How to Do Triceps Pushdowns

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Triceps Pushdown

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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 triceps pushdown is one of the best exercises for triceps 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.

Benefits

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.

Triceps 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.

Performing this move properly also requires isolation, a fundamental skill for many other exercises.

Step-by-Step Instructions

To prepare:

  1. Face the triceps 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.
  2. Using the pin-and-place adjustment and set a low weight to start. Different versions of the machine may include other weighting mechanisms.

When you're ready to begin:

  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.
  5. For beginners, aim to complete 4 sets of 8 reps.

Common Mistakes

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.

You're Not Using Both Sides Equally

Check in to be sure you push down smoothly and evenly with both arms.

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's components equally.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

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.

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.

Triceps 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.

Up for a Challenge?

If you do have the option of a rope attachment, you may want to consider using it, as it introduces more exertion on the triceps if you pause at the bottom of the move.

You can add variety to your triceps pushdown exercise by using the rope attachment.

Safety and Precautions

Be cautious with this exercise if you have an elbow injury or if you develop persistent elbow soreness.

As always, if you have certain medical conditions or are recovering from surgery, illness, or injury, check in with your doctor before starting or changing up your exercise routine.

Try It Out

Triceps pushdowns are a great way to build up all three components of the muscle for stronger arms. Here are a few other moves that you can pair with pushdowns for a more intense workout:

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