December 11, 2021 8 min read
Tricep pushdowns are one of those bodybuilding exercises that no weekly routine is complete without. Few triceps exercises can boast the total three-head activation and bonus lat, ab, pectoral, trap, and ab workout tricep pushdowns do.
Changing the grip style to perform reverse grip tricep pulldowns targets more specific parts of the triceps. Find out more about this tricep pushdown variation, how to perform it in perfect form, and strategies for programming it into your workout routine in this complete guide to reverse grip tricep pushdowns.
To understand how a simple change in grip style can change this exercise so much, it helps to know the basics about how the triceps muscles work.
Like the biceps brachii, the triceps impact flexion of the elbow joint. These two muscles are what’s called an antagonistic pair, meaning one relaxes or lengthens when the other contracts.
Specifically, the triceps work to extend the elbow joint (straighten the arm) while the biceps work to bend the elbow and turn the arm so that it’s supinated, which means the palm faces up.Biceps are named for the two heads on the muscle. Triceps have three heads. “Brachii,” which follows both, is a Latin word that simply means “of the arm.”
The three heads of the triceps and their functions are as follows:
It’s worth mentioning that the lateral head is the most visible of the three heads from the side, so if you want sculpted triceps you need to target the lateral head specifically.
Let’s take a look at how to do a conventional tricep pushdown (or pressdown) and how it affects the three heads of the triceps muscle. Later, we’ll compare how that changes with a switch to a reverse grip.
Follow these steps to do a regular tricep pushdown:
You’re absolutely going to feel the burn in your triceps during this exercise. But there are a few other muscles that tricep pushdowns target as well.
This pushdown variation focuses on how you hold the rope, triangle, or horizontal or EZ bar attachment. In the conventional tricep pushdown, you take an overhand grip, which means your palms are on top of the handle and facing the floor. A reverse grip, also called an underhand grip, has your palms facing the ceiling.
Then follow these steps to do a reverse grip pushdown with the right form:
Does the simple change of grip do that much in the end? Here’s what we know: the reverse-grip cable pushdown impacts the same secondary muscle groups as the standard version and is just as good a tricep workout. In terms of function, the triceps only controls extension of the elbow.
All three heads cross the elbow joint to attach at the ulna and forearm supination is controlled by the biceps, not the triceps. So turning the grip around shouldn’t have any effect, right?
Not entirely. While the simple act of supinating the grip doesn’t impact the tricep workout all on its own, there are some other elements at play. For example, when you use an overhand grip, your elbows flare out slightly and your shoulders have to rotate internally to accommodate the movement. As you progress through a pushdown, these movements only become more pronounced.
With a reverse-grip tricep pushdown, you can keep your elbows tucked in more easily and avoid interference from other muscle groups. The elbow tends to drift away from your body when you do pushdowns with an overhand grip. Reverse grips prevent this from happening.At the bottom of the move when the elbow is completely extended and the arms are straight, the elbows will even be behind the body somewhat.
So not only are you getting less interference, but you’re also getting a fuller extension and thus better activation of the triceps. The right form in a reverse grip pushdown helps prevent the abs, shoulders, and pecs from contributing and lets the triceps do all of the work. It also helps maintain elbow and shoulder position to prevent you from drifting out of form.
Another vital aspect of the overhand vs. underhand grip in tricep pushdowns is that, to the extent it allows for some chest, shoulder, and core activation, the conventional overhand tricep pushdown isn’t doing anything other well-known triceps exercises aren’t doing already.
Skullcrushers, kickbacks, close grip bench presses, and tricep extensions should already be part of your arm day routine. If that’s the case, then a conventional overhand grip tricep pushdown isn’t unique and might not be needed for anything except a little workout variety.
The reverse grip pushdown, on the other hand, lets you isolate that tricep muscle better because you’ll be more comfortable keeping your elbows tucked and shoulders backed. The temptation to lean forward is reduced. If you want to cheat to make a reverse grip tricep pushdown easier, the lats are the only way to do it.
Our advice is to keep all of those tricep exercises in your arm day workout and switch to the reverse grip pushdown to push your tricep further toward exhaustion.
Now that you’ve seen the way a reverse grip tricep pushdown can be a great improvement to your arm day routine, you might be wondering whether you can do this move without the high pulley machine.Great news. You can easily do triceps pushdowns or accurately mimic the exercise with dumbbells, a barbell, or resistance bands. If you want to do them at home, resistance bands are the simplest and most affordable option.
Grab a fairly large loop resistance band and follow these steps to do a banded tricep pushdown:
If you have a bench and barbell handy, you can mimic this exercise by lying flat on the bench, holding the bar aloft over your chest with straight arms and an underhand grip, and slowly bending your elbows so the weight moves closer to you with each rep.
We highly caution you to use a spotter with this exercise in case you need to let the weight drop at any point. The same idea can be executed with a dumbbell in each hand, although we prefer the resistance band variation because it maintains constant tension on the triceps.
While an underhand grip might not have a huge impact by itself, it sets you up for more effective and more properly executed repetitions.
You’re likely losing out on tricep gains over time if you stick with the conventional overhand grip in your pushdowns and let other muscles like the pecs, abs, and shoulders take over.Use the information and workout instructions in this guide to ensure your tricep pushdowns are having the impact they should when arm day rolls around.
And if you really want to get your arms jacked, load up on the RIPPED STACK for serious muscle growth.