The kickback is sometimes dismissed as a ‘sissy’ exercise. That while it can be a very effective triceps exercise – if performed in the following way.
If you want more massive triceps, the kickback certainly isn’t the most important weapon in your arsenal.
When we could only do one exercise for the triceps, we’d chose triceps dips. After all, this puts all three heads of your triceps to work. In addition, you can perform this exercise heavily, at least not lighter than your own body weight allows. This is beneficial, because according to research, the triceps contains relatively many type II muscle fibers (~67%), the type that is best stimulated by heavy weights.
Incidentally, beginners already come a long way with compound exercises such as the bench press and overhead press. The triceps play a supporting role in this. It’s only when you get more advanced and your volume needs increase that isolating triceps exercises become more important.
THE STUBBORN TRICEPS
The triceps consists of three heads (the long, medial and lateral head). To train all three optimally, you will have to do several triceps exercises. For example, with the popular triceps pushdown you mainly train the lateral head, while with the close-grip barbell bench press you focus on the lateral and medial head.
However, most of your triceps are made up of the long head. To optimally develop it, it is often recommended to do at least one triceps exercise above the head, such as the lying triceps extension. According to research a good advice but they usually forget that there is an exercise which the long head probably even more triggers, namely incline dumbbell tricep kickbacks. In kickbacks, move your arm back until it is parallel to the upper body.
Please note: ‘activating’ is not the same as ‘stimulation’. We base ourselves on an EMG study and such a study does not say everything about actual muscle growth. After all, aspects such as load (the heaviness of the weight) and range of motion (the range of motion ) also play an important role in muscle growth.
The crux of the exercise lies in the angle that your body and therefore your upper arm make in relation to the floor. This ensures optimal contraction of the long triceps head, more than when you do kickbacks in a traditional way, for example leaning forward on a bench.
Finally, this way you can train both arms at the same time, which saves time.
But for this kickback variant to be really effective, the following things are crucial in your performance:
- Your upper arm remains parallel to your body;
- Your elbow stays in place;
- You limit the range of motion to the point where your upper and forearms make a 90-degree angle.
With regard to the latter: many people move their forearm all the way to their upper arm during kickbacks when you do a biceps curl. In this bit of range of motion, however, there is no more tension on your triceps, making it useless. See also Jeff Cavaliere ‘s explanation about this.
The biggest criticism of some coaches about the triceps kickback is that you can only perform it with very light weights. The exercise owes its not too tough reputation to that.
But that’s not really a valid argument: for muscle growth it is not about the absolute weight, but about the mechanical tension that you create by training with a certain weight to (near) muscle failure. Light weights simply require more reps than heavy ones. We have already seen that you do not have to train as close to muscle failure with heavy weights to achieve sufficient mechanical tension.
We also saw that the triceps probably contain a relatively large number of type II muscle fibers. For that reason you can indeed say that triceps benefit more from heavy weights. That is why we initially recommend exercises such as dips and close-grip bench press for the triceps.
Doesn’t take away that incline kickbacks are a great addition to it.