How To Do Triceps Pushdown

Man doing tricep pushdown

Benefits, Proper Form, Common Mistakes, and Variations

The triceps pushdown is a great exercise for targeting the triceps muscles. It goes by many names: the tricep pulldown, tricep rope pushdown, the cable tricep pushdown, and others. No matter what you call it, the triceps pushdown is one of the best exercises for triceps development for people of all fitness levels. While the upper-body workout is typically performed on a cable machine (a standard in most gyms), you may also do it at home using a resistance band.

Benefits

The triceps brachii muscle is found at the base of the upper arm and has three parts: a long, lateral, and medial head. Working all three components of your triceps is essential if you want to build up your arms, and the triceps pulldown does just that.

The triceps pushdown also works your core, back, and shoulders, which is why it’s so effective for building strength and endurance. It’s also adjustable to your strength and level, so you may gradually add weight as you advance.

To execute this move successfully, isolation is required, which is a key skill for several other workouts.

Muscles Worked by the Triceps Pushdown

Primary Muscle Groups:

The triceps pushdown is an isolation exercise rather than a compound movement, making it ideal for working your triceps. Your triceps are the primary muscle group targeted by the triceps pushdown, as you might have guessed.

The triceps, or triceps brachii (Latin for “three-headed muscle of the arm”), is a big muscle on the back of the upper arm. When you extend your arm, the lateral, medial, and long heads of the triceps work in tandem.

The triceps pushdown, however, isolates the medial and lateral heads of the triceps during the pushing motion.

Figure showing three heads of triceps to be used for tricep pushdown
Credit: onthemovept.net/

Secondary Muscle Groups:

However, this activity engages a variety of additional muscle groups, including your pecs (pectoralis major and pectoralis minor), lats (latissimus dorsi), obliques (exterior obliques), abs (rectus abdominis), and traps (trapezius).

Secondary muscles engage to stabilize and support the pushdown movement.

"However, using your back, shoulders, or chest to lower the weight is dangerous and prevents you from getting all of the triceps pushdown's advantages."

Step-by-Step Instructions: How To Do Tricep Pushdown

To prepare:

  1. Grasp the horizontal cable bar or rope attachment (depending on the machine your gym has) with an overhand grip and face the triceps pushdown cable machine. Adjust the bar or rope grips to a level just above your chest.
  2. Set the lowest weight to begin by using a pin-and-place adjustment. Other types of weighting mechanisms are available on different versions of the machine.
girl doing triceps pushdown workout with rope

Steps:

  1. Begin by bracing your core.
  2. Tuck your elbows in by your sides and set your feet slightly apart.
  3. Inhale. Push down until your elbows are completely extended, but not yet in the straight, locked position. Bend your knees slightly while keeping your elbows close to your body on the pushdown. Do not bend forward. As you push down, try to maintain as straight a back as possible.
  4. Exhale as you return to the starting position with a smooth motion. Try to finish the movement under control and not slam the weights down.
  5. For beginners, aim to complete 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Common Tricep Pushdown Mistakes

1. Not Using Both Sides Equally

Check to see whether you’re pushing down smoothly and evenly with both arms. Equal emphasis should be given to generating power delivery from both arms while doing this movement.

2. Excessive Elbow Movement

During the movement, many people allow their elbows to flail back and forth. While you could technically lift more weight using this momentum, you are really utilizing your lats to finish the move.

Keep your elbows tucked in and you will feel a far greater tricep contraction if you want to emphasize your triceps.

3. Using Your Back Too Much

You really should not bend over at the back and shoulders just to force the weight down. To ensure your triceps are fully engaged, lean forward slightly while pushing down and allow your knees to bend a little as you push down. This position pretty much ensures you’re working all of your muscle’s muscles equally.

4. Elbows Flaring Out

The notorious elbow flare out is another example of an elbow mistake. The chest and shoulder muscles take over when the elbows flare to the side. As a result, the triceps pushdown movement resembles a jackhammer which you might’ve guessed by now is no good.

If you want to develop your triceps muscle effectively, you must follow proper technique and form.

5. Curling the Wrists

Many people curl their wrists at the bottom of each pushdown in order to make it appear as if they are doing a more “comprehensive” repetition. In fact, curling your wrist takes tension off your triceps and puts unwanted strain on your wrist.

Make sure your wrist remains neutral throughout each repetition!

Modifications and Variations

If your gym has a cable and pulley machine similar to the one used in this workout, it will almost certainly have a variety of grip attachments. You may come across a straight bar, or one with curves in it, such as the E-Z bar and V-angled bar. These are used in the same manner, but you’ll discover one more comfortable to use than the next.

Use a resistance band to perform this exercise at home, while traveling or if your gym doesn’t have a pushdown machine. You’ll also need a strong overhead support, such as a metal bar, pole, or hook.

Secure the band around the secure point (at least at chin-height, if not over your head). Using the same form you would on a cable machine, grip the band’s ends and execute the triceps pushdown exercise.

One-handed or two-handed triceps pushdowns are both options. Whether you’re on a machine or using a resistance band, a two-handed modification will work. Slow down and focus on correcting incorrect form when doing one arm at a time. It’s also helpful if you have one arm that’s recovering from an injury or one side is typically weaker than the other.

Triceps Pushdown Alternatives

If you like the triceps pushdown, take a look at these additional triceps exercises to round out your regimen:

1. Skull Crushers

Lie down on a flat bench with your feet planted firmly to the floor. With your palms facing each other, hold the dumbbells over your chest and engage your core.

With your elbows kept in one spot, hinge your elbows to lower the dumbbells just behind your ears.

Extend your arms back into the straight posture at the top by contracting your triceps. Repeat!

2. Close-Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench press engages your triceps far more than the conventional bench press. Lower the weight to just below your chest and squeeze your triceps to push upwards. Repeat!

3. Overhead Triceps Extension

Assume a standing posture with your feet about shoulder width apart. Lower the weight slowly until your elbows and forearms form a 90-degree angle, keeping your elbows tucked in and your arms close to your head.

Keep your upper arms still and let your forearms move. Next, using your triceps, push the dumbbells up in a controlled manner to the starting position.

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