I gave you an exercise the other day to work your biceps, so let’s go over to the other side of your upper arm and work your triceps brachii (or triceps, in gym lingo). While a lot of people will go to the gym and focus endlessly on working their biceps, the triceps are actually a bigger muscle. For the guys, if you want nice, big, well-rounded arms, you need to work on your triceps as much as your biceps. For the ladies, if you want to get rid of the dreaded “bat wings,” then you need to work these muscles, too.
The Triceps Muscle
The triceps brachii is a three-headed muscle (tri- means three). The three heads are called the long head, lateral head, and the medial head. The long head originates in the scapula (shoulder bone), and the lateral and medial heads originate on the back side of the humerus (upper arm bone). All of the heads insert into the ulna (forearm bone). The primary purpose of the triceps is to extend your elbow, but it also adducts your arm (moves your arm towards your body).
One cool thing about the triceps is that well-developed triceps forms in the shape of a horseshoe. This is because of a tendon, called the common tendon, the starts about half way up the back of your arm. I tried and tried for as long as I was in bodybuilding to get the entire horseshoe. Unfortunately, the best I could do is get about two-thirds of it. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to get the entire horseshoe!
Because there are three heads of the triceps, there are various ways to attack it. The tricep kickback is not my favorite exercise, but I promised you all that I would give you exercises you can do at home, and this is one of them. The starting position of this exercise is bent over with either one knee on a bench and the same-side hand also on the bench, or both knees on the floor with one hand on the floor, or standing up bent all the way over. Your head should be facing straight ahead to help keep your back flat. Bend your elbow so your upper arm is parallel to the floor with whatever resistance you have in your hand hanging straight down. Then move your forearm straight back, squeezing your triceps when your arm is fully extended. Then bring your hand back down towards the floor. Do one set for one arm, then switch and do the same for the other arm.
For resistance for this exercise, you can use a lot of things. A dumbbell, exercise bands, an empty milk jug filled with sand or cat litter, pantyhose or anything that you can think of that has some weight or resistance. If you’re at a gym, you can also use cables.
The exercise sounds easy, but there are some pitfalls. So, let’s take a look at a few.
Tips on the Triceps Kickback Exercise
Number 1 – One of the biggest pitfalls I see is that people swing their arm forward to gather momentum to kickback the weight. Well, friends, that’s cheating! If you want to really work the triceps, you need to do this exercise in a controlled manner. Stop for a second when your arm is fully extended, and stop for another second at the bottom of the exercise to prevent you from cheating. If you can’t do this, then you need to use a lighter weight. The idea is to build muscle, not throw around heavy weight.
Number 2 – Another mistake I see people make is for them to not keep their upper arms stationary. The movement is just at the elbow joint. You don’t move any other part of your arm or shoulder. Once again, if you find yourself moving your whole arm for this exercise, you need to choose a lighter weight in order to perform the exercise properly.
Number 3 – I generally don’t recommend standing up for this exercise for one big reason – people have a tendency to NOT bend all the way over so their torsos are parallel to the floor. I saw someone in my gym do this and he was only bent over about 30 degrees. This guy was huffing and puffing with heavy weights and my workout partner looks over to me and asks, “Is he actually working his triceps?” My answer – NO. So, if you’re going to do this exercise standing up, make sure you bend waaaay over.
Number 4 – If you do stand up during this exercise because you have bad knees, and your arm movements are perfectly correct, please don’t bounce your body up and down to help you get the weight up. The only part of your body that is supposed to move is your forearms. Once again, bouncing is cheating. Use a lighter weight.
Number 5 – I’ve seen people do this exercise using weights in both hands at the same time, but I don’t advise that. First, this is a difficult exercise in terms of mechanics and you need to focus to perform it properly. It’s much easier to focus on one arm at a time than both at the same time. Also, if you’re not supporting yourself with one arm, then your torso is probably not parallel to the floor. It might take a little longer to work each arm separately, but I think you’ll see better results by doing this exercise one arm at a time.
To watch a video of this exercise, please click here. Bodybuilding.com has lots of great exercise videos.
So, that’s it for the tricep kickback. Try doing 3 sets of these with 8-12 reps and see how it feels. Just focus on bending parallel to the floor, and not swinging your arms or the weight while you perform this exercise and you’ll do great.
Until next time, remember that… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!