Working your triceps with kickbacks can offer benefits but you may not like them. Discover some alternatives to tricep kickbacks with similar effects
As the name implies, this exercise is mainly done to isolate your tricep muscles.
In turn, that means that tricep kickbacks can offer more general benefits like building muscle mass, burning calories, and other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy tricep kickbacks, you want more at-home-friendly options, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to tricep kickbacks can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. Tricep pushdowns
For the first tricep kickback alternative, you need a cable machine or a good resistance band. Take the following steps to do a tricep pushdown with a cable machine:
- Attach a straight bar handle and set up the cable machine so that the handle is at about your eye height. You can also use a variety of other handles.
- Grab the handle with an overhanded grip, take a step or two away from the cable machine, and stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width and your face towards the machine.
- Tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle to the ground while keeping your back straight. Bend your knees slightly. Hold your elbows right in front of your body. Your arms are folded as far as comfortable.
- Slowly stretch your arm as far as comfortable. Keep your body and upper arms in the same position throughout the movement.
- Move the bar back into the position in step 3 in a controlled motion.
Tricep pushdowns are a great alternative to tricep kickbacks in the sense that it is a powerful exercise to isolate your tricep muscles.
One difference between these two exercises is that your elbows are in a different position in relation to your upper body. This will lead to a slightly different ratio of tricep muscle engagement.
A downside of both of these exercises is that they require either a cable machine or resistance bands to be done optimally. If you only have free weights at home other substitutes can be a better choice.
2. Seated overhead tricep extensions
For seated overhead tricep extensions you need something sturdy to sit on and some type of resistance. In the example below a dumbbell is used but other free weights, resistance bands, and a cable machine can work too.
Take the following steps to do a seated overhead tricep extension with a dumbbell:
- Sit on the sturdy object. Hold a dumbbell above your head with your hands at the highest of the two weights of the dumbbell. Keep your wrists straight throughout the exercise.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head by folding your arm at the elbow until your lower arms are at a horizontal line. Keep your upper arms pointing up and close to your body throughout the exercise.
- Raise the dumbbell again in a controlled motion into the starting position.
When first doing overhead tricep extensions instead of tricep kickbacks you don’t want to be too optimistic about your capabilities due to the position of the weight. Start with a light weight and build up from there.
By doing overhead tricep extensions seated it becomes harder to use the rest of your body to move the resistance. In turn, this can lead to more tricep muscle isolation and potentially more and faster muscle gains.
3. Close-grip bench presses
The bench press is one of the most popular compound exercises. For this exercise, you will need a barbell, a weight bench, preferably a flat one if you want to work out your triceps, and a barbell rack (1).
You can also do a close-grip chest press with other free weights and without a bench but the above setup is generally preferred.
Take the following steps to do a close grip bench press with a barbell:
- Load up the barbell with the desired weight.
- Lie down with your back on the weight bench and place your hands with an overhanded grip on the barbell. Keep your hands closer to each other for more tricep engagement.
- Unrack the barbell and keep your arms slightly less than stretched and pointing up.
- Slowly lower the barbell to your chest. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides.
- Push the barbell back up in the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Doing the bench press with different hand positions will influence what muscles you mainly target. By doing the bench press with your hands close to each other you focus more on your tricep muscles.
Even when changing your grip, this exercise option is still more of a compound tricep kickback alternative that also engages your chest and shoulder muscles.
Depending on your personal situation and training goals, this can be an advantage or disadvantage.
For this next tricep kickback alternative, you don’t need a cable machine or free weights but you do need dip bars. These are basically two sturdy horizontal bars.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do a dip:
- Place your hands on the dip bars. Start with your arms in an extended but not locked position. You will likely need step-ups to get into this position.
- Slowly lower your body by bending your elbows until these are at a 90-degree angle.
- Raise yourself back up again into starting position in a controlled motion.
The dip exercise is a very tricep-focused exercise but it also engages a few other muscles. Especially if you tilt your upper body forward you also give your lower chest a hard time.
For most people, the bodyweight version of this exercise is already more than challenging enough.
Doing weighted dips with dumbbells, a dip belt, a weighted vest, or ankle weights is generally for individuals more experienced with tricep resistance training.
5. Skull crushers
For skull crushers, you will need some type of resistance and preferably a weight bench. An EZ curl bar with weight plates is one example of a good weight. In theory, you could also do this exercise on the ground.
Take the following steps to do a skull crusher with an EZ curl bar on a weight bench:
- Lie on the weight bench with an EZ curl bar in your hands. Hold it with an overhanded grip. Your upper arms should lean slightly more back than vertically and your lower arms with the EZ curl bar can hang down behind your head.
- Slowly raise the EZ curl bar by stretching your arms until your arms are fully stretched. Keep your wrists straight and your body and upper arms in the same position throughout the exercise.
- Lower the EZ curl bar back into starting position in a controlled motion.
Similar to tricep kickbacks, skull crushers are an exercise with the goal of isolating your tricep muscles. Due to the different elbow angles, you engage your tricep muscles in a slightly different ratio (2).
Another name for skull crushers is lying tricep extensions. The alternative name for this tricep kickback substitute is not only meant as a joke.
When first trying skull crushers you don’t want to be too optimistic about your capabilities due to the position of the weight. Start with light or no resistance and build up from there.
6. Narrow-grip pushups
Pushups are a very popular bodyweight exercise that can help you train a variety of muscles at home or in the gym. The standard pushup already engages your triceps but by changing your grip you do this to a larger extent.
Take the following steps to do a narrow-grip pushup:
- Sit on your hands and knees on the ground with your hands close to each other. The closer the more you focus on your tricep muscles.
- Move your feet back until your body is in a straight line. Your only contact points with the ground are your hands and front feet. Keep your back straight throughout the rest of the exercise.
- Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the ground. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at you from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
- Stretch your arms again until you are back in the close-handed straight-arm plank position of step 2.
While narrow-grip pushups do focus more on your triceps than the regular version, they are still more of a compound substitute for tricep kickbacks.
Your chest, shoulder, and core muscles will have to work a good amount too.
A benefit of narrow-grip pushups is that they are an at-home-friendly exercise. For many people, the bodyweight version will be challenging enough for a good tricep workout.
That being said, a downside of narrow-grip pushups is that individuals more experienced with resistance training likely need to make the exercise more challenging to grow and strengthen their muscles a lot.
Some ways to overcome this last challenge include wearing a weighted vest, putting a weight plate on your back, or using resistance bands.