The Alternatives To A Triceps Pushdown

The triceps pushdown exercise is an effective isolated motion exercise that mainly focuses on the activation of the three-headed triceps muscle. It is a beginner friendly exercise that is great for the strength and endurance training of the triceps  and is usually performed using a cable and pulley machine.

Multiple triceps pushdown alternatives are available to mix up with your arm workout routine like the skull crushers, close-grip bench press, close-grip push up, overhead triceps extension, dumbbell kickbacks, and triceps dips. If using a triceps pushdown machine is not an option, there are other equipments you can use to engage the triceps muscle which includes dumbbells, barbells, and even your own body weight.

The basic principles of the triceps pushdown, including the muscles activated, will be tackled in this article. Furthermore, various alternatives to this exercise will also be discussed.

Muscle Activation

The triceps pushdown exercise is composed of the elbow extension motion or elbow straightening. During this movement, the three-headed triceps brachii muscle is primarily activated.

The triceps brachii is the the only muscle found at the back of the upper arm. It is composed of three heads namely medial, lateral, and long-head. These three mainly function as the extensors of the elbow joint. However, the long head of the triceps contributes to shoulder extension, moving the arm towards the back, and shoulder adduction, moving the arm towards the body because of its origin at the scapula.

The medial head of the triceps has a significant active role in all forms of elbow extension. However, the lateral and long heads are only active during elbow extensions that occur against resistance.

Studies reveal that the long head of the triceps contributes more to elbow extension during 0-90 degrees of shoulder elevation. However, the medial head generates more force to elbow extension during 90-180 degrees of shoulder elevation.

Based on muscle histology, the lateral head of the triceps is more equipped for occasional high-intensity force while the medial head is for low-intensity and precise motions.

Aside from these three, there are also other muscles that are activated to both stabilize and support the triceps pushdown movement. The secondary muscles engaged in this activity are the latissimus dorsi, which happens to be the largest muscle in the upper body, the abs, obliques, and the trapezius.


There are multiple other alternative exercises that target the triceps brachii muscle. Even without a triceps pushdown machine, triceps strengthening and endurance training can still be achieved. The following are some of the alternatives you can do with the use of dumbbells, barbells, and even your body weight:

Skull Crushers

The skull crusher exercise is an alternative for those who have wrist problems. With the wrists in neutral position during this motion, lesser pressure is placed on the wrists. With this exercise, all three heads of the triceps brachii muscle are hit. This is also a bulk building exercise as compared to the shaping and defining properties of the triceps pushdown.

What you will need: dumbbells, exercise mat

How to perform:

  1. With your back flat on a mat, knees bent, and your feet firmly planted on the ground, engage your core as you hold the dumbbells perpendicular to the floor. Keep your shoulders tucked in tight next to your body and avoid elbows from flaring out.
  2. In a slow manner, bring the dumbbells down behind the ears. Inhale while doing this.
  3. Exhale and extend your arms back to the starting position.

Sets and repetitions:

Begin with a light load and start with 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions. When you have mastered the form in the previous sets and repetitions, you may now use a heavier load and perform 3 sets of 6-8 repetitions. Having a lower number of repetitions with a higher load is effective in muscle strengthening.


  • Remember to keep your elbows close to your body to maximize triceps muscle activation.
  • Perform this exercise slowly to fully engage the triceps and carefully to avoid injury.
  • This exercise is best performed with lower loads to avoid elbow injury.
  • Exhale when lifting heavy loads, and inhale when putting it back down to avoid valsalva maneuver which may result in increased blood pressure because of an increase in intrathoracic pressure.

Close-grip Bench Press

The close-grip bench press is also used to increase triceps muscle mass. This activates not only the triceps but also the chest and shoulders and with that, you may be able to lift heavier loads. To target the medial head of the triceps, this exercise will be of great help.

What you will need: barbell, bench

How to perform:

  1. With your back flat on a flat bench, lift the barbell from the rack and hold them up with the arms locked. Your arms should be a shoulder-width apart.
  2. Inhale and slowly bring the barbell down to the middle of your chest. Remember to keep the elbows close to the body to maximize triceps activation.
  3. Exhale and bring the barbell back up to the starting position.

Sets and repetitions:

Always begin with a lower load at 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions before transitioning to heavier loads at 3-5 sets of 6-8 repetitions.


  • It is best to have a spotter to watch you while doing this exercise especially if you are a beginner.
  • Use proper grip with your thumb and fingers wrapped firmly around the bar to avoid dropping the bar.
  • Keep your hips flat on the bench. If the hips ever lift off the bench, this may indicate that the load is too heavy.
  • Perform this exercise slowly and avoid bouncing the bar off the chest to avoid sternal injuries.
  • Remember to avoid the valsalva maneuver which is the overexertion of effort while holding the breath.

Close-grip Push Up

This exercise targets not only the triceps but the chest muscles such as the deltoids, pectoral muscles, and even the biceps muscle as well. This is an upper arm workout that also engages the core from the abdominals to the erector spinae muscles of the back. This is a great overall body workout.

What you will need: exercise mat

How to perform:

  1. Position yourself into a plank with the hands close together. Engage your core while doing this and pull the abdominals in.
  2. Flex your arms and form a 90-degree angle between the upper arm and forearm to lower down the body. Do this while you inhale.
  3. Exhale and straighten the arms again while making sure your triceps are contracted maximally. Be careful not to hyperextend your elbows.

Sets and repetitions:

Begin with 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions.


  • Engage your core at all times to avoid back pain.
  • Keep your neck neutral with your eyes to the floor for proper alignment to the spine.
  • Avoid valsalva maneuver.

Overhead Triceps Extension

Other exercises activate other muscles aside from the triceps, but with overhead triceps extension, the triceps brachii is put into the spotlight. This will greatly improve your functional strength.

What you will need: dumbbells

How to perform:

  1. Stand and position the feet a shoulder width apart to create a stable base. You may also do this exercise in a seated position.
  2. Engage your core to keep the body stable as the dumbbell is being lifted straight overhead. You may use one dumbbell on each hand or you can also opt to hold one dumbbell together with both hands.
  3. Slowly bend the arms to position the dumbbell just behind your head. Remember to keep the elbows close to the ears to maximize triceps activity. Do this as you inhale.
  4. Activate and contract your triceps as you straighten your arms and lift the dumbbell. Exhale while doing this step.

Sets and repetitions:

Begin with a lighter dumbbell in 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for endurance and use a heavier weight later on for 3-5 sets of 4-6 repetitions for muscle bulking.


  • Keep your elbows close to your head to maximize triceps activity and engagement.
  • Avoid valsalva maneuver.

Dumbbell Kickbacks

With dumbbell kickbacks, minimal pressure is also placed on the wrists because of its neutral position. To avoid wrist injury, the dumbbell kickbacks are great alternatives as they also are proven exercises to strengthen and define the triceps muscle.

What you will need: dumbbells, bench

How to perform:

  1. Begin with a dumbbell on the right hand while your left hand and left knee are on a flat bench. Keep the back straight and the right upper arm close to your body. A 90-degree angle should be formed between the right upper arm and forearm.
  2. Straighten your arm until it is fully extended. Focus the movement on the forearm and keep the upper arm close to the body. Exhale while doing this step and hold the contraction for a second or two.
  3. Inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells. Remember to keep your head up althrough out the exercise.
  4. Repeat and continue doing the exercise with the opposite arm.

Sets and repetitions:

Always begin with a lower load at 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions before transitioning to heavier loads.


  • Keep your elbows close to your body to maximize triceps activation and to decrease the risk of shoulder injury.
  • Engage your core and keep your back flat to avoid back injury.

Tricep Dips

What you will need: Chair

How to perform:

  1. Sit on the edge of the chair and firmly grip the edges near your hips. Extend your legs with the feet hip-width apart and keep your head straight and your chin up.
  2. Slide forward and slowly lower your body until a 90-degree angle is formed between the upper arm and forearm. Keep your body upright and the elbows close. Inhale during this process.
  3. Exhale and lift your body back to the starting position.

Sets and repetitions:

Begin with 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions before transitioning to 3-5 sets of 12-15 repetitions.


  • Keep your shoulders away from the ears to avoid neck injuries and don’t bring your body too low to avoid shoulder injury.
  • Upon lifting your body up, leave a slight bend to the elbow to maintain triceps engagement.
  • Do not lean forward as this will diminish triceps activation and transfering the force activation to the chest muscles.

There are plenty of alternatives to the triceps pushdown exercise. Combining the different triceps-activating exercises into your workout routine will create a positive impact to your arm strength and endurance training.