How to Do Triceps Kickbacks

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on July 08, 2022
5 min read

One of the most important arm muscles is the triceps brachii (the triceps, for short). You use your triceps to extend your arm. It opposes the biceps muscle, which is used to flex the arm. You also use the triceps when you move your shoulder and elbow.

You need strong triceps muscles to perform many sports and activities. They are also necessary for your arm to appear strong and shapely. Many women are interested in toning their triceps to avoid the dreaded jiggly arms. 

The triceps kickback exercise is an effective way to meet these goals. 

The triceps kickback is a strength training move that isolates the triceps muscle. You can control your own results by adjusting three factors:

  • Intensity. If you are using weights, you control the intensity by increasing or decreasing the weight. If you are using bands, you can choose stronger or looser bands.
  • Frequency. You'll get the best results if you perform an exercise frequently but also allow yourself some rest days.
  • Sets and repetitions. You can control the intensity of your workout by reducing or increasing your repetitions and how many sets you perform.

The latest recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are that adults should get at least 75 to 300 minutes a week of aerobic exercise and should do strength training at least twice a week. Muscle strengthening activities should engage all the major muscle groups and should be at least moderately intense.  

Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes of movement every day, with muscle-strengthening activity at least three times a week. 

In one study, researchers named triceps kickbacks as one of the three most effective strength training moves for the triceps. They connected the study subjects to an electromyograph that measured muscle activity. Only triangle push-ups activated the triceps muscle more than kickbacks, while dips achieved about the same amount as kickbacks. 

The triceps brachii is a large, thick muscle on the back of the arm. It has one main function: to extend the lower arm. The lower arm can be turned so the palm faces backward (pronated) or forward (supinated). The triceps muscle is activated in both positions. 

The triceps muscle has three heads (or, points of attachment). All three heads help with arm extensions, both when the muscle is supinated and when it is pronated. 

The three heads are:

  • Lateral head. The lateral head of the triceps muscle attaches to the back of the humerus, the bone of the upper arm. The lateral head is the strongest part of the triceps muscle. Triceps kickbacks mainly activate the lateral head of the triceps. 
  • Medial head. This head also attaches to the back of the humerus, below the lateral head. 
  • Long head. The long head of the triceps muscle attaches to the scapula or shoulder blade. Besides helping with arm extensions, it supports the shoulder joint and stabilizes the humerus.

Other muscles worked with triceps kickbacks include the deltoid muscles of the shoulder. 

The classic tricep kickback is done standing and using a single dumbbell. Follow these steps:

  1. Pick up a dumbbell with your left hand. 
  2. Assume a split stance with your right leg forward. 
  3. Tighten your core and lean forward, keeping your back straight and head lined up with the spine. 
  4. Place the right hand on the right thigh.
  5. Bend the left arm holding the dumbbell to a 90-degree angle, keeping the upper arm lined up with the upper body.
  6. Without moving the upper body or the upper arm, slowly straighten the lower arm, keeping the wrist rigid.
  7. Slowly return the lower arm to the starting position at a 90-degree angle.
  8. Perform the desired number of repetitions.
  9. Repeat on the other side.

You are unlikely to injure your triceps muscle with exercise. Triceps injuries usually happen when you fall on an outstretched hand. Tendonitis in the triceps is also relatively rare. It usually occurs in men over 30 who engage in repetitive throwing. Still, you should perform kickbacks in a way that is comfortable for you. The basic movement remains the same. 

  • Using handled resistance bandsAssume the split stance with the right foot forward. Place the band under the ball of your right foot. Grasp a handle in each hand. Lean forward, placing your right forearm on your right leg for support. Perform the movement with your left arm. You'll have to adjust the placement of your foot on the band to get proper resistance. The closer your foot is to the left handle, the harder the exercise will be. 
  • Using a bench. Place the right hand and right knee on a bench. You'll be a little lower than when you are standing in the split stance. Keep your back straight and perform the same motion using a dumbbell. You can also use a cable to provide resistance.

Exercises that target the triceps can improve your ability to do everyday activities. Strength training has other benefits, including:

  • Stronger bones. Strength training puts beneficial stress on the bones, increasing bone density
  • Weight control. Besides burning calories, strength training boosts metabolism for a higher caloric burn even when you aren't exercising. 
  • Quality of life. You'll enjoy life more if you can do the things you want to do. As you age, you can use strength training to preserve your independence. This can improve balance, reduce your risk of falls, and help your joints stay healthy. 
  • Management of chronic conditions. Strength training is helpful for managing heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and many other conditions.
  • Brain Health. Both strength training and aerobic exercise may improve brain function, especially for older adults.

One study found that older adults who did strength training had a lower incidence of cancer and heart disease and a lower risk of dying from all causes than those who didn't do strength exercises. This was true even if the other individuals engaged in other moderate-to-vigorous physical activity of a different type. 

When working your triceps, follow the general rules for effective weight training: 

  • Choose a weight that allows you to perform 12 to 15 repetitions.
  • Don't swing your weight. Instead, use a smooth, controlled movement.
  • Breathe out as you move the weight backward and inhale as you return to the starting position. 
  • Check your triceps kickback form in a mirror if possible. 
  • If you experience pain while exercising, stop immediately. 

Kickbacks are less challenging than some other exercises that isolate the triceps. Still, if you have pain or limited range of motion in your shoulders, you may wish to choose another exercise.