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The best tricep pushdown alternative that you can do at home with dumbbells

Here are 11 rope pressdown alternatives that you can do at home, with dumbbells, or in the gym.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 15th November 2021
A man demonstrating a good rope tricep pushdown alternative

The tricep pushdown is one of the most effective isolation exercises that you can do for your triceps because it trains the primary triceps function—elbow extension.

Yet, not everyone has the available equipment to perform a pushdown optimally.

While it’s possible to do a tricep pushdown at home if you have a cable machine or a resistance band set, some people simply don’t have the space to do pushdowns.

Additionally, you might be bored of pushdowns or curious if there are alternatives that provide better stimulation for the long head of the triceps.

Whatever your reason for seeking out a tricep pushdown alternative, this guide and its diverse list of exercises has you covered.

The 11 best tricep pushdown alternatives for muscle growth

After trying over 50 different exercises, we selected the 11 best tricep pushdown replacements for muscle growth and strength development.

1. Resistance band tricep pushdown

A man doing a banded tricep pushdown exercise during his workout

Performing a tricep pushdown with bands is the best and easiest way to do tricep pushdowns at home. This is because band pushdowns are the exercise that most closely resembles cable pushdowns in terms of setup, execution, and triceps stimulation.

To do the band pushdown properly, you’ll need a secure anchor point that’s positioned above head height on which you can attach your band. A doorway pull-up bar is a good example of what I mean.

But if you’re short on equipment or anchor points, then your best bet is to get a resistance band set that comes with a door anchor. These convenient door anchors enable you to turn any door into what is essentially—in terms of function and feel—your very own pulley system (except that you’re using bands and not cables).

In terms of lifting technique, you simply grab each end of the band, hinge at your hips slightly, tuck your elbows into your sides, and then extend your elbows while keeping your shoulders still.

If you’re looking for a like-for-like rope pressdown alternative, then the band pushdown is the way to go. You can also see our rope pushdowns vs bar pushdowns comparison to learn how the rope pressdown compares to other popular types of pushdowns.

2. Lying tricep extension

The lying tri extension is an excellent triceps pushdown alternative and one which really works the long head of the triceps, which is the biggest triceps muscle.

Pushdowns, on the other hand, while an undeniably effective exercise for isolating the triceps, don’t really work the long head of the triceps all that much.

This is because, unlike the lateral and medial heads, the long head has a dual function; it performs shoulders extension as well as elbow extension.

So in order to train the long head optimally, you need to put your shoulders into flexion, so that the long head becomes stretched, or into extension, so that it becomes maximally contracted.

Since the overhand cable pushdown keeps your shoulders in a relatively neutral position, the movement enables the lateral and medial heads to get a better workout than they would during any kind of overhead tricep extension.

The trade-off, of course, is that the long head doesn’t get as much stimulation.

In this sense, the lying tricep extension is a great exercise because, unlike the pressdown, it gives extra attention to the largest muscle in the triceps, which, as mentioned, is the long head.

3. Cable tricep kickbacks

A man doing a cable tricep kickback

Cable kickbacks, which you can also perform with bands if you’re training at home, are a similar exercise to pushdowns in that they isolate the triceps remarkably well.

Since kickbacks, when performed correctly, place your shoulders into significant extension, they train the long head of the triceps in its fully shortened anatomical position, which naturally results in an intense muscle pump.

Considering that many lifters perform pushdowns and overhead extensions but forget all about kickbacks, cable kickbacks really are a fantastic tricep pressdown alternative because they’re virtually the only exercise that’s capable of training your triceps while your shoulders are in extension.

So if you want to maximize your triceps development by training your tris for multiple angles, then you should definitely do some kind of overhead extension and kickback in addition to pushdowns.

4. Close grip barbell bench press

A man doing a close grip bench press

If you want to increase your pressing power and your triceps muscularity, then the close grip bench press is just about the best exercise for the job.

Like the pushdown, the close grip barbell bench press enables you to overload your triceps with substantial amounts of resistance so that they grow back bigger and stronger.

While not a like-for-like tricep pushdown substitute, the close grip bench press is incredibly versatile in that you can perform it with a variety of different training tools such as dumbbells, bands, and kettlebells.

As such, the CGBP is ideal for those who work out at home and don’t have access to the usual kinds of gym equipment that are traditionally used for the close grip bench.

5. Diamond push-ups

A man doing diamond push ups

Diamond push-ups are the best tricep push down alternative for those who train at home and/or don’t have any equipment but who still want to grow and strengthen their triceps.

Even though diamond push-ups are an equipment-free exercise, they’re still remarkably effective for building the triceps because they make you use a significant portion of your body weight as resistance.

Better yet, from a convenience perspective, you can do diamond push-ups just about anywhere.

And once the bodyweight version becomes too easy, you can wear a weighted vest to increase the resistance even further. That is, of course, presuming that you actually want to grow your triceps beyond the size that you achieved from performing bodyweight diamond press-ups, which is likely to be significant.

6. Overhead extension

A man performing a standing dumbbell overhead tricep extension exercise

Overhead DB extensions are a popular rope pushdown alternative because you only need a single dumbbell to do the exercise.

And if that dumbbell isn’t heavy enough to train both of your triceps together—or if you want to improve your triceps symmetry—then you can work each arm separately instead.

Like lying extensions, overhead extensions have excellent mass-building potential because, in addition to working all three heads of the triceps well, they really hammer the long head of the triceps, which, as mentioned, is the biggest triceps muscle.

The key is to use a full range of motion (a deep stretch followed by a complete contraction) so that your triceps get the best possible stimulation and your elbows stay pain-free.

See our tricep extension alternative guide for more creative ways to train your triceps.

7. Bodyweight skull crusher

A man doing some bodyweight skull crushers for his triceps

Body weight skull crushers are an ideal tricep pushdown alternative for those who train at home because they don’t require any weights.

While typically performed using a barbell that’s positioned in a squat rack, you can also do bodyweight skull crushers on a desk, table, or kitchen countertop.

As long as the surface is stable, you can use it for bodyweight skullcrushers.

Although bodyweight movements like this certainly require more core strength than cable exercises, they’re still incredibly effective for isolating your triceps when you use the proper form.

Essentially, you want the majority of movement to occur at the elbow joint. Don’t let your elbows flare out (keep them tucked in), as this will work your chest and shoulders at the expense of your triceps.

8. One arm cable extension

A man doing a one arm tricep pushdown with a single cable handle

The one arm pushdown, which you can also perform with bands if you don’t have access to cables, is an excellent exercise for ensuring that both of your triceps get equal amounts of stimulation.

So if you often fail to push into the bar or rope with equal force from both hands during regular pushdowns, then single arm cable extensions are a great drill for developing triceps of equal size and strength.

The only downside is that unilateral exercises such as this take longer to perform than regular pushdowns because you’re training each arm separately. As such, if you don’t have much time for a workout, then you’re best off sticking to bilateral exercises that work both of your triceps together.

9. Parallel bar dips

A man doing dips

Parallel bar dips are known for developing strong, muscular triceps because they use a large proportion of your body weight as resistance.

The trick is to perform your dips with an upright torso so that your triceps take the brunt of the load. If you lean too far forward, then your chest and shoulders will take more of the strain.

Dips also have better carryover to your compound presses than pushdowns because a) they’re a multi-joint exercise, and b) they require more core stabilization.

You’ll also never get too strong for dips because you can always add weight via a dipping belt.

On the other hand, if you’ve been training your triceps consistently for years already, then it’s conceivable that you might max out the cable machine at some point in the future. So pushdowns have less room for progression than dips and thus, in theory, less mass-building potential.

10. Floor tricep extension

The floor tricep extension is a lot like doing a tricep pushdown with dumbbells because all the movement occurs at the elbow joint.

Of course, you can’t literally do tricep pushdowns with dumbbells because pushdowns require either a cable pulley system or a band, which is to say, a piece of equipment that provides resistance as it’s stretched.

Nevertheless, since a pushdown is simply a type of tricep extension, you can get very close by doing tricep extensions on the floor.

It is, of course, possible to use a bench for tricep extensions as well.

However, if all you’ve got is a pair of weights, then working out on the floor is the only option that you have if you want to perform lying extensions.

11. Assisted tricep pushdown

A man doing a tricep pushdown on an assisted pullup machine

Performing tricep pushdowns on the assisted pull up machine is a great way to add variety to your workout routine. Because the assisted pull-up pad can't move from side to side, you can focus 100% of your attention on pumping out fluid pressdown repetitions, which will give your triceps a better workout.

You also don't need any specific attachments for this underrated tricep pulldown alternative because you push directly into the pad with your fists or the palms of your hands. As such, you don't need to walk around the gym to hunt down specific pieces of equipment.

How to perform a tricep pushdown at home without a machine

Here are 3 tips for performing the triceps pushdown at home and finding the most suitable alternative for your goals.

Use resistance bands

A man doing a tricep pushdown at home without a machine

Resistance bands and cables are very similar.

The only difference besides the massive gulf in price is that whereas bands do provide constant tension, they don’t provide consistent resistance like cables do.

This is because resistance bands, in the most basic sense, are rubber bands. As you probably remember from your elementary school science lessons, rubber bands gain a greater amount of energy the more that they’re stretched.

In practice, this means that bands become heavier as you stretch them.

In terms of lifting technique, however, a band pushdown is identical to a cable pushdown.

Your triceps certainly can’t tell whether they’re lifting bands or cables because, as simple pieces of meat, your triceps merely respond to the tension that you subject them to.

So if you want to do a tricep pushdown without a machine, then the best thing that you can do is to invest in a set of bands if you don’t already have some.

Get a band set that comes with a door anchor because then you can turn your door into what is essentially your very own resistance band machine, something which allows you to do much more than just pushdowns.

Don’t overlook dumbbells

A man demonstrating a good way to do a tricep pushdown with dumbbells

I hate to break it to you, but there’s no way to do a proper triceps pushdown with dumbbells.

The good news is that there are lots of excellent dumbbell alternatives to tricep pushdowns that you can perform.

With just a single dumbbell, you can challenge your triceps with overhead extensions, which are one of the best all-time mass-builders for the upper arms.

Likewise, you can do kickbacks, and even close grip bench presses with a simple pair of weights.

Add these exercises together, and you’ll soon have plenty of training volume to grow your triceps.

The floor is your friend

A man performing a good rope pushdown alternative

Many people believe that they need a weight bench to get a good workout.

And while having a bench can certainly make some exercise more comfortable, a bench is by no means necessary.

For example, you can get great results from bench-free exercises like floor tricep extensions and floor presses, which require nothing more than a cheap pair of weights.

These movements, which you can also perform with bands, are ultra-convenient because you can do them virtually anywhere.

Conversely, if you rely on a bench, then you won’t be able to do your usual workouts when you’re traveling or when the gyms are closed (unless you have a bench of your own).

The verdict: Which tricep pushdown alternative is the most effective?

A man demonstrating two good tricep pushdown replacements

The best tricep pushdown alternative depends, first and foremost, on your equipment availability but also on your training goals.

If you’re working out at home and/or don’t have much equipment, then exercises like diamond push-ups, band pushdowns, and body weight skull crushers (which you can do on a kitchen countertop or window sill) are your best bet.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a weight room full of equipment at your disposal, then single-joint tricep pushdown alternatives, such as kickbacks, skull crushers, and extensions, are all excellent exercises for isolating your triceps.

And, if you want to overload your triceps with as much weight as possible, then multi-joint movements like close-grip bench presses and parallel bar dips are equally good replacements for the tricep pushdown.

James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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