Five exercises that are better than tricep pushdowns for building serious arm size

It's time to focus on the long head of the triceps

man doing tricep pushdowns
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We have more triceps than biceps (they actually make up two thirds of your overall arm). So, if you’re serious about building  well rounded arms, you really can’t neglect them.

One tricep exercise you’re guaranteed to see going down on the gym floor is the tricep pushdown with the cable machine. And, rightly so, it’s great for smoking the triceps (particularly the lateral and medial head) and is easier on the elbow joint. But, if size and strength is your goal then you need to pay attention to the long head of the tricep, the largest of the three muscles. 

Making mistakes on this exercise are also common, such as loading the weight too high, flaring the elbows and swinging the arm too much (often caused by the weight issue). All this does is take the focus away from your triceps and place it elsewhere on the body.

There’s a ton of alternative tricep exercises though which are not only easier to execute, but target that all-important long head. Here’s our five favourites… 

1. Dumbbell kickbacks

Woman doing tricep kickbacks

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The dumbbell kickback targets all three heads of the tricep, with the main focus on the lateral head (located on the outside of the upper arm), similar to tricep pushdowns. However, unlike pushdowns, dumbbell kickbacks are a unilateral exercise where you work each arm individually. This makes it great at eliminating any strength imbalances in your triceps, which aren’t as easy to spot with the pushdown. It’s very beginner-friendly too. Just don’t ego lift here.

2. Lying tricep extension

Man performing laying tricep extensions

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Strength coach Jeff Cavelier, founder of Athlean X, actually dubs the lying tricep extension as ‘the best of the best’ when it comes to building overall strength and size in the triceps. It hits all three tricep muscles but, what makes this exercise standout from the crowd, is it allows a greater stretch to the long head of the triceps. Whether you perform it with an EZ bar or pair of dumbbells, you’ll still reap the same benefits. Plus, it puts less strain on your wrists and is more shoulder friendly – tick!

3. Close grip bench press

Man performing close grip bench press

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This is a more advanced exercise and probably not one that beginners should start with. It’s a variation of the compound exercise, the barbell bench press. However, having a more narrow grip on the barbell takes more of the focus away from the chest and places more of it on the triceps and shoulders. It mainly targets the medial and lateral tricep heads, but it’s a great variation for overloading.

4. Tricep dips

Man doing tricep dips

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This exercise is excellent for overloading the triceps. The key with tricep dips is to keep the chest upright and elbows in; if you start leaning too far forwards you’ll start placing too much emphasis on the chest. These can be performed using just your bodyweight, or you can add a weight belt for some extra heat, or even a resistance band to assist you. There’s a whole host of equipment you can perform them on too; the most common is a dip station, but muscle rings or a weight bench (a box if you’re at home) will all work.

5. Dumbbell incline extension

Man doing overhead tricep extensions

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Overhead tricep extensions (AKA powerbombs) are also one of the most popular tricep exercises to dominate the gym and target the long head of the triceps. However, it can be a difficult exercise to get into if you suffer from shoulder issues and there’s the risk of smacking your head with the dumbbell. By sitting on a weight bench and setting it to an incline position not only will the dumbbell be out of contact with your head, but you can keep your elbows facing forwards, keeping your shoulders internally rotated, which takes the pressure off them.

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.