How to Do Triceps Pushdowns: Form Tips, Best Variations, & More

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Believe it or not, your triceps take up about two thirds of the total mass in your upper arm. If you’re into building muscle and want to ensure your arms aren’t a weak point, you need to train your triceps. But you can’t just do dozens of sets of bench presses a week and expect to blow up...
The post How to Do Triceps Pushdowns: Form Tips, Best Variations, & More appeared first on BarBend.

Believe it or not, your triceps take up about two thirds of the total mass in your upper arm. If you’re into building muscle and want to ensure your arms aren’t a weak point, you need to train your triceps. But you can’t just do dozens of sets of bench presses a week and expect to blow up your guns — you need a good bodybuilding exercise that isolates your ‘tris.

Here’s how to do the cable triceps pushdown (also commonly called a triceps pressdown) exercise, plus all of the best variations, alternatives, and some tips for maximizing muscle growth.

Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

How To Do the Triceps Pushdown


You can isolate your triceps with any kind of elbow extension movement. People commonly perform rope tricep pushdowns, but you’re free to use whatever cable attachment you find most comfortable.

Equipment Needed: You’ll need an adjustable cable station and the attachment of your choice. If you aren’t sure what to use, start with the rope handle.

  • Step 1 — Grab ahold of the ends of the rope with both hands and take a step back from the cable to pull the weight taut.

  • Step 2 — With your arms tucked tightly to your sides and your core braced, bend at the elbow to flex your arm. The handle should come up to roughly eye level.

  • Step 3 — Reverse the motion, extending your arm by flexing your triceps and pushing the handle down toward your thighs.

Coach’s Tip: Bend your legs and lean forward slightly to stabilize yourself against the resistance.


  • Make It Harder: You can switch up your handle of choice to make the triceps pushdown more difficult. Additionally, considering using a very slow tempo during the eccentric portion, taking three full seconds to fully bend your arm before straightening it out again.

  • Make It Easier: Lower the resistance to make pushdowns easier. You may also consider using a pair of wrist wraps if you find the exercise uncomfortable on your wrists.

Triceps Pushdown Variations

As this move is a cable triceps exercise, there are a whole host of pushdown variations you can employ if you don’t enjoy using the rope. Here are a few examples:

Single-Arm Triceps Pushdown can’t be loaded because JavaScript is disabled: Cable Single Arm Pushdown (

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Why Do It: Working one of your arms at a time allows you to isolate your triceps individually. Not only will this help you develop your strength equally from side to side, but if you have a larger body, double-armed pushdowns might be impractical to perform. Doing the single-arm variation gives you more free space to fully bend and extend your elbow.

Equipment Needed: You can perform single-arm pushdowns by using a rope attachment, a D-handle, or grabbing the carabiner of the cable itself.

[*]Set the cable fixture to around the height of your forehead and grab ahold of the handle or carabiner.

[*]Step backward to pull the cable taut and tuck your working arm against your side tightly. Hold your other arm at your side, on your hip, or brace against the cable machine itself for stability.

[*]With your upper arm tucked to your side, bend and extend your elbow, pushing your hand down toward the floor using your triceps.

Reverse-Grip Triceps Pushdown can’t be loaded because JavaScript is disabled: Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdowns (

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Why Do It: Some folks experience elbow pain when performing triceps exercises like the pushdown. If you fall into that camp, flipping your hands over and doing reverse-grip pushdowns may alleviate the issue. You will, however, have to use less weight overall.

Equipment Needed: You can perform reverse-grip pushdowns either with a straight or cambered bar attachment. Gripping a cambered (also called an EZ bar) bar is generally more comfortable for those with wrist or elbow pain.

[*]Fix a straight or cambered bar attachment to a cable station set around eye level.

[*]Grip the bar with an underhand, palms-up grip, and pull the cable taut by taking a step backward.

[*]Tuck your upper arms against your body and allow your elbows to bend so your palms are facing your face.

[*]Keep your arms pinned to your sides and use your triceps to straighten your elbows, pressing the bar down toward your thighs.

Jackhammer Pushdown


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Why Do It: This pushdown variation is very similar to the standard movement. However, by adjusting your arm position and allowing your elbows to flare out, you should be able to lift a bit more weight.

Equipment Needed: To perform jackhammer pushdowns, you’ll need either a straight or cambered cable attachment.

[*]Fix a straight or cambered bar to a cable set above eye level.

[*]Grab the cable with an overhand grip and step back from the rack to pull the cable taut. Lean forward so the wire of the cable itself is next to your head.

[*]Press the handle straight down until your arms lock out. Then, unlock your arms and gradually push your arms out to the side as the cable approaches your jaw.

Triceps Pushdown Alternatives

If the triceps pushdown isn’t for you but you want to isolate that muscle, there are a couple of pushdown alternatives you can try instead.

Skull Crusher


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Why Do It: Skull crushers are a good free-weight alternative to pushdowns. You can perform skull crushers in lieu of pushdowns if there are no cable stations available in your gym.

Equipment Needed: You can do skull crushers with a cambered barbell or even dumbbells. Regardless, you’ll need a flat weight bench as well.

[*]Lie down on a weight bench with the bar in your hands and hold it at arm’s length above your head.

[*]Without moving your upper arms, bend at the elbows to slowly lower the bar towards your forehead, then push it back to the starting position.

Modifications: You can do the skull crusher with dumbbells if the bar is uncomfortable to hold.

Overhead Triceps Extension


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Why Do It: The cable overhead extension is quite similar to the triceps pushdown, save for the fact that your arm is positioned up behind your ears rather than at your sides. This adjustment will shift some emphasis onto the long head of your triceps and, according to some research, overhead extensions build much more muscle overall. (1)

Equipment Needed: You can perform overhead triceps extensions with the cable attachment of your choosing.

[*]Fix a cable attachment to the carabiner and set the cable itself to be roughly waist height.

[*]Grab the handle and then twist your body around so your arms are drawn up behind your head like you were unsheathing a sword.

[*]Step forward to pull the cable taut.

[*]With your arms locked in place, extend your elbows as far as you can.

Modifications: This move can be very challenging on your shoulder mobility. If you’re having trouble, try using a long rope attachment instead of a straight bar.

Who Should Do Triceps Pushdowns

You don’t need to be a competitive bodybuilder to incorporate triceps pushdowns into your routine. Whether you want to build muscle or just straighten your arms, this move deserves a spot in your workout plan.


Your triceps aren’t a “show” muscle — they’re relevant to just about every upper-body “push” move you perform. No matter what you’re training for in the gym, you need strong triceps, and the pushdown is a perfectly valid option for beginners to start working on their strength.


The triceps muscle makes up almost two-thirds of all mass on the upper arm. If you’re an aspiring bodybuilder, you don’t want your tris to be a weak point in your physique. Bench pressing will get the job done to a degree, but to really develop your triceps to their full potential, you should isolate them with exercises like the pushdown.

Strength Athletes

Powerful triceps are good for more than just looking good. To lock out a 1-rep max bench press or secure a split jerk overhead, you need strong triceps. The pushdown alone won’t get you there, but it is a darn good accessory exercise to incorporate.

Triceps Pushdown Sets and Reps

Here are a few different ways to program the triceps pushdown or any of its variations depending on your goals.

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  • To Build Muscle: Studies show that you can gain muscle along a variety of rep ranges as long as you keep your intensity high. (2) Catch a good pump in the process by performing 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps.

  • To Gain Strength: You can prioritize triceps strength by lowering your rep ranges slightly. Studies show that even 1-2 sets of 6-8 reps can be enough to increase overall strength. (3)

  • As a Beginner: If you’re new to exercising your arms, keep things simple and do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Benefits of the Triceps Pushdown

Here are three of the many benefits you can expect from incorporating the triceps pushdown into your workout plan.

Improved Lockout Strength

The triceps are responsible for elbow extension and even contribute to general shoulder stability. These qualities are necessary for a strong lockout in the bench press, overhead press, and all overhead compound exercises.

Increased Muscle Size

As an isolation exercise, the pushdown is phenomenal at creating muscular hypertrophy in the triceps muscle. You can also perform pushdown variations such as the overhead extension to emphasize different parts of your triceps.

Convenient To Perform

There’s something to be said for accessibility when choosing exercises for your workout plan. The triceps pushdown is a grab-and-go move; you can find cable stations in all commercial gyms and all you need to do is fix an attachment and get to work.

Triceps Pushdown Muscles Worked

There aren’t too many moving parts to the triceps pushdown, since it is a single-joint isolation exercise. Here’s a breakdown of the muscles involved, going from most to least involved:

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  • Triceps Brachii: The three-headed triceps muscle is, unsurprisingly, the prime mover during the triceps pushdown. The angle of your upper arm will affect which head does the brunt of the work — overhead triceps extensions, for example, bias the long head of the muscle.

  • Forearms: Physically holding the cable attachment will train your forearm muscles isometrically to some degree.

  • Core: Certain pushdown variations tax your core more than others, since you do need to stabilize your body in space while bending and straightening your arm. To make things easier on your abdominal muscles during the pushdown, try taking a staggered stance.

Common Triceps Pushdown Mistakes

The triceps pushdown may not be the most complicated exercise out there, but it’s also not error-proof. If you’re new to training your triceps in the gym, make sure you steer clear of these common mistakes:

Pushing Away From Your Body

To maximize your leverages and use the most weight possible while maintaining good form, make sure that you’re extending your arms either straight downward or down and in towards your thighs. Pushing the attachment away from your center of mass will reduce the amount of weight you can use, with nothing to gain for it.

Using Momentum

Remember that the triceps pushdown is not a bench press. Other muscles provide support to some degree, but you should strive to limit momentum and not sway back and forth or heave your body in order to extend your arm. If you find yourself tempted to curl yourself on top of the weight or use leg drive, you’re probably lifting too heavy.


Here are a few common questions about the triceps pushdown.

Which triceps pushdown is best?[/b] The pushdown is a highly customizable exercise. You can use any attachment you like, since your triceps muscle performs mostly the same action regardless. Many people prefer to use a rope attachment for its versatility.

Is the tricep pushdown better with a rope or a bar?[/b] It all depends on preference. The rope allows for more freedom of movement and lets you keep your wrist in a neutral position, but may limit the amount of weight you can use. People can generally lift more weight with a bar attachment, but doing so may cause wrist or elbow discomfort in some cases.

Is the tricep pushdown effective?[/b] The triceps pushdown is one of the best exercises you can do to isolate your triceps muscle. Pushdowns are convenient and easy to perform, and you don’t need a spotter to do so.


[*]Maeo, Sumiaki & Wu, Yuhang & Huang, Meng & Sakurai, Hikaru & Kusagawa, Yuki & Sugiyama, Takashi & Kanehisa, Hiroaki & Isaka, Tadao. (2022). Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position. European Journal of Sport Science. 1-26. 10.1080/17461391.2022.2100279.

[*]Schoenfeld, B. J., Ratamess, N. A., Peterson, M. D., Contreras, B., Sonmez, G. T., & Alvar, B. A. (2014). Effects of different volume-equated resistance training loading strategies on muscular adaptations in well-trained men. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 28(10), 2909–2918.

[*]Androulakis-Korakakis, P., Fisher, J. P., & Steele, J. (2020). The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required to Increase 1RM Strength in Resistance-Trained Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 50(4), 751–765.

The post How to Do Triceps Pushdowns: Form Tips, Best Variations, & More appeared first on BarBend.

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