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Cable Tricep Kickback 101: Proper Form, Muscles Worked, and Key Alternatives

The post is about strong tricep muscles and how cable tricep kickbacks can help build your triceps.

If you’re new to lifting weights, or are looking to switch up your workout routine, the cable tricep kickback is an exercise that’s simple to do and can add a unique challenge to your triceps workouts.

Now you might have seen people use dumbbells instead of cables to perform this exercise. However, although it’s an alternative, cables are MUCH better. We will look into this in a little more detail later on in this article.

A tricep kickback with cable resistance can be an effective way to strengthen the triceps, but it’s important to do so with proper form and technique to maximize effectiveness.

Throughout this article, we will look at how to perform this exercise correctly, what part of the triceps muscle does this work the most, and some variations and alternatives.

Let’s get right into it!

How To Perform the Cable Tricep Kickback?

To perform the cable tricep kickback with proper form is easy. Just follow the steps below.

  1. Stand facing a cable machine with the pulley set at a low attachment. Attach a single grip handle and grab it with your right hand using an overhand grip.
  2. Hinge at the waists, maintaining a neutral spine, and bend forwards so that your torso is almost parallel to the floor.
  3. Pull the weight with your right hand so that your elbow is tucked by your sides and is positioned as high as possible. Keep this elbow in a fixed position and try not to move it. This becomes your starting position.
  4. Exhale, and extend your arm back as far as possible. Keep your arms tight by your sides.
  5. Hold at the top of the movement.
  6. Inhale and slowly return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps and switch arms.

Quick Tips:

For the attachment, many people find it comfortable to use a single grip handle, but I personally prefer to not use any attachments. I simply use the cable head itself. Some people also grip onto the rubber ball at the end of the cable. It’s just about preference!

Another thing I like to do is use my weaker arm first. That way I can count how many reps I can do with the weaker arm and perform the same amount with my stronger arm. This is just to maintain an equal number of reps in each arm with the same weight.

An important note to keep in mind: If you want that ultimate tricep activation with this exercise, keep your elbow as high as possible!

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Muscles Worked

As it says in the name (cable TRICEP kickback), this exercise works the triceps! But what part of triceps? You see, the triceps consists of three different parts. The long, lateral, and medial heads. For an effective triceps workout, you must hit all these areas.

The cable tricep kickback hits all three areas making it an excellent tricep exercise to include in your workout routine.

Common Mistakes

This exercise doesn’t seem that difficult right? But believe me, I would be a millionaire if I got a dollar for every person, I see at my gym who performs this incorrectly. Here are the most common mistakes I see people make when doing the cable tricep kickbacks.

1. Elbow Positioning

Moving your elbows throughout the movement will decrease the effectiveness of the exercise. Essentially, it results in less tricep activation and more activation in other muscles.

So, if you see yourself performing this move in a “swinging” motion, try to decrease the weight, and keep your elbows in a fixed position.

Another thing to note is your elbows flaring out to either side. This also takes away tension in your triceps and instead uses other muscle groups that you’re not really trying to train, like your shoulder.

Instead, have your triceps tucked by your sides and raise them as high as possible to get maximum tricep activation.

2. Not Pausing at The End

In almost all exercises, you need to have that pause at the top of the movement to maximize the tension on the working muscle. In this case the triceps.

When your arm is fully extended, make sure to pause for 1-2 seconds before returning. Try to squeeze your triceps.

I’ve seen to many people that reach the top of the movement and return almost instantly. To be honest, I’m guilty of this myself. Especially if it’s your last set and your triceps are already burning. But try to just pause and get that extra tricep tension to maximize the benefits of this exercise.

This brings me to my next point.

3. Speed of the movement

This is such a common mistake, not only in the cable tricep kickback, but in many different exercises. People tend to rush the movement. Instead, slow down the speed in which you perform the exercise.

The slower you perform the exercise, the more tension on the working muscles.

When you perform this exercise quickly, you’re likely to lose your form which removes triceps activation or, even worse, lead to injuries.

4. Too Much Weight

People tend to use excessive weight, more then what they can lift, while performing this exercise. If you’re a follower of Just Fit & Healthy, you probably know we don’t support ego lifting!

Instead drop the weight and focus on proper form. Also, the triceps are a small muscle group, so it doesn’t take much weight to work them, especially if you’re just starting off.

Using too much weight can also result in rounding your back throughout the movement. This will cause unnecessary lower back tension.

If this happens, lower the weight, and maintain a neutral spine. Keep performing this movement and over time, progressively overload while making sure your form and technique is correct to avoid any possible injuries.

Benefits of The Tricep Kickback Exercise

We all know that the cable tricep kickback is a great exercise to target your triceps, literally says in the name, but what are the benefits of training your triceps and making them stronger?

1. Helps in Everyday Activities

Let’s start by talking about the everyday activities we do that require our triceps muscles. Literally from throwing a ball to lifting the groceries your mother told you to get from the car. Overall, having stronger triceps help many lifting and pulling movements a lot easier.

2. Enhances Upper Body Development

If you want to enhance your upper body development then you need to train triceps. Why? Think about the standard bench press and push ups. Your triceps get used to a very large degree when performing these exercises and hence it’s vital to train them and make them stronger. Even though they might be secondary muscles, they have a key role in a lot of upper body exercises.

3. Prevents Injury

Because our triceps are used again and again, whether that be during upper body training, or everyday activities, training them will simply helps prevent injuries.

4. Shoulder Stability

Yes, triceps help stabilize your shoulders. What am I talking about?

Well, let’s first look at where the muscle is located and what is its function.

The triceps muscles are found in the posterior compartment of the arm, and it allows extending the forearm at the elbow joint.

The long head of the triceps is actually attached to the scapula and has a small role on the shoulder joint. Your triceps muscles essentially help hold the head of the humerus in the glenoid cavity (Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Triceps Muscle). It also allows for the extension and adduction of our arm at the shoulder joint.

Now if all of this doesn’t make sense, that’s fine. The key takeaway from this is that the triceps help shoulder stability and hence its important to train them with different exercises like the cable tricep kickback.

Related Reading: Best Legs and Shoulder Workout

Variations and Alternatives

Now that we have established the importance of training our triceps, let’s compare the cable tricep kickback with its variations and alternative too see which one is the best for our triceps.

1. Tricep Kickbacks with Resistance Bands

Now if you’re at home and want to include kickbacks into your routine, instead of using dumbbells, I would suggest using resistance bands. Attach the resistance band to a door frame or any other stable surface and perform the move following the same steps as the cable tricep kickback.

I would still recommend performing this move with cables however, if you’re at home and want to include this exercise, using a resistance band is a great variation.

2. Dimond Push Ups

Because the tricep kickbacks hit all three heads, a good alternative to this would be an exercise that hits all heads of the tricep.

The diamond push up does exactly that. How do you do it?

  1. Start by getting on all fours. Position your hand in a way so that both your index fingers and the tips of your thumbs are touching so that it forms a “diamond” shape.
  2. Extend your legs and arms so that you’re in a push up position forming a straight line from your heels to your head. This is your starting position.
  3. Keeping your body straight, bring your chest down to the ground with your elbows in. Make sure your elbows don’t point out to the sides.
  4. Pause for a second or two and return to the starting position.

Now, I will be honest, diamond push ups aren’t easy. Even I struggled when I first started training. So, if you are struggling with it, try this next alternative.

3. Tricep Pushdown

If your shoulder is paining from the cable tricep kickback, or you just want an alternative so that you don’t have to do the same old exercise again and again, then tricep pushdown is perfect. It targets all three heads just like the cable tricep kickback making it a great alternative.

How do you do it?

  1. Set the pulley to a high attachment and attach a rope.
  2. Grasp the rope and pull until your elbows tucked by your sides in a fixed position. I find an increase in range of motion when I take a step back and SLIGHTLY hinge at the waist. Keep your back straight. This is your starting position.
  3. Extend your elbows by pushing the weight down making sure that the elbows are in a fixed position.
  4. Pause and squeeze at the bottom of this movement and slowly return the weight back at to the starting position.

Now there is nothing wrong with using a bar instead of ropes however, I do find that ropes increase the range of motion and is more comfortable for me.

4. Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks

Dumbbell tricep kickbacks is another variation. Simply use dumbbells instead of the cable machine. However, personally I wouldn’t recommend this variation. Why? Because it limits the tension being placed on the triceps, making this exercise ineffective and, frankly speaking, a complete waste of time.

The main reason for this is actually because of gravity. You see, in the starting position, you have the dumbbell hanging by your side and gravity is pulling it down. At the moment, your triceps are under no tension and you’re back is actually doing the work.

Now when you’re extending your arm, your triceps still aren’t getting that tension as compared to using cables. This is because gravity is again pulling the weight and the resistance is in the same direction as gravity. It’s only at the peak or the top of the movement where your triceps are involved.

If you look at cables, your triceps are under constant tension which makes this much better then using dumbbells.  

Key Takeaway

The cable tricep kickbacks are an amazing exercise to target all three heads of the triceps. The exercise is easy yet super effective to build and develop those triceps. Give it a try in your next tricep workout session!

I hope this article helped you get a better understanding of the cable tricep kickback and stay tuned for our upcoming articles.

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Hey, I'm Shalin

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Shalin Anam

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