How To Do Tricep Pushdown Exercises & The Muscles Worked

When you go to the gym, dudes grunting while curling unbelievable weights like there is no tomorrow is an all too familiar sight. This might be because when aiming for ripped arms, most people tend to focus on their biceps more. But while those bicep peaks are impressive, you also shouldn’t forget about your triceps.

So, for you to get that all-around beefy arm goodness that will put Dwayne Johnson to shame, you should be giving your triceps more attention, and one of the best ways to get started is with triceps pushdowns.

What is a triceps pushdown and how do you do it 

A triceps pushdown is basically an exercise that aims to develop, well, your triceps. The triceps brachii, which is the scientific term for the muscles located at the back of your upper arm, is composed of the long, lateral, and medial heads. If your goal is to beef up your arms, you need to put all those three heads to work, not just your biceps. The triceps pushdown does exactly that.

Proper form

As with any exercise, proper form is vital when you do a triceps pushdown. Arching your back too much, leaning too forward, or keeping your arms too far away from your body will make the exercise pointless, so you need to have the correct position before you even begin. Keep these in mind to get yourself into proper form for a triceps pushdown:

  • Your knees should be slightly bent and your body slightly leaning forward. This is to make sure that you activate the long head of the triceps and brace the rest of your body so you can isolate the triceps and perform the pushdown effectively.
  • Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. This will help you stabilize yourself as you do the exercise.
  • Keep your back as straight as possible. Bending your back over too much will put unnecessary pressure on your spine and will not do anything to support you nor make the pushdown easier.

The exercise

Now that you know the proper form, start putting those triceps to work with these steps:

  1. Get in front of a cable machine and hold on to the bar or rope, depending on what grip attachment is available. Grab the bar or rope with an overhand grip and adjust to chest level.
  2. Brace your abdominals by tilting your body forward.
  3. Pin your elbows to the side and keep your feet shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent.
  4. Breathe in then push down. As you do this, be conscious about the full extension of your elbows while making sure that they remain in contact with your body.
  5. As you breathe out, slowly go back to your initial position in a controlled manner and try not to crash the weights in the process.
  6. Repeat and complete at least four sets of eight repetitions for beginners.

What else is at work

As previously stated, the triceps is made up of the long, lateral, and medial heads, and when all these three heads work together, they enable us to extend our elbows and stabilize the shoulder while keeping the shoulder joint in its correct position.

But while a triceps pushdown is characterized by its isolated movement since it targets only the triceps, it still puts other muscles at work and activates your abdominals, pecs, external obliques, trapezius, and latissimus dorsi. These muscles are engaged to stabilize and support your body as you push down. However, relying too much on your back, shoulders, and chest defeats the purpose of the exercise because the triceps will not work as much as they should.

Common mistakes when doing pushdowns

When you are new to an exercise, making mistakes is quite common. But even long-time gym rats can sometimes slip and do some things wrong every now and then. If you want to know what things you should avoid when doing tricep pushdowns, then read on.

Moving your elbows too much

Most people do this because it feels easier. But if it is easy for you to do a triceps pushdown, then you are probably doing it wrong. Not to mention, doing it the easy way is essentially cheating. Remember that easy doesn’t always mean proper, and if you want to achieve something, you gotta work hard for it.

If you let your elbow go with the pushdown motion, then you are letting your chest and shoulders take over which puts unnecessary pressure on them. Sure, you will be able to lift heavier if you use your chest and shoulders to push down, but keep in mind that what you are trying to work out is your triceps so the burn should be felt in that area.

Keeping your elbows tucked in at the sides ensures the contraction of the triceps, so the more burn you feel, the more you know that you are doing the right thing. You are performing a triceps pushdown after all, not jackhammering the concrete.


For some reason, people still think that going heavier on the weights makes an arm workout routine more effective. That may be true for other arm exercises, but that isn’t always the case for triceps pushdowns.

Start with a weight that you are comfortable with and gradually increase from there. A heavier weight stack doesn’t mean better results. As long as you are feeling the burn in your triceps then it doesn’t matter how much weight is on the stack; 15-20 lbs should be enough. How good is a triceps pushdown if you can’t lift the weight to begin with?

Relying too much on your back

In a triceps pushdown, your back should only support you, not bear the brunt of the exercise. You need to make sure that while you are slightly leaning forward to engage your core and get support from your chest and shoulders, you are also not putting unwanted force on your back by bending it too much.

Just keep it straight; the last thing you want is a back injury. If you do the proper form, it will engage all the relevant muscle groups equally and not compromise one over the other.

Twisting the wrists out

It would be wrong to think that twisting your wrists out once your elbow is fully extended is in any way helpful. Many people feel the need to do this at the bottom of each pushdown, hoping that little maneuver will activate the triceps more. News flash—it actually doesn’t do anything to activate the triceps.

In reality, twisting your wrists out will only put unnecessary pressure on them which can be detrimental in the long run. So, stop doing it and just keep your wrists in a neutral position. As long as your elbows are fully extended, then you are maximizing the tricep pushdown.

Rope vs. straight bar vs. V-Bar

Straight Bar

Using a straight bar in a triceps pushdown will work the long head of the triceps more than the other heads. The lateral and medial heads will be activated as well, but with a straight bar, the focus will be on the long head. When you use this attachment, your knuckles should be facing up as your hands are in an overhand grip. With your elbows tightly tucked on both sides, the long head will be activated as you push down.


Unlike the straight bar, the rope will change the position of your hands. Instead of your knuckles facing up, they will be facing out. This shifts the focus of the pushdown to the lateral head. Since there is a better range of motion when using a rope compared to using a straight bar, your hands are given more freedom to move to either side once the elbows are fully extended. This increased motion range allows an extra squeeze at the bottom of the pushdown, making the lateral head contract slightly more.


While both the rope and straight bar effectively hit the triceps, the V-bar—also called rabbit ear—is another grip attachment that has both the wonders of the rope and the straight bar. Its V-shaped handles put your hands in a similar position to when you are doing a rope pushdown, but the stable grip takes the strain off of your wrists and forearms just like a straight bar would. So with a V-bar, you have the good motion range of the rope and the stability of the straight bar.

Tri and tri until you succeed

What are you waiting for? Head to the gym now and start sweating it out in that cable machine. If you really want to impress people with your arms, be consistent with the triceps pushdowns and aim for your arms to both be strong and aesthetically proportionate. Nothing says ripped and shredded than arms that try to escape your sleeves without having to flex them. Go on, give The Rock a run for his money.