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Tricep Pushdown | Form, Benefits, and Alternatives for Bigger Triceps!

By
Mike Kenler
April 2, 2020

The Triceps Pushdown

Also known as the cable pushdown or rope pushdown, the triceps pushdown is one of the best exercises for triceps development. Although it is most commonly performed using a cable system, it is possible to use a resistance band for at-home workouts. The triceps pushdown is an essential exercise for people of all fitness levels.

Muscles Worked by the Triceps Pushdown

Primary Muscle Groups:

The triceps pushdown is an isolation exercise rather than a compound motion. This makes it a great exercise for targeting your triceps. The primary muscle group worked by the triceps pushdown is, as you may have guessed, your triceps. 

The scientific term for the muscle is tricep brachii (Latin for “three-headed muscles of the arm”). The lateral, medial and long head of the triceps all operate together whenever you extend your arm. However, the triceps pushdown isolates the medial and lateral heads of the triceps during the pushdown motion.


Secondary Muscle Groups:

That being said, the exercise also activates a variety of secondary muscle groups such as your lats (latissimus dorsi), abs (rectus abdominis), obliques (exterior obliques), pecs (pectoralis major and pectoralis minor) and traps (trapezius). These secondary muscles will engage to stabilize and support the pushdown motion. However, using your back, shoulders, or chest to bring down the weight risks injury and negates the key benefits of the triceps pushdown.


Tricep Pushdown Benefits

1. Strength Gains

There are many benefits of strengthening your triceps.

Strong triceps help stabilize your shoulder joint as they act as an extensor of the elbow and shoulder. As you strengthen your triceps the stability of your shoulders and elbows will increase. 

Having strong triceps will also allow you to lift more weight and build more strength to the other muscle groups in your arms. So if you want big biceps, it is important to make sure you have strong triceps to support them.

The triceps pushdown is an ideal exercise for all athletes, bodybuilders, or anyone attempting to build arm strength. Whether you are throwing a ball, lifting heavy objects at work, or simply want to boost the aesthetic appeal of your arms, this exercise can help you get stronger to accomplish your goals.

2. Isolation

As stated before, the triceps pushdown is an isolation exercise. This is beneficial because if you have any strength or muscle size imbalances, you can specifically target your triceps. For example, if your chest is much stronger than your arms, you can perform the triceps pushdown to compensate for the imbalance. In that way, your barbell bench press targeted for chest will significantly improve if you strengthen your triceps since they are synergistically involved in the bench press motion.

3. Convenience

Some tricep exercises require expensive, heavy equipment that can only be found at a gym. While the traditional triceps pushdown uses a cable system, all you need is a resistance band to do this exercise. With a stable hook or bar, you can attach the lightweight resistance band and increase the strength of your triceps no matter where you are. Keep reading for more information about the resistance band pushdown!

How to do the Triceps Pushdown

Setup:

1. With your feet shoulder width apart, face a pulley machine with an attached rope, v-bar, or solid straight bar hanging at chest height.

2. If you are using a rope, grab the rope towards the butt end with your palms facing together. If you are using a bar, grab the bar with your palms facing down.

3. Make sure your chest is high, your shoulder blades are together, and you are bending slightly forward to initiate the exercise.

Action:

1. With your elbows tucked in tight to your sides, bring the attachment down until your arms are fully extended.

2. Pause at the bottom of the repetition and flex your triceps for maximum contraction. Make sure you maintain a neutral wrist position the entire time.

3. Slowly release the weight and return to the starting position.

Recommendation:

For beginners, perform 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions. As you become more comfortable with the exercise, try different set/rep combinations and tempos to challenge your muscles.

Common Tricep Pushdown Mistakes

1. Excessive Elbow Movement:

Many people let their elbows sway back and forward during the movement. While you can technically lift more weight using this momentum, you are actually using your lats to complete the exercise. If you want to prioritize your triceps, keep those elbows tucked into your body and you will feel a far superior contraction of the triceps.

2. Elbows Flaring Out:

Another mistake involving the elbows is the infamous elbow flare out. When the elbows flare to the side, the chest and shoulder muscles take over. Consequently, the triceps pushdown exercise becomes a jackhammer-like motion. If you want to build the triceps muscle effectively, proper form is paramount.

3. Curling the Wrists:

Many people tend to curl their wrists at the bottom of each pushdown in hopes of doing a seemingly more “complete” repetition. In reality, curling your wrist removes tension from your triceps and puts unwanted stress on your wrist. Make sure to keep your wrist neutral throughout the repetition!

Tricep Pushdown Variations

1. Resistance Band Pushdown

As mentioned before, this exercise can be performed with a resistance band instead of a cable system. The resistance band triceps pushdown provides a different form of resistance than the standard cable pushdown. As the band lengthens, the resistance increases, whereas a cable variation provides the same resistance throughout. A resistance band is a cheaper and more convenient method for anyone who travels a lot or just likes to workout at home!

2. One-arm Triceps Pushdown

The triceps pushdown can be easily performed with just one arm. Lower the weight and stick to the same form as the two-arm triceps pushdown. This is a great way for athletes to eliminate muscle imbalances between a stronger and weaker arm.

3. Reverse-grip Triceps Pushdown

The reverse grip triceps pushdown is another great variation to the standard. The palms are facing up for reverse grip versus the palms facing down. You can’t lift as much weight with this variation but it’s a great way to help those who struggle with elbow flare to keep their elbows tight and mindfully engage the triceps muscle.

The reverse grip triceps pushdown can also be performed with a rope, straight bar, or other attachments!

Triceps Pushdown Alternatives

If you enjoyed the triceps pushdown, check out these other triceps exercises to bolster your triceps workout:

1. Skull Crushers

2. Close-Grip Bench Press

3. Overhead Triceps Extension

You do not need to spend hours in the gym to grow your triceps either. Here is a quick 15 minute tricep mass workout that includes the triceps pushdown while maximizing training volume!

Download the Anabolic Aliens exercise generator app Exerprise for FREE to generate custom workouts on your phone in a matter of seconds. There are currently over 65 triceps exercises available and more are being added every day. Our goal at Anabolic Aliens is to make your fitness goals accessible and achievable. With this app, you can exercise in a way that complements your schedule, skill level, and fitness goals. Come back to The Signal for more health and fitness content soon!

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing and Plant-based Bodybuilding Wizard