As noted in our triceps brachii guide, the triceps have two functions: elbow extension and shoulder extension.
The catch is that only the long head of the triceps acts on the shoulder joint. Therefore, when you perform any kind of skull crusher or overhead extension, the long head gets worked at the expense of the lateral and medial heads.
Considering that the long head is the largest triceps muscle, however, prioritizing its development actually makes perfect sense.
Yet, to truly build triceps that are balanced and aesthetic, the lateral and medial heads need plenty of work as well.
That’s where the cable pressdown comes in.
Since your shoulders are in a neutral position during a close grip push down, the long head can’t dominate the movement, which means that all three tricep heads get trained fairly equally (if anything, the lateral and medial heads will get more stimulation).
Close grip push down exercise details
- Also Known As: Narrow grip tricep pushdown
- Main Muscles: Triceps
- Exercise Type: Strength
- Exercise Mechanics: Isolation
- Difficulty Level: Beginner
- Equipment Needed: Cable machine, cable bar attachment
How to do a close grip tricep pushdown
- Connect a straight bar attachment to a high pulley.
- Grab the bar with a narrow overhand grip, and then take a small step or two away from the machine.
- Hinge at your hips while keeping your back straight.
- Brace your core, and then bring the bar down so that it’s at chest height.
- Pin your elbows to your sides.
- Begin the rep by flexing your triceps in order to push the bar down toward the floor.
- Keep pushing until your elbows reach full extension, and then hold the contraction for a second.
- Release the contraction in a controlled manner.
- Raise the bar back up until your forearms make firm contact with your biceps.
- Repeat for 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps.
Close grip pressdown variations
Here are 3 more close grip tricep pushdown variations that you can perform to add mass and detail to the backs of your arms.
Close grip EZ bar pushdown
As effective as close grip straight bar pushdowns are for building the triceps, the straight bar pressdown can also put a lot of pressure on your wrists because straight bar attachments force your hands into full pronation.
EZ bar attachments, on the other hand, have curved grips, which is to say, semi-pronated grips.
These convenient grips put your hands in a much more natural position, which in turn takes the strain off your joints, which enables you to dedicate more attention to training your triceps.
Since there are multiple curved grips on an EZ bar, it’s completely possible to perform close grip tricep pushdowns with the EZ attachment.
Just make sure that you don’t put your hands together (they shouldn’t actually be touching). It’s fine to do a close grip pressdown if the exercise is comfortable and if you feel it in your triceps.
But even when you do a triceps pushdown with an EZ bar, you can still run into wrist discomfort if you use an excessively narrow grip in conjunction with heavy weight.
Narrow bar close grip pushdown
The close grip v-bar pushdown, which is often called the angled bar pushdown, is a favorite close grip pushdown variation among bodybuilders because the angled bar attachment is easier to stabilize than a tricep rope.
This is because the sides of the rope attachment move somewhat independently (which, admittedly, does allow you to achieve a better peak contraction), whereas a v bar is a completely fixed attachment.
Since the v bar is easier to balance, you’re able to generate more force and lift heavier weights.
Angled bar close grip push downs also place your wrists in a semi-pronated position, which tends to make them a more joint-friendly exercise than their straight bar counterpart.
However, since v bars only offer one grip option, it’s unlikely to be the best close grip press down attachment for everyone. Some lifters might find the grip too narrow, whereas other people might find it too wide.
Of course, when creating these attachments, the designers try to cater to as many people as possible, so there’s also a good chance that the angled bar will put your wrists in a comfortable position, one that allows you to get a great triceps pump.
Reverse close grip cable pushdown
Performing the underhand tricep pushdown with a narrow grip can help you to achieve a stronger tricep peak contraction—but only if you do it correctly.
You need to make sure that your elbows are pinned to your sides rather than in front of your body, which may entail widening your grip slightly.
The reason that you want to use a less narrow grip is that when your elbows are by your sides, your shoulders typically move into slight extension.
This extended shoulder position puts the long head of the triceps in a shorter muscle position, which in turn enables it to contract more forcefully, which results in a more potent hypertrophic stimulus.
On the contrary, if you use an excessively narrow grip, then your shoulders will drift forward, and the intensity of the peak contraction will be greatly reduced. Worse still, the bar might actually hit your hips before you get any kind of contraction if your grip on the bar is too narrow.
Close grip vs wide grip tricep pushdown
What’s the difference between a wide grip tricep pushdown and a close grip tricep pushdown? Is one better than the other for building muscle?
Let’s take a look.
You first have to understand that you can’t defy human anatomy by changing your grip.
As noted in the introduction, only the long head of the triceps crosses the shoulder joint. As such, when you raise your arms over your head, your shoulders become flexed, and the long head becomes stretched.
The other two tricep heads, however, only act on the elbow.
Therefore, changing your grip width, in theory, does nothing to affect triceps activation.
Yet, keeping your elbows close to your sides typically results in a more comfortable pushdown experience and a better peak contraction since it enables the long head to contract more effectively.
So should you do a wide grip pushdown or a close grip pushdown?
It depends on your build and which grip width you find the most comfortable.
If you have a narrow build, then you’ll naturally need to use a narrower hand position on the bar.
Likewise, if you have really broad shoulders, then a wide grip will likely be more suitable.
Yet, there’s also a considerable variation in bone structure and personal preferences.
There’s also no right or wrong pressdown grip. So try multiple grip widths to see which a) provides the most comfortable workout experience and b) leads to the best triceps activation for you.
Conclusion: Should you do close grip pushdowns for your triceps or not?
Narrow grip pushdowns are a great exercise in that they can help you to maintain the proper form by keeping your elbows tucked in to your sides.
But close grip pushdowns aren’t a magic bullet, nor are they suitable for everyone.
If performing a close grip push down causes your elbows to flare out or your wrists to hurt, then you should probably widen your grip.
If, however, your wrists and elbows are more or less lined up when you do narrow push downs, then the exercise is likely a good fit.
It’s also worth performing the close grip tricep pushdown with multiple attachments (straight bar, EZ bar, angled bar) to see which attachment gives you the best workout.