Doing triceps pushdowns can be helpful but they are not always a good option. Discover some exercise alternatives that offer similar results.
As their name implies, tricep pushdowns mainly work your tricep muscles. That means they can help you build muscle mass, burn calories, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy tricep pushdowns, you want to isolate your triceps at a different angle, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these triceps pushdown substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need a cable machine for tricep pushdowns.
You can use resistance bands to do a similar version of the exercise. You also don’t need a specific tricep pushdown bar, other cable attachments can be just as effective.
1. Triceps kickbacks
For the first tricep pushdown alternative, you need some type of external resistance. You can use a cable machine for a more constant tension but other options like dumbbells work great too.
Take the following steps to do a standing tricep kickback with dumbbells:
- Grab 2 dumbbells of the same weight. Place your feet at about shoulder width.
- Slightly bend your legs and bend your upper body forward at about a 45-degree angle with a vertical line. Make sure your back stays straight throughout the exercise.
- Bring your upper arms slightly more back than in line with your upper body. Keep them close to your body. Let your lower arms hang. During your repetitions, your upper arms should stay more or less in the same position.
- Raise your lower arms in a controlled motion until they are extended.
- Slowly let gravity do its work on your lower arms until they are back in starting position.
Similar to triceps pushdowns, tricep kickbacks are an exercise to isolate your tricep muscles.
Instead of standing up, you can do the dumbbell tricep kickback on an incline weight bench to make it even more of a tricep isolation exercise.
Another option is doing this exercise with one arm while being supported by a horizontal weight bench.
2. Diamond pushups
Pushups are a very popular bodyweight exercise that can help you train a variety of muscles at home or in the gym.
The standard pushup already engages your triceps to a nice extent. By changing your grip you work these muscles even harder.
One of these more tricep-focused pushup variations is the diamond pushup. Take the following steps to do this exercise:
- Sit on your hands and knees on the ground with your hands in a diamond position. This means index fingers and thumbs touching each other to make a diamond-like shape.
- Move your feet back until your body is in a straight line. Your only contact points with the ground are your hands and front feet.
- Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the ground. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at you from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
- Stretch your arms again until you are back in the close-handed straight arm plank position of step 2.
Diamond pushups are more of compound triceps pushdown alternative. You will also engage chest and to some extent shoulder and core muscles.
If you are more experienced with tricep resistance training, diamond pushups may be too easy to cause a lot of muscle growth.
In that case, you can wear a quality weighted vest or use weight plates to do weighted diamond pushups.
Some people don’t like the upper arm angle diamond pushups promote. Other pushup variations that focus more on the triceps include the sphinx pushup, close-handed pushup, and tiger pushup.
For skull crushers, you will need some type of resistance and preferably a weight bench. Abarbell is a good example of a weight you can use.
In theory, you could also do this exercise on the ground. Take the following steps to do a skull crusher on a weight bench:
- Lie on the weight bench with a barbell in your hands. Hold it with an overhanded grip. Your upper arms should lean slightly back and your lower arms with the barbell can hang down behind your head.
- Slowly raise the barbell by stretching your arms until your arms are fully stretched. Keep your wrists straight and your body and upper arms in the same position throughout the exercise.
- Lower the barbell back into starting position in a controlled motion.
By lying down on a weight bench it becomes harder to use the rest of your body during the exercise. This can lead to more tricep muscle isolation than a standing tricep pushdown and in turn more strength and muscle mass.
Another name for the skull crusher is the lying tricep extension. The alternative name for this exercise is not only meant as a joke.
When first trying skull crushers you don’t want to be too optimistic about your capabilities due to the position of the weight. Start with light or no resistance and build up from there.
You can also give skull crushers a try with other arm workout equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells, an EZ curl bar, resistance bands, or a cable machine.
4. Tricep extension machine
The tricep extension machine looks similar to the bicep curl machine at first. It has a slanted bench on which you place your arms and there are handles that are connected to resistance.
The difference is that the tricep extension machine will require you to exert effort to stretch your arms instead of adding resistance to curl your arms like the bicep curl machine.
To get a better idea of what this movement and the machine look like, to do a seated tricep extension take the following steps.
Adjust the machine settings for your personal needs. Take a seat on the machine and put your upper arms on the dedicated surface.
Grab the handles so that your arms will fold with your hand palms facing toward each other. Slowly stretch your arms as far as you can. Next, let the machine push up your hands again in a controlled motion.
By sitting down and holding your arms against a static surface you can potentially isolate your triceps even better than during a tricep pushdown. This can make this tricep gym machine a great alternative.
Some tricep extension machines allow you to load each arm differently. This can help you avoid muscle imbalances by making sure each arm pushes down the same weight.
The dip exercise is a very tricep-focused exercise but it also engages a few other muscles. Especially if you tilt your upper body forward you also give your lower chest a hard time.
You will need dip bars for this compound exercise. With these, take the following steps to do a dip:
- Place your hands on the dip bars. Start with your arms in an extended but not locked position. You will likely need step-ups to get into this position.
- Slowly lower your body by bending your elbows until these are at a 90-degree angle.
- Raise yourself back up again into starting position in a controlled motion.
For most people, the regular version of this tricep pushdown alternative is already more than challenging enough.
Doing weighted dips with dumbbells, a dip belt, a weighted vest, or ankle weights is generally for individuals more experienced with resistance training.
6. Seated overhead tricep extensions
For seated overhead tricep extensions you need something sturdy to sit on and some type of resistance.
In the example below a dumbbell is used but other free weights, resistance bands, and a cable machine can work too.
Take the following steps to do a seated overhead tricep extension with a dumbbell:
- Sit upright on something like a weight bench. Hold a dumbbell above your head with your hand palms holding one weight of the dumbbell. Keep your wrists straight throughout the exercise.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head by folding your arm at the elbow until your lower arms are at a horizontal line. Keep your upper arms pointing up and close to your body throughout the exercise.
- Raise the dumbbell again in a controlled motion into the starting position.
When first doing overhead tricep extensions instead of tricep pushdowns you don’t want to be too optimistic about your capabilities due to the position of the weight. Start with a light weight and build up from there.
A regular standing overhead tricep extension can also be a good substitute for tricep pushdowns to isolate your tricep muscles.
That being said, in that version you do have a higher risk of using the rest of your body to move the resistance.
7. Close-grip bench presses
The bench press is one of the most popular compound exercises. For this exercise, you will need a barbell, a weight bench, preferably a flat one if you want to work out your triceps, and a barbell rack (1).
You can also do a close-grip chest press with other free weights and without a bench but the above setup is generally preferred.
Take the following steps to do a close grip bench press with a barbell:
- Load up the barbell with the desired weight.
- Lie down with your back on the weight bench and place your hands with an overhanded grip on the barbell. Keep your hands closer to each other for more tricep engagement.
- Unrack the barbell and keep your arms slightly less than stretched and pointing up.
- Slowly lower the barbell to your chest. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides.
- Push the barbell back up in the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Doing the bench press with different hand positions will influence what muscles you mainly target. By doing the bench press with your hands close to each other you focus more on your tricep muscles.
Even when changing your grip, this exercise option is still more of a compound exercise that also engages your chest and shoulder muscles.
8. Dip bar tricep extensions
The name of this next triceps pushdown alternative implies that this is only a dip bar exercise but you can also do the dip bar tricep extension on a sturdy and stable bench, chair, or table.
Make sure you prioritize safety when choosing an object to lean on.
Take the following steps to do a standing dip bar tricep extension:
- Place your hands about shoulder-width overhanded on the dip bar. Stretch your arms.
- The placement of your feet depends on how hard you want to make the exercise. The closer to the bar the easier this exercise will be.
- Slowly bend your elbows as far as you safely can and keep them in line with your body throughout the movement. If your feet are close to the bar you may have to tuck in your head so that it can go under that bar. Make sure your arms carry your body weight and keep your feet in the same place.
- Slowly stretch your arms again until you are in the position of the second step.
Besides your triceps, dip bar tricep extensions will also engage muscles like your core.
One downside is that individuals more experienced with resistance training may find this exercise too easy.
For people who don’t have a lot of workout equipment and want to do a tricep pushdown alternative at home, the dip bar tricep extension can be a good start.
9. Tricep pull-aparts
The next option is a resistance-band-exclusive exercise. Take the following steps to do a tricep pull-apart:
- Stand upright with your feet at about shoulder width. Lift up your upper arms until they are at about a horizontal line. Fold your arms as much as possible and point your forearms inward. Hold a resistance band in your hands.
- Pull the resistance band apart by moving your forearms horizontally outward until your arms are in one horizontal line. Keep your body and upper arms in the same position during the exercise.
- Move your hands back into starting position in a controlled motion.
The regular pull-apart is a typical shoulder exercise you can do with resistance bands for building muscle but by making your forearms the only body part that moves you target your triceps instead.
Tricep pull-aparts are another exercise example you can easily do at home instead of tricep pushdowns.