Why Can’t I Feel Anything on Triceps Kickbacks and Pullups?


question-icon-newI can’t ever seem to do triceps kickbacks without feeling it in my trapezius muscles. I’ve tried dropping all the way down to 5 pound dumbbells but I have the same issue and I can’t feel it in my triceps no matter what weight I use. As far as I can tell, my form is correct with my straight back, neck neutral, knees bent.

Second question has to do with pullups. I’m trying to get to the point of being able to do them. So far I can’t hold myself at the top nor can I lift up at all really from the bottom of the movement. My back is the weakest muscle group on my body. I’ve neglected it for a long time. What exercises can I do at home to build up the muscles I need to do pullups? I have bands and free weights but no machines.

answer-icon-newIf you’re feeling the majority of the tension in your trapezius muscles when you’re doing tricep kickbacks, there is definitely an issue with your form and technique. The most obvious thing that comes to mind is the function of your shoulder throughout the movement. Tricep kickbacks are a single joint exercise which means that only your elbow will be moving during the exercise. Your shoulder should be in a fixed position and should not move at all. If you’re feeling your trapezius muscle working when you’re doing it, you are more than likely moving your shoulder up and down which is basically recruiting your traps to be involved with the exercise along with your triceps.

The best thing you can do is to perform the tricep exercise in front of a mirror which will allow you to really see what your upper body is doing. Make sure to focus on keeping your shoulder fixed and your elbow at a 90 degree position before starting the movement. Slowly raise the dumbbell back and all the way up to the top position and avoid any movement in your shoulder. This means that the shoulder should not swing or sway at all while lifting and lowering the weight. It’s important to use a very light weight starting off in order to get your form and technique down.

bent-over-kickbacks-tricepsIf after using a mirror and trying to perform the exercise correctly, you still don’t really feel right with tricep kickbacks and you feel your trapezius muscles are still being engaged, then you might just want to stop doing them. Focus on exercises that you can truly feel your muscles working. Many people are different and will get a great “feel” from some movements, when others can’t feel any stimulation or pump from the same exercise. Here are a few good alternate exercises for the triceps that you can use in place of the kickbacks:

With regards to your question about pullups, these are very tough to perform even for strong individuals. I personally can barely do 6 without collapsing. However, they are amazing for developing your back so it’s great that you want to work to get better so you include them in your back workouts. My recommendations are:

For 2 weeks, focus on the main three back builders (bent over barbell rows, cable rows and wide grip lat pulldowns). Since you only have access to exercise bands and dumbbells, you can do standing back rows with the bands and you can also do bent over one arm and two arm dumbbell rows using a bench. Here are the exercise guides for all of these movements to show you the proper technique:

After 2 weeks, try to perform 1-2 strict pullups and make sure to start your back workouts with them. You need to have all your strength starting out. Continue this regimen until you can do multiple pullups.

You can also work on your arm strength (biceps) by doing bicep curls with dumbbells. This will help the pulling motion since the biceps are the secondary muscle used.

Try doing assisted pullups where a friend spots you by putting their hands on your waist as you do the pullup. Ask them to push you up very slightly when you hit the sticking point in the pullup. Shoot for 8-10 assisted pullups like this to help build up your strength and confidence with the exercise. For each back workout, ask your spotter to help you less and less until you can eventually do a pullup all by yourself.


You can also do modified pullups using a bar on the smith machine or a traditional barbell rack (shown above). Adjust the bar so that it’s at about waist height and then climb under the bar so your basically laying down on the ground with your back facing the ground and your chest facing up towards the ceiling. Grab the bar with both hands and pullup while keeping your the heels of your feet on the ground. This is a great exercise to work your back if you don’t have the upper body strength to do a regular pullup.

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