Tone Your Triceps

With Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks

By Stephen E. Alway, Ph.D., FACSM

It’s time to tone your triceps! Sure, the triceps are recruited with pushing activities, but some different approaches are needed to activate the hard-to-recruit fibers in this muscle. Dumbbell kickbacks will activate the fibers that have been unwilling to be engaged in other triceps exercises. For a new challenge, add this exercise to your routine a couple times a week and get sculpted triceps in time for the short sleeves and bathing suits.

Tone Your Triceps - With Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks

Tips for Triceps Kickbacks

It is important to keep your upper arm and elbow close to your rib cage. The only movement should be from the elbow and wrist, but not the shoulder. To help you do the exercise properly, you can use the mirror to see that your elbow is stationary against your side and the extension of the elbow is complete. You should also be careful to use your triceps muscles to straighten your elbow. At all costs, you must avoid jerking the weight upwards with body momentum.

You should avoid forcibly and rapidly locking the elbow joint, as this could irritate the bursa in the elbow joint and over time, this could become inflamed and painful. Rather, it is preferable to stop the extension phase of the lift just short of fully locking out your elbow joint because this will ensure that you have placed constant tension on the triceps muscle throughout the entire set, and it will minimize any risk of bursa injury in your elbow.

It is not necessary to hoist super heavy weights for this exercise and in fact, you will find that medium light weights are best for maintaining exercise form and maintaining constant tension in triceps muscle throughout the set. The constant tension and the extra lateral wrist flexion at the end of the movement make it tough to grind out the reps, but this is needed if you truly want to awaken any sleeping fibers in your triceps.

How It’s Done

Dumbbell kickbacks activate all three heads of the triceps but preferentially recruits the lateral head of the triceps brachii, in part because the arm is pulled into extension.

1. Grab a dumbbell in your right hand. Lean forward and place your left hand (and if you have lower back problems, your left knee) on a flat bench for support. Your knees should be slightly bent to reduce the risk of back strain.

2. Keep your back straight and look up to make sure it stays straight and tight. Bring the upper arm holding the dumbbell up to the side of your rib cage so that it is parallel to the floor and in line with your spine. Your elbow should be pointing directly backwards. The forearm should be at 90 degrees to the upper arm and hanging towards the floor.

3. Keep your upper arm close to your body and push the dumbbell back and up by extending (straightening) the elbow joint.

4. Stop the dumbbell just short of having your elbow locked out straight. Without moving the elbow or arm, laterally flex the wrist so that the end of the dumbbell closest to your forearm moves closer to your wrist. Pause for a count of one at the top position (this should really bite into the deepest fibers of the triceps). Be sure to keep control of the weight, and keep your arm in the correct positions (this is not easy to do when you start to get tired).

5. Slowly reverse the movement by moving the wrist back to a neutral position, then flexing the elbow as the dumbbell is lowered to the starting position over a count of three.

6. Continue into the next repetition by straightening the elbow without pausing and repeat until your set is done. Use a medium-light weight but try to get through 10-12 repetitions.

7. Take a short break, then switch the dumbbell to the left arm, and position yourself with the right knee if needed, and the hand on the bench for support.


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