Hammer your triceps with kettlebells

If you’re looking for some new triceps exercises to turn those pipe cleaners in to pythons, then read on. Kettlebells might just be your new favourite arms building tool.

In a previous article HERE we spoke about the advantage of using kettlebells to build your biceps.

Due to their unique design and leverage factors, kettlebells place a large amount of tension on the biceps, and allow the emphasis of an elongated eccentric contraction.

Because of the loading mechanics, they produce greater mechanical tension, micro-trauma, and metabolic stress than some equivalent dumbbell exercises.

If you want to know the specifics then go back and read that previous article, because those same mechanisms come in to play here. The triceps can benefit from kettlebell training for the exact same reasons.

Triceps loading

The triceps brachii are a performance muscle. They’re blessed with an abundance of high-threshold motor units, with approximately 67% being made up of fast twitch (type 2) muscle fibres.

Performing high rep pushdowns might give you a great pump, and have their place, but you need to ramp up the intensity to get the best out of them.

If you want your triceps to grow then high-tension heavy moves work best. That means close-grip pressing, weighted dips, and heavy extensions. If your elbows and shoulders can handle them of course.

If your joints can’t handle them, then focusing on moderate-load high-tension exercises would be a smart move. Kettlebells tick that box.

Kettlebells also work great as an assistance to your larger compound exercises, that provide the heavy loading your triceps need.

Programming

For example, a good triceps workout might look like this:

A) Weighted Dips, 4 x 5-7, 41X0 tempo
B) Incline Narrow Grip Bench Press, 4 x 8-10, 2210 tempo
C) Kettlebell Overhead Triceps Extension 3 x 10-12, 2010 tempo

For the right person, this would work well as a hypertrophy routine as it exposes the triceps to heavy loading via the larger compound movements first, followed by a little lighter isolation at the end. Albeit still not pink dumbbell territory.

In the above routine a variety of rep ranges and tempo are used, helping to fatigue those fast-twitch fibres. Several mechanisms that contribute to hypertrophy are hit (high tension, tissue breakdown, metabolic stress). There’s also a nice balance and targeting of all three portions of the triceps (long, medial, and short head) for complete triceps growth.

If you’ve got slightly dodgy shoulders then don’t worry, here’s an example that would work equally as well. Same loading, just different exercise choices:

A) Narrow Grip Floor Press, 4 x 5-7, 42X0 tempo
B) Decline Dumbbell Squeeze Press, 4 x 8-10, 2010 tempo
C) Kettlebell Chest Supported Triceps Kickback 3 x 10-12, 2010 tempo

Kettlebell Triceps Exercises

Now you know what a good routine might look like, here are a few triceps exercises using kettlebells you might want to sprinkle in to your workout.

Kettlebell Chest Supported Triceps Kickback

I like this because the kettlebells work to effectively target the long-head of the triceps in a shortened position. Kickbacks are underrated, but when performed right can be an extremely effective triceps builder.

As you might notice holding the kettlebells in this way dramatically increase the load when the elbow is fully extended. Since the shoulder is in extension the long-head is maximally shortened and activated in this position.

Studies show some of the highest peak triceps muscle activation in kickback movements. Having your chest supported on a bench increases stability and helps focus on the area being targeted.

Kettlebell Overhead Triceps Extension

For the same reason targeting the long head of the tricep in a shortened position works well for max activation, by targeting it in a stretched position you’ll get an equally effective growth stimulus. You’ll achieve this by going overhead.

An Overhead Triceps Extension is a good example of this, while the kettlebell allows some tension to be maintained through the movement. On a decline bench this works great too, arguably even more-so.

Kettlebell Tate press

The Tate Press is often referred to as an “elbows out triceps extension”. It was made popular by powerlifter and strength coach Dave Tate.

As a competitive powerlifter at his peak Tate could bench press 610lb. The Tate press was one of his go-to assistance exercises to build lagging triceps, with great transfer to the bench press.

Using kettlebells help to maintain tension throughout the movement, as well as effectively target all heads of the triceps, as well as the often-neglected medial head.

This can be particularly effective when performed on an incline bench as well, where the medial head might come in to play a little more.

Kettlebell Triceps Arm Bar

The triceps arm bar could quite possibly be one of the most effective triceps exercises you’ve never heard of. Here it’s being done with a dumbbell.

Note in the video below, a more effective way with a dumbbell is to use an offset grip. This helps to keep the load at the top of the movement.

In a similar way to an offset grip, the load distribution of a kettlebell helps keep the tension.

A little known fact is that the long-head of the triceps can be effectively targeted in a stretched position when the shoulder is abducted too (arm moved sideways away from the body).

The long-head is bi-articulate, meaning that in this case it crosses both the elbow and the shoulder joint. Not only does it extend the elbow, but it extends and adducts the shoulder too (moves your arm down and towards your body).

By assuming the arm bar position your shoulder is abducted towards the side placing some passive tension on the triceps long head (taking away some slack).

Here you can load it in a greater stretched position achieving a good amount of mechanical tension and micro-trauma. Both being potent hypertrophy stimuli.

Anecdotally I also find this to be a relatively shoulder friendly triceps exercise for those that cant take their arm overhead to perform overhead extensions, skullcrushers, French presses and the like.

If you feel the benefits from these triceps exercises, be sure to let me know in the comments section or give it a share using the buttons below.

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