9 Tricep Kickback Alternatives for Huge Triceps!

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 6, 2022

The tricep kickback is among one of the most simplistic and popular triceps isolation exercises available - wherein it is most often performed for the purposes of developing triceps brachii mass and strength in a short yet efficient movement.

However, despite the popularity of the tricep kickback, many exercisers find themselves seeking out a potential alternative that shares its function while presenting fewer characteristic drawbacks.

Fortunately, many exercises can replicate the sort of training stimulus that the tricep kickback would normally provide - with movements like tricep extensions or the close-grip bench press not only fulfilling the role of the tricep kickback but surpassing it in certain aspects.

What to Look for in a Tricep Kickback Alternative

Not every exercise may be used as a tricep kickback alternative, as it must meet certain criteria in order to maintain the flow and purpose of your training program.

dumbbell tricep kickback

For the most part, these criteria simply involve matching the muscle recruitment pattern of the tricep kickback alongside whatever needs the exerciser may have, be it a lack of equipment or the need for certain alterations in their workout.

Muscles Worked

Seeing as the tricep kickback is simply an isolation exercise, the only muscle that the alternative exercise must work is that of the triceps brachii itself.

tricep kickback muscles

However, in cases where the exerciser wishes to substitute the tricep kickback with a compound exercise, an ideal alternative will also fit the muscles that are recruited elsewhere during the workout so as to avoid overtraining or poor recovery.

These are most likely to be the pectoral and deltoid muscle groups, of which make up the “push” group of muscles often trained together within the same workout.

Program Compatibility

Unless otherwise required by the exerciser’s circumstances, the ideal alternative exercise to the tricep kickback will share its classification as an accessory isolation exercise, allowing it to be performed after the main compound movements have already been completed.

This can generally be determined by the perceived exertion of the alternative exercise, wherein it will match the tricep kickback in terms of volume, complexity and resistance level so as to avoid disrupting the periodization or flow of the training program.

Free Weight Alternatives to the Tricep Kickback

To retain a similar level of synergist muscle recruitment and intensity as the tricep kickback itself, using an alternative exercise based on free weights is the most advisable option.

Generally, these will also involve using much the same equipment as one would use during a set of tricep kickbacks, such as a dumbbell or even a barbell in certain cases.

1. Overhead Tricep Extension

One of the best possible free weight alternatives to the tricep kickback is the overhead tricep extension, an isolation exercise that makes use of the same biomechanics and equipment as the latter movement - though with a full range of motion and therefore better results.

tricep overhead extensions

As an alternative to the tricep kickback, the overhead tricep extension presents few downsides while surpassing the former exercise in many respects, such as reinforcing the elbow extension mechanic and greater maximal loading alongside its longer time under tension.

These benefits, alongside the fact that the overhead tricep extension does not share the same disadvantages as the tricep kickback, equate to what is possibly the most ideal alternative exercise for regular gym goers and athletes alike.

2. Close Grip Bench Press

Unlike the tricep kickback, the close grip bench press is a compound exercise that works more than just the triceps brachii muscles, requiring that the training program be altered in the event that the exerciser wishes to perform this particular alternative instead.

close grip bench press

However, despite the additional effort needed in such a substitution, the close grip bench press presents quite a number of advantages over the tricep kickback due to its greater maximal loading capacity and focus on the inner head of the triceps.

As the tricep kickback is generally limited by the exerciser’s forearm strength and the size of their dumbbell, the usage of the close grip bench press as an alternative can aid greatly in allowing for maximal loading of the triceps, or even incremental loading as part of a progressive overload technique.

3. E-Z Curl Bar Skullcrushers

Another classic triceps exercise favored by bodybuilders and advanced weightlifters, the skull crusher exercise performed with an E-Z curl bar acts as an excellent alternative to the tricep kickback for individuals seeking superior mass-building stimulus.

ez curl bar

Apart from achieving full range of motion, skull crushers also act as an isolation exercise, ensuring that the triceps are focused on entirely throughout the movement and resulting in muscular hypertrophy that is difficult to achieve with the tricep kickback.

Skullcrushers are particularly effective for exercisers wishing to focus more on the inner head of their triceps brachii, as the angle of resistance in relation to the shoulders will result in this portion of the muscle being recruited to a greater extent than the other two heads.

Machine Alternatives to the Tricep Kickback

For exercisers seeking the longer time under tension and safety mechanics of machine-based exercises, quite a number of possible alternatives to the tricep kickback are available to choose form.

Whether it be a cable machine variation of the tricep kickback or an entirely different exercise with a greater specificity of training stimulus, the exerciser can be assured that there is a possible alternative exercise for their needs.

1. Rope Tricep Pushdowns

A triceps brachii isolation exercise that makes use of a cable machine to induce resistance; the rope tricep pushdown replicates the intensity and mechanics of the tricep kickback while sharing none of its downsides.

cable tricep pushdown

This results in an alternative exercise capable of resulting in the same sort of muscular developments without the presence of a reduced range of motion or the use of free weights.

As an added benefit, when using the rope tricep pushdown as an alternative to the tricep kickback, no alteration in the training program is needed, allowing the exerciser to simply transplant the sets and repetitions of one exercise to the other.

2. Single-hand Cable Tricep Kickbacks

As one can guess from the name, the cable tricep kickback is simply the machine variation of the standard tricep kickback - a change that alters several mechanics of the exercise, potentially improving it in terms of training stimulus and safety.

Because of the fact that this tricep kickback variation utilizes a cable machine, the exerciser will be able to adjust the angle of resistance so as to create a more horizontal plane of force on their triceps, thereby reducing the risk of elbow injury and improving activation of the entire triceps brachii.

Furthermore, the lengthened time under tension involved in all machine-based exercises will aid in the development of muscular strength and endurance.

3. Overhead Cable Tricep Extensions

Somewhat more complex mechanically than other alternatives in this article, the overhead cable tricep extension can be seen as a direct progression from the tricep kickback due to its greater intensity despite their shared characteristic of being isolation exercises.

cable tricep overhead extensions

Furthermore, the overhead cable tricep extension presents several key advantages over the tricep kickback that make it more than just a suitable alternative.

A full range of motion, reinforcement of the elbow extension biomechanic and greater focus on the lateral head of the triceps are the most notable, though its specificity of application is also one major point that makes exercisers pick the overhead cable tricep extension instead.

As this particular alternative is also a triceps isolation exercise and does not generally result in any sort of chronic overuse injuries, substituting the tricep kickback with it will require little to no alteration in the training program of the exerciser.

Miscellaneous Alternatives to the Tricep Kickback

For exercisers without access to exercise machines or free weight equipment, or those seeking some of the more generalized alternatives to the tricep kickback; exercises like bench dips or diamond push-ups are likely exactly what they need.

1. Dips

A classic among upper body exercises, dips may be performed either weighted or entirely with the exerciser’s own bodyweight acting as a source of resistance.

weighted dips

Regardless of whether additional weight is added or not, dips may act as a situational alternative to the tricep kickback in cases where the exerciser does not have access to fitness equipment, or otherwise wishes to utilize a substitute that also trains the pectoral muscles.

Unfortunately, due to the disparity between the two exercises, quite a bit of alteration will need to take place within the training program so as to even out total volume across all muscle groups. This is especially applicable if weighted dips are used instead.

2. Diamond Push Ups

Diamond push ups are a variation on the standard body weight push up that place the exerciser’s hands closer together, thereby greatly increasing triceps brachii muscle recruitment and allowing it to act as a temporary alternative to the tricep kickback.

diamond pushup

We stress the fact that diamond push ups are a temporary substitute due to the fact that - while convenient - they are not an ideal alternative, as it is quite difficult to induce progressive overload or additional resistance with most push up exercises.

As such, the diamond push up is a more suitable alternative for exercisers on vacation or whom are otherwise unable to access any sort of fitness equipment, but still wish to maintain their triceps.

3. Bench Dips

Bench dips are possibly the most ideal body weight alternative to the tricep kickback, as they place significant emphasis on the triceps while making use of similar biomechanics and a nearly identical range of motion.

bench dip

Unfortunately, unlike the tricep kickback, bench dips are a compound exercise and will also recruit muscles in the pectorals and deltoid muscle groups, requiring some change in the training program.

Nevertheless, if the exerciser wishes to make further use of bodyweight exercises or does not otherwise have access to resistance training equipment, the bench dip should be one of their first choices - especially since its only requirement is a sufficiently stable chair or bench.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is Wrong with Triceps Kickbacks?

For the most part, the tricep kickback exercise is safe - though exercisers with poor rotator cuff or trapezius mobility may find that it places such areas of the body in a disadvantageous or uncomfortable position.

Furthermore, excessive swinging with high levels of resistance during the tricep kickback can place acute stress on the elbow and wrist joints, potentially irritating the connective tissues therein.

However, if the exerciser takes the time to perform proper mobility work and otherwise utilizes correct form when doing the tricep kickback, there should be no issue.

Are Tricep Kickbacks Worth Doing?

Yes, tricep kickbacks are indeed worth doing - so long as the exerciser only wishes to induce a moderate level of intensity on their triceps brachii within the context of an isolation exercise.

However, as was mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are several issues with the performance of the tricep kickback that make it arguably inferior to certain other triceps isolation exercises, meaning that it is not necessarily the best choice for such purposes.

How Do You Hit All 3 Heads of the Triceps?

When performed correctly, practically every alternative listed in this article is capable of training all three heads of the triceps brachii muscle.

However, as is the case in many other muscle groups, the three portions of the triceps are not always recruited to an equal capacity - and as such, if attaining this level of training stimulus specificity is of importance to the exerciser, they may wish to make use of tricep extensions or skullcrushers as an alternative.

In Conclusion

As a closing statement, the exerciser should understand that practically any triceps isolation exercise can act as an alternative to the tricep kickback, simply because of the simplicity of the latter exercise.

While this is not to say that any triceps isolation exercises is just as good an alternative, it does mean that the exerciser is spoiled for choice and it is likely that there are quite a number of other alternatives that have not been listed in this article.

So long as proper workout programming is implemented and the exerciser utilizes effective training methodology, their triceps will invariably grow in size and strength.

References

1. Kholinne E, Zulkarnain RF, Sun YC, Lim S, Chun JM, Jeon IH. The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta Orthop Traumatol Turc. 2018 May;52(3):201-205. doi: 10.1016/j.aott.2018.02.005. Epub 2018 Mar 2. PMID: 29503079; PMCID: PMC6136322.

2. Sumiaki Maeo, Yuhang Wu, Meng Huang, Hikaru Sakurai, Yuki Kusagawa, Takashi Sugiyama, Hiroaki Kanehisa & Tadao Isaka (2022) Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position, European Journal of Sport Science, DOI: 10.1080/17461391.2022.2100279

3. COGLEY, ROBERT M.; ARCHAMBAULT, TEASHA A.; FIBEGER, JON F.; KOVERMAN, MANDY M.; YOUDAS, JAMES W.; HOLLMAN, JOHN H.. COMPARISON OF MUSCLE ACTIVATION USING VARIOUS HAND POSITIONS DURING THE PUSH-UP EXERCISE. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2005 - Volume 19 - Issue 3 - p 628-633

4. Stasinaki, Angeliki-Nikoletta, Nikolaos Zaras, Spyridon Methenitis, Stavroula Tsitkanou, Argyro Krase, Angeliki Kavvoura, and Gerasimos Terzis. 2018. "Triceps Brachii Muscle Strength and Architectural Adaptations with Resistance Training Exercises at Short or Long Fascicle Length" Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology 3, no. 2: 28. https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk3020028

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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