How to Do Kickbacks: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

triceps kickback

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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The triceps kickback is one of the most common exercises to strengthen and build muscle in the upper arm. The triceps muscles oppose the biceps and help with extending your arm. There are many ways to train this area, but isolation exercises are a great way to target them specifically. One of the most popular isolation exercises for the triceps is the triceps kickback.

Kickbacks can be performed with dumbbells, resistance bands, and cables and can be done with both arms simultaneously or one arm at a time (unilaterally). You'll likely need to use a relatively light weight for this exercise, especially if you are a beginner.

Really focusing on the squeeze at the top of the contraction is vital for the effectiveness of this exercise, so go light, take your time, and focus on the muscle at work.

Kickbacks can be incorporated into any full-body or upper-body training day or added to a circuit workout. They are a great exercise to add to a pyramid workout, superset, or drop set day.

Also Known As: Triceps kickback

Targets: Back of the upper arm (triceps brachii)

Equipment Needed: Dumbbell, weight bench, or steady knee-height platform (optional)

Level: Beginner

How to Do Kickbacks

Before you try this or any exercise, you should be in good health. Always seek the guidance of your healthcare provider if you are new to exercise or if you are coming back to exercise after an injury. You can also work with a fitness trainer to get tips and advice.

Always try the exercise with very little weight to get comfortable with the movement. If you don't have a dumbbell handy, consider using a water bottle or soup can. New exercisers may also gain a benefit when using no weight at all.

To prepare for the exercise, place one knee on the weight bench or platform. Lean forward and place your hand on the bench as well. If your right knee is on the bench, your right hand will be on the bench. Your left foot remains on the floor. Alternatively, you can place one foot on a step, reaching your other arm toward the floor.

Your body will naturally tilt forward from the hips. Maintain a long, strong back and keep your head in line with your spine.

  1. Place a dumbbell in your left hand (assuming that your right hand is on the bench). Start with your left arm extended below the shoulder. Palm should be facing towards the weight bench
  2. Lift the left elbow so that it is in line with your torso (parallel to the floor). There should be a 90-degree bend at the elbow.
  3. Keeping the elbow in a fixed position, extend the lower arm with the weight. At full extension, it will feel like the weight is reaching toward your hip behind you.
  4. Keep the elbow fixed (arm parallel to the floor) and return the weight to the starting position (with a 90-degree bend at the elbow).
  5. Repeat, keeping the shoulders relaxed and the spine long and strong.

When first starting, you may want to try two sets of 7–10 reps each. As you get stronger and more flexible, add repetitions first. Then add more weight.

Benefits of Kickbacks

The triceps or triceps brachii is an extensor muscle—it is responsible for extending (or lengthening) the forearm. The triceps is also responsible for shoulder adduction and extension. It is the only muscle that runs along the back of the humerus and it has three "heads" or sections. While physiologists traditionally believed that the three heads worked together to extend the arm at the elbow joint, they now know that they don't always work as a single unit.

In everyday life, strong triceps muscles help you to perform certain lifting or pulling movements, especially those that are over your head. These muscles often work together with the muscles in your back and help you to perform activities like vacuuming, putting your luggage in the overhead compartment on a plane, or closing the trunk of your car.

The triceps kickback is just one way to build a stronger triceps muscle. Other popular triceps exercises include the triceps extension, triceps push-ups, or tricep press downs.

Other Variations of Kickbacks

You can perform this exercise in different ways to meet your skill level, available equipment, and goals.

Resistance Band Kickbacks

Resistance bands are an excellent tool for kickbacks because the most resistance will occur at the peak contraction when your arm is fully extended. Go slowly and return the weight with control. This version is similar when using a cable machine instead of a resistance band.

  1. Secure a resistance band to a stable anchor point and hold the end or handle in your left hand (assuming that your right hand is on the bench). Start with your left arm extended below the shoulder. Palm should be facing towards the weight bench
  2. Lift the left elbow so that it is in line with your torso (parallel to the floor). There should be a 90-degree bend at the elbow.
  3. Keeping the elbow in a fixed position, extend the lower arm with the weight. At full extension, it will feel like the weight is reaching toward your hip behind you. You will feel the most resistance at this point. Squeeze your tricep to the full contraction.
  4. Keep the elbow fixed (arm parallel to the floor) and return the band to the starting position (with a 90-degree bend at the elbow).
  5. Repeat, keeping the shoulders relaxed and the spine long and strong.

Standing Two-Arm Kickbacks

You can perform kickbacks from a slightly leaning standing position with both arms simultaneously. You may need to reduce the weight in this case since you will need to brace your core and will be unable to use your other arm to brace you.

  1. Place a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in.
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lean forward slightly, bending your knees.
  3. Lift your elbows so that they are in line with your torso (parallel to the floor). There should be a 90-degree bend at the elbows.
  4. Keeping your elbows in a fixed position, extend your lower arms with the weight. At full extension, it will feel like the weight is reaching toward your hips behind you.
  5. Keep the elbows fixed (arms parallel to the floor) and return the weight to the starting position (with a 90-degree bend at the elbows).
  6. Repeat, keeping the shoulders relaxed and the spine long and strong.

Common Mistakes

There are a few common blunders that are often seen when performing the kickback exercise.

Dropping the Elbow

It's essential to keep the elbow elevated so that the upper arm remains parallel to the floor. This helps you to work against gravity and strengthen the triceps. It is common to drop the elbow when the triceps get tired.

Try to perform the exercise in front of a mirror to watch the placement of the elbow. If you still have a hard time keeping the elbow lifted, decrease the weight.

Sagging Back

While focusing on the movement of the arm, it's easy to relax the back and let your torso sag during this exercise. But it is vital to engage through the core and keep the back strong. A strong spine will help you to maintain proper alignment in the shoulder area and through the hips.

Safety and Precautions

This exercise is safe for most people, including beginning exercisers (with less weight). However, those with shoulder injuries should seek the guidance of a qualified fitness trainer to be sure that they are not aggravating their condition by using poor form.

Those with wrist conditions (like carpal tunnel) may have difficulty leaning on a bench and may find the standing positions more comfortable.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move into one of these strength training workouts. Use the hammer curl in addition to or instead of a traditional biceps curl.

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  1. Landin D, Thompson M, Jackson M. Functions of the triceps brachii in humans: A reviewJ Clin Med Res. 2018;10(4):290–293. doi:10.14740/jocmr3340w