The tricep pushdown is a closed kinetic chain unilateral exercise of the muscular isolation capacity, usually performed for the purposes of inducing muscular hypertrophy in the three headed triceps brachii located at the rear of the upper arm.
However, due to a variety of reasons having to do with the requirements or drawbacks of the triceps pushdown exercise, a suitably similar alternative may be required that can induce a comparable or superior training stimulus to the triceps pushdown itself.
Why Should the Tricep Pushdown be Alternated Out?
The tricep pushdown may require substitution in a workout program due to a variety of reasons, the most common of which is likely the equipment requirement involved in performing such an exercise – namely, that of an out of order or otherwise unavailable cable pulley exercise machine.
While the tricep pushdown is generally considered to be a rather safe exercise with a novice level of difficulty, its relative training angle and the sort of training stimulus provided by said tricep pushdown can be insufficient for the goals of athletes or advanced gym goers.
As such, another reason the tricep pushdown may need to be alternated out is in the vein of a more specific or intense exercise taking its place instead.
How is a Workout Program Changed when Alternating the Tricep Pushdown?
Being of only a light to moderate intensity and rate of perceived exertion, the tricep pushdown’s subsequent replacement in a workout program will usually also require that the workout program itself be changed, with the level of change depending on what sort of alternative exercise has been chosen.
Generally, if choosing an alternative exercise of similar intensity and muscle group activation pattern, the workout program will not require a significant amount of change, with the extent of such reprogramming of the routine being reserved to the shifting around of exercise order during the workout session.
However, if a more intense exercise or one of a broader muscle group activation pattern has been chosen as an alternative to the tricep pushdown, larger changes may need to be made to the workout program itself.
This will take the form of reduced volume in other exercises directly involving the triceps brachii, or even the entire removal of isolation exercises normally performed prior to the triceps pushdown – all of which serve the purpose of allowing the triceps brachii to recover and avoid overtraining.
What Exercises can be Used as Tricep Pushdown Alternatives?
When searching for a potential alternative exercise to the triceps pushdown, it is best to first identify what sort of problem or circumstance has lead to the tricep pushdown being alternated out in the first place so as to rectify the issue behind such an action.
If the primary reason for the substitution of the tricep pushdown is due to equipment related reasons, choosing a free weight or bodyweight exercise as opposed to a cable machine based one is clearly the most obvious choice.
This is doubly as applicable if a lack of intensity is also the reason for the alternating out of the triceps pushdown, with free weight exercises being considered somewhat more intense than machine based exercises due to their incorporation of isometric muscular contraction into the movement.
Regardless of what sort of equipment type the subsequent alternative exercise utilizes, it is best to reserve the list of potential exercises to those that directly activate the triceps brachii, either as a primary mover muscle as part of a compound muscle group activation pattern or as the sole muscle group activated in an isolationary capacity.
Machine Based Tricep Pushdown Alternatives
If circumstances allow for a machine based alternative to the tricep pushdown be used – it is best for the exerciser to prioritize such exercises, save for the situation wherein the intensity of the triceps pushdown or the following exercises is not sufficient enough for the exerciser’s goals.
A primary benefit to this is not only the higher percentage of resistance placed on the triceps brachii by these exercises, but also an increased length of time under tension, a characteristic not often found in free weight exercises due to their more explosive movements.
Overhead Cable Tricep Extensions
Similar in intensity, training experience required and equipment used to the tricep pushdown, the overhead cable tricep extension’s primary difference to the triceps pushdown is in the specific angle of resistance used – namely, that of the triceps brachii being extended over the exerciser’s head.
This places significantly more tension on the muscle group itself, resulting in more intense training stimulus, even with the same level of resistance and volume of repetitions.
As such, if the exerciser is flexible enough, they may utilize the overhead cable tricep extension in a similar volume of repetitions to the triceps pushdown, with little to no extra reprogramming of their workout routine required due to the similar muscle isolation contractive capacity in the former exercise.
Chest Press Machine
A compound exercise that involves a broader scope of muscular activation in comparison to the tricep pushdown’s sole muscle group isolation, the chest press machine can present a far more intense sort of training stimulus with the benefit of also being a machine based exercise and all the positives that come with that.
Being a compound exercise that includes such muscle groups like the pectoralis or chest muscles and the serratus anterior, significant alterations to the workout program may be required if using the chest press machine as an alternative exercise.
This will usually take the form of volume being reduced in other exercises that also include the aforementioned muscle groups in their primary mover muscle sets, such as the bench press or push-ups, all of which impact the same muscles and as such can lead to reduced recovery or overtraining.
In terms of volume, the chest press machine is best kept within the repetition ranges of five to twelve per set, placing it at a somewhat lower range of repetitions than what is normally performed with sets of the tricep pushdown.
In conclusion, though the chest press machine is an excellent candidate to substitute the tricep pushdown for the purposes of more intense training stimulus – it should be reserved as a secondary option instead, with better alternative exercises being considered first due to their higher specificity and ease of use.
Cable Machine French Press
Also an exercise making use of the cable machine, the cable machine french press is quite similar in appearance to the overhead cable triceps extension though with the added bonus of a far more intense level of time under tension placed along all three heads of the triceps brachii.
With a similar level of difficulty and the exact same sort of equipment used, the cable machine french press is our number one recommendation for possible alternative exercises to the triceps pushdown exercise.
In cases wherein the cable machine french press is not a suitable choice due to an unavailable cable machine, it is also entirely possible to utilize one of the many free weight alternatives to the french press exercise, allowing the french press to still retain its spot as the top candidate in practically every circumstance.
When choosing to substitute the tricep pushdown with the cable machine french press, it is entirely possible to retain the exact same volume of repetitions and sets as was originally intended for the tricep pushdown, with the sole limiting factor being the arm and shoulder joint flexibility of the exerciser.
Also primary being a triceps brachii isolation exercise, incorporation of the cable machine french press into a workout routine will also require no changes in the flow or function of the routine itself, allowing the exerciser to simply “plug and play” with no extra thought put into it.
Free Weight Tricep Pushdown Alternatives
Though the tricep pushdown is primarily performed with the use of a cable machine, several alternative free weight exercises may also be used so as to up the intensity of the training session or otherwise more effectively activate stabilizer muscle groups instead.
Close Grip Bench Press
A classic compound exercise with the twist of placing the exerciser’s hands closer together so as to incorporate further triceps brachii activation alongside the activation of the pectorals and deltoids, the close grip bench press may act as a far more intense triceps hypertrophy inducing exercise than what the tricep pushdown is normally capable of.
This is due to both the higher amount of resistance capable of being loaded onto the barbell as well as the more direct angle of tension placed on the triceps brachii – an angle that, unfortunately, also increases the risk of wrist joint related impingements and strains.
The close grip bench press may not be an entirely suitable candidate for individuals wishing to retain the isolationary muscle activation pattern that the tricep pushdown is known for, and as such it is best to choose a different non-compound exercise instead of the close grip bench press itself.
Dumbbell Tricep Extensions
The free weight variant of the previously mentioned tricep extension exercise, the dumbbell tricep extension is a unilateral or bilateral triceps isolation exercise that is performed by raising a dumbbell overhead and bending the arm at the elbows so as to contract the triceps brachii to their fullest extension.
A benefit that the dumbbell triceps extension holds over its cable machine variant and over the triceps pushdown itself is in the fact that it contracts the triceps brachii in an isometric capacity alongside its dynamic type of contraction, furthering both the muscular endurance of the triceps brachii as well as the usual hypertrophic benefits.
Due to the slightly more intense training stimulus provided by the dumbbell triceps extension, the total volume of repetitions performed for such an exercise may be somewhat lower than what was originally intended for with the triceps pushdown.
Despite this somewhat lower recommended volume per set, the dumbbell triceps extension nonetheless makes an excellent alternative to the tricep pushdown, all in terms of intensity, effectiveness and in simplicity of equipment needed.
Weighted Bench Dips
Simply the common calisthenic bench dip but with the added resistance of a plate or dumbbell resting on the lap of the exerciser, the weighted bench dip is considered a compound exercise that primarily focuses on the triceps brachii as the primary mover muscle responsible for most of the force in the exercise.
This induces a level of training stimulus equal or superior to that of the triceps pushdown, so long as proper form is followed and the correct amount of resistance is used as per the exerciser’s own relative strength level.
However, a downside native to the weighted bench dip and other alternative compound exercises to the triceps pushdown is the fact that it will activate more than just the triceps brachii throughout each repetition, resulting in fatigue and overtraining if the workout session is not subsequently modified to accommodate for this.
The muscle groups to look out for in this circumstance are that of the latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid head, rhomboids, trapezius – and to some extent, the abdominal core muscles.
In terms of volume, the weighted bench dip is best utilized at a lower range of repetitions in comparison to the triceps pushdown due to the higher intensity it possesses as well as the fact that it expends more energy by way of activating multiple muscle groups.
- Kholinne E, Zulkarnain RF, Sun YC, Lim S, Chun JM, Jeon IH. The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta Orthop Traumatol Turc. 2018 May;52(3):201-205. doi: 10.1016/j.aott.2018.02.005. Epub 2018 Mar 2. PMID: 29503079; PMCID: PMC6136322.
- lves D, Matta T, Oliveira L. Effect of shoulder position on triceps brachii heads activity in dumbbell elbow extension exercises. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018 Sep;58(9):1247-1252. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.17.06849-9. Epub 2017 Jul 5. PMID: 28677940.
- Hussain J, Sundaraj K, Subramaniam ID, Lam CK. Muscle Fatigue in the Three Heads of Triceps Brachii During Intensity and Speed Variations of Triceps Push-Down Exercise. Front Physiol. 2020 Feb 21;11:112. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00112. PMID: 32153422; PMCID: PMC7047337.
- Tim Henriques. (2014) “NPTI’s Fundamentals of Fitness and Personal Training” Human Kinetics Publisher ISBN 149258472X, 9781492584728 Retrieved via Google Books Health and Fitness Section on (18/03/22)