man doing tricep pushdown alternatives
Fitness

Elbow Pain? Try These 6 Tricep Pushdown Alternatives

We all want strong-looking muscular arms, and most people think the biceps muscle is the key to that goal. They’re wrong! 

Why should we train our triceps?

The tricep is one of the most underrated muscles we have and by neglecting it, you are making a big mistake. The word triceps is derived from Latin, literally meaning ” three-headed muscle of the arm.” The three groups are;

  • Medial
  • Lateral
  • Long Head

Classified as an “extensor” muscle, it also fixates to the elbow and uses the forearm for subtle hand movements such as writing or using cutlery. 

There are numerous exercises for triceps in terms of strength and size; however, one common problem that plagues many people is elbow pain, which they experience while performing the movements.

Common mistakes to avoid

As with any exercise, those looking to implement the triceps extensions should avoid some common mistakes. Examples of these mistakes are locking the elbows at the bottom of the movement, lifting too heavy, not performing an adequate warm-up, using the reverse grip inappropriately, and performing the triceps extensions with incorrect technique. Avoiding these common mistakes ensures you stay injury-free, allowing you to maximize your full potential.

Let’s look at some triceps pushdown alternative exercises that can help alleviate joint pain while still providing an effective triceps workout.

Best Tricep Pushdown Alternatives

1. Close Grip Bench Press 

The close grip bench press is an excellent triceps pushdown movement that takes a slight variation on one of the most popular and recognized movements, the bench press. By limiting this exercise’s downward direction, the tricep muscle is primarily targeted instead of the chest muscle on the traditional barbell bench press. 

Equipment:

Bench, Barbell

Primary Muscle Group:

Triceps, Chest

How to perform:

  • Lie down on a bench with your feet shoulder-width apart and your feet firmly on the ground.
  • Grab the barbell using a slightly narrower grip than shoulder-length; you can use an even closer grip, but beware as this can put unwanted stress on the wrists and make balance challenging. 
  • Slowly lower the barbell making sure to engage the core.
  • Once at the bottom of the movement, explode back up, careful not to lock out the elbow.

Coaches Tip:

The close grip bench press is a tricky movement, especially for beginners, so be sure to use a lightweight which you can handle easily. Use a spotter, if possible, to help with the safety of the movement.

Sets and Reps: 

3 sets of 12 reps.

2. Push-Up Using Diamond Hand Position

The diamond push-up provides added resistance, and as a tricep pushdown exercise, it is hard to beat for strength and muscle size gains. The reason for the added resistance is hand positioning. By moving your hand closer under your chest, resistance is transferred from the larger chest muscles to the triceps. 

Equipment:

None

Primary Muscles:

Triceps, Chest

How to perform:

  • On the floor or preferably a yoga mat, move into the traditional push-up position.
  • Instead of positioning your hands shoulder-width apart, move them closer together under your chest.
  • When you have found a comfortable hand position, lower as you usually would with a traditional push-up
  • Explode back up at the bottom of the movement.
  • Repeat.

Coaches Tip: 

This exercise does require a fair amount of strength to perform, similar to the tricep pushdown and bench press, so make sure you are confident you can complete three technically correct repetitions before progressing to 8-12.

Sets and Reps: 

3 sets of 8-12 reps

3. Triceps Kickback

The triceps kickback provides a great workout that targets the triceps. Some users find this tricep pushdown variation a more comfortable movement to execute. It can be an excellent alternative for those who struggle with pain when performing traditional pushdown. 

Equipment:

None

Primary Muscles:

Triceps

How to perform:

  • Take one dumbbell and hold it in your right hand.
  • Rest your left knee on the bench, slightly tilted forward at the hips, using your non-working hand to support your body weight on the bench.
  • Keeping your elbow straight at your side, slowly raise the dumbbell until it is horizontal with the floor but just short of locking out.
  • Lower the weight to the starting position in a controlled motion
  • Repeat the process on the opposite arm.

Coaches Tip: 

When performing this movement, be sure to keep your core engaged at all times. Do not round your back as this puts unwanted stress on the neck and spine, which leads to serious injury.  

Sets and Reps: 

3 sets of 12 reps

4. Triceps Overhead Extension

The overhead triceps extension is, in essence, the identical movement to the tricep pushdown but in reverse. Because of its similarities with the traditional pushdown, the overhead extension has become one of the most popular and effective triceps pushdown alternatives. 

Using the resistance band allows you to go lighter, meaning you can perform more reps to get those triceps pumping.

Equipment:

Resistance Bands

Primary Muscles:

Tricep

How to perform:

  • Securely attach your resistance band under the door frame or even to the bottom of a fence or cupboard.
  • Turn away from the anchor in the opposite direction and grab both ends of the band, one in each hand.
  • Have your feet shoulder-width apart in an athletic ready position and your core nice and tight.
  • With the band in your hands and elbows slightly bent, push the band upwards, extending your elbows until the tricep is contracted.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat. 

Coaches Tip: 

The advantage of using the resistance band is two-fold. Firstly the lighter resistance allows you to perform more repetitions for an increased muscle pump, and secondly, the band takes the pressure off the elbow and wrists, helping eliminate the chance of injury.

Check out our review of the best resistance bands here.

Sets and Reps: 

3 sets of 12-15

5. Lying Triceps Extension

This well-known exercise is a great tricep pushdown alternative for all gym-goers and is a relatively easy move to learn and execute. Be mindful here, though, because the lying triceps extension can put stress on the elbow joint, and with the weight being directly overhead, you need to show caution. 

Equipment:

Bench, Dumbbells

Primary Muscle Group:

Triceps

How to perform:

  • Lie down on your back flat on the bench.
  • Hold two dumbbells in your hands directly up over your chest with your palms facing inwards and your arms shoulder-width apart.
  • In a slow controlled motion, lower the weight down as far as you feel comfortable, being sure to limit movement in the shoulders. 
  • Once the weight is at the bottom of the action, return to the top, and as always, do not lock out the elbow joint. 
  • Repeat.

Coaches Tip: 

Use a lightweight to prevent injury to the wrists and elbows. Once confident in the movement, slowly progress to the heavier weights as you would with the cable tricep pushdown but limit movement in the shoulders.

Sets and Reps: 

3 sets of 12 reps

6. Resistance Band Triceps Pushdown

This version of the triceps pushdown is a practical and easy to perform movement. It can be performed anywhere, and the only device needed is a resistance band. 

The resistance band pushdown acts as an excellent alternative exercise to the traditional pushdown, with many people believing the banded version is superior. This is because the resistance band offers tension throughout the entire action, whereas with the traditional cable pushdown, the cable tension is decreased at various points of the movement. 

Equipment:

Resistance Band

Primary Muscles:

Triceps

How to perform:

  • Wrap the resistance band through an anchor on the highest point on the door, be sure the band’s center is fitted securely.
  • Face the door, your feet shoulder-width apart in an athletic position, and both ends of the band in your hands.
  • Keep your elbows firmly at your side, and bring your arms to chest height; be sure there is sufficient tension on the band. 
  • Slowly push down and extend your arms while keeping your elbows tucked in to your sides.
  • Return in a controlled motion and repeat.

Coaches Tip: 

Using the band allows you to go lighter with this triceps pushdown and pump out more reps making this is an excellent exercise to use as a warm-up or for those undergoing rehabilitation. 

Sets and Reps: 

3 sets of 12-15 reps

7. Dips

The dip is classified as a compound movement, meaning it utilizes multiple muscle groups while stabilizing your body. I would describe the dip as one of the best replacement exercises on par with other compound movements such as squats and pull-ups.

Not only do dips improve strength and muscle size, but the exercise can also be performed anywhere. Being a bodyweight exercise, the dip is subjectively challenging for all ranges of fitness levels, making it the perfect triceps pushdown alternative.

Equipment:

Dip Stand, Chair, Bench 

Primary Muscles:

Triceps, Core, Glutes

How to perform:

  • On a dip bar or even a chair or bench, place your hands shoulder length apart while keeping your arms straight but slightly bent.
  • Engage your glutes and core muscles, making sure to maintain a straight upper body.
  • Bend your elbows, and lower yourself to 90 degrees.
  • At the bottom, pause for a 2-second count and explode back up, be absolutely sure to maintain a strong core, which will help prevent unnecessary body movement.
  • Repeat. 

Coaches Tip: 

One of the best exercises to promote increased muscle growth and strength is to lower yourself as slowly as possible; this increases tension on the triceps muscle for an extended period, promoting growth and size. 

Sets and Reps: 

3 sets of 12 reps

8. Weighted Dips

The weighted dip requires a good amount of strength and therefore is only an exercise accessible to the most experienced gym-goer. The activity itself works the triceps, shoulders, and chest muscles. 

There are several ways to add weight while dipping; the most common is attaching a weight to an existing weight belt, the next being wearing a weighted vest (my personal favorite), and finally placing weights between your ankles. 

Remember, dips require good upper body strength, so be sure you have sufficient power before you challenge yourself with this extreme version of the dip.

Equipment:

Weight Plates, Dip Bar, Weight Belt

Primary Muscles:

Triceps, Glutes, Core

How to perform:

  • Load a weight onto your weight belt.
  • On a straight bar, make sure to place your hands shoulder-length apart while keeping your arms straight but slightly bent.
  • Engage your glutes and core muscles, making sure to maintain a straight upper body.
  • Bend your elbows, and lower yourself to 90 degrees.
  • At the bottom, pause for a 2-second count and explode back up, be absolutely sure to maintain a strong core, which will help prevent unnecessary body movement.
  • Repeat. 

Coaches Tip:

Do not attempt this exercise unless you have a good amount of upper body strength and are experienced at executing the traditional weightless dip and the triceps pushdowns.

Sets and Reps:

3 sets of 8 reps 

Conclusion

The key to stimulating new muscle growth in the triceps muscle is to work for all three muscle groups effectively. Using the triceps exercises we’ve discussed in this article will help to develop your overall tricep strength, size, and muscle quality. 

Generally, performing the exercise or movement at the slowest rate possible is most beneficial; this puts additional resistance on the tricep and promotes strength and size. 

These tricep pushdown alternatives are isolation exercises that offer an excellent way to target the tricep without taxing other secondary muscle groups. 

It’s critically important to put the triceps through the full range of movements, allowing each exercise to target all three muscle groups that make up the triceps. Understanding that the tricep is a two-muscle joint, the most effective training will allow the elbow joint to be in a straightened position.

When executing the triceps pushdowns be sure to maintain correct technique, use light weights, and slowly progress to more challenging movements that require heavier weights and more complex techniques. 

Frequently Asked Questions


How Can I Build Massive Arms?

As mentioned earlier, the triceps are one of the most underrated muscles trained. If you are looking to build massive arms, you only need to look to the muscle groups’ names to answer your question.

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Biceps literally translates into “two muscles,” and triceps can be translated as “three muscles. Hence the arm is made up of five muscles in total. So, if your goal is to build huge arms, it makes sense to pay the most attention to the triceps muscles. 


What’s The Best Way To Train Triceps?

Although the triceps have three distinct muscle groups, it’s relatively small in size; there is no need to set aside a day in your training program that is wholly dedicated to training triceps. The best way to train your triceps is to hit it on the same day you hit your biceps; this way, you can emphasize the pump on the arm muscles while working effectively and efficiently.


What Is the Best Triceps Exercise?

There is no one exercise that is better when it comes to training the triceps muscle. Instead, it’s advised that you implement several different movements into your routine in order to hit all three muscles that make up the triceps. Varying the tricep exercises sets, reps, and weight will also help in the overall development of the tricep while helping prevent injury. 

Brenton Barker

Brenton holds a Degree in Sports Coaching from the University of Delaware and was the former Head Advisor for the Japanese Government's Sports Science Institute. He has held Managerial and Head Coaching roles with Australia's National Governing Body, Tennis Australia, and served on the Dunlop International Sports Advisory Board for eight years. Brenton currently consults with several professional athletes and clients in the areas of Self-Accountability, Health, and Goal Orientation.

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