To get big arms you need big biceps. That is the conclusion many people reach. And granted, when looking to build T-shirt-tearing guns, biceps training will take the lead. But like Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, the triceps, which make up two-thirds of your upper arm, play an essential supporting role.
As is the case with virtually every other muscle in the body, your triceps respond best to a multitude of exercises and training protocols that make use of a variety of angles. The triceps is comprised of three heads – hence ‘tri’ – the lateral head, medial head and the long head. All three require adequate stimulation for optimal results.
Heavy, challenging compound lifts such as close-grip bench presses and weighted dips should provide the focus for triceps training, but a selection of isolation triceps exercises are also worth your time. The triceps kick-back is one of these.
How To Do The Triceps Kick-Back
Place one knee, shin and foot on a flat bench and bend over to keep your torso parallel to the floor. Grasp the head of the bench with your fingertips. In the outside hand hold a dumbbell. Pick a weight with which you can comfortably manage 12-15 reps. Press and hold that dumbbell-holding arm against your side, with a 90° bend at the elbow. Straighten your arm backwards until it is parallel to the floor. Contract your triceps at that top portion of the lift. Slowly lower until your arm is back at the 90° angle. Repeat for 12-15 reps, then switch arms.
Common Mistakes To Avoid
When straightening your arm at the top portion of the lift, be careful not to bend at the wrist. This removes a lot of the tension from the triceps and places it on the forearms. You should also ensure your arm is held up against the body at all times. If your arm drops down, the tension on the triceps will diminish.
Triceps Kick-Back Variations
Cable triceps kick-back
Using a cable machine for the triceps kick-back means that you have to work against steady resistance throughout the exercise, which you’ll especially notice as you lower your forearm back to the starting position in the second half of the movement.
Attach a single handle low down on the cable machine. Hold the handle in an overhand grip and step away from the machine so there is tension in the cable. Bend at the hips so your upper body is parallel to the ground, with your arm by your side and bent at 90° at the elbow. Straighten your arm behind you to perform the kick-back, then slowly bring the handle back to the starting position.
Resistance band triceps kick-back
If you don’t have dumbbells to hand but do have a set of resistance bands, then swap to this version of the kick-back for a triceps tester that’s just as effective. It’s best to do one arm at a time, even if you have a band that’s long enough to do double kick-backs, so you can focus on working the muscles in the right way.
Stand on the middle of your resistance band with your right foot. Hold one end of the resistance band in your left hand and take a step back with your left foot so you’re in a split stance with your right hand resting on your front knee, leaning your torso forwards so it’s at a 45° angle to the floor.
Hold your upper arm by your side and make a 90° bend at your elbow. Keeping your upper arm static, extend your arm backwards to stretch out the band. You should feel the strain in your triceps after a few reps – shorten the length of the band if you need to increase the resistance.
Two-arm triceps kick-back
Don’t have time to work out one arm at a time? Then do both at once. It’s best to lighten the load a little for the two-arm version of the kick-back, which can be done with dumbbells or the cable machine.
Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand. Lean forwards at your hips until your back is parallel to the ground. You upper arms should be by your sides, with your elbows bent at 90° so you’re holding the dumbbell in front of your torso. Straighten both arms behind you simultaneously, then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
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Joe Warner is a highly experienced journalist and editor who began working in fitness media in 2008. He has featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness UK twice and has co-authored Amazon best-sellers including 12-Week Body Plan. He was the editor of Men’s Fitness UK magazine between 2016 and 2019, when that title shared a website with Coach.