Kinesiology of Exercise

Triceps Pushdown

One of the best exercises for development of the triceps is the triceps pushdown. When done with a rope or other implement that allows for rotation of the hands it becomes even more effective.

Major Muscles and Actions Involved

In the Triceps Pushdown the triceps brachii muscle is involved in elbow joint extension. In this action the forearm moves away from the upper arm, which is held stable, to a fairly straight, upright, arm position.

Exercise Execution

To execute the triceps pushdown exercise, stand in a well-balanced position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, or in a slight stride stance. Position yourself in front of a high pulley with a rope, bar or V bar attachment. Grasp the handles placing your elbows alongside your body. There should be about a 45-60° bend in the elbow joint.

When you are ready, inhale and hold your breath as you push down with your hands and extend your elbows. Hold your elbows in place, keep your grip firm, and keep your hand and forearm in a straight line as you pull down. Continue extending your elbows until the arms are fully extended. 

If you use a rope attachment, turn (pronate) your hands inward until your arms are fully extended as you approach the bottom position. After reaching this position, relax your muscles somewhat, return to the original position, and repeat. 

Sports Uses

The sports uses for the triceps pushdown are the same as for the triceps overhead press. In addition, the muscle strengthening in this exercise plays a major role in baseball batting (just prior to ball contact) and in the tennis serve, volleyball spike and basketball shooting. It is extremely important in the martial arts (karate, wrestling, and so on) and for boxers and mixed martial artists in punching. This is the action that produces up to one-third of the total force in a punch. Also, elbow extension is the key action for arm quickness in reaching.

Exercise Analysis

  • Be sure to keep your wrist and forearm in line with each other. Do not allow your wrist to drop back (hyperextend) as it often does when doing this exercise. In so doing, you keep the assistant elbow joint extensors (which are wrist extensors) more on stretch so that they can better stabilize the elbow joint and play a role in elbow extension. Because of this, you will find it possible to use more weight to create more tension, with the resulting greater development of muscle strength and/or mass. And you will develop a stronger wrist.
  • By incorporating hand pronation near the end of elbow extension when using the rope attachment, you will experience a much stronger contraction than when you use other cable attachments. When you pronate your hand (under resistance), you slightly displace the ulna bone to which the triceps attaches, thereby producing a different angle of pull. This is why you will find the upper head of the triceps kicking in very strongly along with the middle and lateral heads.
  • As an added benefit, you develop the assistant elbow extensors and pronator muscles of the forearm. Also, keep in mind that the wrist extensors (and flexors) remain under a strong isometric contraction to hold the wrist in place.
  • The key to pure isolation of muscle action is to maintain your elbows in a position close to the sides of your body or in front of your body. You can stand back a little in order to place your elbows in front of you, but it is essential that they do not move.
  • If you use shoulder joint extension and pull your elbows back as you begin the elbow joint extension, you will be weakening the effect. In this variant you will be using your shoulder joint extensors to get the movement started and bringing in elbow joint extension when the inertia (resistance) is not as great.
  • Keeping your elbows out in front puts the long head of the triceps on stretch, which creates a stronger contraction. This is especially noticeable near the end of the movement, but only if you keep your elbows in position. When you stand slightly away from the grip, as when you use a stride position, it is important that you do not use your upper trunk to get the weight started moving.
  • Your upper body must remain in place and not drop down, especially as you begin the exercise. If your upper body drops, you will be using the momentum of your body to assist in the exercise, which takes stress off the triceps.
  • It should also be noted that a narrow grip contributes to greater effectiveness in working the triceps. When the grip is narrow, it places greater stress on the triceps in addition to allowing you to go through a greater range of motion. Some equipment such as a hexagonal shaped bar with a two-inch diameter, allows you to keep your fingers more open and your hand more in line with your forearm.

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