The cable triceps pushdown (V-bar) is a commonly utilized exercise that works all three heads of the triceps muscle. A lot of new lifters think the biceps make the arms look impressive, and this is true. However, the triceps contribute to 3/4 of the upper arm mass. So, if you want jacked arms, the triceps must be given as much attention as the biceps.
Not to mention, the triceps are heavily involved in all pressing exercises (e.g., bench presses, shoulder press, push-ups, etc). So, the stronger they are, the more progress you’re going to make overall as the pushdown has a lot of carryover to compound presses.
We’ve explained how to do this exercise with tips, variations, and a little information on how to include it in your training for best results.
Here’s a guide to the cable triceps pushdown (V-bar)…
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Triceps brachii
- Type: Strength
- Mechanics: Isolation
- Equipment: Barbell
- Difficulty: Beginner
Pushdowns active the triceps muscles on the back of the upper arm. Learn more about its anatomy and function in the section below.
The name triceps brachii is derived from the fact that the muscle has three heads – lateral (strongest), medial, and long on the posterior upper arm. When you extend the arm straight down during pushdowns, all three heads work to flex the triceps which is its primary function. The long head of the triceps also cross the shoulder joint, and can therefore contribute to arm extension (reaching the arm behind the body).
How To Do The Cable Triceps Pushdown (V-bar)
The cable triceps pushdown (V-bar) is an amazing exercise that just feels good. But there’s a correct way to do it. Here are step-by-step instructions for this exercise.
- 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.
Here’s a video example…
Cable triceps pushdown (V-bar) tips
- This is not an exercise suitable for maximal loads. We recommend using a weight that will allow you to perform at least 6 reps with good form and using a full range of motion. Anything heavier can cause elbow pain and injury, and it’ll cause you to use other muscles which is not ideal. This is an isolation exercise and therefore, we need to isolate the triceps.
- To extend upon the first tip, avoid leaning too far forward and don’t position your shoulders over the bar or flare your elbows out. Although, this is fine if you’re doing a pushdown variation that replicates the close-grip bench press.
- Do not allow your forearms to go higher than slightly above parallel during the last part of the negatives as you’ll be doing more of an extension than a pushdown.
- Use the stance that is most comfortable for you.
- Make sure to lock your elbows by fully extending your arms to maximize the contraction in your triceps. This is an essential component of muscle development, particularly when it comes to the triceps.
4 Variations or Alternatives
Using a V-shaped bar does offer an advantage compared to using other attachments as it does allow you to use heavier weight overall, which is good for building strength and stimulating growth. But you can use a straight bar, EZ bar, single-grip handles, and a rope too, which all offer their own advantages too.
We recommend changing up the handles every now and then to keep things fun, plus, many people find that they feel the muscles working better using one over the other. So, that’s our first suggestion for incorporating variations. Now we’ll share four variations/alternatives that we think are very effective.
One-arm reverse-grip triceps pushdown
The one-arm reverse-grip triceps pushdown is one of the best variations because you’re isolating one arm at a time and this allows for freer movement. As a result, you can get a better contraction in the triceps and many people find that using a reverse grip allows them to feel the movement even more in their triceps.
Also, training one arm at a time allows you to identify and correct a weaker side and it forces you to engage the core to improve your stabilizer muscles. While the instructions in the provided link offer one way to perform this variation, feel free to experience with the direction that your arm moves during this exercise.
Resistance band triceps pushdown
Don’t have access to a cable machine? You can use resistance bands to create the same effect. Simply wrap or attach the resistance band to an object above your head, grip both sides of the bands and perform your pushdowns. Grab lower on the bands for less resistance and grip higher up to increase the difficulty of the exercise.
Check out these 12 Top Resistance Bands Reviewed for 2023
We’re very fortunate in this day and age to have access to so many different machines that mimic the conventional bread and butter exercises that have been used for decades. And contrary to common belief, these machines offer an advantage because they lock you into a position, that allows you to focus only on the intended movement, not having to stabilize or focus on anything else. Although, a lot of the newer machines allow you to train with a more natural movement.
But machines do have their place, especially when it comes to improving your muscle development.
Close-grip bench press pushdown variation
This variation essentially replicates the close-grip bench press and as a result, you’ll be able to use more weight to load the triceps. It’s more a compound movement because the chest will be engaged as well as the front delts. It’s not necessarily better than the basic triceps pushdowns as it serves a different purpose so don’t replace your regular pushdowns with this exercise.
To do it:
- Slide the pulley lower down on the machine so that it’s easier to push down more weight.
- Choose a heavier weight than what you would if doing the basic pushdown.
- Grip the bar with both hands and lean over it to replicate the press with elbows flared out instead of positioned by your sides. Hold your head over either side of the cable.
- Press the bar down until your arms are fully extended and then allow the bar to come about halfway up but not all the way to your chest.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
How To Incorporate The Cable Triceps Pushdown (V-bar) Into Your Training Routine
The cable triceps pushdown (V-bar) can be effectively utilized in a few different ways.
Arm day/with other triceps exercises
Of course, you can include it with your other triceps exercises on arm day for example, and it really doesn’t matter in what order you do it. Although, you might actually want to do it before the other triceps exercises because oftentimes, you’ll feel the muscle working better this way. Not to mention, it’s probably the best exercise to do to warm up the elbow joints, especially before doing any triceps extension variations.
Although, if you do want to do heavy extensions, then one or two sets of pushdowns using light to medium weight may be most ideal to adequately warm up the elbows. This is so you don’t burn out before you get to the extensions.
After the bigger pushing muscles
A lot of exercisers also train triceps after either chest, shoulders, or both, for example, on a day where the focus is pushing exercises/muscles. In this case, it may be best to only do pushdowns or include two triceps exercises max. Well, chances are, you won’t be able to train as heavy on these days, and therefore, it’s best to use a lighter weight and just focus on the contraction and do more reps, as opposed to using heavy poundages.
The triceps pushdown is one of the best exercises to include in a superset, which is where you perform two exercises back to back with little to no rest in between.
And one of the best ways to do this is to perform some type of bicep curl and alternate with pushdowns. You’ll get a massive arm pump!
We recommend at least 3 sets per session, and anywhere from 6-25 reps, varying the reps according to what you’re trying to achieve in any given session.
The cable triceps pushdown (V-bar) is hard to beat for stimulating the triceps when the goal is bigger and stronger arms. Because it’s an isolation exercise, you can really focus on getting a perfect contraction and you don’t need to use a ton of weight for it to be effective either.
We also recommend using some of the other variations that are just as good but that each offers something unique. Now it’s time to get to work!