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Dumbbell or Cable Kickbacks?

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The dumbbell kickback is a popular exercise for the triceps’ lateral head, but what happens when you choose the cable version instead?

By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS

Isolate Your Tri’s

One of the most common ways to perform the triceps kickback is with a dumbbell in one hand, and the same side elbow pinned to your side. Your upper body is just above parallel to the floor with your knees bent.

Dumbbell Version

The best way to target the lateral head of the triceps is for you to do moves with your arms at your sides. With the dumbbell kickback, it’s important to keep your elbow as high as possible and your upper body just shy of parallel to the floor. But dropping your elbow turns this isolation exercise into a combo shoulder-triceps move. Done right, the dumbbell version is excellent at helping target the triceps-delt tie-in, which is the groove where the triceps meets the delts.

Make This Change

Cable Kickbacks

Head to the cable station and attach a D-handle to the lower pulley or just use the rubber ball. Your form should be identical to that of the dumbbell variety. To hit the lateral head, keep your elbow high and fixed to your side. Your upper arm and your torso are roughly parallel to each other and your lower arm is perpendicular to your torso in the start position.

How does the cable differ? It provides continuous tension on the triceps musculature throughout the move — there are no “restings” stops at the bottom of the range of motion. Whereas the dumbbell version provides little triceps tension at the start (when your lower arm is perpendicular to the torso), the cable allows the lateral head to engage immediately in that same position.

Get The Benefits From Both

Because the lateral head is so important to the overall look of the horseshoe, be sure to include both versions from one workout to the next, because both can add a different dimension to your triceps training. The cable version is excellent for creating constant tension on the lateral head, and the dumbbell version is perfect at forming the groove where the tri’s meet the delts. But remember, it doesn’t take a lot of weight at this angle, so be cautious (especially on the dumbbell version) and warm-up gradually so that the delicate rotator muscles can do their part to stabilize your shoulder safely during the move.

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