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June 20, 2021
Want to build beefy horseshoe triceps with kettlebells? We are about to provide you with the 8 best kettlebell tricep exercises for both strength and hypertrophy and everything you need to know about using kettlebells to target the three-headed monster known as your triceps.
The tricep, scientifically called the triceps brachii, is a three-headed muscle that spans nearly the entire length of your humerus (upper arm bone) on the posterior side.
We like to call it the “three headed monster” because it makes up 60-70% of your upper arm’s muscle mass (which makes the biceps approximately half its size).
The three heads are called the long head, lateral head, and medial head.
Each head has its own point of origin and muscle belly which coverage onto a common tendon on the ulna (bone of the forearm on the pinky’s side) located at the elbow joint.
The long head’s origin point is at the scapular and it crosses the shoulder joint coming down the humerus on the inner side. It is the largest and strongest of the three.
The medial head and lateral head have origin points at the humerus. The lateral head’s origin point is higher up the humerus and it runs down the arm on the outer side. The medial head originates a little lower on the humerus at the center and it is overlapped by the long head.
Together, all three heads are responsible for extension of the elbow joint.
To know how to best target your triceps, it's important to understand its function...
The triceps is an antagonist of the biceps. The biceps and triceps control movements of the elbow.
The main function of the triceps brachii is extension of the elbow, or in other words, straightening of the arm.
The triceps also fixates the elbow joint so the forearm and hand can be stable and perform fine movements.
Each of the three heads act on the elbow joint and are responsible for the above. However, because the long head originates at the scapular and crosses the shoulder joint, it also acts on the shoulder joint, playing a role in the extension and adduction of the shoulder (i.e. moving your arms behind you and towards the middle of your body). Moreover, it helps provide shoulder stability.
Note: The medial head is kind of like the glute of the triceps, providing stability and strength between the three heads.
No matter what, if you are performing elbow extension, all three heads will be activated. But, certain positions and angles will activate some heads more than others.
All in all, there really is no need to overcomplicate this. The point is, you just need to perform tricep exercises from different angles and with different grip positions to achieve full development of all three heads. If you train hard, use a good variety of tricep exercises that hit the triceps from different angles, and eat/sleep right, we guarantee the backs of your arms will look like beefy horseshoes in no time.
Absolutely! Kettlebells can be used to target the triceps just like dumbbells with conventional tricep exercises. You can also mimic barbell and EZ bar tricep exercises with kettlebells.
Of course, there are some notable differences with kettlebell tricep exercise due to its design, but overall the exercises are just as effective for the triceps.
Obviously any big compound pushing exercise with kettlebells is going to target the triceps. So, exercises like overhead presses, floor presses, and kettlebell push ups are going to work the triceps.
These big compound movements are great for the triceps because you can use heavy kettlebells. Using heavy loads is great for building muscle and strength.
However, it’s also good to isolate the triceps so you can perform exercises that move them through their full range of motion, which means you are fully lengthening and shortening the muscle with each rep. Providing resistance through a large range of motion is a very important aspect of building muscle because you get optimal stretching tension and contraction tension.
Kettlebell tricep isolation exercises will also allow you to maximize time under tension and completely focus on your triceps, whereas with compound movements the stars of the show (i.e. shoulders or chest) get most of the attention.
So, while compound pushing exercises with kettlebells are great for the triceps and are a must as a whole, if you want to develop your triceps to their fullest potential, you need to isolate them.
Here are the 8 kettlebell tricep exercises that we are going to demo for you below:
Before we get into the exercises, we want to go over what makes kettlebell triceps exercises special and some best practices for getting the most out of the exercises.
With kettlebells you have more training variables in terms of load placement and hand positioning. You have all the same options of exercises as dumbbells, but the grip/hand placement and load positioning will be different.
You can hold the horns of the handle, the top of the handle, or the bell. You can alter the position of the bell so its above, below, or even in front or to the sides of your wrist.
All of these variables will change how an exercise stresses your triceps, which is great for emphasizing each head and overloading the muscle.
What's more, kettlebells can create more muscle activation and tension on the triceps due to instability. With kettlebells, for some exercises the load will be off-centered and the bell may even move mid exercise, whereas with dumbbells and barbells, the load is evenly placed over your palm, so everything is perfectly balanced.
Now, this isn’t to say that kettlebells are better than dumbbells and barbells for the triceps, but they are uniquely effective. Essentially, they can be used in the same way, but with added training variables. The advantage of dumbbells is you may be able to use heavier loads because they are perfectly balanced. So, in an ideal world, you would use various training equipment like dumbbells, barbells, and cable machines in tandem with kettlebells. BUT, if all you have are kettlebells, they will more than suffice for your triceps.
Most of your muscles are made up of both slow and fast twitch muscle fibers. The triceps brachii is no different. However, around 67% of the triceps has fast twitch muscle fibers. This makes it a high performance muscle.
With that, the triceps will respond best to heavier loads with moderate reps. So, exercises like close-grip presses, weighted dips and heavy extensions are a must.
If you have wrist, elbow or shoulder joint issues, that’s ok. Just use a moderate load and maximize tension.
For full development of your triceps, you need to do heavy compound and isolation exercises (relative to your strength), training variables that emphasize the different heads, an appropriate rep scheme and training frequency, and progressive overload.
Pay attention to the load placement, hand positioning, and body positioning for each exercises to come so you can see how we use training variables. We will make note of the targeted heads for each exercise. When creating a workout or adding tricep exercises to your current plan, choose exercises that emphasize each muscle head rather than exercises that repeat each other. For example, you will want one overhead extension, one kickback, one pressing, etc.
Note: Usually compound exercises will be staples to your program, but with isolation exercises, you can switch it up each workout.
For compound exercises, use a kettlebell that challenges you (brings you to near failure) in the 6-12 rep range. For isolation exercises, you can work in the 8-20 rep range. Again, you want to use a weight load that bring you to near failure (meaning you have like one or two more reps in the tank) with each set.
Studies show that hypertrophy and strength are best achieved when hitting muscle groups more frequently. This is because protein synthesis levels off after around 36 hours. So, if you wait a whole week to hit a muscle group again, you are missing out on growth potential. Ideally, you want to hit your triceps twice a week, just like every other muscle group.
Training splits like Upper/Lower and Push Pull Leg splits will allow you to hit each muscle group twice a week. If you are a beginner, full body workouts are great too.
Either way, if you want to build up your triceps, aim to do around 16-20 sets for the triceps per week, whether that’s split into one, two or three workout sessions.
To build muscle and strength, you need to progressive overload. You can do this for the triceps by increasing the reps, increasing the weight load, increasing the volume, decreasing rest time, and increasing intensity (harder exercises, slow tempo, more tension, greater range of motion).
Follow a progressive overload protocol each training cycle so you can work on gradually increasing the difficulty of your workouts and thus continually give your triceps enough stress and stimulation to grow and get stronger.
Let's look closely at each exercise. We are going to make a point to mention which heads are emphasized for each exercise and the benefits as a whole.
The bell-grip overhead extension is a great kettlebell tricep exercise that emphasizes the long head. The position of your shoulder (180˚) stretches the long head from the starting position, thus maximizing its range of motion. This exercise also emphasizes the lateral head because the grip rotates the forearm inward.
Another interesting thing about this grip is that because of the shape of the bell, it’s a lot easier to have good form with your elbows tucked in comparing to a dumbbell overhead extension. It’s kind of like a mix between a dumbbell overhead extension and a rope cable overhead extension.
Furthermore, this isolated tricep exercise that allows for a relatively heavy kettlebell, which, as we mentioned, is great for tricep development due to its fast-twitch muscle fiber nature.
Best Rep Range: 8-15 reps
The tricep dip is said to be one of the most effective tricep exercises. It does a great job of working all three heads of the triceps.
What’s great about kettlebell tricep dips is that the neutral grip allows you to keep your elbow tucked in and straight, whereas with a bench dip, your elbows tend to flair out a bit (albeit the flair is fine, it just hits the triceps differently). Moreover, with kettlebell tricep dips, you have the added instability factor. You’ll need to really work those triceps to maintain stability. Either way, though, both are good, we just find that the kettlebell dip is a little more effective.
The only issue with this exercise is that you may be somewhat limited on your range of motion depending on the height of your kettlebell handles. Ideally, you want to use kettlebells with handles that sit as high as possible. Placing them on a platform can help if they aren't high enough.
And you might be wondering what can you do if you don’t have pairs of kettlebells? Well, as long as you have two kettlebells of similar height, it’s fine. In fact, the kettlebell tricep dip you see here was done with a 40lb and a 44lb kettlebell. If the kettlebells aren’t similar height, just be sure to switch the side the higher kettlebell is on each set. If this doesn’t work for you, you can always use a chair and do dips the more common way!
Best Rep Range: 10-20 reps
The tate press is an elbows out tricep extension that emphasizes the long and lateral head, but it is also great for the medial head. It hits the tricep from a completely different angle than any other tricep exercise.
The tate press is one of those exercises that surprises you by how well it engages the muscle. You are going to feel it big time, and you won’t be using a heavy kettlebell. The tate press calls for a light to moderate weight kettlebell.
One thing we love about tate presses with kettlebells is that it just feels better and its easier to perform with good form than with dumbbells because you are holding onto the horns of the kettlebell handle (the sides of the handle). Most exercises feel more balanced and easier with dumbbells, but not this one.
All in all, the tate press looks weird, but it’s extremely effective, and not just for developing your triceps aesthetically, it’s going to directly help with your chest press game too.
Best Rep Range: 10-15 reps
The general consensus is that the tricep kickback ranks in at number 2 on all time best tricep isolation exercises. Studies show it produces a whopping 88% muscle activation. By bending forward, fighting gravity becomes even more difficult.
The tricep kickback works all three heads fantastically, but it is particularly great for the long head and lateral head. The long head because it involves shoulder extension and the lateral head because you are using a neutral grip.
The downfall of using a kettlebell for tricep kickbacks is that you can’t go as heavy as you can with a dumbbells, although even with dumbbells you won’t be going very heavy. The reason is because the kettlebell needs to be gripped by the top of the handle and that places the bell far from your wrist, so it requires much more wrist stability. On the other hand, this is a bit of an advantage for the kettlebell as it forces more muscle activation to maintain that stability. So, it’s a bit of a lose-win situation, if that makes sense.
Note: Be sure to keep your elbow pinned in place and up parallel with your body. If you can’t manage this, you need to use a lighter weight.
Best Rep Range: 8-15 reps
The skull crusher is an exercise meant to beef up the triceps for that horseshoe look. It is particularly effective at activating the long and lateral head. It is also great for improving bench press (or floor press) and elbow resilience.
It’s similar to an overhead extension in function , but it’s a little easier on your elbows and shoulders. So, if you have joint issues, use this one rather than the overhead extensions, but if you can, both are great.
Best Rep Range: 6-15 reps
The close grip floor press is not a tricep isolation exercise, it is actually a compound exercise that works the chest, triceps, and anterior delts. That said, the close grip makes this pressing exercise tricep-centric.
Like all pressing exercises, your medial head is going to be emphasized most. However, because of the neutral-ish grip on the bell, your lateral head is also placed at the forefront.
Overall, this is an amazing exercise for the triceps as you can use a heavy kettlebell and it works other muscles as well! This is definitely one to throw into the main portion of your workout on a push or upper body day.
Best Rep Range: 6-12 reps
Here is another way to do an overhead extension. Obviously, you will be using a lighter kettlebell because it's a one arm exercise.
What’s interesting about doing a single arm overhead extension with a kettlebell is the awkwardness. By holding the handle palm up, the bell will be left free to move, which causes instability. Moreover, the bell hanging below your wrists just makes things even more difficult. It makes a light kettlebell feel much heavier.
All in all, it can be hard to maintain good form with this one, so start light. Try your best to keep those elbows tucked and back!
By the way, using this grip emphasizes the medial head due to the grip position, and like any overhead extension, you will get a good stretch in your long head, so it hones in there as well.
Best Rep Range: 10-15 reps
Related: 7 Dumbbell Tricep Extensions
The push up on the bell is the kettlebell’s version of a diamond push up. It may not get any better than this exercise when it comes to hitting the triceps. Most trainers say this is the number 1 exercise for the triceps.
The push up on the bell is not a tricep isolation exercise. Your chest, shoulders and core are primary movers as well. However, the unique position of your hands does put the triceps at the front and center of the exercise. Ergo, it is a tricep exercise for all intents and purposes.
The reason it’s the best exercise for the triceps is because it has the highest muscle activation of all exercises. Moreover, it targets all three heads effectively, albeit as it is a pushing exercise, the medial head may be the hardest worker for this one.
Now, this exercise can be done without a kettlebell, putting your hands on the floor in a diamond position. However, using a kettlebell turns the difficulty up to eleven. Not only does it require serious stability, it also increasing the range of motion. So, if you have a kettlebell big enough to place both hands on the bell, give this a try and feel your triceps fry!
Best Rep Range: 6-15 reps
What compound KB exercises target the triceps?
Any pushing or pressing exercise will target the triceps because it involves elbow extension. So, exercises like floor presses, strict presses, push presses, push ups, and dips all strengthen the triceps. What’s really great about these compound pushing movements is that you can use heavy kettlebells, and heavy loads are great for the triceps because the muscle is made up of about 67% fast twitch muscles, which respond best to heavy, powerful exercises.
Do I need to do tricep isolation exercises with kettlebells?
While you don’t NEED to, isolation exercises for the triceps are great because they allow you to work your triceps through their full range of motion, which is also very important for building muscle and strength. You can really hone in on your triceps for both stretching tension and contraction tension in a way that you can’t with compound exercises. So, by doing kb tricep isolation exercises, you will maximize potential for both size and strength.
There’s no need to do a tricep only workout unless your triceps are lagging and you really want to bring them up to par. Typically, if you train with kettlebells, you can throw tricep exercises into your push, upper body, or full body workouts.
Overall, you should aim to do around 20 sets for the triceps per week (ideally split into two sessions) if you want to put more focus on building your triceps. Choose exercises that use different variables (overhand grip, underhand grip, and arm/body positioning) so you can hit all three tricep heads equally throughout the week. While your compound movements will likely be the same each week, you can switch up the tricep isolation exercises each session.
ALL THAT SAID, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing a kettlebell tricep or arm workout if you have the time or you simply just want to smash your triceps each week to give them the best chance to grow.
If that’s the case, a good kettlebell tricep workout will be well-rounded, with exercises that emphasize all three heads.
Here are two good examples of tricep workouts using kettlebells.
Kettlebell Tricep Workout #1:
Kettlebell Tricep Workout #2:
You most certainly can build some big and powerful arms with kettlebells. If you were to only use kettlebells, you could build arms that would rival any bodybuilder or weightlifter. All you have to do is focus on performing the best kettlebell exercises for the biceps, triceps, and shoulders, and use an appropriate weight load and employ progressive overload. Oh, and, of course, eat and sleep right.
More Kettlebell Training Resources:
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