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Tricep pushdowns for bigger arms

For an effective tricep workout that works all three heads of the muscle to failure, it’s usually best to combine one of each of the three main types of movement. One heavy pressing movement such as close grip bench presses, one extension movement such as seated overhead dumbbell extensions and one tricep pushdown movement such as using a rope cable attachment.

This article will look more closely at the latter, with variations of tricep pushdown and how they can be performed most effectively to get the best contraction and growth out of the muscle.

Straight bar tricep pushdowns

Muscles used

  • Tricep (Lateral head)
  • Tricep (Long head)
  • Tricep (Medial head)
  • The tricep pushdown is probably the exercise you would have seen most often in your gym for working the triceps. This will usually involve a high cable pulley and a straight bar attachment.

    Performing the exercise

    Stand facing the weight stack and grasp the straight bar attachment with an overhand grip. Pull the straight bar cable attachment down until you have your elbows tucked at your sides.

    Inhale and allow your forearms to rise, controlling the weight until your forearms are just beyond parallel with the ground. Exhale as you press the bar back down through the same plane of motion. Contract the tricep and repeat until you complete your repetitions or until failure.

    Keeping your elbows by your sides and not letting the forearms much beyond parallel will prevent your lats doing the work and keep the intensity on the triceps.

    Try to only lean forward so much as to counter balance the weight and keep you stable. Leaning too far forwards will bring more of the front delts and pectoral muscles in to do the work instead of the triceps.

    Straight bar tricep pushdowns

    Reverse tricep pushdowns

    Muscles used

  • Tricep (Lateral head)
  • Tricep (Long head)
  • Tricep (Medial head)
  • Forearms (Extensor carpi radialis longus and Extensor digitorum)
  • Similar to the tricep push down tricep extension, this relies on you having an underhand instead of an overhand grip on the bar. This will also help develop the upper portion of your forearms.

    Performing the exercise:
    The movement and body position should be exactly the same as for tricep push downs, except for the fact that you are now using an underhand grip instead of overhand.

    This underhand grip will mainly focus work on the medial head of the triceps.

    One-arm reverse tricep pushdowns

    Muscles used

  • Tricep (Lateral head)
  • Tricep (Long head)
  • Tricep (Medial head)
  • Forearms (Anconeus)
  • A variation on the reverse tricep pushdown extension, this is usually performed with a single handle cable attachment with an underhand grip.

    Performing the exercise

    Stand facing the weight stack and grip the handle with an underhand grip. Bring your elbow back until it is tucked by your side and move your forearm through until your hand is by your side, contracting your tricep as you do so.

    This exercise is normally included towards the end of a tricep workout, and you shouldn’t need much weight to make it effective. While the double handed version of this exercise brings your hands down quite close to your body, you may find single arm reverse push-downs more effective if your elbow points away from you slightly at a 45 degree angle.

    This exercise will mainly focus on working the lateral head of the triceps.

    Rope pushdowns

    Muscles used

  • Tricep (Lateral head)
  • Tricep (Long head)
  • Tricep (Medial head)
  • Although using a rope attachment for tricep pushdowns will mean you won’t be able to use as much weight as a straight bar attachment, this is an excellent variation for focussing more on the lateral head of the tricep when performed correctly.

    Performing the exercise

    With a rope cable attachment attached to the high cable pulley in front of you, grip one end of the rope with each hand and pull down until your elbows are almost by your sides.

    Press down until your forearms are just above parallel with the ground. This will be the starting position. Without raising or moving your elbows forwards, extend your arms down until you feel a full contraction in the tricep muscle.

    If you are using a heavier weight then your grip will probably be forcing the ends of the rope together by this point.

    Either by using a lighter weight or positioning your hands higher up the rope before starting the exercise, this will allow you to kick the ends of the rope attachment away from each other when your arms are extended to place more work on the lateral head of the tricep.

    Tricep pressdown using a rope cable attachment and high cable pulley

    Even as your forearms are returning to the parallel position at the start position it’s always best to keep the rope at forearms length away from your body. If you let it drift too close to you on the way up then it takes the strain of the weight off the triceps and makes it harder for you to control the weight before you start the next repetition.

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