Kickback
  1. To perform a tricep kickback, the lifter will bend forwards at the hips, one arm resting atop a rack or bench while the other grips a moderately heavy dumbbell in a neutral grip.
  2. The working arm should be bent at the elbow as the forearm hangs loosely beneath the body. The back should be neutral with the sole moving joint being that of the elbow itself.
  3. Pressing the elbow of the working arm into the side of the torso, the lifter then squeezes their triceps and “kicks” their forearm backwards, extending the arm.
  4. Once the elbow is nearly completely straightened and the triceps of the working arm is fully contracted, the lifter then slowly disengages the tension in their arm – allowing the dumbbell to bend their arm at the elbow.
  5. With the forearm hanging back in its original position, the repetition is now considered to be complete.

Sets and Reps Recommendation:

The tricep kickback has the advantage of a gravity-assisted eccentric phase and relatively short range of motion. As such, it allows for greater loading without as much risk of injury as other triceps isolation movements.

2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions will be ideal for general triceps training purposes. 

Remember to train both sides of the body.

Additional Tips:

Because of the rather poor tension and short range of motion involved, lifters will have to rely on a slowed concentric contraction to reap the most benefit out of tricep kickbacks. 

Avoid explosively kicking the dumbbell back.

dumbbell tricep kickback movement

Instead, aim for a slow and controlled contraction until the elbow is nearly locked out. This will also help reduce strain on the elbow joint itself.

In addition, remember that the angle of the torso is also key for getting the most out of the movement. Several degrees away from the torso being parallel to the floor is ideal.

What Muscles are Worked by Tricep Kickbacks?

Tricep kickbacks are an isolation exercise that solely target the triceps brachii alone. In particular, the lateral head is worked to a comparatively greater degree.

lateral head of triceps

Common Tricep Kickback Mistakes to Avoid

Despite their simplicity, tricep kickbacks can be quite ineffective when performed incorrectly. Avoid the following mistakes to ensure your triceps grow as much as possible.

Poor Range of Motion

A full range of motion must be employed for the triceps to develop correctly. 

For tricep kickbacks, this begins and ends with the forearm vertically parallel to the elbow (at the least) as it hangs beneath the torso, peaking with the entire arm straightened at the top of the repetition.

An insufficient range of motion will not only reduce the effectiveness of the exercise, but can also be an indicator of other issues such as poor mobility, excessive accumulated fatigue or that the lifter is attempting to move more weight than they are able.

Poor Tempo

Much like a proper range of motion, a sufficiently slow and controlled tempo must also be employed for proper muscular development.

Because gravity is aiding with pulling the dumbbell downwards, tension is greatly reduced during the eccentric phase of a tricep kickback. To combat this detriment, lifters should instead stretch out the first phase of the movement instead, focusing on fully contracting the triceps as the arm extends.

Performing the repetition too quickly will reduce how well the triceps respond to the exercise, and can lead to excessive momentum that translate to greater strain on the elbows and shoulders.

Incorrect Torso Angle

A common mistake seen with tricep kickbacks is performing the exercise with no bend of the torso. This further shortens the range of motion, causing the triceps to develop poorly as well.

dumbbell tricep kickback muscles being worked

For most lifters, the ideal torso angle will be somewhere around 45 degrees. Ensure the core is lightly braced and that this angle is achieved by hinging at the hips, rather than curving the lower back.

“Rowing” the Dumbbell

Lifters unfamiliar with the tricep kickback (or those using too much weight) may find themselves engaging their back muscles and rowing the dumbbell, rather than isolating the triceps.

Rather than extending at the elbow, this particular mistake is characterized by the scapula or shoulders moving upwards, raising the arm up along the torso as well.

Apart from reducing how much weight is being lifted, this issue can be corrected by pressing the elbow into the side of the torso and ensuring that the lifter focuses on squeezing their triceps as much as possible.

Are Tricep Kickbacks the Right Exercise for You?

Tricep kickbacks are the ideal exercise for your routine if you require simple and isolated triceps volume. That – or if you lack access to other forms of training equipment other than dumbbells.

While not necessarily the most effective exercise, it is nonetheless an all-around solid free weight mass builder when employed in the right situation.


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