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January 19, 2022
“Curls for the girls, tris for the guys,” said someone in the gym at one time in history. Probably. To be honest, we’re not sure who made this statement, but we do laugh at what it’s suggesting, which is that having big biceps is basically what every guy wants because that’s the one muscle girls talk about. It’s a flashy muscle that gets attention and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, guys with developed triceps get the attention of other serious lifters because it’s a good indicator of hard work.
In this article, we’re going to talk about one of the best exercises to develop this three-headed monster sitting on the back of your arm, the triceps pushdown.
Note: This tricep pushdown guide is for both men and women! Well developed, impressive triceps look great on everyone!
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And of course, you’ll find a ton of other tips and tricks for sleeve-busting triceps. We’ll even find awesome links to other great articles with top-level information on the triceps.
In order to understand the exercise, we first need a better understanding of the triceps muscle group and function.
The triceps is composed of three different muscle heads, which all sit on the back of the upper arm. These three heads are:
While all of them originate from different areas of the body, they all come together to form a single muscle belly and share the same insertion on the ulna, one of the two bones that compose the lower arm (the other being the radius). While the primary job of all three triceps muscle heads is to extend the elbow, they will also have slightly different functions.
Originating from the humerus, the medial head sits in the middle of the triceps between the long head and lateral head. It’s the smallest and least visible head as a good portion is covered by the lateral and long head. Further, it’s sometimes known as the “endurance head” as it has a higher ratio of slow twitch muscle fibers. Being so, it’s responsible for the majority of your day-to-day movements that require little force. However, it still contributes when a greater force is needed.
Check out this more in depth article on the medial head
The long head is the shortest head of the three.
No. No, it’s not. It’s the longest.
Originating from the infraglenoid tubercle on the scapula, the long head actually crosses the shoulder joint and elbow joint. This makes the triceps a bi-articular muscle. Further, this distance is what gives the long head its length.
Therefore, the long head is actually responsible for extension of the shoulder, stabilization of the shoulder joint, and extension of the elbow. This makes the long head very important during the triceps pushdown as it must hold an isometric hold at the shoulder to stabilize the arm while not pulling the arm back (elbow extension). At the same time, it must extend the elbow.
Check out another article that specifically addresses the long head of the triceps
Together with the long head, the lateral head forms what’s known as the “horseshoe” of the triceps muscle. This is where the two converge towards the top of the muscle to form what looks like a horseshoe; well, if you have developed triceps.
The lateral head originates from the humerus and is known as the powerhouse of the triceps. Out of all three heads, it’s responsible for creating the most amount of force and getting shit done. Therefore, the lateral head will play a pivotal role in the triceps pushdown to move the most weight.
And we obviously have an article to give you the best exercises for the lateral head too!
No matter who you are, you need to have a strong set of triceps. Here are the top reasons you need to do triceps pushdowns to strengthen and grow your triceps muscle.
1. Fill Out Your Arm
If you have underdeveloped triceps, it’s going to show. A rough estimate suggests that the triceps make up about 65%-70% of the total mass of the upper arm. This means that more than half of your arm size is made up of your triceps muscles; that’s a lot to ignore. By utilizing the triceps pushdown to hit the triceps, you will make a massive difference in the aesthetics of your arm. No more loose sleeves for you.
But we can’t forget about the other half of the arm. Here are some of the best exercises to build the biceps!
2. Improve Pushing Power
The triceps are the primary extensor of the arms. This means it plays a crucial part in your pushing power. In fact, when looking at your major pushing movements like the overhead press and bench press, the triceps are the primary mover for the last portion of the movements, also known as the lockout. This is why a good portion of strength athletes and powerlifters will use specific triceps strengthening movements, like high block presses, to improve the strength of their triceps.
In other words, you’re never going to be a strong pusher with weak triceps. It’s simply physiologically impossible.
3. Improve Stability Of The Elbow Joint
The elbow joint is a common site for injuries as we live this game called life. In fact, an injury doesn’t just come our way when we get older; it can happen anytime. One of the best ways to build up this joint is to build up the muscles and tendons that surround it. This includes the triceps. Loading the triceps is going to strengthen the tendons and ligaments that surround the elbow joint, meaning you get a two-for-one bonus here. Plus, having stronger triceps will naturally allow you to handle more shock and volume before having issues.
Anyone and everyone. Really.
The triceps is a vital muscle in athletics, aesthetics, and essential life function. In other words, everyone is going to benefit from having stronger triceps and the triceps pushdown is a great way to get that done.
The triceps pushdown is a relatively easy exercise to perform if you have the correct equipment. The traditional triceps pushdown is completed with a cable pulley system and a straight bar attachment, so this is the variation we will focus on. However, we will talk about different pushdown variations below. That being said, if you can attach a straight bar to a cable pulley, you’re good to go.
While the original triceps pushdown is a winner for sure, there are also a few other slight variations that are just as good, with many people even preferring them over the traditional pushdown. Regardless, you know how we feel about having a healthy dose of variety in your workout, so are some other awesome triceps pushdowns, each with its own little benefit.
1. V-Handle Triceps Pushdown
The V-handle triceps pushdown is performed in the same way as the traditional pushdown, except you use a V-handle instead of a straight bar. What this does is position your palms at an angle so that they’re facing slightly inward. Doing so solves one of the common mistakes of the triceps pushdown which is hyper-extension of the wrist.
Because the hands are at an angle, the force is not pushing straight up on the wrists. Instead, the meat underneath the pinky rests on the end of the handle, giving you a solid foundation to push from. Further, your forearms will have slight external rotation, allowing a tiny bit of elbow flare.
Being so, this triceps variation will likely allow you to move significantly more weight than a straight bar. That being said, if you really want to push a lot of weight, go for the V-handle triceps pushdown.
2. Reverse Grip Triceps Pushdown
The reverse grip triceps pushdown uses the same setup as the traditional setup, except now you will use a supinated grip (underhand grip). The reverse grip will generate more activation in the medial head due to the position of the hand. This movement is notoriously hard to perform, so when you start, use lighter weight. And be sure to completely lockout at the bottom of the movement.
3. Rope Triceps Pushdown
Using a rope attachment is another common variation that is similar to the V-handle with some minor differences. When you attach the rope, you can either grip at the bottom where the knobs are to rest your palms OR you can just grip the middle of the rope. The movement will be performed the same either way.
Standing with your elbows next to your body, your arms will actually be pulled inwards slightly. Therefore, when you start to extend your arms, you’re going to pull slightly outwards. That being said, your elbows still stay on the body.
Once you fully extend your arms and your hands are near your legs, you’re then going to give your wrists a little flick to further extend the arms and get a tiny bit larger range of motion.
4. Single Arm Triceps Pushdown
A little bit of unilateral work never hurts anyone; in fact, it could be just what you need to progress.
In reality, you can apply single arm work to any of the variations above, even the traditional straight bar pushdown. Doing so allows you to change up the stimulus as well as identify any significant strength deficits. While everyone will almost always have some strength differences between their left side and right side limbs. However, if you notice some significant deficiencies, you may need to remedy them.
Regardless, mix in some unilateral training with your triceps workout just to mix it up.
Related: Best Cable Arm Exercises
While the triceps pushdown and its variations should be enough, here are a few fantastic alternatives we love.
1. Close Grip Bench Press
It’s true. We love the close grip bench press. It’s an excellent compound movement that still manages to target the triceps. However, you can also place pretty heavy loads on your muscles, making the close grip bench press optimal for authentic strength training. The close grip bench press would be an awesome addition to a triceps workout program that also consisted of the triceps pushdown.
Here are some other great bench press variations
2. Skull Crushers
Skull crushers are a classic bodybuilder movement (not to be confused with the French press). Over the years, it’s even been the inspiration for another pure strength movement to train the triceps; the rolling triceps extension. Regardless, skull crushers have been such a dominant exercise in the weight room for so long simply due to the fact they work.
They allow decently heavy loads while almost totally isolating the triceps which equates to serious strength AND hypertrophy gains.
3. Overhead Rope Extensions
While you’re doing your triceps pushdown with a rope, go ahead and just spin around cause now you’re going to do overhead rope extensions. Due to the overhead position, overhead rope extensions are going to effectively target the long head of the triceps.
You can also do tricep extensions with dumbbells.
Triceps pushdowns are a single-joint isolation exercise to train your triceps. This tells us a few things; what days it could be trained and the rep scheme.
Depending on how your program spit is designed, you have a few days which would be suitable for training the triceps push down.
Any of these days would work great to plug the triceps pushdown in.
Being that it’s an isolation movement, you’ll usually be using lighter loads with higher reps to perform the triceps pushdown. For this, primarily use loads of around 70-80% 1RM with a rep range of 8-12. If you want, you could mess around with heavier or lighter loads, but 8-12 is the sweet spot.
Triceps pushdowns also work really well with various specialty sets. You can use them in circuit training, super sets, drop sets, etc.
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Triceps pushdowns could also be used for pure strength training, but we would recommend using the V-handle pushdown if you are wanting to really use some heavier loads. Again, this is because it can be challenging to keep the wrists straight when using a straight bar. The V-handle eliminates this problem and is much easier to use with heavier loads.
In fact, some strength athletes will perform EMOMs (every minute on the minute) using near maximal weights when performing the triceps pushdown. There are actually many ways to do EMOMS, but as an example, you could do this. Work up to a near-maximal load that still allows you to use good form. You would then do 10min EMOM, which means you simply perform 1 rep every minute. These are tough but could add some serious strength gains to your lifting.
Not sure how to get stronger? This article will set you straight.
If you’ve been looking for an excellent triceps exercise, we just gave you one and then some more. The triceps pushdown and its variations are a sure way to add serious mass and strength to your triceps. Hell, you could even try some of the triceps alternatives. Whatever you work into your triceps workout plan, you’ll be better off if you start including some triceps pushdowns in your very next session!
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