The triceps kickback is a valuable addition to your training routine that can help to pump up your arms, but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?
For this movement, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it’s such a killer exercise that can serve as a highlight of your training plan. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the move’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.
Before you hinge over and start swinging dumbbells, take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention the movement here. Hitting the proper form is essential to make sure you’re getting the most out of the exercise—particularly because of the subtle details with the position and your arm action that will make it effective. Let’s break down everything you need to know.
Upper Arm Parallel
Eb says: Keep your upper arm parallel to the ground throughout your entire set of triceps kickbacks. Two of the most common errors during kickbacks occur when you don’t think about this. Sometimes people over-focus on keeping their upper arm high, and they wind up with their elbow being the highest point during the kickback; then they don’t face the full force of gravity in the straight-arm position. Don’t do that.
The more common error is even worse: If you start with your elbow below your shoulder, then you have to swing your upper arm upwards, a motion that recruits the lats, not the triceps (a.k.a. the muscle you’re trying to train). Avoid these issues and really focus on maintaining an upper arm angle with both elbow and shoulder on the same level. Use a mirror if you can, at least at the start of your set.
Own the Position
Eb says: Your triceps’ responsibility is to straighten your arm at the elbow, and that’s when it’s at peak contraction. So, just as we’d squeeze our biceps at the top of a good biceps curl to get more out of that moment, take a moment to squeeze your tris when your arm is fully straight during a kickback. Don’t just rush back down; instead, hold your arm straight for a one-count.
It’s here that having your upper arm fully parallel to the ground yields its greatest benefit, too, because the forearm lever is at its longest. Don’t hike your upper arm once you get here either; battle for a straight arm and you’ll feel it in your tris.
Eb says: The triceps kickback isn’t a move that’s going to let you move a massive amount of weight. When you use it that way, you’re destined to cheat with your form.
So bury your pride and operate with a lighter weight, but prove to yourself that you can own that straight-arm position and get a great triceps squeeze. You’ll get a lot more from a 12.5-pound kickback set done properly than you will from a 40-pound kickback set done with a ton of swing and sloppiness.
Want to master even more moves? Check out our entire Form Check series.
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