9 Best Tricep Pushdown Alternatives (Pull Down Substitutes)

Known by many names, like the triceps pulldown, triceps rope pushdown, and the cable triceps pushdown, the triceps pushdown is an excellent arm exercise. It's perhaps the best exercise you can do to develop and strengthen your triceps. Most gyms have more than enough high pulley machines, and if they aren't available, you can do this exercise using a lat pulldown machine.

But what if you want to do this beloved triceps exercise at home and you don't have access to a cable machine? Are there effective alternatives to the triceps pushdown?

The guide below will go over a few highly effective triceps pushdown alternative exercises.

If you don't have the equipment necessary in your home gym to complete a tricep pushdown, there are plenty of alternatives you can do instead. These alternatives will also be good for you if you have plateaued or seek variety in your training. If you just enjoy training triceps and want more triceps exercises, these alternative moves won't let you down.

1. Cable Overhead Extension

The cable overhead extension is an excellent alternative to the tricep pushdown. With the cable overhead extension, you put your upper arms next to your head, allowing for a more extensive range of motion and a significant stretch on your triceps muscle. Of course, you'll also develop good shoulder flexibility, but the greater range of motion makes this a superior triceps builder.

You can use a low cable machine for the overhead extension, a single dumbbell, a regular barbell, or an EZ bar. You can do it sitting or standing, whichever you prefer. The standing variation will work your core as well.

If you have healthy, flexible shoulders, you'll enjoy this challenging exercise. But if you have tight or sore shoulders, you will need to ease into this exercise.

How to do it: 

  • Face away from the cable pulley and stand a half step away. Now plant both feet on the floor slightly further than shoulder-width apart with both hands on the rope with a neutral grip (palms facing inwards). Bend at both the hips and knees and press your glutes into the pole. Extend your elbows to bring the rope in front of your face.
  • Keep your shoulders as still as possible and bend your elbows to bring the ends of the rope back behind your head.
  • Extend your elbows and pull the rope forward to return to the starting position. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.

Suggested Equipment - Best Cable Crossover Machines

Cable Overhead Extension

2. Incline Close Grip Bench Press   

An incline close grip bench press is a very underrated tricep pushdown alternative. An incline close grip bench press effectively emphasizes triceps isolation over the pecs. This is a compound exercise, so you will be working more than just your triceps.

How to do it: 

  • Start with a shoulder-width grip or narrower than a regular bench to perform the move.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together to create a big chest. Unrack the bar, and bring it forward until it is lined up with your upper chest.
  • Now row the bar down to your upper chest keeping your elbows tucked.  
  • Once the bar makes contact with your upper chest, drive the weight away until your elbows are completely extended. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.
Incline Close Grip Bench Press

3. Skull Crusher

Skull crushers, or supine tricep extensions, are a very effective triceps exercise and a great alternative to triceps pushdowns. Skull crushers are good for everyone, from seasoned powerlifters to bodybuilders to general gym-goers who want a solid pump.

How to do it: 

  • Lie down on a flat bench or the floor, if you don't have a bench, with your feet firmly planted on the ground.  
  • Hold your dumbbells above your chest with your palms facing each other while engaging your core.  
  • Keep your elbows in a fixed position, and hinge them slowly to bring the dumbbells down just behind your ears.  
  • Contract your triceps to extend your arms back into the straight position at the top. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions. 
Skull Crusher

4. Diamond Push Up

Diamond push-ups are a very challenging bodyweight exercise. If you aren't comfortable with regular push-ups, you may want to skip these. This push-up variation is an excellent alternative to the tricep pushdown. It almost perfectly mimics the motion of the pushdown and uses your body weight for the load. This one will hit your triceps hard.

How to do it: 

  • Get into the traditional push-up position, but place your index fingers and thumbs together, making a diamond shape.  
  • Similar to a standard push-up, lower your chest towards the ground keeping your elbows close to your sides.  
  • Just before your chest touches the ground, hold for a second and then push back up to extended arms. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions. 
diamond pushup

5. Triceps Kickback 

Triceps kickbacks are one of our favorite triceps moves, and they are a great alternative to triceps pushdowns. You can do kickbacks using dumbbells or a cable machine.

How to do it: 

  • Grab a dumbbell with your left hand, holding it with a neutral grip. Next, place your right leg forward and your left leg back and hold onto something with your right hand. 
  • Bend your knees and lean your torso over while keeping your back straight.  
  • Bend your left arm to 90-degrees so your upper arm is parallel to the floor and your forearm is perpendicular to the floor.  
  • Extend your forearm back while flexing your triceps until your arm is parallel to the floor. Finally, bend your left arm again at a 90-degree angle.  
  • Complete the desired number of reps and then repeat with your right arm, switching your leg position.  
Triceps Kickback

6. TRX Skull Crusher

The TRX skull crusher is another bodyweight tricep extension alternative similar to a regular skull crusher. We love this triceps move because it can be done in your home gym, some hotels if you're on the road, and at the gym.  

This move is surprisingly tricky, so don't underestimate it. You can make it more or less challenging by adjusting the position of your body. The more horizontal to the ground you are, the harder it will be.

How to do it: 

  • Start this exercise facing away from the anchor point of the TRX setup. Grab the TRX handles with your palms facing away from you.  
  • Lean forward with the elbows extended. Next, curl your arms towards your forehead in a controlled fashion.  
  • Finally, extend your elbows away from you while squeezing the triceps. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions. 
TRX Skull Crusher

7. Lying Triceps Extension

The lying triceps extension is a great tricep pushdown alternative. It's a relatively easy move to learn and execute. However, lying triceps extension can put stress on the elbow joint, and with the weight being directly overhead, you need to show caution, so be mindful during this move.  

How to do it: 

  • Lie down on your back flat on the bench or the floor. Grab two dumbbells and put your hands directly up over your chest with your palms facing inwards and your arms shoulder-width apart.  
  • Using a slow controlled motion, lower the weight down as far as you can, limiting the movement in the shoulders.  
  • When the weight is at the bottom of the action, return to the top, but don't lock out the elbow joint. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions. 
Lying Triceps Extension

8. Resistance Band Triceps Pushdown

The resistance band version of the exercise might be even more effective than the original as it requires equal effort from the left and right triceps. With the resistance band pushdown over the cable machine pushdown, the tension is at its highest point at the end of the movement, similar to the bench press. With the standard cable pushdown, tension is mainly lost at the end of the movement.

How to do it: 

  • Grab a resistance band of an appropriate resistance level, and you'll need something to anchor it to, like a power rack or door anchor. Get in the standard tricep pushdown position, with an end of the band in each hand.  
  • Lean forward ever so slightly at the hips, keeping your elbows by your side. Push the bands down until you have straightened your arms and locked out at the elbows.  
  • Hold here for a second and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions. 
Resistance Band Triceps Pushdown

9. Dips   

Dips are another compound movement, so you will be utilizing more than just your triceps for this move. The dip is one of the best replacement exercises on par with other compound movements such as squats and pull-ups.

Dips will improve strength and muscle size, and you can perform them anywhere. They're a bodyweight exercise, so the dip is challenging for all ranges of fitness levels. This makes it an almost perfect triceps pushdown alternative.

Further Reading - Dips Vs Push Ups

How to do it: 

  • Using a dip bar or a chair or bench, place your hands shoulder length apart and keep your arms straight with a slight bend.
  • Engage your glutes and core muscles, maintaining a straight upper body. Bend your elbows, lowering yourself to 90 degrees.
  • Pause for a 2-second count at the bottom, and explode back up. Be sure to maintain a strong core, which will help prevent unnecessary body movement. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.
Dips

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Doing These Tricep Exercises

  • Your Elbows Flare Out
    When doing a triceps pushdown, be sure not to flare out your elbows on the downward push. This will negate the work on your triceps, placing unwanted stress on your shoulders.
  • You're Not Using Both Sides Equally  
    When doing the tricep pushdown, be mindful of the movement and be sure you push down smoothly and evenly with both arms. 
  • You're Using Your Back Too Much  
    Don't bend over at the back and shoulders to force the weight down. Instead, ensure your triceps are getting fully worked by leaning forward slightly, allowing your knees to bend slightly as you push down. This will ensure you engage all three parts of the triceps muscle equally.  
  • You Have Excessive Elbow Movement   
    It's easy for your elbows to sway back and forward during the movement. You may lift more weight using this momentum, but you are using your lats to complete the exercise. To prioritize your triceps, keep your elbows tucked into your body to feel a superior contraction of your triceps. 
  • You're Curling The Wrist
    You might notice that your wrist is curling at the bottom of each pushdown. This usually happens if you try to do a seemingly more complete repetition. But by curling your wrists, you're removing tension from your triceps and putting unwanted stress on your wrist. So be sure to keep your wrist neutral throughout each rep.

Benefits Of Tricep Pushdowns And Similar Exercises  

The triceps brachii muscle is the muscle in the back of your upper arm. It comprises three parts: the long, lateral, and medial heads. If you want big arms, you need to work all three heads of your triceps.

The triceps pushdown does just that. Even if you aren't looking to get huge arms, triceps pushdowns are still important because they benefit your overall strength and endurance by engaging your core, back, and shoulders. 

Anyone can adapt this move to their strength and level, increasing or decreasing weight as needed. However, performing the tricep pushdown requires isolation, a fundamental skill you will need for many other exercises. 

Anyone can do a tricep pushdown, but be cautious with this exercise if you have an elbow injury or develop persistent elbow soreness.

man flexing triceps

What Muscles Do Tricep Pushdown Exercises Work?

As we mentioned before, tricep pushdowns work your triceps, which is the muscle in the back of your upper arm. The scientific name for your triceps is tricep brachii. In Latin, this translates to "three-headed muscles of the arm." This is fitting because your triceps is made up of three parts; the lateral head, long head, and medial head.

The triceps' lateral, medial, and long heads operate together whenever you extend your arm. A tricep pushdown isolates the medial and lateral heads during the pushdown motion.

But the benefits of a triceps pushdown go beyond your triceps. This move also activates secondary muscle groups like your lats, abs, obliques, pecs, and traps. 

The secondary muscles are engaged to support and stabilize the pushdown motion. If you use other muscles, like your back, shoulders, or chest to complete the movement, you put yourself at risk for injury. This obviously negates the key benefits of the triceps pushdown.


People Also Ask (FAQs)

What's the best way to train triceps?  

The best way to train triceps is to combine 6 or 7 different tricep moves to complete a full-blown tricep workout. Doing the tricep pushdown plus a few alternatives will build strong, toned triceps.

Are dips the same as tricep pushdowns? 

With proper form, dips can be a very productive addition to your triceps workout or an excellent alternative to a triceps pushdown. However, the triceps pushdown places less stress on your shoulder joint. Triceps pushdowns also help you isolate the triceps muscle more than the dip, giving your triceps a better workout.

How do I train my triceps without weights? 

Luckily, you can do an effective triceps workout at home without weights or equipment. Instead, you can use your bodyweight alone to hit your triceps as hard as necessary, using moves like dips and push-ups. But if bodyweight only isn't enough and you want really monstrous triceps, you can add cheap resistance bands to your workouts.

Also See - Alternative Exercises For Dips

Which tricep head do skull crushers work?  

While skull crushers do work all three heads of the triceps muscle, they primarily target your triceps' long and lateral heads. 


Conclusion

The tricep pushdown may be the best exercise you can do to develop and strengthen your triceps. However, if you don't have access to the equipment necessary to do a triceps pushdown, there are several alternatives you can choose from that are equally as effective. If you do these alternative moves along with the tricep pushdown, you will develop excellent triceps muscles.

Paul J

Last Updated on May 23, 2022