10 Cable Tricep Pushdown Alternatives (No Machine Needed)
Cable Tricep Pushdowns are one of my favorite exercises for developing strong triceps. They’re quick and easy to setup, provide tons of variety with different attachments and will leave your triceps completely smoked at the end of a workout.
However, there may be some situations where you need an alternative for Cable Tricep Pushdowns.
The most obvious reason would be that you don’t have access to an expensive cable machine. But, maybe you just want some ideas to change up your workout routine.
Whatever the case, if you’re looking for Tricep Pushdown Alternatives then you are in the right place. I’m about to give you 10 of my favorite substitutions and hopefully at least one of them can work, regardless of your situation.
Alternatives for Cable Tricep Pushdowns
In this list of 10 exercises, I’ve tried to include exercises that would fit all kinds of scenarios. Alternatives that use dumbbells along with exercises that use a barbell, bands and even no equipment at all!
Hopefully, no matter what equipment you have access to, at least one of the exercises listed here can make a good substitution for your situation.
Resistance Band Triceps Pushdown
If you want to do Triceps Pushdowns at home, but don’t want to shell out a couple of grand for a cable machine, try Band Triceps Pushdowns.
Resistance bands are relatively cheap and have an endless amount of uses. One of which, is wrapping the band around the top of your squat rack and doing triceps pushdowns. They’re probably worth the cost just for this one exercise alone.
- Resistance Band
- Band Anchor (The top of a rack and/or a pull-up bar are good options)
First, loop a band around the top of a rack or any other piece of equipment that can solidly hold the band.
- Stand tall, head up.
- Hold the resistance band with hands eight inches apart, palms down.
- Bring upper arms to the sides and keep them there.
- Start with forearms and biceps touching.
- Press the band down to arm’s length.
- Return slowly and under control to starting position.
To make Resistance Band Triceps Pushdown more challenging, either use a thicker band or choke up on the band.
If you’re unable to get a full range of motion, lower your hands on the band, use a thinner band or stand on something to make the movement easier.
Barbell Skull Crushers
Barbell Skull Crushers are one of the most effective exercises for isolating and developing the triceps muscle and make a great Triceps Pushdown alternative.
- Bar* (Can be a barbell or a Curl Bar)
- Bench (Preferrable but they can be done on the floor as well)
- Grab a bar with an overhand grip, lie flat on a bench with head down, chin up. If you don’t have a bench, you can simply lay on the floor.
- Press the bar to arm’s length above the shoulder.
- Lower the bar until it almost touches the top of the forehead, bending arms at the elbows, keeping upper arm vertical and elbows in.
- Drive the bar back up to the starting position and repeat.
Keep the elbows high throughout. When Skull Crushers start to become difficult, the natural tendency of the lifter is to drop the elbows. Keep the elbows high and tight (try not to let them flare out to the side either).
Seated Triceps Overhead Extension
If all you have to work with is dumbbells, Overhead Triceps Extensions make a great replacement for Triceps Pushdown.
It’s almost the exact same movement, just done at a different angle with a dumbbell instead of a cable machine.
- Sit on the edge of a bench with a single dumbbell.
- Raise the dumbbell straight up overhead with both hands.
- Keep the elbows high, bend the arms and bring the dumbbell behind the head.
- Now drive the arms back to the overhead starting position.
- Repeat for the designated number of reps.
Seated Dumbbell Tricep Extensions can technically be done seated or standing with no real difference in the functionality of the movement. It’s more of a matter of personal preference.
Make sure to keep the core braced so you avoid overarching the back.
Close Grip Bench Press
If you’re wanting to focus on strength development, Close Grip Bench Press is one of the best exercises for developing triceps strength.
The narrow grip places more emphasis on the triceps muscle and less on the chest, making it a very effective triceps exercise for building strength and adding mass.
- Multi-purpose lifting rack
- Bumper or Iron plates
- Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
- Lie flat on your back on the bench.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor. (Some do find it comfortable to pull the feet back toward their butt as they arch).
- Keep your butt on the bench.
- Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
- Take a narrow grip, right at the start of the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
- Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
- Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows tight to the body.
- The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
- Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.
Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline when doing Close Grip Bench. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.
Don’t have a bench? No problem.
You can do Close Grip Bench Press from the floor.
Floor Press might be even more effective at isolating the triceps because the floor will limit the range of motion (similar to how a board press would do). This will place even more emphasis on the triceps.
- Squat Rack
- Set your barbell up in the rack at the proper height to be able to rack and unrack the bar safely*.
- Lay on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
- Engage your lats and set yourself up basically the same as you would for Bench Press.
- Grab the bar using a close grip**, hands right about on the edge of the knurling.
- Unrack the bar, lower it down until the triceps lightly tap the floor and then press it back to extension.
- Repeat for the designated amount of reps.
*Always test your barbell height with an empty bar. I’ve been doing Floor Presses for twenty years now and can still struggle with nailing the best height on my first try.
**Floor Press is generally done using a close grip to emphasize the demand on the triceps, however you can go with a wider grip if you choose to.
Close Grip Pushups
If you’re limited on equipment options, look no further than Close Grip Pushups (or Diamond Pushups). They’re effectively a bodyweight version of Close Grip Bench Press.
Close Grip Pushups require no equipment and can be done anywhere at any time.
They also happen to be extremely effective in building crazy strong triceps.
- Start by positioning yourself in a plank position on the floor, with your hands placed close together and forming a diamond shape with your index fingers and thumbs.
- Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and your body should be straight and in a straight line from head to ankles.
- Lower your body down toward the floor by bending your elbows and keeping them close to your body.
- Once your chest nearly touches the floor, push back up to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions, making sure to keep your core engaged and your body straight throughout the movement.
To make the exercise easier, you can perform the push-ups with your knees on the floor. To make it more challenging, you can try placing your feet on an elevated surface or adding weight (like a weight vest) to your upper body.
Keep your elbows close to your body. As you lower down and push back up, make sure to keep your elbows close to your body to maximize the triceps activation.
Pro Tip: Yes, you can put your hand in the diamond formation, but what you really want to focus on is the elbows. Keep the elbows tight to the body to emphasize the triceps.
There is no way I can do a list of triceps exercises without including Dips. Dips are the absolute king of triceps exercises and one of the best exercises period for building a strong upper body.
Whether it’s higher volume bodyweight Dips or lower rep weight Dips, one way or the other, you should have Dips in your training program at least once a week.
- Squat Rack
- Dip Attachment
- A Dip Station can be used as well if you have access to one.
- Shoulders (Anterior Delt)
Step By Step Instructions
- Attach your dip rack to your rack. This process will vary based on your rack and dip attachment. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely.
- Set your dip rack just above waist height. This will allow enough room for your feet not to hit the ground while doing reps, but not so high you feel you have to jump up into your first rep.
- Starting position is hands on bars, arms extended, knees slightly bent and feet crossed (crossing feet is optional but does help with unwanted swinging in my experience.
- Descend down by bending the elbows and slightly leaning forward.
- Lower yourself under control until the triceps become parallel with the ground and then drive yourself back up to the starting position.
- Repeat until all reps are completed.
The biggest mistake I see with dips is poor range of motion. If someone is struggling to be able to do reps, the easiest solution is to simply not lower yourself into a full rep, but this is incorrect. If a lifter cannot perform a full rep they should switch to one of the variations listed below.
Not quite ready or able to do Dips? (or don’t have a Dip attachment?)
Bench Dips are a more beginner-friendly variation of Dips and another great alternative for Triceps Pushdown.
- Bench (a sturdy box can also work)
- Sit on the side edge of a bench and place the heels of your hands on the bench, fingers wrapping down over the edge.
- Place feet out in front of you, legs straight, heels on the ground.
- Push your body up by extending your arms and position yourself so your butt and torso are just off the edge of the bench.
- Bend the elbows and lower yourself down beside the bench.
- Stay close to the bench and keep your torso upright.
- Once the triceps become parallel to the ground, drive yourself back up to the starting position.
- Repeat until all reps are completed.
The biggest mistake I see made with Bench Dips is getting the body too far away from the bench. This puts excess strain on the shoulders and can make the movement very uncomfortable. Keep your back close to the bench throughout the movement.
You can make bench dips easier by bending the knees and placing your feet flat on the floor.
Dumbbell Skull Crushers
- Bench (Preferrable but they can be done on the floor as in the video above)
- Using dumbells, lie flat on a bench with your head down, and chin up. If you don’t have a bench, you can simply lie on the floor.
- Press dumbbells to arm’s length above the shoulder.
- Lower dumbbells to just beside ears, bending arms at elbows, keeping upper arm vertical and elbows in.
- Return to starting position and repeat.
Keep the elbows high throughout. When DB Skull Crushers start to become difficult, the natural tendency of the lifter is to drop the elbows. Keep the elbows high and tight (try not to let them flare out to the side either).
This final exercise is a combo set combining three different exercises into one giant back-to-back superset. I’ve used it for quite some time with the teams that I’ve worked with and it always adopted the name of the school I was currently at.
The three exercises used are Barbell Pullovers, Skull Crushers and finally Close Grip Bench. The three exercises are done in that order, 10 reps each, all with no rest in between. You can use a barbell or an EZ Curl Bar if you prefer.
One thing is certain with Owl Presses – they will absolutely light your triceps up. If you’ve been looking for something unique to add something fresh to your workouts, this is the one I would highly recommend.
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Cable Triceps Pushdowns are an awesome exercise, one I use in my programming all the time. However, sometimes you need an alternative for Triceps Pushdowns.
For many of us working out at home, a cable machine to do Triceps Pushdowns isn’t an option for us. Or, maybe you’re just looking to add some variety to your upper arms workouts.
No matter the reason why you’re looking for an exercise to use as a substitution, I hope at least one of the exercises I’ve listed above fits what you were looking for.