Kickback Exercises

The kickback exercise emphasizes the triceps muscles at the back of the upper arm. The triceps feature three heads known as the lateral, medial and long heads. Performing the kickback exercise in slightly different ways targets the three heads differently to build symmetry and definition.

Classic Kickback

The classic execution of the kickback uses dumbbells. In addition to addressing the triceps, the exercise uses the upper back, the rear shoulders and the abdominals as secondary muscles. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and stand with your left leg forward in a staggered stance. Contract your abdominal muscles and place your left hand on your left thigh, leaning forward from the hips. Lift your right arm so that the upper portion of it is parallel to your torso and close to your ribs. Allow your forearm to hang perpendicular to the floor. As you exhale, straighten your elbow so that the entire arm forms one long line, parallel to the floor. Bend the elbow as you inhale and return to the starting position. Try to keep your shoulders retracted down your back and your head aligned with your spine throughout the exercise, recommends the American Council on Exercise. Repeat eight to 15 times, and then switch sides. Work your way up to three sets, leaving a minute of rest between them.

Combine with Legs

To work more muscle groups at one time, perform the kickback in combination with leg exercises. Try holding a weight in each hand and squatting and performing kickbacks with both arms simulateneously. Another alternative is to combine the kickback with a step up. You will need a fitness step with a height of about 12 inches. Stand sideways next to the step and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms beside your body. Step up laterally onto the step and then lean forward from the hips, extending the elbows to conduct a kickback with both arms. Step back down to the floor to complete one repetition. Repeat about eight times and then switch sides. Use this exercise as part of a whole body circuit.


The classic dumbbell triceps kickback can be altered slightly to change up the focus of the exercise to emphasize more of the long head of the triceps. When you extend your elbow, rotate your wrists so the palms face upward and then return to start. Try using a stability ball as a prop when executing the kickback to create more challenge in the abs and triceps. Lie in a prone position with your chest resting on the ball and, with a dumbbell in each hand, lift your upper arms so they are parallel to your ribcage. Extend both elbows simultaneously and then return to start. Complete eight to 12 repetitions. Work your way up to three sets, resting a minute or two between them.

About this Author

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.