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Types of Triceps Kickbacks: Variations Based on Equipment Restrictions

types of tricep kickbacks

Tricep kickback variations primarily rely on using alternative forms of equipment to change the nature of the training stimulus – although some also change the orientation of the torso itself, leading to different ranges of motion.

Some of the better variations to use are:

  • Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks
  • Cable Tricep Kickbacks
  • Incline Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks
  • Resistance Band Triceps Kickbacks 
  • Seated Tricep Kickbacks

Tricep Kickback Variations

1. Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks

The conventional triceps kickback is performed with a single low or moderate weight dumbbell. It is considered the “baseline” form of kickback, and is often used for general hypertrophy and strength purposes.

standing kickback

Equipment Needed

A single dumbbell is all that is needed.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

The torso should be set at an appropriate angle for maximum range of motion. This is often around a 45 degree angle with the opposite arm supporting the body. 

How-to:

Standing Tricep Kickback
  1. Bending forwards at the hips with a dumbbell held in one hand, the lifter presses their elbow into the side of their torso and straightens their arm backwards – extending the elbow. The opposite arm should be used as support.
  2. With the arm fully extended at the elbow and the triceps completely contracted, the lifter then slowly releases tension in their triceps and lowers the dumbbell back beneath the torso.
  3. The repetition is considered complete.

2. Cable Triceps Kickbacks

The cable variation of tricep kickback accounts for many of the disadvantages inherent to the free weight variation – featuring a larger range of motion, better angle of resistance and a more complete time under tension, especially during the eccentric.

cable tricep kickback

Equipment Needed

Cable tricep kickbacks will require an adjustable cable tower alongside a one-handed attachment, preferably one that allows for a pronated or neutral grip to be used.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Ensure that the cable pulley is adjusted either parallel with the angle of the torso or somewhat below it. Generally, the lower the angle of resistance, the shorter the range of motion will be. 

Other mistakes to avoid are simply those inherent to all kickbacks. Keep the elbows close to the torso and ensure the torso itself is bent forwards at the hips for maximum ROM.

How-to:

Cable Tricep Kickback
  1. Setting the cable pulley at the same elevation as (or somewhat below) the torso as it hinges forwards, the lifter then grips the handle and brings it beneath the chest, elbow bent.
  2. Now positioned correctly, the lifter then presses their upper arm against the torso to fix it into place before straightening their arm at the elbow itself. 
  3. Once the arm is fully straightened and the triceps fully contracted, the lifter slowly releases tension in the muscle and allows the cable to pull their forearm back around in a controlled manner.
  4. At this point, the repetition is considered complete.

3. Incline Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks

For a reduced risk of cheating the repetition, the capacity for safely converting to a bilateral exercise and an overall larger range of motion, performing dumbbell tricep kickbacks with the torso lying atop an incline bench is one highly convenient alternative.

incline tricep kickback

Equipment Needed

The incline variation of dumbbell tricep kickback will require an adjustable incline bench and a single dumbbell.

Because of the support provided by the bench – if so desired – the lifter may instead use two dumbbells so as to train both arms simultaneously.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid an excessively horizontal angle to the bench, as this will defeat the purpose of using one in the first place. 

In addition, ensure that the chest is pressed against the bench in such a way that the back does not curve. Partially retracting the scapula and pressing the hips against the bench can aid with this, provided that the lifter themselves is stable enough.

How-to:

Incline Dumbbell Tricep Kickback
  1. Adjusting an incline bench to an approximate 45 degree angle or somewhat higher, the lifter lies chest-down atop it with the dumbbells held beneath their chest, upper arms close to the sides of the torso, elbows bent and feet braced on the floor for greater stability.
  2. Keeping the elbows stationary, the lifter then contracts their triceps and extends their arms parallel to their body.
  3. Once the elbow is straightened, the lifter then slowly allows the weight of the dumbbell to bend their elbow and draw their forearm back to its original position beneath the body.
  4. With the forearm having loosely beneath the body, the repetition is then considered complete.

4. Resistance Band Triceps Kickbacks 

In situations where only a limited amount of training equipment is available, making use of a resistance band to do kickbacks should suffice.

band tricep kickback

Apart from acting as a substitute if no equipment is available, resistance band kickbacks can also be used for variable resistance over the exercise’s range of motion, or otherwise for manipulating the angle of resistance for greater emphasis on specific tricep heads.

Equipment Needed

This particular variant only requires a single resistance band.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Banded tricep kickbacks are performed either with the opposite end attached to an anchor above chest level or with said band end beneath the heel. If using the heel variant, adopt a less horizontal torso orientation for greater range of motion.

How-to:

Resistance Band Tricep Kickbacks
  1. Attaching the band to an anchor point at chest level or otherwise beneath the heels, the lifter bends forwards at the hips until their arm is bent at the elbow as it grips the resistance band.
  2. Keeping the upper arm parallel (or slightly above) the torso, the lifter then contracts their triceps and straightens their arm at the elbow.
  3. Once the arm is completely straightened and the triceps fully contracted, they then allow the resistance to pull their hand back around by bending the arm at the elbow.
  4. With the forearm back in its original position, the repetition is considered complete.

5. Seated Triceps Kickbacks

The seated form of tricep kickback is most often performed for individuals that have difficulty maintaining a strict stance and tempo while in a standing position. In most other aspects, the exercise remains much the same as a standard free weight tricep kickback.

dumbbell seated kickback

Equipment Needed

Seated tricep kickbacks will require – well, a seat. In addition, a dumbbell, weight plate or similar form of resistance training implement will be needed.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Because less of a hinge at the hips is possible while seated, lifters should pay extra attention to keeping a flat lower back as the exercise is performed.

Likewise, for much the same reason, the lifter should also ensure that their torso is also angled for a full ROM. If the forearm hands parallel to the sides of the waist (or close by), then the upper body is not horizontal enough.

How-to:

Seated Tricep Kickback
  1. Seating themselves with a dumbbell held in one hand – or both if performing the exercise bilaterally – the lifter hinges forward at the hips as they keep their core lightly braced, ensuring the lower back remains flat.
  2. Maintaining this position with the upper arm slightly behind the torso, the lifter then contracts their triceps and kicks their forearm backwards.
  3. Once the arm is fully extended at the elbow, the lifter then slowly releases tension in their tricep and the dumbbell’s weight bends the elbow.
  4. Now returned to the starting position, the repetition is considered to be complete.

Which Tricep Kickback Variation is Best?

The best variation of tricep kickback is whichever one best fits your specific training needs. 

  • Greater ROM and tension? Cable tricep kickbacks. 
  • No gym equipment? Resistance band kickbacks.

Apart from those listed here, there are also variations of kickback involving a kneeling stance, greater isometric demands with a stability ball or those that require a more bent-over stance.

If the variations here don’t quite fit your needs, it may also be a good idea to look into any tricep kickback alternatives you have available.

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.