Some exercises are way more popular than they deserve - the tricep kickback is one of them.

I'm not saying it is useless or dangerous; you can still do them occasionally, but they are not an exercise that must be part of your arm workout routine.

The good news is there's a whole universe of much more effective tricep-targeting exercises waiting for you to explore. I've made a list of my top 10.

The tricep dumbbell kickback is not the most effective choice for many exercisers, and there are reasons you might not be seeing progress.

Of course, different exercises work differently for individuals based on their goals, fitness levels, and body mechanics.

1. It Offers Limited Time Under Tension

Dumbbell tricep kickbacks provide very limited time under tension. This is a crucial factor in muscle growth. Time under tension refers to the duration your muscles actively engage during an exercise.

In the case of kickbacks, the triceps experiences tension primarily during the extension phase of the movement, which is relatively brief.

This limited time under tension can be insufficient for individuals seeking muscle hypertrophy.

Triceps Dumbbell Kickback

2. It Offers A Limited Load

There might be better choices than dumbbell triceps kickbacks if you're aiming for significant strength gains.

Unlike compound movements like bench presses or dips that allow you to lift heavy loads, kickbacks involve comparatively lighter weight.

The nature of this exercise means that you may be unable to progressively overload your triceps effectively, which is a fundamental principle to build strength.

Even if you are very strong, you risk UCL tear and other elbow injuries if you use very heavy dumbbells.

3. It Relies Too Much On Momentum

Another common issue with dumbbell triceps kickbacks is the tendency to rely on momentum.

Many individuals use excessive swinging or jerking motions to lift the dumbbell rather than focusing on the triceps' controlled contraction.

This reliance on momentum reduces the exercise's effectiveness and increases the risk of injury, particularly to the shoulder joint and elbow.

To maximize the benefits of kickbacks, strict form and controlled movement are essential. If you find it challenging to maintain proper form, this exercise may not be ideal for you.

10 Best Tricep Kickback Alternative Exercises

In my experience, every one of the following 10 best tricep kickback alternatives targets the biggest upper arm muscle better than kickbacks while presenting fewer characteristic drawbacks.

Some of them allow you to burden the triceps with heavier weights, while others offer superior triceps isolation of all three heads without straining the elbow.

1. Overhead Tricep Extension

Man Doing Overhead Tricep Extensions

This exercise, also known as the tricep press or French press, is one of the best triceps exercises you can do.

It is a favorite among fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders since it is a remarkably effective exercise.

The overhead extension involves extending your arms overhead, holding a weight, and working against gravity to engage and develop those crucial arm muscles.

Another advantage of the overhead elbow extension is versatility. There are so many ways to perform it. It can be adapted to various equipment, including dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, and cables.

I prefer free weights, but cables offer constant resistance throughout the entire range of motion, so try overhead cable tricep extensions on the cable machine, too!


  • Versatile
  • Improved arm strength
  • Suitable for different fitness levels

How To Do It:

  1. Begin by standing or sitting with your back straight.
  2. Hold your chosen weight (dumbbell, barbell, resistance band, or rope cable attachment) with both hands, palms facing upwards.
  3. Extend your arms overhead, keeping your elbows close to your ears.
  4. Your hands and weight should be directly above your head.
  5. Slowly lower the weight behind your head by bending your elbows.
  6. Keep your upper arms motionless.
  7. Once your forearms are parallel to the floor or slightly lower, extend your elbows to return to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Try single-arm overhead triceps extension to solve imbalances or if you feel too much strain on your shoulders when doing this one exercise with two dumbbells or a barbell/EZ-bar. 

2. Close Grip Bench Press

Man In White Shirt Doing Close Grip Beanch Press Exercise At The Gym

A close-grip bench press is my go-to option whenever I train my pecs or arms.

It's a variation of the traditional bench press, with a narrower grip on the barbell, primarily targeting the triceps while also engaging the chest and shoulders.

Unlike most exercises on this list, a close-grip bench press allows you to use heavier weights.

For example, if you do 3-4 sets with 70% of your 1RM, you will feel your triceps burning, and you can expect delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) tomorrow.

You can also try increasing the number of reps instead of weight occasionally and using an incline bench to expose the same muscles to a different kind of stress.


  • Improved lockout strength
  • Improved bench press results
  • Triceps development

How To Do It:

  1. Load the barbell and lie on a flat bench.
  2. Position your eyes beneath the barbell.
  3. Grasp the barbell with a standard lock grip (avoid suicide grip) and hands narrower than shoulder-width.
  4. Your palms should face forward, although there is a variation with an underhand (reverse) grip, too.
  5. Lift the barbell off the rack and hold it directly above your chest with extended arms.
  6. Lower the barbell, keeping your elbows close to your body.
  7. Once the bar lightly touches your chest, push it back up to the starting position.
  8. Don't lock your elbows at the top.

Tips From A Trainer!

Focus on keeping your elbows tucked close to your body during both the descent and ascent phases. If you have to spread your elbows to push the barbell, that indicates you are using too much weight. 

Related Article - Best Chin Up Alternatives

3. Rope Tricep Pushdowns

Woman Doing Rope Tricep Pushdowns

A rope tricep pushdown is beginner-friendly and suitable for experienced lifters, making it a valuable addition to any upper-body workout routine.

It has two significant advantages over the tricep kickback. One is an increased range of motion, and the second is time under tension.

When doing rope triceps pushdowns, you can increase time under tension, exclude momentum, and squeeze the triceps at the bottom for a longer period. All those directly translate into muscle growth.

So, I wouldn't call it just a triceps kickback alternative exercise but a superior exercise to kickbacks.

The chance of injury is significantly lower because the elbow and shoulder do not come into awkward positions.


  • Easy to setup
  • Low injury risk
  • Isolation

How To Do It:

  1. Stand in front of a cable machine with a rope attachment connected to the highest position.
  2. Grip the rope with both hands, palms facing each other (neutral grip), and position your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Keep your back straight, chest up, and shoulders back.
  4. Stand close enough to the cable machine so your upper arms are parallel to the floor when your elbows are bent at 90 degrees.
  5. Begin the movement by straightening your arms and driving the rope toward your thighs.
  6. Focus on intensity and fully extending your elbows while keeping your upper arms stationary.
  7. Squeeze your triceps at the bottom of the movement.
  8. Slowly allow the rope to return to the starting position while controlling the resistance.

Tips From A Trainer!

You can also use straight bar or V-bar cable attachments that are equally good, except those two attachments reduce a range of motion for a bit. 

4. JM Press

man in black short and t-shirt doing a barbell JM press

The JM press, named after the powerlifter and bodybuilder John "JM" Blakley, is one of the very popular exercises among bodybuilders and powerlifters, but most of my clients have never heard of it.

It deserves the spot among the best tricep kickback alternatives because this dynamic compound exercise exceptionally targets the triceps, shoulders, and chest.

Since it hits the muscle from different angles and you've probably never done it before, the JM press gives muscles that much-needed spark once they hit the plateau.

I will do my best to explain how to execute the JM press properly, but that is a challenging task.

It would be good to ask a coach at your gym to supervise you when you do it for the first time and offer the necessary corrections.


  • Advanced exercise
  • Improves other push exercises
  • Good for overcoming plateau

How To Do It:

  1. Set the barbell at a height that allows you to unrack it comfortably.
  2. Grip the barbell with a slightly narrower than shoulder-width grip.
  3. Your palms should face away from your body, and your thumbs should encircle the bar.
  4. Unrack the barbell and extend your arms fully, holding it above your chest.
  5. Lower the barbell towards your neck, bringing it just above your upper chest (near the collarbone).
  6. Your elbows should point forward, creating an angle between your upper and lower arms.
  7. Begin the ascent phase by pressing the barbell back up to the starting position while keeping your elbows close to your body.

Tips From A Trainer!

Start with just a barbell and maybe a few light weight plates before you learn how to do this exercise. If you must arch your lower back or bounce the barbell off your chest - the weight is too heavy. 

5. Single-Hand Cable Tricep Kickbacks

Woman In Blue Shirt Doing Single-Arm Cable Tricep Kickbacks

Those who still want something similar to kickbacks in their workouts can opt for the more effective single-hand cable tricep kickback.

With a cable machine and an adjustable pulley, this exercise provides targeted isolation to the triceps, allowing you to develop strength and definition in this muscle group.

Contrary to dumbbell kickbacks, it strains elbows and shoulders less while giving you a chance to prolong time under tension.

Single-hand cable triceps kickbacks are a great alternative to tricep kickbacks for beginners as well because they improve mind-muscle connection.[1]

After several workouts incorporating this exercise, you will feel how you can better target the triceps during all other similar exercises.


  • Tricep isolation
  • Safer than dumbbell kickbacks
  • Longer time under tension

How To Do It:

  1. Attach a single-hand grip to the low pulley of a cable machine and adjust the weight.
  2. Stand facing the machine with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hold the handle with one hand (do the left arm first because it is most likely weaker), underhand grip, and step back to create tension in the cable.
  4. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at your hips, maintaining a flat back and keeping your core engaged.
  5. Start with your arm bent at a 90-degree angle, close to your torso.
  6. Extend your arm backward, fully straightening it while keeping your upper arm stationary.
  7. Squeezing your triceps at the end of the movement will maximize muscle engagement.
  8. Slowly bring your forearm back to the 90-degree angle position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Forget about heavy weights. You can't achieve correct form and use heavy weights simultaneously if you are not extremely strong. And even then, it's pointless because cable triceps kickback is an isolation exercise. 

6. Dips

Man Performing Dips At The Gym

Dips, a classic bodyweight exercise, stand as a testament to the simplicity and effectiveness of calisthenics.

This exercise targets the triceps, chest, forearms, and shoulders while engaging the core and improving overall upper-body strength.

Dips can be performed on parallel bars, rings, or even the edge of a sturdy platform, like a bench dip, making them suitable even for at-home workouts. Weighted dips are one of the advanced variations.

Focus on using your triceps and chest muscles to drive the movement. If you can't, try the pushdown machine.

The pushdown machine is nowhere near as difficult as regular dips, but that movement can strengthen your triceps to the extent that you can do several regular dips.

I believe combining a pushdown machine and an assisted pull-up/dip machine is most effective for beginners unable to do standard dips.


  • Compound exercise
  • Adjustability
  • Upper body strength

How To Do It:

  1. Find parallel bars or a stable surface that can support your body weight.
  2. Position your hands on the bars with your palms facing down, gripping firmly.
  3. Stand between the bars and push yourself up, supporting your body weight on your extended arms.
  4. Keep your torso upright and your feet off the ground, crossing your ankles for balance.
  5. Lower your body by bending your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the ground or slightly below.
  6. Elbows extended will push your body back up.

Tips From A Trainer!

Maintaining an upright position will prioritize your triceps, while leaning forward as you execute the movement will stimulate your chest muscles more. 

7. Diamond Push-ups

Man Doing Diamond Push Ups

You can't go wrong with push-ups of any kind, and diamond push-ups are no exception.

This variation of the classic push-up is characterized by the placement of your hands close together, forming a diamond shape with your thumbs and index fingers.

Because of that unusual hand placement, your triceps will be exposed to a totally different angle and thus stress.

When I first did diamond push-ups, I had the feeling that my elbows and wrist joints would burst.

I learned over time how effective this type of push-up is for building not only strong and resilient triceps but whole arms.


  • No equipment needed
  • Chest activation
  • Wrist strengthening

How To Do It:

  1. Begin in a push-up position on the floor.
  2. Place your hands together, with your thumbs and index fingers touching, forming a diamond shape beneath your chest.
  3. Position your feet hip-width apart, creating a stable base.
  4. Engage your core and ensure your body forms a straight line from head to heels.
  5. Lower your chest towards your hands, maintaining a controlled pace.
  6. Keep your elbows close to your body.
  7. Push yourself up to the starting position by extending your elbows.

Tips From A Trainer!

Many exercisers and even coaches think diamond and narrow grip (close grip) push-ups are the same, but there is a difference in hand placement.

Narrow-grip push-ups are less demanding for wrists and elbows, so if you can’t perform diamond push-ups pain-free, do that instead. 

8. Skull Crusher

Man Doing EZ Bar Skull Crusher

This tricep exercise has a scary name but is one of the best tricep kickback alternative exercises.

Skull crushers help develop the lockout phase of pressing movements, such as bench presses or overhead presses, enhancing your overall upper body strength.

To neutralize fear, you need a spotter for skull crushers, at least the first few times. My advice is always to have someone help you, not only if you are a beginner but also if you use heavy weights.

No, I don't think this exercise can really crush your skull, but you can injure yourself, especially your elbow.


  • Builds muscle mass
  • Improves strength
  • Elbow health

How To Do It:

  1. Lie on a bench and hold a barbell or an EZ bar with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Extend your arms straight above your chest, keeping your wrists stable and the bar directly over your forehead.
  3. Lower the barbell by bending your elbows, allowing it to move toward your forehead.
  4. Push the barbell back up to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

I find the EZ bar far more effective than a regular barbell for skull crushers, so I always recommend using the EZ bar to my clients. 

9. Tate Press

Man Doing Dumbbell Tate Press Exercise

For some reason, very few people include the Tate press in their workout programs.

Powerlifting legend and strongman Dave Tate made it famous in bodybuilder/powerlifting/athletes circles but never gained popularity among amateur gym-goers as one of the efficient upper body exercises.

I intend to change that because the Tate press is an amazing exercise, so I decided to include it in the list of tricep kickback alternatives.

The Tate press involves holding dumbbells with a unique hand position, targeting the triceps in a distinctive way. That versatile approach contributes to tricep development.

Like most dumbbell exercises, it is great for working on tricep imbalances.


  • Triceps emphasis
  • Unique hand position
  • Improves powerlifting performance

How To Do It:

  1. Lie on a flat bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Position the dumbbells over your chest, with your palms facing each other.
  3. Rotate your wrists so your palms face your feet, creating a hammer-like grip on the dumbbells.
  4. Your elbows should be bent at a 90-degree angle, and your upper arms should be perpendicular to the floor.
  5. Lower the dumbbells towards your chest by bending your elbows, maintaining the 90-degree angle between your upper arms and forearms.
  6. Push the dumbbells back up to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Start with 10-pound dumbbells. I know that sounds too light, but you must learn to do the Tate press correctly before straining your elbows. 

10. TRX Tricep Extension

Woman Doing TRX Triceps Extensions

The TRX triceps extension, or TRX triceps press, is an excellent addition to the suspension training and your regular training program.

If you are at home or in the gym, and all the triceps machines are busy, take advantage of TRX equipment and do this effective triceps exercise.

Of course, it cannot provide the same load as some others, but it very precisely targets the triceps, plus the chance of elbow injury is minor.

By adjusting your body position and the angle of the TRX straps, you can customize the resistance level, making this exercise suitable for all fitness levels.


  • For all fitness level
  • Suitable for home gym workout
  • Core engagement

How To Do It:

  1. Attach the TRX straps to a high anchor point.
  2. Stand facing away from the anchor point with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hold the TRX handles with an overhand grip.
  4. Extend your arms fully in front of you at shoulder height.
  5. Walk forward to create an angle that challenges your triceps while maintaining balance. The more horizontal your body is to the ground, the greater the resistance.
  6. Bend your elbows to lower your body, keeping your upper arms close to your sides.
  7. Once your triceps are fully stretched, push your body back up to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Start with a moderate body angle to ensure proper form and gradually increase the difficulty.

Remember that the key to success with TRX tricep extensions is the controlled engagement of your triceps rather than relying on momentum or excessively challenging angles. 

Related Article - TRX Alternatives

5 Benefits Of Doing Tricep Kickbacks Alternatives

The importance of triceps is often overlooked.

Regularly incorporating tricep kickbacks and similar exercises into your fitness routine can offer a multitude of benefits, ranging from muscle development to overall functional strength.

1. Targeted tricep development

These isolation exercises allow for concentrated muscle engagement, aiding in developing the huge triceps.

2. Improved muscle definition

Tricep kickbacks and other tricep-centric exercises contribute to enhanced muscle definition and triceps' distinctive horseshoe shape. As your triceps become more prominent, your arms become toned and chiseled.

3. Functional strength

These triceps exercises play a role in improving overall upper body strength. Strong triceps are crucial for pushing and pressing movements in both daily life and various athletic endeavors.

Whether you're pushing a heavy door or lifting weights, strong triceps are an asset.

4. Enhanced athletic performance

Engaging in many exercises that target the triceps, such as kickbacks and pushdowns, can significantly enhance your athletic performance.

Increased tricep strength contributes to more powerful throws, punches, and swings in sports like baseball, tennis, boxing, and golf.

5. Injury prevention

Well-developed triceps help stabilize the shoulder joint and elbow joint, reducing the risk of injuries in everyday activities and sports.

One added benefit -  balanced tricep development can alleviate imbalances that may lead to overuse injuries.

woman doing yoga outside

What Muscles Are Worked By Tricep Kickback Exercises?

Tricep kickback exercises practically work only one muscle - the triceps brachii, and that is expected since the goal of exercises is to isolate the triceps.[2]

The tricep muscle has three heads, so I analyzed each one, plus the rear delt and core - muscle groups, which participate in stabilization as secondary muscles.

Long head of triceps

The long head of the triceps brachii, scientifically known as the Triceps Brachii Caput Longum, originates from the scapula's infraglenoid tubercle and extends down to merge with the lateral and medial heads.

During tricep kickbacks, the long head is especially engaged as it is responsible for extending the elbow joint.

As you extend your arm backward against resistance in exercises like tricep kickbacks, the long head contracts forcefully, contributing significantly to the exercise's effectiveness.

Medial head of triceps

The medial head of the triceps, scientifically termed the Triceps Brachii Caput Mediale, is another vital component in tricep kickback exercise and similar movements.

Situated beneath the long head, it arises from the humerus' posterior surface and joins the other tricep heads.

During tricep kickbacks, the inner head works with the long head to extend the elbow joint.

While it may not be as prominently visible as the lateral head, developing the medial head is crucial for achieving well-rounded tricep development. It contributes to the overall power and definition of the triceps.

Lateral head of triceps

The lateral head of the triceps muscle, also known as the Triceps Brachii Caput lateral, is the most visible of the three tricep heads.

It arises from the humerus and, along with the other heads, merges into a common tendon that attaches to the ulna.

In the tricep kickback exercise, the lateral head plays a significant role in extending the elbow joint. When you straighten your arm behind you against resistance, it's the lateral head that contracts vigorously.

This muscle contributes substantially to the aesthetic appeal of well-defined triceps and is often the most targeted in isolation exercises like kickbacks.

Posterior deltoid

While the posterior deltoid isn't a part of the triceps muscles, its role in tricep kickback and similar exercises is significant.

It extends the shoulder joint. When tricep kickbacks are performed with proper form, the posterior deltoid assists in stabilizing the shoulder joint.

This helps maintain correct posture and alignment, reducing the risk of shoulder injuries.


The core muscles are indirectly involved in triceps kickback and similar exercises.

These muscles stabilize the torso and pelvis, allowing a solid base to perform tricep-focused movements.

Maintaining a stable core prevents unnecessary swaying or arching of the back, promoting proper form and reducing the risk of lower back strain or injury.[3]

woman doing dumbbell exercise at home

Common Questions About Triceps Kickbacks Substitutes

Who should not do tricep kickbacks?

Exercisers with a history of elbow or shoulder issues should not do tricep kickbacks until they are 100% certain they have fully recovered. These exercises place strain on these joints, potentially exacerbating any existing problems. If you have concerns or discomfort, it is advisable to consult with a fitness professional or a doctor to explore safer alternatives.

Are tricep kickbacks better than extensions?

The superiority of tricep kickbacks over extensions depends on individual goals and preferences. Kickbacks isolate the triceps muscle more effectively, making them ideal for targeting that muscle group. However, extensions allow for heavier weights and can engage more muscle fibers, making them better for overall tricep development. The choice between the two should align with your specific fitness objectives.

Do tricep kickbacks work all 3 heads?

Yes, tricep kickbacks work all three heads but primarily target the lateral head of the triceps. They engage the other two heads to some extent but may not provide comprehensive development. To ensure balanced tricep growth, consider incorporating various tricep exercises into your routine, such as extensions and dips.

How many reps when performing kickbacks?

When performing tricep kickbacks, it's generally effective to aim for 10 to 12 reps per set. This rep range strikes a balance between building muscle size and strength. The optimal number of reps can vary based on your fitness goals. If you're aiming for muscular endurance, higher reps (15-20) may be more appropriate, while lower reps (4-6) are better for maximum strength gains.

Summary - Start Your Training!

Doing the same exercises day in and day out will inevitably lead to a plateau. That's just one reason to include those triceps kickback alternatives in your workout. Another reason is their effectiveness.

And don't let your ego get the best of you. Remember, the triceps extend from the shoulder to the elbow and are therefore susceptible to injury.

Proper form is crucial to avoid injury and maximize gains. Take your time and put greater focus on technique; soon enough, you'll reach the beach body you've always dreamed of.


Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.