THERE ARE TONS of different ways to train your triceps muscles (trust us, we've been known to highlight a few of our favorites), but not every exercise is created equal. While some movements might be an A on the grading scale, others might be barely scraping by to pass. Especially if you only have time for one big triceps move in your workout, you don't want to spend time on an exercise better suited for summer school than the Honor Roll. That's why we think the dumbbell triceps kickback is overrated.
Moving heavy weight through a full range of motion is key for developing a thick pair of triceps, and you won't get the type of stimulus you're hoping for with the kickback, according to Men's Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., and Mathew Forzaglia, N.F.P.T., C.P.T., founder of Forzag Fitness. It's not inherently harmful or dangerous—but if you’re looking for better all-around options when you're pressed for time, look elsewhere than this last resort lift.
“If you have time to do four or five, six triceps exercises, sure, we'll work some kickbacks in,” Samuel says. “But if you have time for one [exercise], and we're really trying to build triceps muscle, let's skip the triceps kickback.”
Why Dumbbell Triceps Kickbacks Might Not Work for You
Triceps Kickbacks Offer Limited Time Under Tension
Working the muscles through a full range of motion is the challenge, and you won't be able to do so with dumbbell triceps kickbacks. The time your muscles spend under tension is limited; the part of the exercise in which your arm is extended straight and locked out is when you're under maximum load, and holding that position is very difficult. Once you begin to lower the weight, the tension diminishes to almost nothing by the time you return to the start position. That's not an effective way to train.
Triceps Kickbacks Offer a Limited Load
Unless you’re exceptionally strong, performing a proper dumbbell triceps kickback with solid form is close to impossible with heavy loada. Other muscles—such as the mid-back and rear delts—can take the focus away from your triceps as you try to support the weight, limiting both strength and growth gains.
Triceps Kickbacks Rely Too Much on Momentum
A slow, controlled tempo is what we want to be looking for when performing a triceps exercise. In this case, if you begin extending your arm back to full extension, you might notice that it becomes difficult to avoid swinging to create momentum from your arms shoulder to reach full extension. That’s not the momentum we’re looking for when it comes to triceps work.
3 Moves Better Than the Dumbbell Kickback
Cable Triceps Kickback
3 sets 12 to 15 reps (each arm)
Unlike the dumbbell version, cables are actually an effective tool for increasing time under tension throughout a wider range of motion. Using a cable machine will allow you to go a little heavier than you would with dumbbells, which is a good thing when it comes for adding more muscle.
3 sets 10 to 12 reps
Instead of winding up in a hinge position, this movement is performed standing upright, which places the emphasis on helping stabilize with the mid-back muscles. This will allow for the triceps to create more constant time under tension than dumbbell kickbacks as, there's a nice squeeze at the bottom of the movement with each rep.
3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Lying down on the bench is going to allow you to challenge the triceps more simply because you'll be able to use heavier weight than movements performed in the hinge position. Plus, the move is adaptable, as using an EZ bar, dumbbells, or even a straight bar are all effectively viable options.
Learn which exercises you're better off avoiding by checking out our entire Overrated series here.