Best Tricep Pushdown Alternatives

7 Best Tricep Pushdown Alternatives (With Videos & Tips)

The tricep pushdown is one of the most commonly used tricep exercises. It’s easy for beginners to grasp, provides a good pump, and is generally a good exercise for building some horseshoe-sized triceps.

For many people though, it’s an overused exercise and when you don’t have access to a cable stack, it quickly becomes an issue when training triceps. 

Therefore, read on as we’ll cover the best tricep pushdown alternatives that will hit all three heads of the tricep (yes, there are three) and give you a more complete tricep workout. 

What Is a Tricep Pushdown and How to Perform it?

The tricep pushdown is a resistance training-based exercise, employed to build specific areas of the upper body.

Sounds interesting right? But how would you perform this exercise?

I have outlined a detailed 9-step guide bellow

Step 1.     To perform the tricep pushdown you would attach a V-Bar or straight bar to a cable machine and adjust the cable to around head height.

Step 2.     It is crucial to select a suitable amount of resistance, this exercise relies more on form and tension rather than shifting the most weight.

Step 3.     To set yourself up for the exercise, face toward the cable machine and grasp the V-bar with an overhand grip.

Step 4.     Take a step back and place your feet at around hip to shoulder width apart, while slightly bending at the knees to create some balance.

Step 5.     Drive the hips back slightly, brace the core to ensure stability and spinal neutrality (keeping the spine safe and upright).

Step 6.     The next step would be to take a deep breath and pull the V-bar down to chest height, so the elbows are closer to the hips/mid section.

Step 7.     As the name suggests, push the V-bar down to mid-lower thigh height.

Step 8.     This movement creates elbow extension (straightening the lower arm) to activate the triceps, but remember not to overcompensate with the upper arm movement. 

Step 9.     Breath out, and slowly shorten the angle between the lower and upper arm, bringing the V-bar back to chest height.

REPEAT!

What Muscles Do Tricep Pushdowns Work?

Triceps Brachii

The primary focus of the lift is to extend at the elbow joint, thereby working the triceps.

The triceps are located at the back of the upper arm and consist of the;

·        Long head (middle part)

·        Medial head (inner part)

·        Lateral head (outer part) (1)

The tricep pushdown could help build that impressive ‘Horse shoe’ shape on the back of the arm, craved by almost every dedicated gym-goer.

If you recall step 8, the tricep pushdown is aided by the vertical extension of the upper arm (bringing the upper arm closer to the body).

This movement has shown to force additional work onto the long head of the triceps, due to the origin point of the scapula (which connects from the shoulder blades) (1)

Pectoral Minor

The pectoral minor is a deeper chest muscle, stimulated by vertical extension of the upper arm (1)

As you have learned, this movement takes place at the end of the concentric phase of the tricep pushdown.

Lower arm muscles

The Forearm muscles may be triggered with slight flexion and extension of the wrists while performing the movement, especially with heavier loads.

It comes as no surprise that the smaller hand muscles would engage to grip the V-bar.

The 5 small lower arm muscles have been highlighted below;

·     Pronator teres
·    Flexor carpi radialis
·    Palmaris Longus
·   Flexor carpi ulnaris
·   Hand muscled  

Core Stability muscles

We have already established that bracing the core is essential during the exercise, so expect isometric activation of the;

·        Mid-Section (stomach area)

·        Spinal Erectors (muscles around the spine) (1)

Latissimus Dorsi (lower part)

Any movement that extends the upper arm vertically will hit the lower lats in addition. (1)

I would not expect any significant modifications with the use of the tricep pushdown. 

Tricep Pushdown Alternatives

The triceps make up two-thirds of the upper arm, yet people train them significantly less than the smaller bicep muscles and this means you’re missing out on some serious overall tricep growth. The triceps are also quite responsive muscle groups so, with dedicated training, it won’t take long to see your triceps grow

If you only rely on one exercise though (pushdowns) you’ll also be limiting your growth potential and this could be the reason you’re not seeing progress. Therefore, below we’ve listed some of the best tricep pushdown alternatives to ignite growth and variety into your routine. 

Also, check out our similar article covering the best tricep dip alternatives for additional exercises and ways to work the triceps.

#1 Close Grip Bench Press

Compared to the conventional bench press, the close grip bench press presents a narrower grip width and lesser elbow flare.(2)

While performing the close grip bench press, hand positioning should be just inside shoulder width.(2)

A grip width any closer than the shoulder level would begin to put unnatural stress on the wrist joints, which may cause injury.(2)

On the opposite side of the spectrum, adjusting the grip wider than shoulder level quickly becomes a conventional bench press and emphasizes the pectoral major muscle group (chest).(2)

Although the close grip bench press is similar to the conventional variant, I consider it to be a great alternative compound exercise to the tricep pushdown down.

Why so?

In a similar manner, it emphasizes an elbow extension movement, primarily working the tricep muscle group.(1,2)

However, the close grip bench press differs in that you are lying down on an exercise bench and pressing a barbell against gravity.

This draws a shoulder flexion movement (moving the upper arm forwards), thus activating the front of the shoulders and the upper chest.(2)

If you are interested in incorporating this alternative I have provided 10 steps below.

  1.  Set up an exercise bench underneath a racked barbell,  around half the height of a fully extended arm in a lying position
  2.  Load the barbell with your desired weight (usually, work up to a weight of around 60% of your bench press total)
  3. Secure the weights with safety clips to prevent plates from moving during the lift (which will create muscle imbalances)
  4. Lie supine (on your back) on top of the exercise bench with the barbell in line with your forehead
  5. Place your feet outside shoulder width, pointing the toes at an 11 o’clock and 2 o’clock angle to form a stable base
  6. Grasp the barbell inside shoulder width an overhand grip
  7. Arch the lower back slightly and brace the core to promote a ‘healthy’ position for the spine
  8. Unrack the barbell
  9. Lower the barbell to the lower part of the rib cage while keeping the elbows tucked into the body
  10. Take a deep breath, keep the elbows tucked, and press the barbell towards the ceiling

The key reason why this is such a great alternative is that it’s a compound movement for the triceps. You can easily lift more weight than a cable pushdown and this means that you can recruit more muscle fibers during the set. 

The more muscle fibers that you recruit during an exercise, the more you’ll grow!

#2 Skull Crushers

Skull crushers, aka the lying triceps extension, are a hybrid between the close grip bench press and the triceps press down. The movement pattern and muscles engaged are almost identical to the triceps pushdown.(3)

The only difference is that you are lying on an exercise bench and pushing a free-weight EZ barbell against gravity.(3)

You can employ the Skull crusher by following the 8-steps bellow

  1. Set up an EZ bar by loading and applying safety clips to the sides
  2. Grasp the EZ bar slightly narrower than shoulder width
  3. Lift the EZ bar up and transition into a ‘bench press position’
  4. Place the feet well outside shoulder width and brace the core
  5. Press the EZ bar into a press/extended position
  6. Bring the upper arms back so that they are in line with your chin, and the upper arm stable.
  7. Breath deep and flex the biceps to lower the EZ bar behind the head
  8. Extend the elbows to being the EZ bar back to the starting point

Skull crushers can put a lot of stress on the elbow joint and as a result, heavy weight will quickly lead to elbow pain as the joint is being worked in such an extreme range of motion. While people like to go very heavy on this exercise, it’s best to use moderate weight and really focus on the stretch and contraction. 

You don’t need to lift a huge weight for this exercise to be effective, focus on the stretch and you’ll see noticeable tricep growth over time, especially when it comes to tricep thickness. 

Related – Skull crusher alternatives

#3 Tricep Kickbacks

Tricep kickbacks are one of my favorite tricep accessory exercises, and probably the most frequently used pushdown alternative. These take a lot of abuse by “hardcore” lifters but if you get the form correct, they can actually be a phenomenal tricep builder because you can work the tricep in the shortened position. 

Similar to the tricep pushdown, this exercise also demands tricep extension and vertical extension of the upper arm, therefore tapping into a lot of the muscle fibers of the lateral and long head of the triceps.(3)

Follow the 6-step guide below to perform an effective tricep kickback.

  1. Grasp a pair of light pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip and stand upright 
  2. Place the feet close together pointing forwards
  3. Bend at the knees, back the core, and drive the hips back so that you are parallel to the ground
  4. Bring the upper arms in line with the torso
  5. Flex the biceps (curl)
  6. Extend the triceps back whilst simultaneously extending the upper back slightly

For best results with this exercise, I’d recommend using a cable machine to do the movement. This will keep tension on the tricep when the arm is bent. With a dumbbell, tension will drop off quickly during the eccentric movement and a cable stack will help to minimize this, making for a more effective exercise. 

#4 Diamond push-ups

Diamond push-ups are another great alternative to the tricep pushdown, especially for those who do not have access to a cable machine.

To perform the diamond push-ups you need nothing more than your own bodyweight and flat sturdy surface.

They work the triceps by extending the elbows, but additionally, engage the chest and shoulders from upper arm flexion.(4)

The diamond push-up is a great alternative or addition. You could try it out with the 7 steps below.

  1. Find a clean, flat and sturdy surface
  2. Get into an all fours position
  3. Place your hands close together at a 1 o’clock (left hands) and 11 o’clock (right hand) to form the shape of a Diamond
  4. Extend your legs, keeping your feet together shift some onto your toes
  5. Simultaneously brace the core, keep a straight spine straight and bring the arms into an extended position
  6. From this position, flex biceps to slowly bring your body closer to the ground
  7. Keeping your elbows tucked into the body push off the ground

#5 Single Arm Tricep Pushdown

The single arm tricep pushdown allows you to focus on one arm at a time. It would be ideal to apply an equal amount of sets, reps, and intensity for both arms.

The load should be half of what you use for tricep pushdown, as you will be limited to one limb.

The setup of this lift would be almost identical to the tricep pushdown, but with a single cable handle.

This alternative can be performed overhand or underhand.

#6 Rope Extensions

The rope extension is another great alternative with a different cable attachment. This exercise is also known as the rope pushdown.

The rope extension may isolate the lateral head of the triceps more than any upper arm movements.(1) The rope attachment is more difficult to grasp, so it may not be ideal to use higher loads.

Personally, I prefer using lower loads and a higher rep range of around 12-16. The focus should be on bringing your arms behind your torso to fully shorten the tricep and work in the shortened range of motion.

Pro Tip – Use an XL rope or two ropes to bring your arms easily behind your torso to really shorten the tricep muscle and get a greater contraction.   

For those who want to include the rope extension as an addition to their training program, I have highlighted 8 steps.

  1. Instead of the V-Bar, apply a rope attachment to a cable machine and adjust it to around head height
  2. Select a suitable load, I would suggest using a lighter load that allows you to complete 12-16 reps
  3. Face towards the cable machine and grasp the rope attachment with a neutral grip
  4. Place your feet at hip width apart, while slightly bending at the knees to create some balance.
  5. Drive the hips back slightly, and brace the core to ensure stability and spinal neutrality
  6. Take a deep breath and pull the rope down to chest height
  7. Tucking your upper arms into your body, extend at the elbows to bring the rope closer to your lower body
  8. Breath out, and slowly shorten the angle of the lower arm to bring the rope back to the starting point of the lift.

#7 Over Head Tricep Extension

This exercise is similar to a skull crusher but performed from a standing position.

Any free-weight exercise performed from a standing position, may engage the core stability and balance muscles to a greater extent.(3)

From time to time, I would suggest alternating between the overhead extension, so I have provided 8 steps bellow

  1. Set up an EZ bar by loading and applying safety clips to the sides
  2. Grasp the EZ bar slightly narrower than shoulder width
  3. Deadlift the EZ bar off the ground and keep it at hip height while you set up
  4. Place the feet well outside shoulder width and brace the core
  5. Flip the EZ bar into a shoulder press position
  6. Press the EZ bar up to extend the elbows
  7. Breath deep and flex the biceps to lower the EZ bar behind the head
  8. Extend the elbows to being the EZ bar back to the starting point

Final Message

The tricep pushdown is an upper body exercise that works the tricep brachii, pectoral minor, core, and lats to some extent.

Any movement that shares a similar movement pattern, and works the tricep brachii can be considered as a pushdown alternative.

I have highlighted 7 alternatives, which all engage the tricep brachii.

Some of these exercises are almost identical in terms of movement pattern and the muscles that are worked including;

  1.  Skull Crushers
  2. Tricep Kickbacks
  3. Single Arm Tricep Pushdown
  4. Standing Tricep Extension

Whereas others are similar in triggering the triceps, yet engage different secondary muscle groups, or favor other heads of the tricep. These include;

  1. Close Grip Bench Press
  2. Diamond Push-Up
  3. Tricep Rope Extension

See also – The best tricep cable attachments (to build more mass on your triceps)

What Next

If you are looking to make changes to your physique by either losing body fat, building muscle or looking to maintain a lean physique then sign up to my weekly newsletter below. Each week I send out actionable tips to help you lose that extra 1lb of fat or build that extra 0.5lb of muscle mass on a weekly basis. 

If you sign up now you’ll also receive my 28 day body recomp program completely Free. This ebook will be sent straight to your inbox and will provide an intense 28 day program aimed at helping you lose up to 8lbs of body fat whilst also building 2lb-4lb of lean muscle mass in just 4 weeks.

Don’t worry if you’re not ready for an intense program just yet, my weekly newsletter will give smaller tips that when implemented daily, will stack up over time and see you transform your body with seemingly minimal effort!

Join The Newsletter

Receive fitness advice and body recomposition tips every Monday to help you lose at least 1lb of fat every week and build 1lb of muscle mass every fortnight

    References.

    1.     Hussain, J., Sundaraj, K., Devi, L., et al. ‘Muscle fatigue in the three heads of triceps brachii during intensity and speed variations of triceps push-down exercise’ Frontiers in physiology, 2020;11(2):112

    2.     Locking, R.G., Collaghan, S.J., Moreno, M.R., et al. ‘An investigation of the mechanics and sticking region of a one-repetition maximum close-grip bench press versus the traditional bench press’ Sports, 2017; 5(3):46

    3.     Bartolomei, S., Nigro, F., Lanzoni, I.M., et al. ‘A comparison between total body and split routine resistance training programs in trained men’ The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research,2021; 35 (6):1520-1526

    4.     Nadzalan, A.M., Hazrulnizam, M., Shafiee, M.S., et al. ‘Comparison of Muscle Activation between Traditional, Diamond and Knuckle Push Up Among Trained Men’ Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 2021; 1874(1):12-16