OK, so the triceps kickbacks are not the king of all triceps exercises, but in a recent study performed by the American Council of Exercise (ACE), triceps kickbacks are ranked 2nd, tied with dips. The very best triceps exercise is the diamond push up.
Don’t underestimate this study just because I grabbed your attention by starting with kickbacks. The study also used legit exercises like close grip bench, dips, and various push downs and extensions. See the table below, and then I’ll explain.
|Triceps Exercise||Combined Means||Long Head||Lateral Head|
|Kickbacks||87 ± 26.58||88 ± 33.0||87 ± 23.7|
|Dips||87 ± 19.87||87 ± 21.3||88 ± 20.0|
|Overhead Triceps Extensions||76 ± 16.09 *||81 ± 21.4 *||72 ± 16.5 *|
|Rope Pushdowns||74 ± 22.64 *||81 ± 32.3 *||67 ± 15.7 *†|
|Bar Pushdowns||67 ± 20.48 *||75 ± 29.3 *||59 ± 14.3 *†|
|Lying Barbell Triceps Extensions||62 ± 16.25 *||70 ± 20.9 *||55 ± 14.1 *†|
|Close Grip Bench Press||62 ± 15.88 *||61 ± 16.9 *||63 ± 15.5 *|
* Significantly lower than the Triangle Push-up (p < 0.05)
† Significantly lower than the Long Head (p < 0.05)
So, this study took place at the University of Wisconsin/La Crosse Exercise and Health Program. Led by John Porcari, Ph.D., and Brittany Boehler, B.S., the study participants included 15 healthy female subjects, ages 20 to 24, from the local community. Each of the subjects had previous weight-training experience, so we can assume they all used proper exercise technique.
The first day, the scientists found the participant’s 1 rm for each exercise. Then the second day they performed 1 set of 7 reps of each exercise at 70% of the 1 rm, except for dips and triangle push ups, which required body weight only. Subjects rested for 5 minutes between sets for proper muscle recovery. Two sets of electromyographic (EMG) electrodes where applied to the long and lateral heads of the triceps brachii in order to measure real-time muscle activation.
Ultimately the triangle push ups fared the best, with dips and kickbacks tied for a close second. Surprisingly, the close grip bench press was ranked last of all 8 exercise in terms of triceps activation. That’s not to say it isn’t one of the most effective exercises for building bench press lock out strength, but it might not be the best choice for women who are trying to “shape” and “tone”. Ugh.