Biomechanical Perfection: Tricep Kickback

Biomechanical Perfection: Tricep Kickback
Tricep kickback - starting position (Photography by Mike Neveux)
Biomechanical Perfection: Tricep Kickback
Tricep kickback - ending position (Photography by Mike Neveux)

The tricep makes up 70% of the size of the arm and if you are looking to increase overall arm size or muscle tone, learning how to properly contract and train the tricep using the dumbbell tricep kickback will give you just that. The Dumbbell Tricep Kickback is an isolation exercise that allows all three heads of the tricep to be trained in a balanced manner, stimulating overall growth. It is an exercise that has a very low risk of injury providing much less strain on the low back, elbow, or rotator cuff compared to other tricep exercises such as the close grip bench press, French press, or overhead dumbbell extension. Review the proper biomechanics and sample routine listed below and learn how to stimulate new tricep development. As with any exercise, start with a light weight and warm up thoroughly. Allow the movement to flow easily and comfortably for the joints and muscles. If anything feels uncomfortable or painful, this exercise may not be the best suited for your natural biomechanics and consider trying this exercise with a low cable pulley or experiment with other tricep building exercises to reach your goals.

Starting position

  • Set a free bench on a flat level, parallel with the ground
  • Grab a dumbbell and place the opposite hand at center end of bench with fingers comfortably going over the edge, to reduce tension on the wrist
  • Place the same side knee on the bench at a comfortable distance away from the hand
  • Opposite foot firmly plants on the ground with knee slightly bent no more than one foot away from the bench to create a strong foundation
  • Keep the back straight and the abdominals engaged to protect the lower spine
  • The collarbone is made parallel with the ground
  • With dumbbell in hand, elbow is raised to be close to the side of the body
  • Upper arm is parallel with ground
  • Forearm is perpendicular to the ground
  • Head comfortably looks up with neck and face relaxed

Ending position

  • Tricep flexes to move hand and dumbbell backwards
  • Same side shoulder slightly retracts upward to provide stability
  • Forearm of flexed arm creates a straight line with the tricep, shoulder and neck
  • Upper arm remains parallel with the ground
  • Lower, middle and upper back remain in a straight line
  • Abdominals stay engaged
  • Collarbone remains parallel with the ground

Common Mistakes

  • Collarbone tilts upwards or downwards, increasing strain on rotator cuff
  • Elbow attached to hand stabilizing on the bench bends to gain momentum to drive dumbbell back, increasing strain on the elbow
  • Back arches upwards or downwards, increasing strain on the spine
  • Hips move forward or backwards to increase completion of movement, decreasing stability, and increasing chance for spinal injury
  • Upper arm of hand holding dumbbell moves above the plane of the back as tricep contracts, transferring tension from the tricep to the rear deltoid and back.
  • Upper arm of hand holding dumbbell moves below the plane of the back as weight is returning to starting position, reducing tension on tricep
  • Choosing a weight too heavy, not allowing arm of trained tricep to be made straight at full contraction of movement
  • Wrist bending upward or downward during movement, increasing strain on the wrist

To improve overall tricep development, work the Dumbbell Tricep Kickback exercise into your routine every 3 - 4 days. This exercise is best performed with a light weight allowing proper form and utilizing a rep range of 12 – 20 repetitions per set, with a short rest period of 1 minute between sets for 4 to 6 total sets.

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