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tricep cable pushdown

Tricep Pushdown: Videos & Variations

The tricep pushdown is considered one of the most effective isolation exercises for engaging your triceps and developing strength, size, and obtaining definition. 

This in-depth guide details how to perform the tricep pushdown effectively, the muscles worked, the benefits, and some tricep pushdown variations and alternatives to build muscle mass and strength. 

If that wasn’t enough, we’ve also included some alternative tricep movements that will compliment the tricep pushdown, either as superset or as a variation within your training routine.

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What is a Tricep Pushdown?

A tricep pushdown is a simple exercise that uses resistance (usually from a cable machine) to work all three heads of the tricep brachii through extension of the elbow joint. 

Prefer a home workout? You can always replace the resistance from the cable machine with a long resistance band for a brilliant tricep pushdown alternative that you can do at home.

When performed with the “standard” pronated grip, this exercise places a strong emphasis on the lateral head of the muscle. 

For effective tricep isolation and elbow extension, all 3 heads must be worked. Whilst all tricep movements involve the 3 heads, they can be more individually involved depending on the exercise and the grip used.

How to do a Tricep Pushdown

Check out our video below for an accurate demonstration of a standard tricep pushdown (with straight bar).

Set Up:

For this exercise, you will require a rope or cable attached to a pulley with the cable bar attachment. 

Starting Position:

tricep cable pushdown

  • Attach the cable bar attachment to the cable or rope machine.
  • Select a weight that you’re comfortable with lifting on the cable stack.
  • Adjust the bar so that it is set to hang at chest level from the top pulley.
  • Whilst facing the machine, take hold of the bar with an overhand grip - your palms should be facing the floor. 
  • Have your feet hip-width apart, and your knees slightly bent. 
  • Your elbows should be resting at a 90-degree angle.

Execution:

tricep pushdown (straight bar)

  • Tuck your elbows in at your sides, and ensure that your back is straight and your core is engaged.
  • Inhale before starting the exercise. 
  • Exhale and push down, extending your arms out into a straight line.
  • Ensure that you keep a slight bend in your elbows (don’t fully lock them out). 
  • Hold this position for 2 seconds and inhale before resuming the exercise. 
  • Whilst exhaling, return the bar or handle back to the starting position, keeping your elbows stable in their fixed position.
  • Repeat.

Tricep Pushdown Muscles Worked

tricep pushdown

Want to know ‘what muscles does the tricep pushdown work?’. Well, based on its name, you’ve probably gathered that this exercise works your triceps to some extent. 

In fact, the tricep pushdown is isolation exercise, and so the vast majority of the stress of the move is placed onto your triceps. However, as explained below, there are a couple of secondary muscles recruited during this movement.

Primary movers: Triceps (lateral, medial, and long head).

Secondary muscles: Latissimus dorsi, abs, obliques, pectorals, and trapezius.

If you're looking to switch up your upper body workouts, why not check out our list of the best kettlebell exercises for arms here!

Common Mistakes To Avoid

Whilst a tricep cable pushdown is simple to execute, form is critically important to get right. An easy mistake such as flaring your elbows out or leaning back slightly can negate the full benefits for your triceps. Here are some tricep pushdown teaching points to avoid the most common mistakes.

Arched Back

Make sure you keep a straight back and good posture for the duration of the cable tricep pushdown. Don’t allow the back to arch as doing this will put excessive pressure on your spine. Not only can this cause an injury, but it also means that triceps do less work as your back takes some of the strain from the cable.

Floating Elbows

It’s essential to keep your elbows inwards, tucked into your body and not sticking out at all. Ensure that your elbows do not turn outwards during the exercise, and specifically as you push downward. By doing this, you can make sure that any potential stress on your shoulders is negated and that the exercise is more efficient.

Curled Wrists

Curling your wrists increases the likelihood of injury or strain, something you’ll definitely want to avoid! Ensure the positioning of your grip and wrists doesn’t curl or shift throughout the tricep pushdown. Pay particular attention while your hands are at the bottom of the pushdown as this is the time when you are most likely to lose the tricep pushdown correct form. 

Exercise Benefits

Tricep pushdown at home benefits

Builds Muscle Strength & Size 

The correct tricep pushdown form engages your core, back, and shoulders, making it an excellent exercise for building overall strength. This exercise is great for building the size and strength of your arms specifically as it works all 3 heads of the tricep. 

If this is one of your exercise goals then you need to check out the OriGym guide to getting bigger arms.

Benefits for Posture

As this exercise is performed standing, and thanks to the fact it targets your core muscles, this exercise is a great way to improve your posture.

Improved Grip Strength

If you want to see serious benefits of this exercise, squeezing the handles as you lower the cable works to further engage the triceps, building mass quicker. As well as this, squeezing the handle better activates the micro muscles in your wrists. Stronger wrist muscles means stronger grip, which ultimately means you’ll be able to lift heavier and build overall strength quicker.

Tricep Pushdown: Reps, Sets, & Rest Gaps

tricep pulley pushdown

The Tricep pushdown exercise is suitable for all fitness levels and utilised by all kinds of people from gym novices through to seasoned bodybuilders. 

Your individual fitness goals will determine how many reps and sets you should do, as well as how long you should rest for inbetweens sets. If you’re training for:

  • strength, then you should aim for 1 to 5 reps, 
  • muscular endurance, you should aim anywhere 12 reps and above,
  • hypertrophy, it should be between 8 to 12 repetitions.

There are a plethora of ways you can incorporate the tricep pushdown into your workout programme. You can utilise it within pyramid training, as part of a super-set, or as the antagonist with a bicep movement. It completely depends on you as an individual and how you like to train.

Want to try this exercise out as part of a superset? This move works great with either a compound tricep exercise or any of the tricep pushdown variations listed just below.

When it comes to deciding how much weight you should use for this exercise, it really depends on your individual fitness, strength, and exercise goals. 

As a general guide, the ideal weight to use should allow you to complete the full set with proper form, but it should feel tough to get through the last two reps.

Tricep Pushdown Regressions & Progressions

The tricep bar pushdown is a simple exercise that can easily be modified to suit varying levels of fitness and strength. Want to know how you can make this exercise a little easier? Here are two great ways to simplify this exercise.

Tricep Pushdown Regressions

#1 Adapt Weight 

The use of a cable machine means you can easily adapt the weight to suit your strength. If you’re just starting out at the gym and are looking to build muscle, start off with a lighter weight. Technique is imperative with this exercise, and so performing the exercise correctly is much more beneficial than trying to lift as heavy as you can. You’ll be able to adjust the weights as you progress.

#2 Use One Arm 

Another option is to lower the weight and perform a single arm tricep pushdown. Performing this exercise with one arm allows for increased rest time between reps. This is particularly useful if you have an arm injury or experienced elbow pain, or if you need to improve your form. 

New to weight-training and looking for more exercises to try? Find out how to do some brilliant kettlebell exercises for beginners over on our recent blog post.

Tricep Pushdown Progressions 

Already mastered the tricep pushdown and looking to make it more difficult? Here are a couple of ways that you can progress this exercise.

tricep pushdown progression

#1 Increased Weight

This probably goes without saying, but once you’ve mastered the correct technique for the tricep cable pushdown, the next step is to increase the weight that you’re using. 

This is an infallible way to increase the difficulty of the whole exercise and will lead to increased muscle mass and strength - just make sure you stick to the correct form! 

Struggling to increase the amount you're lifting whislt stuck at home? Here are 7 suprising household items that can kick your home workouts up a level.

#2 Kneeling Position 

For further progression, the straight bar tricep pushdown can be performed on your knees. 

Adapting this exercise to a kneeling position removes the involvement of the hips and torso, meaning complete focus and engagement from your triceps.

Performing this exercise as a kneeling tricep pushdown has a number of benefits. Not only does it increase your tricep gains, but the kneeling position also helps you to improve your form by forcing your torso to stay at a constant angle, and allows you to increase range of motion (ROM) at the bottom of the movement. 

#3 Stand On One Leg

Performing the tricep cable pushdown on one leg is also a great way to increase the difficulty  of this exercise. 

Not only does this progression work the triceps, but the increased need for balance further engages the core and stabiliser muscles, such as the muscles around your knees and ankles. 

These stabiliser muscles are important as they help to prevent overworking of targeted muscles, increase efficient movement, and allow for greater force and use of larger loads when performing compound exercises. 

If your stabiliser muscles aren’t strong enough for the workouts you’re doing then the body overcompensates, usually in the form of incorrect technique and ineffective movement patterns.

#4 Use A Rope Attachment

Using rope attachment tricep pushdown

If you want an efficient variation to the standard tricep pushdown that will provide further benefits, then doing a cable tricep pushdown with a rope attachment (instead of a bar) is a great option. 

Wondering what difference this makes? Here’s a quick comparison of the tricep rope vs bar pushdown.

Compared to a tricep pushdown with a straight bar, using a rope gives extra motion in the arms which means you can move in a greater ROM and increase the amount of time that your muscles are under tension. 

This extended movement also adds another plane of motion to the movement as the length of the rope means that you are required to pull down and twist in order to reach the bottom of the concentric phase, engaging the triceps further.

Want to try more exercises with this rope attachment? Face pulls are a brilliant upper body move!

#5 Slower Pace 

Another way to increase muscle gain with the tricep machine pushdown is to perform the eccentric contraction phase of the exercise at a slower pace, which is valuable in helping progessive overload.

Returning the hands to the starting position at a slower tempo increases the time under tension and ultimately makes the tricep bar pushdown more difficult. As stated by exercise experts:

‘During exercise at slow speeds, muscles remain under tension for a longer time, which is beneficial for strength gain’ (Hussain et al., 2020).

6 Tricep Pushdown Variations

How to do a Tricep Rope Pushdown 

Set Up:

For this rope tricep pushdown, all you need to do is attach a rope to a cable pulley machine.

Starting Position:

tricep pushdown rope attachment

  • Attach the rope attachment to the cable or rope machine.
  • Select a weight that you’re comfortable with lifting on the cable stack.
  • Adjust the rope so that it is set to hang at chest level from the top pulley.
  • Whilst facing the machine, take hold of the rope with an overhand grip - your palms should be facing inwards. 
  • Have your feet hip-width apart, and your knees slightly bent. 
  • Your elbows should be resting at a 90-degree angle.

Execution:

tricep cable pushdown machine muscles worked

  • Tuck your elbows in at your sides, and ensure that your back is straight and your core is engaged
  • Inhale before starting the exercise. 
  • Pushing down, extend your arms out into a straight line, but ensure that you keep a slight bend in your elbows (don’t fully lock them out). Exhale as you do so. 
  • Hold this position for 2 seconds, and inhale before resuming the exercise. 
  • Whilst exhaling, return the rope back to the starting position, keeping your elbows stable in their fixed position.
  • Repeat!

Muscles Worked

Primary movers: Triceps.

Secondary muscles: Core muscles.

Common Mistakes To Avoid

Floating Elbows: Just like with the regular tricep pushdown, ensure that your elbows stay in the initial position and remain tucked into your sides. 

Tilted Shoulders: If you want to get the most out of this exercise and avoid the risk of injury, ensure that your upper body remains straight throughout the movement. Don’t allow your shoulders to tilt forward during any stage of the exercise and ensure that your chest doesn’t curl inwards. 

Control The Movement: Once you have held the rope tricep pushdown for 2 seconds, ensure that you control the weight as you return it to the starting position. The last thing you want is for the cable machine to jerk as the weight moves upwards. Not only can this cause an injury, but it also removes a lot of the benefits of the second part of the move.

Benefits of A Tricep Rope Pushdown

Works Various Muscles

Similar to the standard variation of this exercise, the tricep rope pushdown works all 3 heads of the tricep. Whilst this exercise predominantly works the triceps, the lateral head specifically, the increased extension from the relaxed grip of the rope also recruits the rear deltoids. 

Involves the Triceps to a Greater Degree

The tricep pushdown with a rope attachment helps activate and engage the triceps to a greater degree as the slight shoulder extension further engages the lateral head. The lateral head of the muscle is situated on the outside of the muscle, and so its increased involvement creates a much better definition for bigger arms. 

Build Arm Strength 

Considering the benefits of this exercise for building muscle, it shouldn’t be surprising that this move is also a great way to build arm strength. Both the extension movement required to push the rope down and the resistance from the cable machine contribute to a great strength-building move for your upper arms. 

Improved Grip Strength

One benefit of performing this exercise with a rope, is that the need to grab the rope tighter to grip the apparatus better engages the wrist muscles and as a result improves grip strength. 

The increased engagement from the wrist muscles and the extra plane of motion required to do this movement with a rope are effective in building the wrist strength, which leads to stronger grip.

Want to work on improving your grip strength? Here are some great articles to check out:

How to do a V Bar Tricep Pushdown

Set Up:

For this variation of the tricep pushdown you will need to find a cable machine and attach a rope or cable and a V-bar attachment.

Starting Position:

v grip tricep pushdown

  • Attach the V-bar attachment to the cable or rope machine.
  • Select a weight that you’re comfortable with lifting on the cable stack.
  • Adjust the V-bar so that it is set to hang at chest level from the top pulley.
  • Whilst facing the machine, take hold of the bar with an overhand grip. 
  • Have your feet hip-width apart, and your knees slightly bent. 
  • Your elbows should be resting at a 90-degree angle.

Execution:

tricep machine pushdown

  • Tuck your elbows in at your sides, ensure that your back is straight, and engage your core. 
  • Inhale before starting the movement. 
  • Pushing down, extend your arms out into a straight line, but ensure that you keep a slight bend in your elbows (don’t fully lock them out). Exhale as you do so. 
  • Hold this position for 2 seconds, and inhale before resuming the exercise. 
  • Whilst exhaling, return the V-bar back to the starting position, keeping your elbows in a fixed position close to your sides.
  • Repeat!

Tricep Pushdown V Bar: Muscles Worked

Primary movers: Triceps.

Secondary muscles: Latissimus dorsi, core, pectorals, and trapezius.

Mistakes To Avoid

Floating Elbows

Just like with the previous variations of this exercise, ensure your elbows remain in the correct position for the whole movement, only using the forearms to raise and lower the V-Bar. 

Avoid an Arched Back

Another mistake that is made a lot with this exercise is arching the back whilst pushing the weight down. Failing to keep the correct posture during any tricep pushdown exercise can put a lot of pressure on the spine which can cause an injury over time.

Control The Weight

One final thing to avoid with this particular exercise is failing to control or letting the weight slack as you move the V-bar back towards you. All too often we see clients and gym goers let the weight from the cable machine pull them up as they return to the starting position. Not only does this take away much of the benefit of the exercise for working your tricep, but it's also a mistake that could lead to injury down the line. 

Looking for some great bicep exercises to pair these tricep pushdown variations with? Read our article on hammer curls: videos and variations

Benefits of the V Bar Tricep Pushdown 

Engages The Lateral Head of The Tricep

The tricep pushdown with V-bar attachment has the same benefits as the tricep pushdown for tricep muscle engagement, but it also provides a higher level of engagement with the lateral head of the tricep. The lateral head is the most important part of the muscle for high intensity force and is a key area for the effective building of strength and hypertrophy. 

Better Grip

One benefit of performing this exercise with a v-bar as opposed to a rope is that the solid handle allows for a better and stronger grip which means that you’ll be able to perform the exercise with more weight on the cable machine. The more weight that you can lift on the machine, the more quickly you can build strength and muscle.

Benefits of Overhand Grip

Another benefit that is unique to this specific tricep pushdown variation is that the angled handles of the V-bar attachment, and the hand position and overhand grip required, engage the tricep muscles at a more advanced level. This also provides a heightened level of comfort as the solid material allows for easier gripping, especially compared to the rope attachment.

Resistance Band Tricep Pushdown

Looking to do a tricep pushdown without a machine? Grab a resistance band and give this exercise a try!

Set Up:

For this exercise, you will need appropriate strength resistance bands and a strong hook or door anchor to attach it to.

Starting Position:

banded tricep pushdown

  • Attach the resistance band securely to the door anchor.
  • Adjust the band so that it is set to hang at chest level.
  • Whilst facing the resistance band/door, take hold of the band with an overhand grip - your palms should be facing the floor. 
  • Have your feet hip-width apart, and your knees slightly bent. 
  • Your elbows should be resting at a 90-degree angle.

Execution:

tricep pushdown resistance band

  • Tuck your elbows in at your sides, and ensure that your back is straight and your core is engaged. 
  • Inhale before starting the exercise. 
  • Pushing down, extend your arms out into a straight line, but ensure that you keep a slight bend in your elbows (don’t fully lock them out). Exhale as you do so. 
  • Hold this position for 2 seconds, and inhale before resuming the exercise. 
  • Whilst exhaling, return the resistance band back to the starting position, keeping your elbows fixed as you do so.
  • Repeat!

Banded Tricep Pushdown Muscles Used:

Primary movers: Triceps.

Secondary muscles:Latissimus dorsi, abs, obliques, pectorals, & trapezius.

Mistakes To Avoid

Carefully Attach The Resistance Band 

One mistake to look out for with this particular variation is to ensure that the resistance band is securely attached and stays that way throughout the exercise. It's a good idea to take a moment during your rest periods to double check that the band is still attached properly. 

This is important for two key reasons. Firstly, failure to attach a resistance band securely could cause the band to snap or fly off and result in injury. Secondly, a poorly attached resistance band might not enact enough tension for the exercise to be effective. 

Engage Your Core

As with the many of the other variations of the tricep pushdown, keeping your posture consistent and correct is vital. Engaging your core will help you to ensure that you don’t let your shoulders tilt or your chest curl, and helps you to avoid arching your back.

Exercise Benefits

Increased Time Under Tension

The constant tension of the resistance band means your triceps are working constantly throughout the whole exercise whilst with a cable machine, tension is lost at the bottom of the movement. 

This increased time under tension means better engagement for muscle building overall. This can be exaggerated even further by performing the movement at a slower tempo, which will increase the intensity of the resistance band tricep pushdown.

Can Be Performed at Home

One benefit unique to this resistance band variation, is that this particular exercise can be performed at home, or anywhere you like for that matter! Whilst a tricep pushdown cable machine can only realistically be performed in the gym, the banded tricep pushdown is a lot more versatile. 

Find out more about the benefits of resistance bands and be sure to give this exercise a try!

Seated Tricep Pushdown

Set Up:

For this exercise, you will need to find a seated tricep pushdown machine. Not got one at your local gym? You can always adjust a gym bench to a seated position and attach a rope or bar to a cable machine - it works just as well!

Starting Position:

seated tricep pushdown technique

  • Attach the cable bar attachment to the cable machine.
  • Select a weight that you’re comfortable with lifting.
  • Adjust the bar to the top pulley so that it is set to hang at chest level.
  • Sitting upright on the bench, place your feet flat on the floor facing away from the machine. 
  • Grab the bar or rope with an overhand grip (so that your palms are facing the floor). 
  • Your elbows should be resting at a 90-degree angle.

Execution:

seated tricep pushdown machine

  • Tuck your elbows in at your sides, and ensure that your back is straight and your core is engaged. 
  • Inhale before starting the exercise. 
  • Pushing down, extend your arms out into a straight line, but ensure that you keep a slight bend in your elbows (don’t fully lock them out). Exhale as you do so. 
  • Hold this position for 2 seconds, and inhale before resuming the exercise. 
  • Whilst exhaling, return the bar or handle back to the starting position, keeping your elbows fixed close to your sides.
  • Repeat!

Muscles Worked

Primary movers: Triceps.

Secondary muscles: Core, lats, pectorals, and trapezius. 

Mistakes To Avoid

Poor Set Up

Before performing the seated tricep pushdown, you need to make sure that the cable machine and the bench are both positioned correctly. This means that you might need to take some time to adjust the heights and angles multiple times, but it’s a necessary step. 

In order to get the same benefits as a standing tricep pushdown, you must be able to extend your elbows effectively whilst seated. Failing to set up the seat correctly can take away a lot of the benefits of the move for working your triceps, so it really is best avoided. 

Curled Wrists 

Another thing to look out for during this exercise is curling your wrists as you grab the bar. Failing to keep your wrists sturdy or allowing them to curl back so that there is not at least a 90° angle between your forearms and your wrists can cause an injury that could leave you unable to train.

Seated Tricep Pushdown Benefits

Improved Muscle Gain

As well as all of the same benefits as the standard exercise, performing a seated tricep pushdown has some advantages of its own. The seated position allows for variation in grip, cable angle, and resistance, meaning you can get more benefit for building muscle strength and size. 

Less Momentum

Another benefit that is unique to this seated variation, is that the change in positioning eliminates the ability to use momentum to drive the movement. Sitting down during this exercise removes your ability to use the muscles in your lower body to assist with driving the movement.

Great Exercise for Beginners 

One final advantage of the seated tricep pushdown is that this variation is a great exercise for beginners. If you’re new to weight-training, being sat down can help you to learn proper muscle activation and makes it much easier to get the correct exercise form. 

Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdown

Set Up:

For this exercise, you will need to attach a rope or bar to a high pulley machine and select an appropriate weight.

Starting Position:

reverse tricep pushdown reverse grip

  • Adjust the bar so that it is set to hang at chest level from the top pulley.
  • Whilst facing the machine, take hold of the bar with an underhand grip - your palms should be facing the ceiling. 
  • Have your feet hip-width apart, and your knees slightly bent. 
  • Your elbows should be resting at a 90-degree angle.

Execution:

underhand tricep pushdown

  • Tuck your elbows in at your sides, and ensure that your back is straight and your core is engaged before performing the reverse grip tricep pushdown. 
  • Inhale before starting the exercise. 
  • Pushing down, extend your arms out into a straight line, but ensure that you keep a slight bend in your elbows (don’t fully lock them out). Exhale as you do so. 
  • Hold this position for 2 seconds, and inhale before resuming the exercise. 
  • Whilst exhaling, return the bar or handle back to the starting position.
  • Repeat!

Muscles Worked

Primary movers: Triceps.

Secondary muscles: Latissimus dorsi, abs, obliques, trapezius, pectorals.

Why not pair this exercise with a reverse grip barbell curl for a great arm day workout.

Mistakes To Avoid

When performing a reverse tricep pushdown, it's important that you look out for those same common mistakes that come with the standard variation of this exercise. So, you should be ensuring that your elbows stay tucked into your sides, and that you maintain good posture, avoiding arching your back. 

Curled Wrists

One mistake made during this exercise specifically, is curling the wrists whilst pushing the weight. It's really important that you avoid this and keep your wrists straight as failing to do so could result in an injury and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. 

Exercise Benefits

Emphasises the Media Head of the Tricep

While the standing tricep pushdown technique engages all 3 heads of the tricep brachii muscle, the reverse grip tricep pushdown puts a lot more emphasis on the medial head of the tricep specifically. The medial head is often neglected in tricep exercises and so this is a really effective exercise to build muscle mass.

Single Arm Tricep Pushdown

Set Up: For this exercise, you will require a rope or cable attached to a pulley with the cable bar attachment. 

Starting Position:

single arm tricep pushdown form

  • Attach the cable bar attachment to the cable or rope machine.
  • Select a weight that you’re comfortable with lifting on the cable stack with one arm.
  • Adjust the bar so that it is set to hang at chest level from the top pulley.
  • Whilst facing the tricep pushdown machine, take hold of the bar with one hand in an overhand grip - your palms should be facing the floor. 
  • Have your feet hip-width apart, and your knees slightly bent. 
  • Your elbows should be resting at a 90-degree angle.

Execution:

tricep single arm pushdown

  • Tuck your elbows in at your sides, and ensure that your back is straight and your core is engaged. 
  • Inhale before starting the exercise. 
  • Pushing down, extend your arm out into a straight line, but ensure that you keep a slight bend in your elbow (don’t fully lock them out). Exhale as you do so. 
  • Hold this position for 2 seconds, and inhale before resuming the exercise. 
  • Whilst exhaling, return the bar or handle back to the starting position, keeping your elbows stable in their fixed position.
  • Repeat!

Muscles Worked

Primary movers: Triceps.

Secondary muscles: Latissimus dorsi, core muscles, pectorals, and trapezius. 

One Arm Tricep Pushdown Benefits

A Unilateral Exercise

The single arm tricep pushdown has unique benefits in that it is a unilateral exercise and therefore allows you to focus on one arm at a time. Training one at a time is a great way to correct muscle imbalances, and to avoid or deal with an injury. 

Only training one arm at a time also makes it easier for you to focus on your tricep pushdown form and identify any issues or weaknesses that could be holding you back. 

If you enjoyed this exercise, we recommend you check out:

Tricep Pushdown Alternatives

Looking for a good alternative to the tricep pushdown to switch up your workouts? Now that we’ve covered all of the best tricep pushdown variations, here are some great alternative exercises that you’ll definitely want to to try!

How to do Skull Crushers

Skull crushers, also known as a lying tricep press, are a great push exercise to work your triceps. This is a really popular isolation exercise that seriously works the triceps and fully utilises the elbow joint in both the concentric and eccentric phases.

If you’re looking for an effective tricep pushdown free weight alternative, this is a great choice.

Set Up: 

For this exercise you will need a barbell loaded with two plates - don't over do it on the weight! You’ll also need to find a gym bench and set it out flat.

Starting Position:

tricep pushdown alternatives

  • Lie flat on the gym bench with your legs resting comfortably on either side.
  • Place your feet flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart. 
  • Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle. 
  • With a strong overhand grip (your wrist pronated), hold the barbell just above your forehead. 
  • Your elbows should be bent at a 90-degree angle, and pointed upwards in a fixed position.

Execution:

tricep pushdown substitute

  • Ensure that your back is straight, your head is in line with your spine, and your core is engaged. 
  • Inhale before starting the exercise. 
  • Drive the barbell upwards by bending at your elbows, but keep them in a fixed position throughout the movement: the barbell should travel over a smooth arc above you. 
  • Exhale as you complete this phase, and pause when your elbows are almost locked out - keeping a slight bend in your arm. 
  • Hold this position for two seconds, and inhale before resuming the exercise. 
  • Whilst exhaling, return the barbell back to the starting position, keeping your elbows stable in their fixed position.
  • Repeat! 

Muscles Worked

Primary movers: Triceps (in isolation).

Exercise Benefits

Want to boost the benefits that you see from adding skull crushers into your exercise routine? Why not try out some of these top-rated cheap whey protein poweders!

Easily Adapted

One great thing about this particular exercise is that whilst it can be a difficult move to master, it can easily be adapted to suit your skill and fitness level. Increase the weight for further tricep engagement, or switch out the barbell for a set of dumbbells or weight plates. 

Grip Strength

Due to the positioning of the barbell - above your head - the need for a strong grip is imperative. However, practicing exercises that require a strong grip is ultimately one of the most effective ways to build your grip strength. 

Grip and wrist strength are crucial in the building of overall body strength, as the majority of strength building and weightlifting exercises require good grip if you want to lift heavy enough to see serious gains. 

How to do Narrow Grip Dips

Set up:

For this exercise, all you will need is a dip stand and plenty of space.

Starting Position:

tricep pushdown teaching points

  • Grasp the parallel bars (one in each hand) with a strong overhand grip.
  • Place your heels of the palm on the bars, shoulder-width apart.
  • Push yourself up until your arms are fully extended (only lock your elbows to balance yourself in the initial starting position, they should not be locked at any point for the rest of the workout).
  • At this point, your body should be upright and your forearms perpendicular to the floor.
  • Look ahead at the floor, keeping your head in line with your spine throughout the movement.
  • Engage your core for balance and stability (you can also bend your legs for extra stability if you need to).

Execution:

tricep pushdown progression

  • Tuck your elbows in at your sides, and ensure that your back is straight and your shoulders do not roll forwards. 
  • Inhale before starting the exercise. 
  • Bend your arms and lower your body until your triceps are parallel with the floor.
  • Hold this position for 2 seconds.
  • Push your body back up to the starting position, keeping your elbows stable in their fixed position. Exhale as you do so.
  • Repeat!

Muscles Worked

Primary movers: Triceps, deltoids.

Secondary muscles: Abs, rhomboids, & pectorals.

Exercise Benefits

A Compound Exercise

One benefit of narrow grip dips is that this is a compound exercise, efficiently working the triceps whilst also involving other important muscle groups including the shoulders, chest, and abs. This alternative to the tricep pushdown will build muscle in all these areas, ultimately increasing overall mass much quicker than isolation exercises like the skull crusher.

How to do a Close Grip Bench Press

Want to try this exercise out at home? Why not have a read of this buyers guides to the best weight benches of 2021.

Set up: 

For this tricep pushdown alternative you will need a bench, a barbell, and a spotter. Select weight plates that you’re comfortable with lifting - choosing a weight that is too heavy will only compromise your form!

Starting Position:

tricep pushdown technique

  • Lie with your back flat on the gym bench with your legs resting comfortably on either side.
  • Position your feet flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be bent at around a 90-degree angle. 
  • Grip the bar with your wrists pronated, and in the close-grip position. Your elbows should be at a 45-degree angle in relation to your body.

Execution: 

tricep rope pushdown

  • Engage your core and inhale before starting the exercise. 
  • Extend your arms upwards in a controlled motion, bending at the elbows, to drive the barbell upwards. Exhale as you do so.
  • Hold this position for two seconds, but don’t lock out the elbows at the top of the movement. Inhale before resuming the exercise. 
  • Whilst exhaling, return the barbell back to the starting position, keeping your elbows stable in their fixed position.
  • Repeat!

Muscles Worked

Primary movers: Triceps.

Secondary muscles: Deltoids and pectorals.

Benefits of a Close Grip Bench Press 

Reduced Shoulder Strain

One benefit of using a narrow grip for this exercise is that it reduces the strain of the exercise on your shoulders.

If you are experiencing any shoulder pain when performing a standard bench press then this is a great variation to work around that pain whilst targeting your triceps and working your chest. Whilst the deltoids are worked with this exercise, the benefit is more on shoulder stability and general strength.

Emphasise Triceps

Another benefit of this exercise is that the narrow grip targets the tricep muscles much more than a standard bench press. With this variation, the chest and shoulders carry less of the weight but are still involved enough to gain benefit from the exercise. 

Conclusion

So there it is, our full guide to the tricep pushdown and all of the best variations and alternatives to try out for your next tricep workout.

If learning all about tricep pushdowns and these similar exercises has piqued your interest, perhaps becoming a fully certified personal trainer could be the career for you.

Whilst you’re here, why not take a look at our personal training course packages or enquire about our Level 4 Advanced Nutrition qualification here

Alternatively, you can download our free course prospectus for more information on the courses and qualifications that you can study with us here at OriGym.

References

  1. Holzbaur, K.R.S., Murray, W.M., Gold, G.E. and Delp, S.L. (2007). Upper Limb Muscle Volumes in Adult Subjects. Journal of Biomechanics, 40(4), pp.742–749.
  2. Hussain, J., Sundaraj, K., Subramaniam, I.D. and Lam, C.K. (2020). Muscle Fatigue in the Three Heads of Triceps Brachii During Intensity and Speed Variations of Triceps Push-Down Exercise. Frontiers in Physiology, 11(112).

Written by Dee Hammond-Blackburn

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

Join Dee on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Dee holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature, and is currently finishing her MA in Marketing Communications and Branding from Edge Hill University. Her passion for fitness and content writing brought her to OriGym, and she has since become a qualified Personal Trainer and a Sports Nutrition Specialist. Combining her skills in fitness and writing, Dee has a professional interest in fitness blogging, content creation, and social media. Outside of her writing role Dee enjoys reading, healthy cooking, and playing football with her dalmation.

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