The triceps pushdown on a cable machine is a timeless staple in many gym goers and professional bodybuilders training routine. The cable creates an active tension on the tricep through the full range of motion which is difficult to replicate with a dumbbell or barbell based exercise.
Whilst the exercise itself is quite basic and involves a low level of technical ability there are a range of variances that have come about over the years, these include body position (standing straight or bent over), elbow positioning (tucked by your side or out in front of you) and grip position (wide, short or neutral).
The final point regarding grip positioning is the most interesting and debated mainly because of how many attachments are available that target this one muscle and exercise.
Best Tricep Pushdown Attachment? When it comes to training the tricep pushdown heavier weight is not necessarily best for tricep recruitment and fatiguing the muscle fibres. A fixed straight or V shape bar will allow you to lift the most weight but a rope allows for a greater range of motion and muscle fibre recruitment.
A quick Google search of tricep attachment will bring up a range of different shapes, sizes and materials for attachments to be used on this one simple exercise. With so much variety this brings up the question of which pushdown attachment is actually the best.
Tricep Pushdown Muscles Worked
When working the tricep pushdown you might think the intention is to target the full tricep muscle and therefore you test out a range of grips and attachments to feel it working the tricep fully however it’s important to note the the pushdown primarily works the lateral and medial head of the triceps.
Whilst the long head of the tricep might still be engaged to fully work the long head you need to focus on overhead exercises like tricep overhead extensions and lying skull crushers.
The lateral head makes up the outside portion of the upper arm whilst the medial head makes up the lower portion of the inner arm. Therefore during pushdowns these are the areas that you want to feel working.
A further point to note is that while an overhand and neutral grip will target the lateral head an underhand/reverse grip is required to fully target the medial head.
With this knowledge to hand you can now focus on selecting the right attachments and grip/hand position to work the target muscle group that you actually want to stimulate rather than going through the motions with no set purpose.
Best Tricep Pushdown Attachment
The following are a range of tricep pushdown attachments that you will most commonly see around the gym regardless of whether you are going to a dedicated bodybuilding gym or a more commercial 24/7 gym.
The first gym I ever went to was in a leisure center and despite having a limited range of equipment (no barbells and dumbbells only going up to 30kg) there was still a wide range of cable attachments to choose from.
The best tricep pushdown attachment will of course depend on your specific goals and needs however even having said that I believe that one attachment in particular is best to use when looking to build up your triceps and I’ll therefore start with that one.
The standard rope attachment is an amazing tool when it comes to tricep development and the only reason that it isn’t used more frequently is because it’s a humbling attachment that hurts many an ego.
If you are used to using a fixed bar attachment then chances are you can use a considerable amount of weight when it comes to the tricep pushdown. It’s not uncommon to see people max out the machine then add additional plates on top.
One thing you will notice however is that this often comes with a significant flare out of the elbows. Performing a pressdown with flared elbows not only put the elbow joint in a fragile and weak position (not ideal for injury prevention) but also takes the tension away from the triceps and moves it to the front delt.
In any exercise the line of force is where the most tension is created, if your tricep is directly in line with the load like when your elbows are tucked then this is where the most muscle fibres are recruited.
As soon as you flare your elbows however then the line of force moves from the triceps and usually lies over the front delt.
A rope attachment is therefore humbling because it’s difficult to flare the elbows out whilst still keeping control of the weight, therefore your elbows tucked is actually the best way to lift more weight.
If you have no ego then you can apply the same strategy to a fixed bar, where the rope comes in superior however is the increased range of motion in the fully shortened contractile range.
Most cable attachments will stop short of fully contracting your triceps because your torso is in the way, to fully shorten the tricep you actually need your wrist and elbow to extend behind your body during a press down.
A rope attachment is best for this as it allows for this range of motion whilst still allowing you to load up the weight stack (though not quite as much as you’d like). A standard rope attachment still has its limitations though and will still face the issue of your torso being in the way.
Therefore the best possible route to take is to use two rope attachments on the same clip essentially make an XL version of the rope attachment. You can of course buy a larger rope attachment but this is a quick hack for those gyms that have more than one rope attachment.
This will allow you to pressdown behind your body into a fully shortened and contracted tricep.
D Handle Attachment
The D handle is the next best option in my opinion when it comes to tricep training and in particular pressdowns. The reason for this is that you can use both an underhand or overhand grip whilst still being able to bring your arm behind your torso for a peak contraction.
With D handles you will not be able to lift as much weight because the stabilising muscles of the wrists and forearms are needed to a greater degree and single arm training for triceps limits the weight you can handle in general.
Therefore in order to get the most out of a D handle you are sacrificing weight for a more focused isolation exercise that will still allow a full range of motion.
Straight Bar Attachment
The most basic and common attachment for a tricep pushdown is the straight bar attachment. Just because it’s basic however does not mean it’s not still effective. Firstly it’s easy to use an overhand or underhand grip meaning you can work both the lateral and medial head of the triceps.
You can of course use heavier weight as well in order to recruit more muscle fibres. I’ve spoken about this negatively earlier because people let their egos take over which leads to poor form however if you can keep strict form then it’s a great attachment to make use of.
The main issues are of course the temptation to keep moving up the weight stack and letting your form suffer as a result. You are also restricted by the range of motion as the straight bar will always stop at your torso meaning that you can’t get a fully contracted tricep during the exercise.
V Bar Attachment
The V bar attachment is potentially more popular for those that have a bit of training experience because you can actually lift more weight than a straight bar. The reason for this is that the wrists are placed in a closer to neutral position which means less strain on the wrists as a result.
The benefits and drawback for the V bar attachment are the exact same as those of the straight bar however you will see form breakdown on this much more than with the straight bar. Due to the wrist position it’s very easy to get carried away and flare the elbows in order to press more weight.
When used with exercise mechanics in mind however the V bar attachment can be a great way to lift some heavier loads and provide a different stimulus for the triceps. Whilst good form helps you do still need to overload the muscle group with heavy weights from time to time.
The cuff attachment is a notable addition to this list however it’s a more advanced technique and I don’t say that to entice you in. The exercise selection and movement pattern is no different from using a D handle however the key differentiation is that the cuff takes the wrist joint out of the movement.
By removing a joint and all the stabilizing and secondary muscles that come with it (forearm muscles) you can then fully isolate the tricep because you will now only be using the elbow joint and tricep muscle to perform the pushdown.
For this you will again need to use lighter weight to master the form however once you can efficiently use this technique then it’s almost a perfect movement pattern and will easily rival and extended rope attachment.
Alsco check out:
Tricep training without elbow pain
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