What Muscles Are Being Worked in a Triceps Pulldown?

The triceps brachii features three heads at the back of your arm.
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The triceps pulldown, also called a pushdown, is an isolation weight training exercise, meaning there’s movement at only one joint. Use a cable pulley unit, which can be found at fitness gyms. Set the cable at a high position and grip the bar so that your hands are shoulder-width apart and facing the floor. Press the bar down toward the floor by straightening your elbows. As the name suggests, the triceps pulldown exercise targets the triceps brachii muscle.

Joint Movement

As you press the bar toward the floor during the triceps pulldown, you extend both of your elbow joints. This means that the joints go from a bent to a completely straight joint position. As you press the bar down, your elbows straighten against the resistance of the pulley cable. When you bring the bar back up and bend your elbows, your muscle contracts to prevent the bar from flying upward as it returns to your starting position. Even though you're specifically isolating only one joint, warm up prior to starting the exercise to ensure your joints are lubricated and your muscles are ready to work.


The triceps brachii muscle is located at the back of your upper arm. It primarily originates up at the top of your humerus bone, running down your arm and inserting at your elbow. The triceps muscle is made up of three separate heads; the long head, lateral head and medial head. While the lateral and medial heads originate at the humerus bone, the long head passes that area and originates at the scapula, or shoulder blade.


The lateral and medial heads of the triceps handle most of the work during triceps pulldown. When you’re holding the bar in a shoulder-width position, your shoulder joints are slightly internally rotated, which puts the long head of the triceps in an inefficient position. It’s unable to contribute force to press the bar down. To more effectively target the long head of the triceps, widen your hand position on the bar. This position externally rotates your shoulders and puts the long head in a position where it can help out.


The triceps pulldown exercise effectively isolates the triceps brachii. Include it with other weight training exercises that target the triceps, including lying triceps extension, standing overhead triceps extension and kickbacks to build up this muscle and prevent arm sag and flab. Completing a battery of triceps exercises two days per week at a volume of three to five sets of eight to 20 repetitions each effectively builds your triceps muscle. After working your triceps, stretch them by extending your arm up and dropping your hand behind your head keeping your neck straight. Gently pull your elbow toward the center as you feel the stretch down the back of your arm.

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