Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdown 101 | Form, Benefits & Alternatives!

By
Mike Kenler
November 23, 2020

The Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdown

The tricep pushdown is one of the best exercises for triceps development.

While less popular, the reverse grip variation of the pushdown is also extremely effective.

In this article, we cover all you need to know about the reverse grip tricep pushdown. 

Muscles Worked by the Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdown

Primary Muscle Groups:

Given its name, it comes as no surprise that the reverse grip tricep pushdown primarily works the triceps. 

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

That being said, the reverse grip tricep pushdown works the medial head of the triceps more than the standard pushdown.

Secondary Muscle Groups:

While it is an isolation exercise, the reverse grip tricep pushdown also activates your lats (latissimus dorsi), abs (rectus abdominis), obliques (exterior obliques), pecs (pectoralis major and pectoralis minor) and traps (trapezius).

These muscles act to stabilize the upper body during the exercise motion.

Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdown Benefits

1. Strength and Size Gains

The pushdown motion is so popular among weightlifters because it is proven to build size and strength in your triceps.

However, many people neglect the reverse grip tricep pushdown. This variation helps build strength in the medial head of the tricep, which lies beneath the more visible lateral and long heads. 

This exercise is ideal for athletes, bodybuilders, or anyone attempting to build arm strength. 

Whether you are throwing a ball, lifting weights and heavy objects, or you simply want to boost the aesthetic appeal of your arms, the reverse grip tricep pushdown is for you.

2. Isolation

The reverse grip tricep pushdown is an isolation exercise rather than a compound motion. 

Isolation exercises are beneficial because they allow you to correct any strength or muscle imbalances in your body. 

For example, if your chest is much stronger than your arms, you can perform the reverse grip tricep pushdown to compensate for the imbalance.

This can improve your physical appearance as well as your performance in compound exercises like the incline press or the dumbbell fly. 

3. Convenience

Some tricep exercises require expensive, heavy equipment that can only be found at a gym. 

While the standard reverse grip tricep 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 resistance band and increase the strength of your triceps no matter where you are. 

How To Do The Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdown

Setup:

a) With your feet shoulder width apart, face a pulley machine (with an attached straight bar or handles) or your resistance band. Make sure your handles or your attachment is hanging at chest height.

b) Grab the bar or the handles with your palms facing up.

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

Action:

a) With your elbows tucked in tight to your sides, contract your triceps to bring the attachment/handles down until your arms are fully extended.

b) Pause at the bottom of the repetition and squeeze your triceps hard. 

c) Slowly release the weight/resistance and return to the starting position. Repeat!

Recommendation:

With the underhand grip, you may not be able to lift as much weight. For that reason, you should aim to perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions of the reverse grip tricep pushdown. 

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 momentum, you are actually using your lats to complete the exercise.

To prioritize your triceps, keep your elbows tucked into your body. This will help you achieve a maximum contraction of the triceps.

2. Elbows Flaring Out

Another common reverse grip tricep pushdown mistake is flaring the elbows. When the elbows flare out to the side, the chest and shoulder muscles take over. 

While there is nothing wrong with working these muscles, you are aiming to isolate the triceps. 

If you want to build the triceps muscle effectively, prevent your elbows from flaring out to maintain proper form.

3. Rounding The Back

Many people tend to round their back and shoulders during the reverse grip tricep pushdown, especially when they lift heavy weight. This rounded back position usually occurs when lifters try to gain leverage over the weight/resistance. 

Put simply, if you can’t lift the weight with proper form, you’re lifting too much weight. To fix this mistake, focus on keeping your back straight and your chest held high.

Reduce the weight and practice good form!

Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdown Variations

1. Alternating Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdowns

The reverse grip tricep pushdown can also be performed unilaterally. 

Use the handle attachments for a pulley system or grab a resistance band and keep the form the same as the standard reverse grip pushdown. 

The alternating reverse grip pushdown can help you correct muscle imbalances between arms and improve your mind-muscle connection.

2. Overhand Tricep Pushdown

After completing some reverse grip tricep pushdowns, feel free to change it up and try the overhand variation of the pushdown. 

Everything about the form will stay the same besides your grip. Instead, grab the handles or bar with your palms facing down. 

Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdown Alternatives

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

1. Skull Crushers

Lie down on a flat bench with your feet planted firmly onto the ground. Hold the dumbbells above your chest with your palms facing each other and engage your core.

With your elbows in a fixed position, hinge your elbows to slowly bring the dumbbells down just behind your ears.

Contract your triceps to extend your arms back into the straight position at the top. Repeat!

2. Alternating Triceps Kickbacks

Keeping your back straight, hinge at the waist until your back is roughly parallel to the floor. Grasp the top of the kettlebell handle with one hand and your palm facing inwards.

Bring the kettlebell close to your chest. Bend your arm so that your elbow forms a 90 degree angle with your forearm. 

With your elbow in a fixed position, contract your tricep to bring the kettlebell behind you until your arm is fully extended. Squeeze your triceps at the top of the rep and return to the starting position. 

Keep alternating arms and repeat!

3. Overhead Triceps Extension

Assume a standing position with your feet roughly shoulder width apart. With your elbows tucked in and your arms close to your head, slowly lower the weight until your elbows and forearms make a 90-degree angle.

Keep your upper arms still and allow your forearms to move freely. Next, use your triceps to drive the dumbbells upwards in a controlled fashion to the starting position.

Looking for a Full Tricep Workout?

Check out this intense 5-minute resistance band tricep workout:

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing | Certified in Plant Based Nutrition at T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

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