By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
Arguably the most popular exercise to begin your triceps routine, the overhand pressdown can help send much-needed blood to the elbow joint to help prepare it for the workout ahead. Be sure to keep your elbows pinned to your sides throughout each repetition. If you allow your elbows to be pulled forward, you will remove the emphasis from the triceps, involving more abs, delts and chest into the exercise. Vary the distance slightly between your hands on the bar from one workout to the next. Finally, keep your eyes focused forward and your head neutral to protect your cervical spine from injury.
Similar to its overhand counterpart, the underhand version will target the triceps with extreme accuracy. The reverse-grip pressdown is an isolation, single-joint move, which isolates the triceps without the assistance of other muscle groups or joints. You may have tried the rope pressdown in addition to the overhand version, but have neglected this underhand variation. However, since it helps target one of the heads specifically, it’s important that you incorporate it into your routine, if not every workout, for balanced development. Keep your knees slightly bent, with your chest up and your abs pulled in tight, putting yourself in the strongest position possible.
Advantage: Standard Version
The triceps consist of three muscles: the lateral, medial and long head. Each head has a distinct attachment on top, but they all share a common tendon that crosses the elbow and attaches at the ulna. You can target the triceps with either compound moves, such as close-grip bench presses, or with isolation moves, such as the pressdown. While you can’t completely isolate any particular muscle of the triceps during any move, you can involve one over the other to a greater degree depending on the angle of your arm to your body and with slight rotations of the wrist. Exercises that place your arms at the sides of your body help target the lateral head. However, rotating the wrist so that you have an underhand grip on the bar places more stress on the medial head of the triceps and less involvement for the bigger, more visible lateral head. The medial head’s main purpose is to stabilize the elbow. Therefore, the winner is clearly the overhand grip when it comes to lateral head size.