The Cable Triceps Pushdown is a great isolation exercise which targets all three heads of the triceps with a bit more emphasis placed on the lateral and medial heads.
Let’s take look at what you should avoid and what you should pay attention to!
Golden Rule #1 – Go Through Proper Range of Motion
Regardless of what you’ve been told, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be able to bring the bar all the way up to your chest at the top, and then fully extend your elbows at the bottom and this is important because the cable triceps pushdown is not the same as the Close-Grip Bench Press or Dip where you can “force” your way through your repetitions and still make significant gains.
The pushdown is an “isolation” exercise for the triceps which means dropping the weight a bit and focusing on PROPER range of motion is more important than how much weight you’re lifting.
And I say this because a lot of guys start “pumping” through the exercise, essentially skipping both the flex at the bottom and the stretch at the top.
It’s not that kind of exercise though. For this movement you want to really FEEL that deep stretch at the top and hard contraction at the bottom because the triceps function to extend the elbow joint.
So, if you’re not fully extending the elbow, then you’re not fully contracting your triceps. Ideally, your elbows should be the ONLY joint moving during the movement. Therefore, if your shoulders tend to rotate as you come up, do your best to keep them stabilized which leads us to the second golden rule!
Golden Rule #2 – Stick Your Chest OUT
If you’re still having a hard time keeping your shoulders in place, sticking your chest out while simultaneously retracting your shoulder blades will fix this. But the main reason for the chest being out and your shoulders being pulled back is because this’ll put you in the most advantageous position to press down as much weight as possible.
It should almost feel like your upper body is “above” the weight when positioned like this, especially as the weight gets heavier and heavier. So, if you currently feel like the weight is pulling YOU up, check your form and you’ll most likely realize that it’s because your arms are out much further away from your chest as you bring the weight up and down.
But don’t just pull your arms closer to your body to correct this as the angle created just pulling your arms back will make it feel like the cable is pulling you forward.
Instead, just take a step or two forward always ensuring the cable is as vertical as possible while performing your reps.
Golden Rule #3 – Experiment With Different Cable Attachments
There really is no rule that says you HAVE to use a V-Bar attachment for this exercise. In fact, I often switch between the V-bar and the straight bar for no reason other than maybe everyone is using the v-bar attachments and I don’t feel like waiting.
At the end of the day, we’re still extending the elbow joint and that’s the primary purpose of this exercise.
However, I do normally stay away from the rope attachment unless I am doing a single-arm pushdown.
Although this is an isolation movement, you still want to press as much weight as you can and you’ll always be able to press more weight comfortably with a v-bar or straight bar when compared to the rope.
But for a single-arm extension, the rope works great!
Keep in mind you can also try an underhand grip on the straight bar to try to place more emphasis on the medial head of the triceps as well.
The form is the exact same, just literally change your grip from overhand to underhand.