Triceps Pushdown Alternatives (8 Best Variations)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: January 17, 2024
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As a personal fitness coach, I work with many amateur bodybuilders, and it often happens that I notice them doing the exact same tricep pushdown exercise on their arm days.

While the triceps' function and movement are relatively simple, only sticking with the triceps' pushdown will get boring and might not give you the best results.

That's why our team here at TotalShape has come up with a list of triceps pushdown alternatives that you can start doing immediately for better results on your next arm day.

Let's get right to it.

Quick Summary

  • The tricep pushdown alternatives are diamond push-ups, military push-ups, overhead tricep extensions, lying triceps extensions, and tricep kickbacks.
  • Incorporating alternatives to the traditional triceps pushdown, such as diamond push-ups and overhead triceps extensions, is beneficial to target and strengthen the triceps effectively.
  • Alternating triceps exercises prevents muscle adaptation and promotes growth, with studies showing a 50% increase in mitochondrial respiration and citrate synthase activity during high-volume training periods.
  • Tricep pushdown alternatives are safer when compared to working with free weights.

8 Alternatives For Triceps Pushdowns

After trying over a dozen different exercises, our team took a vote to select the best ones.

Here are the best tricep pushdown alternatives that you can easily do at home or at the gym, and most of them won't require much equipment at all.

1. Diamond Push-Ups

Diamond Push-up

From my experience, diamond push-ups have been a game-changer for targeting my triceps.

Initially challenging, they've become a staple in my routine for effectively isolating the triceps while minimally engaging my chest.

Here's how you do them:

  • Get into a normal plank position with your hands under your shoulders.
  • Move your hands closer together and form a diamond by allowing your thumbs and index fingers from each hand to touch.
  • The diamond should be right below your chest, and then you slowly lower your upper body down.
  • Try to get your chest to touch the diamond before you push back up again.

military push ups2. Military Push-Ups

I've found military push-ups to be incredibly effective for triceps engagement. Keeping my elbows close to my body really amplifies the workout intensity for my triceps.

Here's how you do them:

  • Get into a plank position with your arms shoulder-width apart and hands on the ground directly below your shoulder joints.
  • Tuck the elbows in against your torso and slowly lower your body down as far as you can go.
  • Push yourself back up again and feel the tension and burn in your triceps.
  • Make sure you maintain the same movement pattern for all reps, and don't sacrifice quality for quantity.

3. Close-Grip Bench Press

Man doing a close grip bench press

In my training sessions, the close-grip bench press has been challenging yet rewarding. It's a step up in difficulty, but with a spotter, I've safely managed to enhance my triceps strength significantly.

Here's how to do it with good form:

  • Pick a significantly lower weight than you would normally bench press.
  • Grip the bar with each hand directly above your pecs.
  • Slowly lower the bar down and focus on not allowing your elbows to flare out; they should keep pointing towards your toes.
  • When you get to the bottom of the close-grip bench press, your hands should be right above your nipples.
  • Push the bar back up and feel how the close-grip bench press engages your triceps.

Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extensions4. Overhead Triceps Extensions

Overhead triceps extensions have been a versatile addition to my home workouts. I've used both dumbbells and resistance bands, and they've been equally effective in sculpting my triceps.

Here's how you do them safely:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart to help you maintain balance and stability.
  • Raise a dumbbell straight up above your head; alternatively, step on a resistance band with one foot and draw the tension up along your back.
  • Slowly lower your hand down behind your head so that your elbow points straight up.
  • Then, push the weight back up again to complete one rep of the tricep extension.

5. Lying Triceps Extensions

lying triceps extension

Switching to lying triceps extensions was a great move for me. Lying down adds a sense of stability and allows me to focus more on the contraction of the triceps.

Here's how you can do them:

  • Get into the starting position by lying flat on your back with a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Lift the dumbbells straight up above your shoulders so that your arms are stretched out.
  • Now lower the weight by bending your elbow and making sure that the joint keeps pointing to the ceiling throughout the movement.
  • Push the weights back up in slow motion until you're back at the starting point.

triceps kickback6. Triceps Kickbacks

Triceps kickbacks have been a key part of my routine, both with dumbbells and resistance bands. I've noticed they really help in defining the triceps, especially when I focus on the contraction at the top of the movement.

Here's how you do them with good form:

  • Get into a runner's stance by taking one step forward with your left leg and then leaning on your left knee with your left elbow.
  • Alternatively, lean on a bench or a chair to provide more stability and support for your back.
  • Keep your elbows tucked into your torso so that your ​​upper arms don't move up and down.
  • Slowly lift the dumbbell backward while not allowing your elbow to move up or down.
  • Release the weight back down to your starting point.

7. Weighted Dips

Weighted Dips

Integrating weighted dips into my workouts was challenging at first. I started with assisted dips and gradually progressed to adding weight. The strength gains in my triceps have been remarkable.

Here's how to do them:

  • Balance your body between the dip bars with your arms straight and your elbows pointing backward.
  • Slowly lower your body down as far as you can while still being able to push back up again.
  • This will target the triceps as the primary muscle group, but you'll also feel it in your chest and shoulders.
  • If you can complete ten or more dips before failure, then consider adding a weighted vest to make it tougher.

Resistance Band Triceps Pushdowns8. Resistance Band Triceps Pushdowns

The triceps pushdown exercise is a popular choice for targeting the triceps muscle, whether using body weight, resistance band, or other variations that involve elbow extension.

Using resistance bands for triceps pushdowns has been a fantastic alternative for me, especially when traveling. The increasing tension throughout the movement provides a unique and effective triceps workout.

It's also the perfect solution if you don't want a large cable machine at home or don't have a spotter to make sure you don't get hurt.

Here's how you do resistance band triceps pushdowns:

  • Attach the band to a hook on the wall or door frame.
  • Grab hold of the handles at face height and add some pre-tension to the band.
  • Slowly push the handles down until your arms are straight.
  • Hold the tension for a second, and then release your hands back to the starting position.

“While resistance bands can be used to warm up your muscles prior to weightlifting, they can also replace your need for dumbbells entirely. Not only are dumbbells bulky and difficult to transport, but they take up a lot of space in your home.”

- Julia Guerra, Fitness Writer, & Editor, insider.com

Why Is It Important To Alternate Triceps Exercises?

man showing his body muscles

Alternating triceps exercises is important to prevent boredom, avoid muscle plateaus, and ensure effective muscle adaptation, making your workouts more engaging and beneficial.

Don't get me wrong, the cable tricep pushdown is highly effective, even though a study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that selectorized weight exercises might be better for the triceps [1].

But always doing the exact same thing for your triceps muscle will become monotonous and boring. There's simply nothing to look forward to or concentrate on.

And then there's the impact of potential muscle adaptation [2].

Isolation exercises like resistance band pushdowns can help build tricep strength and target the muscles of the upper arm, providing alternative exercises to traditional strong tricep pushdowns using gym equipment.

As your muscles get used to doing the exact same movement every time, the strain simply won't have the same effect on your arm muscles.

That's why I recommend that you pick two or three of the above exercises for your arm day and switch them around each week.

Related Guide: How to Get Bigger Triceps in 30 Days

Impact of Grip Variation in Triceps Exercises

Grip variation plays a crucial role in triceps exercises, affecting muscle activation and growth.

Different grips can target the triceps' three heads (long, lateral, and medial) in varying degrees:

  • Overhand grip: The standard grip for triceps pushdowns, where palms face down. This grip primarily targets the lateral head of the triceps, contributing to the horseshoe shape.
  • Underhand grip: In this grip, palms face up towards you. It shifts the focus more toward the medial head of the triceps, which is crucial for overall arm stability and strength.
  • Neutral grip: Using a rope attachment or parallel bars, the palms face each other. This grip provides a balanced workout across all three heads of the triceps and is often considered more joint-friendly, especially for those with wrist or elbow issues.
  • Wide vs. narrow grip: A wider grip on a barbell or machine focuses more on the outer part of the triceps, while a narrow grip targets the inner triceps and is more effective for overall mass building.

Experimenting with different grip variations has been a game-changer in my triceps training. It's fascinating how such small changes can significantly impact the effectiveness of the workout and help avoid overuse injuries.

By understanding and utilizing grip variations in triceps exercises, you can create a more effective and comprehensive arm workout that caters to your specific goals, whether it's muscle definition, strength, or rehabilitation.

 

Other Triceps Workout Tips

woman using dumbbells for her triceps

Here are three more tips to keep in mind for your triceps training.

1. Reps And Sets

So, depending on how many exercises you want to fit into a gym session, I generally advise people to do three sets for each exercise. What's more important to focus on is the number of reps.

If you want to bulk up your triceps muscles and overall upper body strength, then aim for six to eight reps; if your goal is toning and fat loss, then go for 12 to 15 reps [3].

2. Training Frequency

If you're going to be working out five days a week, then I would recommend that you work on your arms twice a week to achieve a balance between body parts. But if you're going to be working out just two or three times, then stick to one day a week for your arms.

3. Balancing The Triceps And Biceps

Some of the triceps pushdown alternatives above will give you some benefits from compound movements [4]. That means they will also add tension to other muscles, especially your shoulders and pecs.

But you also need to make sure that you always keep a balance between your triceps and biceps and that your arms maintain a nice proportion.

FAQs

Are Dips the Same as Tricep Pushdowns?

No, dips are not the same as the triceps pushdown. With a cable or band pushdown, you end up isolating the triceps [5]. Dips are a compound exercise that involves multiple joints and muscles, including your shoulders and chest [6].

Can You Do Tricep Pulldowns with Dumbbells?

No, you can't do tricep pulldowns with dumbbells. You could do kickbacks or overhead extensions with dumbbells, but you'd have to use a cable machine or bands to do triceps pushdowns.


References:

  1. https://www.issaonline.com/blog/index.cfm/2019/weight-machines-vs-free-weights-which-is-better
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12436270/
  3. https://blog.nasm.org/toning-vs-bulking-up
  4. https://columbiaassociation.org/gyms-fitness/what-are-compound-exercises/
  5. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tricep-pushdown-guide
  6. https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/how-to-do-a-perfect-dip-no-tobacco-required/
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