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Troubleshooting: Dumbbell Kickback

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One of these photos shows a critical but common mistake on the dumbbell kickback with regards to elbow position in the bottom position (triceps is being stretched).

By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS

Can You Spot Which One Is Wrong?

Troubleshooting #1

About the Kickback

The kickback is an awesome isolation move for the triceps, and one that should be a regular “go to” in your routine. Even though all three heads of the triceps are working to perform the exercise (lateral, long and medial heads), it’s the lateral head that’s doing most of the work. The lateral head is the outer (side) portion of the arm, and is also the muscle working hardest during more of your favorite moves such as the pressdown and dips.

Spot the Error

The kickback is simple to perform yet many of us limit its effectiveness by getting a little sloppy. If you pin your upper arm to your torso once you’re in the bent-over position, the motion occurs at the elbow alone — and only the elbow joint. The lower arm is the lever, going from a perpendicular point to the torso to a parallel point to the torso (arm is fully extended). If you drop your elbow from its position at your side, you call upon the rear delt and even your lower lat to help in the move, which lessens the recruitment of the tri’s, and that most likely means you’re using too much weight. Photo 2 is correct.

✔Fix It

Start with a lighter dumbbell. If you’re dropping your elbow in order to gain momentum as you kick the dumbbell backward, which is the case nine out of 10 times, it’s simply too heavy. The move should be a strict, isolation move. Bend forward at the waist until your torso is about 15 degrees above parallel. Grasp a light dumbbell and fix your upper arm to your torso. Use your non-working arm to hold onto a stable surface, and move only your lower arm. Have someone watch you if you have any doubts.

Beginner’s Tip

Try the cable version. Some gyms have I-handles, which allow a grip similar to a dumbbell, but if not, use a D-handle or even grab the rubber ball at the end of the cable. Same form rules apply, but the cable will provide tension in the start position even more so than the dumbbell variety. Avoid the tendency to turn your head to look at yourself in the mirror as that can cause undue stress on the cervical spine. Keep your eyes fixed on the floor a few feet in front of you with your head in a neutral position.

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