What’s The Best Exercise For Triceps?

best exercise for triceps

Few things are more impressive than a set of well-sculpted arms.

And today I was asked “What’s the best exercise for triceps?”

Most guys class the cable pushdown to be the most effective exercise out there for blasting the three-headed monster.

It’s a good choice, for sure.

But what if I could show you something that’s a mighty 50% more effective?

Of course, that is what I’m going to do today.

Best Exercise For Triceps?

Drop The Ego

First I must warn you to brace yourself.

Because when you discover the best exercise for triceps, your ego may take a bit of a beating.

You see, you have probably seen your girlfriend doing this exercise for years and dismissed it as “one for the ladies”.

I am speaking about the dumbbell kickback.

Make no mistake about it – this is an exercises which seriously needs a makeover.

Forget the stereotype of a lycra-clad motherfucker in a 1980’s home workout DVD lifting those pink fluffy dumbbells, talking about how girls need to do ridiculously high reps to avoid getting bulky muscles.

I have seen top male and female athletes literally cry out in pain at the brutality of this move when it’s done right.

best exercise for triceps
“Don’t lift heavy weights!”

Trust Science

Right now, you may be thinking “No way…?!”

So let’s jump into some recent research on this topic.

In 2012, a team from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse performed a fascinating study which was later published in the American College of Exercise to discover which triceps exercise caused the best activation of the fibers within the muscle. (1)

Using around 70% of their one rep max and aiming for 10-12 repetitions – ideal for muscle growth – the subjects performed a variety of different triceps exercises including kickbacks and pushdowns.

The researchers measured the muscle activation in the long head and lateral head of the triceps muscle.

The first discovery came as rope pushdowns were shown to activate the lateral head of the triceps around 15% more than straight-bar pushdowns.

Given the change in grip and the instability of the rope, this finding was somewhat expected.

what is the best exercise for triceps

But get ready for this.

The dumbbell kickback increased activation of both the long head and lateral head significantly compared to both versions of pushdowns.

In fact, the numbers weren’t even close.

best triceps exercises

The dumbbell kickback increased activation of the long head by a whopping 20% compared to pushdowns, and activation of the lateral head was increased by a blockbusting 50%!

So if you’re not currently using this exercise in your arm routine, start doing so.

Click here for a great workout which incorporates this into an arm routine.

best exercise for triceps

Even More Results

Now that we’ve established the effectiveness of the kickback, let’s push it even further.

Not only is this an exercise which is grossly under-used in gyms, on the rare occasion when it does get performed it tends to be done incorrectly.

Ideally, we do not want to be pushing back at a 90 degree angle – the way it’s always shown in fitness magazines.

triceps kickback

Instead, when performing a triceps kickback with dumbbells we want to lean into the move to allow ourselves to push the weight back at a diagonal angle.

This will greatly increase the tension on your triceps.

Video demo below.

Notice I’m performing this on a cable station.

While the dumbbell kickback is great, you can take things to an entirely new level by performing this exercise using a cable attachment.

This removes gravity from the equation and creates constant tension, combined with the diagonal angle, to increase your results even further.

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Thanks for reading – here’s free access to all of my full workout plans!


1. Porcari, J., et al. ww.acefitness.org. 2012.

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