How To Do The Triceps Press-Down

Man performing rope triceps press-down in gym on cable machine
(Image credit: LUNAMARINA / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

If you enter the gym determined to get to work on your triceps, as we all do from time to time, the triceps press-down is likely to be one of the first exercises you plan on doing. It’s a simple isolation move that is as effective a triceps exercise as anything else out there for building muscle on the back of your upper arms.

The triceps press-down is usually performed using a cable machine, but you can also try the exercise at home if you own a set of resistance bands that came with a door anchor. 

It’s also a move with many variations, some of which you’ll find below along with a couple of workouts that contain the exercise, but first here’s a form guide to the standard triceps press-down.

How To Do The Triceps Press-Down

Cable triceps press-down

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Set the cable machine up with the bar at head height. Grab the bar and stand upright with your back straight and your elbows tucked in to your sides. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, or place one in front of the other if it helps you balance. Pull the cable down until the bar touches your thighs and pause to squeeze your triceps at the bottom of the move. Then slowly raise the bar back to the starting position. Make sure you don’t lean forwards to aid the press and don’t let your elbows leave your sides, otherwise you’ll lose some of the focus on the triceps.

Triceps Press-Down Variations

Rope press-down

Man demonstrates two positions of the triceps press-down using a cable machine

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Switching to rope handles for your press-down helps intensify the contraction at the bottom of the move because the extra flexibility means you can adjust your grip at that point. Start by holding the ropes with your palms facing one another. Pull the handle down and at the bottom of the move turn your wrists so your palms are facing downwards. Then take your hands back to the starting position and raise the rope again.

Unilateral press-down

As with all unilateral moves, the primary benefit of working one side at a time is that you can identify and even out any strength imbalances in your body. Use a stirrup handle for this version of the exercise and take the arm you’re not using behind you, resting it in the small of your back during the move to help ensure you're not leaning forwards.

Reverse-grip press-down

One of the rare occasions when underhand tactics should be applauded. Holding the bar in an underhand grip for the press-down will move the focus of the exercise to the triceps' lateral head in particular. So if you’re thinking that you’ve not paid enough attention to your triceps’ lateral head lately, here’s a quick way to remedy the situation.

Workouts Which Feature The Triceps Press-Down

Four-Week Arm Workout Plan

If you’re going all-in on your arm training then this four-week plan will help you bulk up in double quick time. The plan contains four workouts each week, including a dedicated biceps and triceps workout that contains the triceps press-down along with other isolation moves. See the arm workout plan

Superset Triceps Workout

The agonist supersets in this workout help you target your triceps in different ways using a combination of two triceps exercises performed with minimal rest in between. It’s a surefire way to exhaust the muscles in your upper arms and force them to grow, but also a challenging way to train, so make sure you’re comfortable with all the exercises involved, including the triceps press-down, before starting. See the superset triceps workout

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.