Q: I’ve heard that the reverse-grip pressdown works the triceps lateral head better than the standard pressdown does. What’s the best way to perform this exercise?
A: What you’ve heard is correct. Generally speaking, the medial head of the triceps does most of the work in elbow extension, especially at the beginning of movements. But in the reverse-grip pressdown, the most stress is placed on the lateral head, the big, beefy muscle that is seen in the upper middle portion of the back of the upper arm. This exercise not only adds variety to your triceps workout, but it also allows you to focus on the lateral head, helping you chisel some detail into your horseshoes. For that reason, it’s a great finishing exercise for triceps. Here’s the best way to perform it.
To work both arms simultaneously, grasp a short, straight bar attached to a high-cable pulley with a palms-up grip, hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart. Stand facing the weight stack.
Pull the handle down until your elbows are bent at an angle of about 90 degrees. This is your starting position. Inhale slightly more than usual and hold your breath as you press the handle down in an arm-straightening action. Maintain a firm grip and use a moderate rate of speed. Keep your elbows in place at your sides or slightly down in front throughout the movement.
Press down until your arms are completely extended and locked as you exhale. Hold for 1-2 seconds, then inhale as you return to the starting position. Keep your hands in line with your forearms – there should be no action or bent position at the wrist joints. Also, hold your spine in its normal curvature throughout the exercise.
Here are a few other points to keep in mind when performing this exercise:
- Because much greater force is exerted against the thumbs in the reverse-grip pressdown, maintaining thumb strength is critical to your ability to handle increasingly heavy weights. To strengthen your thumbs, do thumb-flexion exercises with hand grippers. If you tend to flex your wrists, do reverse curls to strengthen your wrist extensors, which hold the hands in line with the forearms.
- Be sure to fully extend your arms and lock out your elbows at the bottom of the pressdown. The locking action allows maximum peaking of the triceps and helps to maintain a full range of motion in the elbow joints.
- This exercise can also be done one arm at a time. Stand sideways in front of a cable machine so that your working arm lines up with the upper-pulley cable. Position the leg farthest from the pulley slightly in front of the other, and grasp the handle with a palms-up grip. Pin your working elbow firmly at your side and keep your upper arm in line with the side of your body. From this starting position complete the exercise as described above.
- When training both arms simultaneously, use a short rotational bar – one that turns as you execute the movement. This will let you maintain the same grip and hand-arm position throughout the exercise.