Although it’s impossible to prove, the triceps pushdown is probably the most popular and widely performed exercise for the muscle on the back of your upper arm. This makes a lot of sense because triceps pushdowns are so darn convenient to do. After all, most gyms have at least a few high pulley machines, and you can even do this exercise using a lat pulldown machine.
But, as popular and effective as triceps pushdowns are, you can have too much of a good thing. Doing this exercise over and over again will eventually rob it of at least some of its potency, bringing your workout progress to a grinding halt.
Admittedly, doing triceps pushdowns with a straight bar, an EZ bar, a rope handle, or a V-shaped bar will add a little variety to your workout, and you can use a reverse grip, too. But these changes are mostly small and don’t make much difference to your workout.
So, stop flogging a dead horse by sticking to triceps pushdowns like your life depends on it. Breathe new life into your triceps workout with these alternative sleeve-filling exercises!
11 Best Triceps Pushdown Alternatives
Some of the best triceps pushdown alternatives involve similar movements but require different training equipment. Others work the same muscles but in a slightly different way. Either way, whether you train at home or in a commercial gym, you can use these exercises to build and strengthen your triceps.
1. Cable Overhead Extension
Overhead triceps extensions place your upper arms next to your head, which allows for a large range of motion and a significant stretch on the triceps muscle. This exercise requires and develops good shoulder flexibility, but it’s the larger range of motion that makes this a superior triceps builder.
You can do overhead triceps extensions using a low cable machine, a single dumbbell, a regular barbell, and an EZ bar. It can also be done seated or standing as preferred.
If you have healthy, mobile shoulders, you’ll probably enjoy the effects of this challenging exercise. However, if your shoulders are tight or sore, this may not be the exercise for you.
Learn how to do:
- Barbell overhead triceps extensions
- Dumbbell overhead triceps extensions
- Cable overhead triceps extensions
- EZ bar overhead triceps extensions
2. Skull crusher
More appropriately called supine triceps extensions, skull crushers are a very effective triceps exercise and a great alternative to triceps pushdowns. They get their name because, if you aren’t careful, it’s all too easy to hit yourself on the head with your barbell.
Avoid this problem by stopping short of actually touching your head with the bar or using dumbbells instead. The dumbbell variation allows for a slightly greater range of motion, increasing muscle activation and growth.
Check out our in-depth guide to skull crushers here.
3. Triceps kickback
Triceps kickbacks have the reputation of being an easy exercise. That’s because, to do them without cheating, you have to use light weights.
Despite this fact, triceps kickbacks are a very useful alternative to triceps pushdowns. And, like several of the exercises in our list of triceps pushdown alternatives, you can do kickbacks using dumbbells or a cable machine.
Find out how to do the triceps kickback here.
4. Standing barbell triceps kickbacks
Almost all triceps exercises involve elbow extension. That’s no bad thing, as elbow extension is the primary function of the triceps brachii. However, the long head of the triceps also plays a role in shoulder extension.
This old-school exercise feels unusual, and the movement is very small, but if you want to work the long head of your triceps while mostly ignoring the other two heads, this is the exercise you want.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold a barbell behind your back with a pronated or palms-down grip. Brace your abs.
- Keeping your arms straight but not locked, lift the bar out and away from your body. It won’t travel far – just lift it as high as you can.
- Lower the bar and repeat.
- Do this exercise with a light weight and for high reps. Go for a deep burn and big pump!
Read also: Barbell Kickbacks Exercise Guide
5. Parallel bar dips
A lot of lifters do dips as part of their chest workouts. After all, dips involve a similar movement to decline bench presses, and as such, they work your lower pecs, also known as the abdominal or costal head of pectoralis major.
As well as being a useful chest exercise, dips are also a highly effective triceps builder. If you like to train your triceps hard and heavy, dips are an excellent choice.
Learn how to do dips for bigger, stronger triceps here.
6. Bench dips
If parallel dips have a disadvantage, it is that you have to be strong enough to lift your entire body weight using just your arms. This means, for beginners and overweight exercisers, parallel bar dips may be impossible.
Bench dips are somewhat easier because some of your weight is supported by your legs. On the downside, this exercise can be hard on your shoulders. Take care not to bend your arms too much and descend too far, as doing so puts more stress on your shoulders without increasing triceps activation.
Check out this article to learn how to do bench dips.
7. Close grip bench press
Powerlifters do close grip bench presses to beef up their triceps so they can blast through their sticking points when doing regular bench presses. This is a superb exercise for increasing triceps strength and thickness. It’s also a little easier on your shoulders than parallel bar dips.
Do NOT use an ultra-narrow grip. This puts too much stress on your elbow and wrist joints. Instead, your hands should be about shoulder-width apart.
Learn more about this triceps mass exercise here.
8. Diamond push-ups
No barbell, dumbbells, or cable machines? No problem! You can build impressive triceps using nothing more than your body weight. Diamond push-ups are so-called because you place your fingers and thumbs together to form a diamond shape. This reduces pec activation and puts more stress on your triceps.
Some people find this variation causes shoulder pain, but if you’ve got healthy shoulder joints, it’s a useful bodyweight alternative to triceps pushdowns.
9. Bodyweight skull crusher
A lot of experienced lifters think that bodyweight exercises are best left to beginners. This isn’t true! Bodyweight exercises can be as demanding and effective as barbell, dumbbell, and cable exercises for building muscle size and strength.
Take body weight skull crushers, for example. This exercise is really tough and may even be too hard for advanced trainees. Give it a try for yourself to see just how hard some bodyweight exercises can be!
Check out our in-depth guide to find out how to do this challenging triceps exercise.
10. Resistance band triceps pushdown
If you ever find yourself without a high pulley machine, you can still do triceps pushdowns using a resistance band. A lot of powerlifters actually prefer this variation because it is generally easier on the elbows than the cable version. Less elbow pain? Yes, please! Focus on fully extending your elbows when you do this exercise; that’s where the muscle-building tension is highest.
How to do it:
- Attach a resistance band to a high anchor, such as a pull-up bar. Hold the band in your hands at about chest height. Tuck your upper arms into your sides. Brace your abs.
- Extend your arms and push your hands down toward your thighs until your elbows are straight.
- Bend your arms so that your forearms are just above parallel to the floor and repeat.
11. Single arm cable triceps pushdown
One of the best ways to add variety to your workouts is to switch from bilateral (two-limbed) exercises to unilateral (single-limb) exercises. Doing triceps pushdowns with one arm forces you to really concentrate on what you are doing and will also help you to identify and fix left-to-right strength imbalances.
Use a D-shaped handle and experiment with using an overhand vs. an underhand grip to see which you prefer.
Check out this article to discover more about this effective exercise.
Triceps Pushdown Alternatives – Wrapping Up
Triceps pushdowns are a popular exercise, and for a good reason; they really work! It’s hard to think of a bodybuilder who hasn’t used this exercise, and it’s also popular with powerlifters and fitness enthusiasts all over the world. Triceps pushdowns are easy to learn, and most gyms have the equipment you need to do them. They’re also great for drop sets – talk about a crazy pump!
But, like any exercise, triceps pushdowns will lose their potency if you do them too often. Their convenience means that pushdowns are included in most triceps workouts, and that could be exactly what’s preventing your triceps from growing.
Spice up your triceps workout by ditching the pushdowns and trying some new exercises. You don’t have to give up pushdowns for good (heaven forbid!), but by varying your workout from time to time, you’ll avoid progress stalls and plateaus and keep your muscles growing.
Use these triceps pushdown alternatives to build bigger, stronger triceps and stay out of workout ruts.