Overhand vs. Reverse-Grip Pressdown

Both versions of the pressdown target the triceps but which version is best for the medial head?

March 10, 2013

By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS

Reverse-Grip Pressdown

The reverse-grip pressdown is a single-joint (sometimes called isolation) move that isolates the triceps without the assistance of other muscle groups or joints. And similar to its overhand counterpart, the underhand version will target the triceps with perfect accuracy. However, it’s likely you’ve neglected the underhand variety, but because it helps target one of the heads specifically, it’s important that you start incorporating it into your routine. Your body position is identical to other versions of the pressdown in that you have to be sure to keep your knees unlocked with your chest up and your abs pulled in tight, putting yourself in the strongest position possible.

Overhand Pressdown

One of most popular exercises in your triceps routine, the overhand pressdown can be done early in your workout as a warm-up move sending much needed blood to the elbow joint to help prepare it for the workout ahead, or at the end of your routine as a way to flush and pump the back of your arms. A key to the pressdown is to keep your elbows pinned to your sides throughout each repetition. If you allow your elbows to be pulled forward, you’ll take the emphasis off the triceps, involving more abs, delts and chest into the exercise. Vary your grip width slightly from one workout to the next. And finally, keep your eyes focused forward, with your head neutral throughout to protect your cervical spine.

Advantage: Reverse Grip

The triceps consist of three muscles, the lateral, medial and long heads. Each head has a distinct attachment on top, but they all share a common tendon, which crosses the elbow and attaches at the ulna. You can target the triceps with either compound moves (such as dips or close-grip benches) or single-joint exercises (such as both versions of the pressdown discussed here). With different hand positions you can alter the degree of involvement among the three heads. With your hands pronated (palms down), you’re focusing most of your attention on the bulky lateral, or outer, head.” (That’s the highly visible muscle that stretches vertically when you extend your arm.) Rotating your wrists so that you have an underhand grip on the bar places more stress on the medial head of the triceps and reduces involvement for the lateral. While the medial head is fairly small, it has an important function in supporting the elbow joint and assisting the other two triceps heads even when they’re being targeted. Therefore the winner is clearly the reverse-grip version when it comes to the medial head, a move you can no longer afford to neglect.