One of the first exercises you learn in the gym is the triceps pushdown. It’s a simple isolation exercise for the triceps, but it packs a punch. It’s a staple within my training, especially when I want to pack on triceps mass. So, how do you do it to maximize triceps gains?
How To Triceps Pushdown With & Without A Rope
Step 1: Support The Weight
Place your palms over the handle attachment and use your body to lift the weight stack so your arms support it. If you are using a rope, hold the rope toward the end, so the rubber blocks are against your pinky fingers.
Lean over slightly to help support the weight stack with your elbows by your ribs. Stand as close to the cable as possible, so it’s vertical. Standing further back means you need to bend over more and places less stress on the triceps in the stretched position.
Step 2: Extend The Elbows
Extend your elbows to initiate the triceps pushdown while keeping them close to your ribs. Your elbow position shouldn’t move. Once the elbows are fully extended, squeeze your triceps. If you are using a rope, pull the rope apart and point your palms to the floor.
While many people will say to keep your shoulders back and down, it doesn’t matter during the triceps pushdown so do what’s comfortable.
Step 3: Return To The Starting Position
Slowly lower the weight by controlling the elbows bending. You need to lower the weight stack until your elbows need to move forward to continue. This is how you maximize the stretch on the triceps.
Common Triceps Pushdown Mistakes
Using Too Much Momentum
This cardinal sin is most common in commercial gyms. Ego lifters trying to triceps pushdown the entire weight stack. Instead of isolating the triceps, it turns into a full-body jerking motion where the triceps continue the momentum from the body.
Unfortunately, you’re not going to build epic horseshoe triceps doing this. Controlled movement and squeezing the triceps will get you there.
Not Squeezing The Triceps
Along with momentum comes no control of the movement. The mind-muscle connection is real, and squeezing the triceps and controlling the eccentric phase will make a night and day difference to your triceps growth.
Stopping The Eccentric Halfway
To get big triceps, the eccentric phase is vital. And the eccentric phase through a full range of motion makes it a muscle-building beast. Stopping halfway and not letting the hands move above your elbows is a common mistake robbing you of gains.
Not Pulling The Rope Apart
If you’re using the rope, you need to pull the rope apart to either side of your hip at the bottom. This lets you completely flex and squeeze the triceps. You won’t get the same contraction if you don’t do this.
Triceps Pushdown Muscles Worked
As the name indicates, the triceps pushdown works the triceps. However, there are three muscle heads of the triceps:
- Lateral head
- Long head
- Medial head
Based on muscle activation research, the shoulder position heavily influences the contribution of each muscle head . The long head of the triceps generates the most significant forces at 0° shoulder elevation, or a vertical upper arm, compared to the medial or lateral head .
The triceps pushdown triceps long head exercise because the upper arm is vertical.
Benefits Of The Triceps Pushdown
The Heaviest Triceps Isolation Exercise
The secret of how to gain muscle is to use a variety of rep ranges and loads. The triceps pushdown is unique to other triceps isolation exercises because you can load it heavily. Typical dumbbell triceps exercises are typically performed for higher reps with lighter loads.
Target The Long Head
Because of the shoulder position, you are targeting the long head of the triceps and its ability to produce force. This can carry over to exercises like the bench press while adding mass to the back of your arms.
Blast More Triceps Volume Without Systemic Fatigue
Performing close-grip bench presses and various overhead pressing is a sound way to build your triceps. But performing these exercises with high volume creates fatigue in multiple muscle groups. This can be great when running a full-body split and gaining upper-body size.
But to add more volume for the triceps, it’s better to isolate them, reducing the overall fatigue you’ll experience from training.
Should You Lean Forward During The Triceps Pushdown?
You should lean forward during the triceps extension. It’s near impossible to remain completely upright. If you try, you will severely limit the loads you can use and reduce the muscle-building stimulus for the triceps.
A slight forward lean will help support the weight, so you “push” the weight and flex the triceps.
Is The Rope Or Bar Better For Triceps Pushdowns?
Using the rope or bar is a personal preference. I use both, but I prefer the V-bar. I feel I get better triceps long head activation, whereas the rope nails my medial head closer to my elbow. Plus, I can add the Fat Gripz to the V-bar.
You’ll get a similar muscle-building stimulus regardless of which attachment you choose. Vary your attachment use for variety within your training program.
How Heavy Should You Go On Triceps Pushdowns?
My recommended rep range is between 10 and 20 reps. 10 reps are considered your heavy triceps pushdowns, while 20 reps are lighter. You want to go as heavy as possible until that lets you finish either at failure or 1-3 reps from failure for the given rep range.
For example, stopping at 10 reps when you can perform 12 reps in the set. This ensures you’re maximizing tension within the muscle to stimulate muscle growth.
Triceps Pushdown Alternatives
Resistance Band Triceps Pushdowns
The resistance band triceps pushdown is the same as the cable triceps pushdown. The only difference is the strength curve. With the band, you have less tension in the stretched and most in the flexed position.
I like to use the resistance band triceps pushdown as a high-rep finisher for a vicious triceps pump.
While dips aren’t a triceps isolation exercise, it places the shoulders into a position to target the triceps long head. If you train at home or a CrossFit gym, bodyweight dips at the end of your training routine for volume are an excellent method for adding volume to your triceps.
The triceps pushdown is a basic isolation exercise for the triceps. But that doesn’t mean it’s not highly effective. It is best used after a main compound exercise for more volume that doesn’t impact total body recovery.
1. Kholinne, E., Zulkarnain, R. F., Sun, Y. C., Lim, S., Chun, J. M., & Jeon, I. H. (2018). The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta orthopaedica et traumatologica turcica, 52(3), 201-205.