Cable Triceps Pushdowns

Cable Triceps Pushdowns


Execution Cues:

- Setup a pulley at a height between your forehead and ~12 inches above your head. 

- Though you can use any number of attachments, it is recommended to use a long strap or individual soft handles in order to get a full ROM and avoid restrictions. 

- Grab the attachment of choice and step back from the cable lifting the load off the stack. Hinge at the waist until your torso is roughly the same angle as the cable. 

- The start position should see your elbows fully flexed and shoulders extended. Shoulder blades should be retracted and depressed to lock in your upper/mid back. 

- Begin the movement with controlled elbow extension. It is imperative to NOT allow the tension to pull your elbows forward. Use your lats to keep the shoulders extended. 

- Continue this elbow extension until full lockout. At this point, your arms should be at a slight negative angle relative to your torso (i.e. pointing backwards). Once you reach this, pause briefly in contraction to ensure the triceps are as short as possible and then reverse the motion. 

- Control the eccentric until you arrive back at maximal elbow flexion.



- Elbow Pain

- Shoulder Pain

- Poor Shoulder Mobility



- Band Tricep Pushdowns

- Single Arm Cross Body Cable Tricep Extensions



- Supine Cable Tricep Extensions

- Cross Cable Tricep Extensions

- Chest Supported Cable Tricep Pushdowns


Volume Parameters:

- Up to 15 sets per week

- Up to 5 sets per session

- 8-30 rep range


Applicable Intensity Techniques:

- Load Drop Sets

- Mechanical Drop Sets

- Cluster Sets

- Myoreps

- Rest Pause Sets

- Partials

- Supersets (Endless variety of options)

- Blood Flow Restriction

- Timed AMRAPs


Programming Considerations:

One of my favorite things about programming is how layered in complexity even the most seemingly boring topics can be. This is apparent when you really start getting into the weeds with stuff like periodization, individual differences, and recovery curves, but I think that some of the most profound lightbulb moments come from critical analysis of exercise selection and execution. 


Why are we choosing this movement over that one?

What are the effects of subtle changes in execution parameters?

How do we make the exercise more optimal for our specific goals and anatomy? 


There are endless questions to be answered and not nearly enough time for trial and error...which is where passed-down anecdotal experience becomes so freakin important!

The problem with this is that the source becomes the gatekeeper. We have to trust that we're being given correct info otherwise this whole strategy kind of crashes and burns. I can't claim maliciousness when ignorance is a much easier explanation, but popular content creators and fitness outlets seem to be stuck in the past with their understanding of biomechanics and anatomy. This has had the unfortunate consequence of propagating god awful advice to the masses, especially newbies who are just looking to get their feet wet. 


Bringing this back around to the topic at hand, we can see a real world example of this playing out with how something as simple as proper execution of cable tricep pushdowns has disseminated through the years like a disastrous game of telephone. 

Mechanically, there are few exercises that are easier to perform. It's a single joint movement requiring very little in the way of prerequisite strength, stability or mobility. But this simplicity seems to have had the unintended effect of allowing trainees to view the exercise as an afterthought, happily swinging the whole stack around while using more lats and abs than isolating the triceps. 

Getting back to the basics, we have to identify 1) what our goal for the movement is and 2) what anatomical positions/movements will facilitate that goal. 

For the Cable Tricep Pushdowns, our goal should be to get the triceps as shortened as possible. We could easily say " I want to grow my triceps!" or "I'm trying to really feel them working!" but that isn't specific enough for what we're trying to do here. The devil is in the details when it comes to execution; it can make or break efficacy. 


There are THREE things we will focus on with this movement. Getting each right will allow us to maximize our hypertrophic potential but messing up on even one of them will collapse this house of cards:

1) Type of Attachment- We are going to want an attachment that allows us to easily maintain the rotation of our shoulders and keeps the force mostly in a single vector (i.e. isn't pulling into the carabiner). This can mean a long strap, dual ropes, or longer individual handles, but no matter which you choose, make sure it doesn't compromise #2 or #3 here. 

2) Upper Arm Positioning- Our upper arms need to remain mostly fixed and should not be moving through flexion and extension to move the load. Try to think about "pointing your elbows backwards" in order to cue this. If the upper arms start to flex through the set, the triceps will experience less shortening (BAD). 

3) Cable:Torso Angle- This is incredibly important for the outcome of the movement. The relationship between the cable and the torso is going to dictate the resistance curve of the pushdown. By adjusting your body in order to match the angle of the cable with your torso, the triceps will be able to undergo a full ROM and the tension throughout the rep will line up with the strength curve of the triceps. All of this might seem somewhat unimportant, but refer back to the goal of "getting the triceps as short as possible". This will not only allow for that but also ensure that any failure points are due to fatiguing triceps rather than ancillary muscle groups. 


For an exercise as basic as a cable pushdown, is seems like there should be much less to think about and control for. Why can't we just pick things up and set them back down?! That would definitely be the easier route...And you would still make some progress, no doubt! But our purpose here is to consistently search for ways we can improve everything, even the mundane. Find those overlooked loopholes and make the exercise work FOR YOU!


Primary Use Case:

- Hypertrophy of the Triceps

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