Form Fixes Everything, How to Correctly Master the Tricep Pulldown
One popular workout you may have heard of is the tricep pulldown. It is conventionally done at a cable system to isolate and work triceps efficiently and increase upper arm strength.
Training triceps is popular for several reasons. First, these are muscles that are easy to train to exhaustion. Second, many workouts are pegged on having impeccable upper arm strength, for example, pushups.
So, you may ask, how do you do a tricep pulldown and stick to the correct form? We’ll take a deeper focus on this article, so be sure to stick to the end.
Muscles That Are Worked in the Tricep Pulldown
The scientific term for triceps is triceps brachii which means ‘muscle with three heads,’ a long, lateral, and medial head. Triceps are found at the back of your upper arm and cause extension at the elbow joint.
Other than the triceps, some ancillary muscles are activated. These include your lats, obliques, traps, pecs, and abs. You only need these muscles to stabilize your spine during the tricep pushdown.
Benefits of Tricep Pulldown
- Increased upper arm strength
The triceps pulldown is an isolation workout with great ability to engage your triceps down to the last fiber. As a result, you will realize a steady increase in strength as well as muscle size.
- Unique focus on triceps
As we’ve already said, tricep pushdowns are an isolation workout. Meaning, only your triceps are worked while other muscle compartments are not. By this principle, you can wholly focus on working your triceps to exhaustion as different muscles are not engaged.
Furthermore, by zeroing in on individual triceps, you stand a better chance of detecting and hammering out areas of weaknesses and imbalance.
- It can be done with resistance bands
Tricep pulldowns are conventionally performed using a cable system inside the gym. However, it may surprise you that there is a cheaper on-the-go alternative you can try.
Resistance bands are a straightforward DIY when you can’t make it to the gym. Firmly fix a hook on a wall or other firm attachment and at a suitable height. Finally, attach your resistance bands to the pin and enjoy your workout!
But unlike the cable system, resistance bands offer more tension as you pull them downward.
- Adaptable to your level of strength
If you are worried that the tricep pushdown is too complex for you, it is not!
One significant reason behind the simplicity of this workout is that it is founded on natural extension and flexion at the elbow. As such, the only variable is the weight used, and this can also be adjusted to your sweet spot.
- Improves core strength and stability
Even though tricep pulldowns focus majorly on the triceps, other muscles are activated but to a lesser extent. For example, you will need to stabilize your core, meaning your abs, back, chest, and shoulders benefit.
Step by Step Instruction
Even though the tricep pulldown is based on simple movement, it runs under narrow margins, so sticking to the correct form is fundamental.
Therefore, read through to hone your pushdown execution:
- Adjust the pulley system to the highest setting, and use a suitable attachment for the cable – perhaps a rope or handlebar.
- Stand in front of the pulley machine, feet shoulder-width apart, and grab the attachment with an overhand grip.
- Pull the bar or rope to chest level but keep your elbows tucked in by your sides.
- Engage your core and back to keep your torso neutral and push the bar to your thighs until elbows are fully extended.
- Pause for a couple of seconds and gradually release. Engage your triceps as you lower the weights until the bar rises to your chest.
- Once at the starting position, pause and repeat to a fair number of reps.
Tip: Aim for 6-10 reps and 2-4 sets.
Modifications and Variations
If the conventional pushdown doesn’t cut it, here are unique modifications to engage your triceps effectively:
- Rope pushdown
Using bar handles on the cable system is okay. But if you use rope handles, you get more muscular concentric and eccentric contractions due to the added wrist movement.
Attach a rope to the cable, grab it with an overhand grip with palms facing each other. Push down to your hips and twist your wrists so that palms face the floor at the bottom of the movement. Pause and repeat.
- Alternating triceps pushdown
Noticeable differences in strength between arms can be corrected by performing pushdowns using only one arm. In this movement, pull with one arm to your thighs, gradually release the weight, and alternate with the other arm.
Remember that you will now have to use less weight.
- Reverse-grip pulldown
To optimally activate all three heads of the tricep muscle, use an underhand grip (palms face up).
Note, if you are having issues with elbow flaring, you should try this move to correct your form.
- Resistance band pushdown
As earlier said, resistance bands, are an affordable and suitable alternative to conventional cable pulldowns. Make sure to fix them on a sturdy hook to a wall to complete the ensemble. Furthermore, they are ideal for improving endurance because the longer they get, the more resistance you experience.
- Unilateral pushdown
Unilateral pushdowns are recommended if you often lean forward during contractions. Additionally, they improve the correction of strength deficits between arms.
Get into position by grabbing a stirrup handle with an overhand grip. Put the opposite arm over your lower back, brace your core and push the handle down to hip level. Pause and release back to the starting position and repeat.
To get the most out of tricep pushdowns, make sure your elbows are placed by your sides. Flaring reduces effectiveness and pressures chest muscles and the shoulder.
Not using both sides fully
Both your triceps need to contract synergistically. If you lift more weight using only one side, you incur an increased risk of injury and develop sore muscles.
While it is acceptable to bend your knees during a tricep pulldown slightly, you must keep your back neutral.
Bending forward strains your spine and may cause lower back complications.
Improper wrist positioning
Unless you are using stirrup handles, your wrists should remain neutral. Twisting has no advantage and is possibly dangerous. Movement should only be isolated to your elbows and shoulders.
Using unnecessarily heavy weight
Use weights suitable to your fitness level. Working out with unnecessarily heavy weight limits your rep count and will make your muscles sore.
If you don’t want to use weights, resistance bands are equally effective and carry a lower risk of injury.
Safety and Precautions
Below are some protective measures you should keep in mind:
Conservative weight selection
Elbow and joint injuries can be prevented by opting for moderate weights. Furthermore, these allow you to complete sets without straining your joints and muscles.
Talk to your doctor
Working out with elbow and shoulder disorders can aggravate your condition. It is essential to consult your doctor before attempting any workout that will strain your muscles and joints.
Check your form
The range of movement found in triceps pushdowns is excellent for promoting joint structure and integrity. However, poor form can aggravate existing shoulder and elbow complications.
Also, do not bend forward or flare your elbows, which will strain your elbow and spine. You can also keep your upper body upright by engaging your core and back during the workout.
Use the suitable pulley height
If the pulley is too high, you overstrain your shoulder and elbow. Conversely, a low pulley placement causes suboptimal muscle engagement.
Tricep Pulldown Alternatives
- Close-grip bench press
Bench pressing is popular among bodybuilders because it stimulates shoulder, chest, and arm development. Use a narrow grip to make the workout more potent, changing the focus from chest and shoulders to arms.
Start by laying on a bench and placing your selected weight on a rack. Grab the handle with a narrower than shoulder-width grip, lift it off the rack and lower it to your chest. Soon as it brushes your chest, transition to the lifting phase and repeat (6-8 reps per set).
- Diamond pushups
Diamond push-ups are not only great for your lower chest but also your triceps. Get into position on all fours, feet behind your hips and palms under your shoulders. Use a close grip, ensuring your index fingers and thumbs touching to form a diamond. Activate your core and back, breath in, and descend to the floor. When your chest hovers above your palms, push to the starting position and repeat (8-12 reps per set).
- Lying dumbbell tricep extension
This workout is also called ‘skull crusher’ because it comes with a high risk of banging dumbbells against your head.
In your starting position, lie on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand in a neutral grip. Stretch your hands above your chest until elbows lock. Flex your elbows and lower the weight to the side or top of your head. Pause when elbows form a right angle, push back along the same arc, and repeat (8-12 reps per set).
- Overhead tricep extension
Grab a set of dumbbells, place your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your hands above your head. Brace your core, breath in, and lower the weights behind your head. Stop when elbows form 90-degrees and pull back to your starting position. Repeat (8-12 reps).
- Tricep dips
Tricep dips stimulate shoulder and arm strength. Add this to your upper arm workout to realize tremendous gains.
Place your hands at the edge of a bench and push your hips forward such that your glutes clear it. Rest your feet on the floor and ensure thighs are parallel to the floor and knees form a 90-degree angle. Pivot at your elbows and lower your body until elbows form right angles. Push back up until arms lock, and repeat (6-10 reps)
Tricep pulldowns are great for improving strength and coordination. As we have seen, there are several variations to suit your taste. If you are looking for a challenge, there are more alternatives to include in your upper arm workout arsenal.
Most importantly, it would be best to stick to the tips as explained to correct your form and keep you free of injuries.