How to Do Tricep Pushdowns: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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Also Known As: Pushdowns, cable pushdowns, rope pushdowns

Targets: Triceps

Equipment Needed: Pushdown machine (cable machine) or a resistance band

Level: Beginner to advanced (depending on weight used)

The tricep pushdown is one of the best exercises for tricep development. While the versatile upper-body workout is usually done on a cable machine (a fixture at most gyms), you can also perform a version of the move at home or on the go using a resistance band.

How to Do Tricep Pushdowns

As you prepare for this move, face the tricep pushdown cable machine and grasp the horizontal cable bar or rope attachment (depending on the machine your gym has) with an overhand grip. Adjust the bar or rope grips to about chest level.

Use the pin-and-place adjustment and set a low weight to start. Different versions of the machine may include other weighting mechanisms.

  1. Start by bracing your abdominals.
  2. Tuck your elbows in at your sides and position your feet slightly apart.
  3. Inhale. Push down until your elbows are fully extended but not yet in the straight, locked position. Keep your elbows close to your body and bend your knees slightly on the pushdown. Resist bending forward. Try to keep your back as straight as possible as you push down.
  4. As you exhale, return to the starting point using a controlled movement. Try not to crash the weights.

For beginners, aim to complete 4 sets of 8 reps. As you gain fitness, you can increase the number of reps you do and the amount of weight you use as resistance.

Benefits of Tricep Pushdowns

The triceps brachii muscle is located at the rear of the upper arm and has three components: the long, lateral, and medial heads. If you want to build up your arms, working all three heads of your triceps is key, and the triceps pulldown does just that.

Increases Strength

Tricep pushdowns also benefit your overall strength and endurance by engaging your core, back, and shoulders. The move is also adaptable to your strength and level, as you can increase the weight as you go.

Prevents Injury

The muscles that make up the triceps are vulnerable to overuse injury from repetitive activities like throwing, swimming, and hammering motions. Repetitive stress injuries of the triceps can be prevented by training the triceps, including with tricep pushdowns.

Improves Functional Fitness

Tricep strength is important in any movement that involves extending your forearms from the elbow. Think about closing your car trunk, throwing a ball for your dog, planting in your garden, or trying to crush one last paper bag into an over-filled recycling bin. These everyday tasks could not performed without help from your triceps. Keeping them strong helps you perform a wide variety of activities of daily living.

Tones Arms

Strengthening the tricep muscles is one way to achieve a toned appearance in your arms. Because the triceps are located along the backside of the upper arm, toning these muscles is visible. This can be important to some people, especially bodybuilders.

Other Variations of Tricep Pushdowns

There are ways to increase the difficulty of tricep pulldowns as your fitness level increases. In addition, you can do alternatives at home, which are helpful for between-gym workouts or those who don't have convenient access to gym equipment.

Resistance Band Tricep Pulldowns

If you aren't part of a gym or if your gym doesn't have a pushdown machine, try using a resistance band to do the workout at home or while traveling. You'll also need something sturdy above your head, like a metal bar, rod, or hook.

Place the band around the secure point (at least at chin-height, if not over your head). Grip the ends of the band and perform the pushdown exercise using the same form you would on a cable machine.

One-Armed Tricep Pulldowns

Tricep pushdowns can be done one-handed or with both hands. A two-handed modification will work whether you're on a machine or using a resistance band. Doing one arm at a time allows you to slow down and focus on correcting poor form. It can also be useful if one arm is recovering from an injury or you have one side that is generally weaker than the other.

Grip Bar Modifications

If your gym has the cable and pulley machine used in this exercise, then it probably also has a selection of grip attachments. You may see a straight bar, or ones with bends in them, such as the E-Z bar and V-angled bar. These are used in the same way, but you may find one more comfortable to use than another.

Rope Pushdowns

You can add variety to your tricep pushdown exercise by using the rope attachment. It introduces more exertion on the triceps if you pause at the bottom of the move.

Barbell Skull Crushers

Skull crushers, also known as triceps extensions, engage the same muscles as tricep pushdowns, however, they employ dumbbells instead of a cable pulley system.

Common Mistakes

While tricep pushdowns are very effective, it's essential to ensure you are doing them correctly to prevent injury and get the most benefit from the exercise. Here are some common mistakes people make and how to make sure you avoid them.

Your Elbows Flare Out

Don’t allow your elbows to flare outward on the downward push. This negates the work on your triceps and places unwanted stress on your shoulders. Make sure your elbows stay close to your side during the entire movement.

You're Not Using Both Sides Equally

Check in to be sure you push down smoothly and evenly with both arms. If this is difficult, you might have some strength imbalance between your two sides. Do some one-armed tricep pushdowns on your weaker side to help equalize your abilities on both sides.

You're Using Your Back Too Much

You don't want to bend over at the back and shoulders to force the weight down. That being said, to ensure your triceps are getting fully worked, it can be helpful to lean forward slightly and allow your knees to bend slightly as you push down. This position ensures you're engaging all the muscle components equally.

Safety and Precautions

Be cautious with this exercise if you have an elbow injury or develop persistent elbow soreness. If you have certain medical conditions or are recovering from surgery, illness, or injury, check in with a healthcare professional before starting or changing your exercise routine.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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4 Sources
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