How To Properly Do A Tricep Pull Down

Feel the (back of the arm) burn.

Originally Published: 
How to do a tricep pull down, according to fitness pros.
Getty Images/Edwin Tan

Learning how to do a tricep pull down sounds incredibly simple: You basically just pull a weight down using the muscles in the backs of your arms. But even though it seems foolproof, it’s important to make sure you do the exercise with good form so you can get the most out of each rep (and avoid injury).

For a more detailed definition of the move, a tricep pull down is where you extend your elbow while resisting a weight or resistance band, explains ACSM-certified personal trainer Alexia Degremont. “The elbow will be extended but not in a fully straight or locked position,” she tells Bustle. “It is most often performed on a cable machine or using medium resistance bands attached to a rail or pole.” In other words, it’s a move you can do both at the gym and at home.

The tricep is the largest muscle of the arm, so it’s important to work in your fitness routine. Degremont says focusing on your triceps helps improve the functional movement of the upper body, and ensures to ensure that your bicep and tricep strength remains balanced. Strong triceps also come in handy for other moves you might want to do while working out, like push-ups, burpees, and bench presses. It’s recommended to integrate some tricep work into your routine once or twice a week, and Degremont says this exercise is an amazing way to isolate the muscle. Keep reading for all the pointers you’ll need for nailing the tricep pull down.

How To Do A Tricep Pull Down

Degremont recommends aiming for three sets of 15 reps using a medium weight. You’ll know you’ve found the perfect level of resistance if the last three to five reps feel extra difficult. Choose your weight setting, then follow this step-by-step guide.

- Stand close to the cable machine and face it.

- Keep your feet hip-width apart.

- Reach up and grab the handles of the rope or bar that’s hanging overhead. Use an overhand grip.

- Keep a slight bend in your knees, core engaged, chest upright, back flat.

- Exhale as you slowly pull the handles down toward your hips, keeping elbows close to your body.

- Once your arms are almost straight, inhale and return the handles to the starting position in a slow, controlled manner.

To do this move with a resistance band, repeat these steps with a band securely anchored overhead.

For an added challenge, aim for four to six reps using a heavier resistance. Degremont also recommends “confusing” your muscles by switching your grip from an overhand grip to an underhand grip. This will make the pull down feel a bit harder, and target your triceps in a new way.

What To Avoid When Doing Tricep Pull Downs

Again, this move may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s surprisingly easy to make mistakes while doing it. One of the most common is popping or flaring your elbows out as you pull down, says Degremont. Another is arching your lower back if you’re struggling against the weight, both of which can strain muscles and take the focus off the triceps.

“All of these mistakes are often made when the weight or resistance is too heavy to start with,” Degremont explains. “Going lighter on the weight and really focusing on your form is the most important thing to keep in mind for proper fitness and strength gains.”

Also, remember those biceps: “When you train the tricep, it is important to also train the bicep in the same session to create a balance between the two antagonist muscles,” she says. You can do this by adding bicep curls, bent over rows, and overhead presses using dumbbells. Finish the workout with a few arm stretches to prevent soreness, and revel in your newfound strength.

How To Modify The Exercise

To make the tricep pull down slightly easier, feel free to perform the exercise while kneeling, Degremont says. That way you can really focus on your arms instead of thinking about your foot stance. Beginners should also go slow, use a lighter weight, and pay attention to form above anything else.

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