Best Tricep Pushdown Alternatives - Dumbbell Exercises

Best Tricep Pushdown Alternatives - Dumbbell Exercises

When it comes to sculpting and getting well-defined triceps, the tricep pushdown has long been a go-to exercise for gym goers the world over. What about if you’re training at home and only have access to a pair of dumbbells? Then no issue! 

This article covers 6 alternative exercises you can do at home or in the gym with only a pair of dumbbells, making sure you hit all three heads of the triceps, helping to build strength, size and muscle mass in the back of your upper arms. 


  • What is the Tricep Pushdown?
  • What Muscles are worked in Tricep Pushdown?
  • Benefits of the Tricep Pushdown
  • 6 Tricep Pushdown Alternatives using Dumbbells
  • How Much Weight Should I Use?
  • What Dumbbells to use?

What is the Tricep Pushdown?

The tricep pushdown is an isolation exercise most often performed using a cable machine and involves extending your elbow joint to push the cable downward, engaging the triceps muscles. This movement specifically targets the lateral, medial, and long heads of the triceps, contributing to overall upper body strength and muscle definition. The full range of motion and elbow extension is what really works the long head of the triceps. 

What Muscles Are Worked in Tricep Pushdown?

The tricep pushdown primarily targets the triceps brachii, specifically working the lateral, medial, and long heads of the muscle. This exercise engages the elbow joint and the shoulder muscles to a certain extent, but the main focus is on the triceps.

If you compete in a sport where overhead strength is important (Weightlifting, CrossFit, Gymnastics) or a sport that involves a lot of throwing (Basketball), strong triceps are a must.

Benefits of the Tricep Pushdown

Pressing strength: Having strong triceps can help your upper body look sculpted and healthy, but they play a much bigger role that just looking good. Your bench press, shoulder press and almost any other pressing movement relies on the triceps to help with the lockout phase. Strengthening your triceps can help you load heavier weights on your dumbbell or bar and push past any sticking points. 

Shoulder stability: The arms and shoulders work together for movement and function, and stronger triceps helps improve shoulder joint stability. The triceps pushdown activates all three heads of the triceps, the long, medial, and lateral head. The long head is especially important in shoulder stability - weak triceps could mean a higher risk of a shoulder injury.  

Builds arm mass: The triceps make up about ⅔ of your arm, so building this muscle group absolutely  contribute to bigger arms overall. 

Isolates the triceps: An exercise like the close-grip chest press can be beneficial for building the triceps, but this muscle group could be overshadowed by the bigger pectoralis major (the main muscle in your chest). Isolation exercises help maximize hypertrophy in the tricep and strengthen one targeted area compared to compound exercises.  

6 Tricep Pushdown Alternatives using Dumbbells

  1. Overhead Triceps Extensions with a Single Dumbbell

The single arm dumbbell overhead tricep extension is an exercise that targets all three heads of the tricep, just like the tricep pressdown, however it’s performed with one arm at a time, which allows you to work out any imbalances between the right and left sides. This exercise can also be done using both arms and a heavier dumbbell, make it a great alternative to the tricep pushdown. 

How to do it: 

  • Hold a dumbbell in one hand and lift it overhead. If doing with a heavier dumbbell, lift overhead with both hands.
  • Lower the dumbbell behind your head, bending at the elbows.
  • Extend your arms to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip: Exaggerate each phase of this exercise, which is flexion and extension of the elbow joint, which will allow you to target the triceps to a greater degree. It is better to do this exercise with a lighter intensity / high volume approach to really fatigue the tricep muscles while maintaining the correct form. 

We often see lifters doing this exercise with a fairly heavy dumbbell, but they’re compensating by using their shoulders.  You want to ensure you’re only using your tricep to move the load if you’re looking for an alternative to the tricep press down. 

  1. Dumbbell Skull Crushers

Dumbbell skull crushers allow you to focus on the isolation of the triceps, which makes it a good tricep pressdown substitute.  If you don’t have access to the tricep pressdown equipment all you need is a set of dumbbells for this movement and a flat surface, ideally a bench

How to do it: 

  •  Lie on a flat bench, holding dumbbells above your chest.
  •  Bend your elbows, lowering the dumbbells towards your forehead.
  •  Extend your arms back up to the starting position.
  •  Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip: Engaging your lats and bringing the dumbbells further behind your head and further forward can result in a better tricep contraction. This allows for hyperflexion (greater lowering) and hyperextension (greater contraction) at each phase of the exercise.

  1. Triceps Kickback

Dumbbell kickbacks are similar to the tricep pressdown in that it doesn’t create a lot of fatigue from doing the movement.  This is because you can use a lighter weight on the dumbbell kickback, and as long as you have strict technique and proper form, your triceps should get a high degree of activation. 

How to do it: 

  • Hinge forward at the hips, holding a dumbbell in one hand.
  • Extend your arm straight back, engaging the triceps.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat.
  • Switch sides and repeat with the other arm.

Pro Tip: Dumbbell kickbacks allow you to drive the shoulder back further to get a greater tricep contraction. Due to the angle of the shoulder, you can go extremely light on this exercise and still get great benefits. We would typically recommend high repetition (10-12) / low intensity sets to work the muscle to exhaustion. Make sure not to swing your entire arm as you move the dumbbell, but instead, focus on extending from the elbow. 

  1. Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench press is an underrated tricep exercise that places more of an emphasis on triceps isolation over the pecs.  There’s no doubt that it’s more ‘compounded’ than other variations but if you only have access to a pair of dumbbells, then this is a great tricep pressdown replacement.

How to do it: 

  • Perform a standard bench press with your hands closer together.
  • Keep your elbows tucked in as you lower the bar to your chest.
  • Push the bar back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip: Close grip bench is a great exercise for people that want to go heavy and really fatigue their triceps. This exercise can also be done with a straight bar bell and can help pec growth too. This is one of the best tricep pushdown alternative. 

  1. Diamond Push-ups

Summary: One of the best bodyweight exercises if you don’t have access to a pair of dumbbells, that specifically target the triceps and the chest. 

How to do it: 

  • Get into a push-up position with your hands close together, forming a diamond shape with your fingers.
  • Lower your chest toward the diamond shape, engaging your triceps.
  • Push back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip: To make this exercise harder, you can slow down the movement and pause just short of touching the ground which will add even more tension to the triceps. To isolate the triceps further, bring your hand stance closer in - if you want to focus more on the pecs, take your hand stance further out. 

  1. Bench Dips

Bench dips work the triceps using your body weight or place a dumbbell on your lap for added resistance. If you don’t have a bench, tricep dips  can be done on any flat and sturdy surface like a chair, table or desk. 

How to do it: 

  • Position your hands on a bench, fingers facing forward.
  • Lower your body by bending your elbows.
  • Push back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Pro Tip: To make this exercise harder, you can slow down the movement and pause at the bottom of the exercise which will increase time under tension and work capacity of your dip. The closer you are to your bench the more effective the workout. 

How Much Weight Should I Use?

Determining the right weight when doing tricep exercises is incredibly important when you want to get the most out of your workout and avoiding the risk of injury. Beginners should start with a weight that allows for 6-8 repetitions with proper form. As you become more experienced, gradually increase the weight while ensuring that you can maintain good technique. The focus should be on feeling the targeted muscles working throughout the entire movement.

What Dumbbells to use?

There are a whole range of dumbbells available on the market, whether you’re looking to train in a commercial gym or in a home gym set up. We would recommend adjustable dumbbells which allow you to get up to 17 dumbbells in 1, which are designed to go along on your fitness journey with you and is by far the best way to train. The important thing is to ensure you have heavy dumbbells to allow you to target the right muscle groups.  

There is also the option of doing tricep pushdown using other equipment like Olympic Barbells / Resistance Bands or even bodyweight if you do not have access to a pair of dumbbells. 


Incorporating dumbbell exercises into your triceps training program provides a versatile and effective way to target the various heads of the triceps. Whether you're working out at a gym or in a home gym setting, these alternatives offer a great way to enhance your triceps strength and definition. There are multiple variations of the tricep pushdown, however we have found these to be the best triceps pushdown alternatives out there.  

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