It’s not a stretch (pun intended) to say that band pushdowns are a powerful tool that anyone can use to increase the size and strength of their upper arm muscles. With the right technique and strength of your rubber tubing, you’re doing what’s required to bring out those hidden horseshoes, or add more capacity to your bazookas!
While it has similar benefits, pushdowns offer major advantages over its popular cable machine counterpart, like cost (very affordable), and lack of space needed if training at home. That said, it does have its drawbacks.
Learn the right and effective way to do band pushdowns, triceps anatomy, best variations and alternatives, and see answers to frequently asked questions in this detailed exercise guide!
Muscles Worked During Band Pushdowns
Once you understand the anatomy, function, and importance of training your triceps muscles during band pushdowns, you’ll unlock the highest level of arm gains! In this section, we included a brief description of this three-headed muscle…
A beautiful, strong set of triceps is the product of intense presses, pushdowns, and extension variation. Three heads by design, your triceps consist of an outer, middle, and long head, each located on the posterior upper arm opposite the biceps.
If you look at which exercises target the triceps, you’ll see one thing in common, elbow extension, which is their role in nature!
Band pushdowns hit all three heads of the tris, but done right, they’ll pack size on the large long head, that creates more arm circumference.
How To Do Band Pushdowns
As long as you have decent form and use a manageable weight, its hard to mess up band pushdowns, or any pushdowns for that matter. This is evident by the different variations, and techniques used by top experts.
However, we included step by step instructions and a video tutorial below, demonstrating one of the most effective ways to perform pushdowns. The video also shows how you can use a few different body positions to achieve the same outcome. You’re free to use the technique that feels best for you.
- Secure your band/s to an object overhead.
- Grab both sides of the band/s evenly. Your arms should be bent at a roughly 45-degree angle with your elbows tucked in and not flared out, and that’s your starting position. You may need to adjust the band height, or your grip.
- You can use a staggered stance (one foot in front and one behind), or stand with your feet roughly shoulder width apart.
- Bend the hips and knees, and lean your upper body slightly forward. Your elbows should point down to the floor.
- Now extend your arms until they are completely straight, and squeeze your triceps hard.
- Bend your elbows until your arms are back to the starting position, and knock out as many reps as you like.
Here’s a detailed video demonstration of band pushdowns.
- You should be locking out or fully extending your elbows during most or all triceps exercises, including pushdowns, presses, and extensions.
- You can vary your grip between overhand, underhand, or neutral, depending on which feels best for you.
- Avoid using too much weight. pushdowns are better for your elbows and gains when performed with solid form, full range of motion, and moderate to heavy weight, not max loads.
- Target Muscle Group: Triceps brachii
- Secondary Muscles: Deltoids, core
- Type: Hypertrophy
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: Resistance band and solid base (optional)
- Difficulty: Beginner
Benefits of Band Pushdowns
Pushdowns are one of the best triceps builders, in general. But there are different versions, each of which has its advantages over the others, and the banded variation is no different. While not perfect, we personally like the band pushdown for everything it offers.
Similar to cable pushdowns
Band pushdowns are the closest thing you can get to a cable pushdown if you train at home, and don’t have a cable machine. The primary commonality between the two is constant tension.
But they’ll only be similarly effective if you do them right. Because it’s far too easy to minimize their potential with either the wrong set up, or improper hand placement on the band.
Improve mind-muscle connection
Unlike presses, push-ups, and sometimes extensions, pushdowns along with dips, and kickbacks, are the most satisfying exercises because of how they feel, aka the contraction. This gives you the opportunity to really focus and activate the muscle to its fullest.
In fact, bodybuilders and many fitness experts believe in the power of flexing a muscle alone, to create more detail, and improve gains.
Affordable home triceps exercise
A small investment in a cheap resistance band can give you months worth of gains! Most band sets have a door attachment so you can do pushdowns in your home, although a tree branch or pull-up bar are just as handy. If you workout at home, having bands is almost a must!
Drawbacks of band pushdowns
Of course it can’t all be peaches… there are some potential drawbacks of band pushdowns.
They have to be done from overhead
One thing we haven’t mentioned, and if it wasn’t obvious, you need a base positioned above your head to do band pushdowns. A door pull-up bar, rafters, tree, or any safe object will do. Most people should have access to one or the other. But it’s worth mentioning.
Beginner friendly but with a catch…
While anyone can technically do band pushdowns, it doesn’t mean they’re getting the most benefit. Because of the stretchy nature of a band, a little more technique is required to do them correctly. There’s an inconsistency in the resistance, but this can be greatly reduced with proper body position and hand placement on the band.
Use the instructions and tips in this guide to ensue you’re maximizing the band pushdown.
Harder to track your gains
It’s definitely harder to track your progress using a giant rubber band compared to numbered weights. Not to mention, bands may lose their strength over time from too much use, or abuse.
This leads a lot of people to never make progress if they train at home because they use the same band, and do the same number of reps.
You should be mindful of the attachment point, your hand placement, and try to move up in tubing strength when needed.
Common Mistakes During Band Pushdowns
We’ve all been guilty of these common mistakes at some point in our training. Maybe you still do them and hopefully these tips will help you to be more efficient and satisfied with your triceps pushdowns.
Using too much resistance
Ego training and your elbows are not a good match. This is a common mistake seen a lot with the cable version. Using too much weight, straining the elbows, and using one side too much, or leaning forward, to complete the reps, if you can even finish the lockout.
Aim for eight challenging reps and higher, but use a manageable weight and try to maintain good form and avoid leaning forward, and flaring your elbows.
Doing chest, and shoulder pushdowns
While we alluded to this point in the prior mistake suggestion, it’s a huge problem that’s too common.
The exerciser presses the rope attachment handles together, leans over the weight, flares their elbows outward, and uses all of their pushing muscles like the chest and shoulders to help.
It’s supposed to be a “triceps” pushdown that isolates only the triceps muscles. Otherwise, why bother? Just do a press!
Too much arm flexion during negatives
A lot of gym goers waste energy by bending their arms too much on the eccentric phase (when the arm bends) of the pushdown. There’s no need as it stresses the elbows and takes away from your pushdown strength.
While close to an extension, pushdowns are not quite the same, and you won’t be able to get the same type of stretch as your body is not in an optimal position. So let pushdowns be pushdowns, and use other exercises to stretch your tris more.
Variations and Alternatives of Band Pushdowns
Variety in your training not only keeps things enjoyable, but while you can have two exercises that work the same muscle, one may feel better than the other. It’s good to switch between movements and here are the best variations and alternatives of band pushdowns.
Most gym goers flock to the cable machines to do triceps pushdowns as it’s been the most common variation for this type of exercise. And it’s still going to be superior to bands, as cables do not stretch, keeping the resistance equally challenging from start to finish.
Whereas bands are easier at the start as they’re not fully stretched, but the exercise gets harder the more it stretches.
- Slide the cable pulley to the top or a high notch on the cable machine and attach the V-shaped bar.
- Face the pulley and grab the handles with both hands using an overhand grip. You can either use a split stance, hip-width stance, or position your feet close together.
- With your core tight, chest up, and while keeping your elbows by your sides, fully extend your arms by flexing your triceps and squeeze for a second.
- Slowly bend your elbows until your forearms are slightly above parallel to the floor and repeat for the desired number of reps.
Related: Triceps Pushdown Comparison – Rope vs. Straight Bar vs. V-Bar (Which is Better?)
Nowadays, it’s hard not to be impressed or fall in love with some of the modern exercise machine designs. They’re so ergonomic that you almost don’t want to go back to the other options.
Note: We’re not referring to the seated dip machine, but rather machines that replicate a cable standing pushdown.
Make sure to check out our recent training guide on the triceps press, a type of bodyweight extension similar to pushdowns but better for the long head. You should feel more sore the day after a few intense sets because when done correctly, they should stretch the triceps nicely!
The only downside is that you can only work against your weight, but there are ways to make it less challenging and better for beginner exercisers. The bodyweight kneeling triceps extension is also a great variation that you do on your knees.
Pushdowns resemble extensions more than pure presses. Therefore, any extension type triceps exercise is going to be similar, but… movements like lying triceps extensions stretch the triceps better. But the contraction in the triceps may not feel as amazing during extensions compared to pushdowns.
Both should be used to blow up your guns, but both can replace the other if you had to choose one triceps exercise for one workout.
What's the best sets and reps routine for band pushdowns?
The short answer… variety. But it ultimately depends on your goals. We recommend using different set, and especially rep ranges as each has its unique benefits.
To maximize your triceps potential, try to alternate the following suggestions on separate workout days, varying the level of resistance.
- Hypertrophy: 2-4 sets x 8-20 reps
- Strength and hypertrophy: 2-3 sets x 6-12 reps
- Hypertrophy and muscle conditioning: 2-3 sets x 20-30 reps
What's better: Band or cable triceps pushdowns?
Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but both are very useful and effective variations.
For example, you need a cable machine to do machine pushdowns. Not good if you train at home.
On the other hand, band resistance is less consistent, and it’s harder to track progress as bands aren’t numbered and they may lose strength over time.
Home training with little to no equipment doesn’t have to be boring. Having a resistance band at your disposal gives you access to the capabilities of a cable machine (with a few slight differences, of course), like being able to do triceps band pushdowns.
But you should treat band pushdowns the same you would a cable pushdown, using good form, and full range of motion, and squeezing your tris every rep. If you do this, and focus on progression, you will be happy that you introduced this powerful tool in your arm training weaponry.
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