Forgotten Exercises: Barbell Kickbacks


Let’s face it, very few people in the business of muscle building seem to respect the Tricep Kickback. Indeed a cursory glance online sees it described as pointless, useless and ineffective. Strong words for a relatively simplistic exercise. From my own observations, it is interesting to note in my own gym that women tend to gravitate towards Dumbbell kickbacks while men use the cable machine. Speaking to this with some friends recently, I was told that men don’t want to be seen with brightly coloured or small dumbbells working on there arms. A matter for an entirely different post…

In any case, the dumbbell kickback has served countless champion bodybuilders over the years, including but not limited to Frank Zane, Ronnie Coleman and even Arnold Schwarzenegger. Maybe that will improve their street credibility, or maybe not. Now in any case, in a futile attempt to discover the inventor of the Tricep Kickback exercise, I stumbled across an interesting variation promoted by the first, and two-time, Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott. That being the Barbell Kickback, the subject of today’s post.

What is a Barbell Kickback and who cares?

Like the dumbbell variations, this particular exercise comes in many shapes and sizes. In the first instance, one can perform it upright as shown by Larry Scott himself below.

barbell kickback.jpg

As Scott himself noted, this exercise can seem somewhat cramped. Indeed the range of motion is tight to say the least, which may scare some lifters away from using it. For those seeking a fuller range of motion and a more comfortable version, I present the bent over barbell kickback.

From trying out both variations, I find it much easier to swing the weight up when bending over, a method of cheating which largely negates the purpose of this exercise; isolating the triceps. Nevertheless if done strictly it can produce quite an effect in the triceps. The final version is the lying variation, supposedly favoured by Doug Strohl in which you lie on a flat bench. In the interests of transparency my understandings of this exercise come from forums on and Dave Draper’s own forum. The first description being to

Position yourself like you would for a lying tricep extension (skull crusher) but then lower the bar so you arms held straight are parallel to the floor. Now do the kickback movement.

A good start but one that fails to stress an all important factor mentioned on the Draper website.

Lying face up on a bench with the arms extended backward like the low postion of a straight arm pullover. From there, bend the elbows and lower the weight toward the floor and them back up again, keeping the elbows fixed. Imagine doing a standing triceps press, except you are lying down.

Can you spot it? The barbell is brought close to the ground as in a pullover movement. Thus when the exercise begins you’re very literally pressing the bar away from the body. An interesting variation but one that takes a little more getting used to.

So that’s the different techniques out of the way, which brings us to the second point, who cares? After all, just because something is unique doesn’t mean you have to do it. How many of us would consider bicep curling while using the leg extension? An exercise needs a definitive purpose and to address this point, we’ll turn to Larry Scott whose arm development was the stuff of legend.

In an article on Arm Training, whose accompanying picture is shown above, Scott praised the Barbell kickback as an effective ‘finisher’ for his tricep routine. In another article, we learn that Scott would regularly do up to nine sets of this exercise, believing it to be an effective sculptor and builder of his triceps. Finally we read of the incredible pump Scott got during this exercise. While all anecdotal, it’s enough to make you try the exercise out surely?

Incorporating the Barbell Kickback

While Scott himself saw this exercise as a ‘finisher’ i.e. one to be used at the end of a workout, I’ve had great success recently using it as a staple of my arm routines. Thanks to many months of over vigorous French Presses and Skullcrushers my elbows have become the stuff of rice crispies… they snap, crackle and pop at every possible turn. Thus I’ve had to box smart with my arm training in particular to avoid any further pain (which I’m aware was entirely self inflicted).

While dumbbell kickbacks were pain free, it was too easy to flare my elbows and cheat. Using the barbell, in both the Scott and bent over variation, I can keep the elbows in tight to my body and really focus on the triceps. So far I’ve found a moderate rep range (think 6-10 reps) to be the most effective. Especially when combined with dips and close grip bench presses.

So what are you waiting for? Why not try out this forgotten exercise and let us know how it goes. If nothing else it’ll keep your arm training fresh!

As always, Happy Lifting!