Tricep Kickbacks: The King of All Triceps Exercises???

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.

Arnold Triceps Kickbacks

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.

Table 1
verage EMG of the Entire Movement (Concentric and Eccentric)

Triceps Exercise
Combined Means Long Head Lateral Head
Triangle Push-up 100 100 100
87 ± 26.58 88 ± 33.0 87 ± 23.7
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)

Female Triceps

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.

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14 Responses to “Tricep Kickbacks: The King of All Triceps Exercises???”

  1. These results are very surprising to me. I am a med student and as far as I knew the Frank-Starling Law says in a nutshell: the greater the elongation of muscle fibers equals more strenght during movement… so I always thought that OH triceps extension were better than kickbacks because due to long head is insert into the scapula it's easier to think that OH extends more the muscle fibers… I don't know… what do you think about it? I would do something that like a)Kickbacks then b) overhead and finally d) dips…

  2. I am planning to do this kind of exercise. I am not sure if it’s hard for starters like me. Can anyone give me tips?

  3. Think you’ve got strong tricep muslces? See how much weight you can move for 10 reps of tricep kickbacks! Tricep kickbacks are the king of single arm tricep isolation exercises! Tricep kickbacks are great for hitting your triceps after some big heavy skullcrushers or close grip banch press. On this page we show you how to perform a tricep kickback using strict technique. Out of all the tricep exercises on this site, the tricep kickback has the biggest reputation for poor technique. If not performed correctly, the tricep kickback WILL NOT build your tricep muscles. Read the tricep kickback information below carefully before hitting the gym. Focus on technique and kickbacks will blast your triceps!

  4. Thanks for the info, seems that kickbacks give relatively balanced results for all heads.

  5. No wonder people get confused when it comes to training. Studies like these only confuse people and do not offer real world advice. Like most isolation movements tricep kickbacks should NOT even be condisered in most peoples training regimes. Stick with basic exercises like dips and the diamond pushups. You will not only activate your triceps, but your body will utilise numerous other muscle groups whilst completing the movement. To further ram the point home, how is a tricep kickback going to increase functional strength? It is close to one of the most unnatural movements you will see performed in the gym, I am yet to see someone perform a tricep kickback in their everyday life.

    • No. You should still do CGB to specifically help improve your lockout strength on the bench press and other pressing exercises. Dips should be prominent in your routine if they weren’t already. Diamond push ups however are something that I don’t normally do more than once a month. I will now make an effort to perform diamond push ups weekly. Just remember that it doesn’t do you a whole lot of good to do 15-20 rep sets of diamond push ups. Be sure that you are adding weight, elevating your legs, or use some sort of explosive movement to make this exercise harder once you can complete more than 15 reps in a set.

    • It depends on your goals. If you want to increase strength in bench press lock outs, do the close grip bench press. I normally do dips and brain crushers. I will be doing more diamond push ups now.

  6. I should tell my son about this he is crazy about body building and he doesn’t do the proper training, he just do it on his own. It really pays to browse often, we get so much information. Thanks very much.

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