It’s an extremely commonly-asked question, “Why Do I Feel Tricep Pushdowns in My Abs?”
There you are at the cable machine, looking to set your tris on fire with one of the best isolation exercises there is.
Then suddenly you can feel your abs, in fact, after a while they’re literally burning.
It almost feels as though you’ve performed 100 crunches in a row.
What is happening here?
Are you doing something wrong?
Or are you actually supposed to feel tricep pushdowns in your abs?
Allow me to reveal all.
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Feel Tricep Pushdowns in Abs
There are various reasons why you feel triceps pushdowns in your abs, although this mainly comes down to using poor form. Admittedly, your core does need to stabilise during pushdowns, so it’s likely you will feel some ab activation. However, by not retracting your shoulder blades or keeping your elbows tucked at your sides, you’ll typically bring your core more into play. Furthermore, leaning forward, standing too far back from the cable machine, or using too much weight, will all work your abs even harder.
1. You’re Using Poor Form
Firstly, I will admit that your core needs to stabilise when you perform tricep pushdowns.
Therefore, you do need to activate your core to some degree.
However, this shouldn’t be to the extent where you’re really feeling your abs working hard during the movement.
That being said, I know for a fact that many people feel their abs literally burning during tricep pushdowns.
In fact, so-much-so that their abs tend to fatigue before their triceps.
And quite clearly this is not what you want when performing a tricep isolation exercise.
In truth, much the same as any exercise where you’re not feeling it where you should, this typically comes down to poor form.
And unfortunately, for as easy an exercise as tricep pushdowns initially look, there is a lot that can go wrong.
Stance & Upper Body
The first place to look is at your stance and how you hold your upper body.
So, the further away you are from the weight stack (I’m assuming that you’re using the cable machine), the more you’ll activate your core.
In effect, your core has to stabilise even more in order to protect your lower back.
Additionally, some people swear by having a slight forward lean in their torso, whereas others claim that this makes them feel tricep pushdowns in their abs even more.
In reality, this is an individual thing, so you should play around with trying a lean forward and keeping your back completely straight.
Personally, I find that when my back is straight I’m less likely to feel my abs working.
You can also try a staggered stance rather than having your feet side-by-side, as side-by-side tends to activate your core slightly more.
Shoulders & Elbows
Next, is what you’re doing with your shoulders and your elbows, which is typically the main reason for feeling tricep pushdowns in the non-target muscles.
Basically, you should always retract your shoulder blades when performing pretty much any tricep exercise.
This involves pulling your shoulder blades back and down.
And this is something you should do whether you’re performing pushdowns, dips, or close-grip bench press.
Not only will this help to activate your core slightly less, it also provides protection for your shoulder joint.
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Something else you should be very wary of during tricep pushdowns is having your elbows tucked into your sides.
Unfortunately, when it comes to most pushing/pressing type exercises there is a tendency to allow the elbows to flare.
Realistically, your elbows should be tucked in tight next to your body, and they should never move throughout your entire set.
Now, you may be thinking, “What have my shoulders and elbows got to do with my abs?”
However, by not sticking to strict form (with any exercise) you’ll typically bring other muscle groups into play.
RELATED===>Why Do I Feel Lat Pulldowns in My Triceps?
And when it comes to tricep pushdowns your abs start to take over.
In effect, you’re almost performing a hybrid exercise, which also includes cable crunches.
Too Much Weight
Poor form is often indicative of using too much weight.
I get it, you’re trying to progress your exercises, and therefore you’re looking to add weight on a regular basis.
However, this should never be done at the expense of great form.
Plus, tricep pushdowns are an isolation exercise, so you really want to feel the burn in your triceps.
But, what generally happens when you’re using too much weight is that other muscles take over (again), and in reality you’re probably no longer even training your triceps.
RELATED===>Should Biceps or Triceps Be Stronger?
Personally, for me, I really like to perform pushdowns with high reps, typically in the 15-25 rep range.
This allows me to keep my form tight, while also flooding the triceps with blood.
Trust me, if you drop the weight on pushdowns you’ll start to notice what a really fantastic triceps exercise it is.
2. Your Core is Weak
Okay, so there are certain form cues that will ensure that you’re working your triceps rather than your abs.
However, as I’ve mentioned, there will always be some core activation whenever you perform pushdowns.
Basically, you need to stabilise your core because you’re standing, plus this also provides protection for your lower back.
That being said, if you’re really feeling your abs, but your form is on-point, this would usually mean that your core is weak.
In truth, just about every exercise you ever perform is initiated by your core.
Therefore, the stronger your core, the better you should be able to perform an exercise, and usually also the more weight you can lift.
And this counts for every exercise, not just tricep pushdowns.
So, if your core is giving up before your triceps, it’s likely that you’ll need to work on core strength.
Unfortunately, many gym-goers typically do nothing more than the occasional sit up or crunch, and then put this down as their core training for the week.
However, as I say, if you want to start lifting more efficiently, while regularly increasing weight, then you’ll need to get a stronger core.
3. Train Triceps & Abs With ONE Exercise
Now, everything I’ve said so far has to do with avoiding feeling tricep pushdowns in your abs.
However, you could actually take advantage of this and turn it into a hybrid exercise.
In fact, this is something that the late, great, bodybuilder, Franco Columbu did.
Basically, Franco hated training abs, but as a pro-bodybuilder he knew it had to be done.
And this is how he came up with the leaning tricep pushdown.
In effect, Franco used the exercise to his advantage to hit both his triceps and his abs really hard with one single exercise.
This simply involves stepping back a few feet from the cable machine and then leaning your torso forward slightly.
If you hit this position correctly you should feel a great deal of tension in your abs, as your core works even harder to stabilise.
Leaning Triceps Pushdown
So, as you can see, there are a number of reasons why you feel tricep pushdowns in your abs.
However, in truth, this typically comes down to poor form above all else.
Admittedly, you do need to stabilise your core when performing pushdowns, so it’s actually quite normal to feel your abs activate.
But, you certainly shouldn’t be feeling it to the extent where you have to end your set due to “burning abs”.
This can usually be rectified by:
- Retracting your shoulder blades
- Keeping your elbows tight to your body
- Having a staggered stance
- Moving closer to the cable stack
- Using less weight
If you’re still feeling your abs after adhering to these factors then it’s likely that your core is weak, and is therefore fatiguing well before your triceps.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.