The man who wants bigger triceps cannot live on pressdowns alone. Too often, we see guys in the gym—and maybe you're one of them—working his triceps to death at the cable pressdown station. Ten sets, 15 sets... whatever it takes to get them sore. But what the pressdown-happy masses don't seem to realize is that this exercise emphasizes the lateral (outer) head of the triceps. So if that's all you do, the other two heads of your tri's are going to be underdeveloped and you'll never get the kind of growth you're hoping for.
There are other versions of this favorite you can use, plus a few exercises and techniques that you are probably neglecting, that will help your cause. Here, you'll find a comprehensive plan—boiled down into five tips—that can help you build balanced, thick triceps in no-time flat.
1. Push It
If you must do pressdowns, at least do them properly. Too many guys hold the bar like motorcycle handlebars. This causes you to push with the fingers, which not only places stress on the hands and wrist (as the wrists often extend back), but it reduced the amount of force you can apply to the bar. The key is to push with the heel of the palms. You'll know when you have this technique down as you won't even have to wrap your fingers around the bar. You'll also realize how much more weight you can do on pressdowns. And greater overload equals—you've got it—more triceps growth.
2. Pull It
The flipside to the above advice is to literally do just that—flip your grip and take an underhand grip to pull the weight down when doing triceps pressdowns. While the overhand version places the greatest stress on the lateral triceps head, the underhand version better stresses the oft-neglected medial head. Since the only way to maximize overall triceps mass is to maximize the mass of all three triceps heads, you need to devote time to the medial head as well. Try the reverse-grip pressdown using an EZ-bar attachment with a rotating collar, which will remove the stress form your wrists.
3. Angle It
Every guy that's put in any effort to build up his tri's is familiar with the lying triceps extension, or what is known to hardcore bodybuilders as skullcrushers. We'll bet our crazy magazine salary that you grab the bar and head over to the flat bench. But when's the last time you did them on an incline, or (even crazier) on a decline? Changing the angle of this effective exercise effectively changes the triceps head that's stressed.
The more the arms are placed in front of the body and overhead, the more the long head is emphasized. When you do skullcrushers on a flat bench, the arms are perpendicular to the body and so both the long head and lateral head are fairly equally involved, with even a good bit of involvement from the medial head. When you do them on an incline bench, the arms move more overhead, which places greater emphasis on the long head. And when you do them on a decline bench, the arms move down more towards the sides of the body, similar to a triceps pressdown. This places more stress on the lateral head than the long head, with some help from the medial head at the top of the rep.