Want the perfect workout program?Take Quiz
Fact checked by Tyler DiGiovanni, BSBMFACT CHECKED
For total triceps development, you've got to work the muscle from all angles with constant tension and progressive overload. Cable machines allow you to do all three better than any other type of equipment. By prioritizing tricep cable workouts, you'll be able to stimulate all three heads optimally to promote maximum gains.
As a veteran personal trainer, I've worked with a lot of bodybuilders over the years. Switching from dumbbell to cable exercises has often been the key to bringing up lagging triceps for many of them.
In this article, I'll lay out ten cable tricep exercises to work every triceps muscle fiber. I'll also explain why cables are so effective for triceps training and provide some personal trainer tips for working the triceps.
The triceps is a three-headed muscle group located at the back of your upper arm. It consists of the following triceps heads:
The function of the triceps is elbow extension. It is the antagonist to the biceps muscle so that when the triceps muscles are flexed, the biceps relaxes, and vice versa.
The long head of the triceps is the part of the muscle closest to your torso. It originates on the scapula and runs all the way to the elbow joint.
Unlike the other heads, the long head crosses both the shoulder and elbow joints. As a result, it plays a part in shoulder and scapula stabilization.
The other two heads originate at the top of the upper arm bone (humerus) and insert into the elbow joint.
When you use a cable machine to work your triceps, you provide yourself with a number of benefits over free weights like dumbbells and barbells. Here's a breakdown:
When you're using a cable, you are working against the resistance of the machine from the second the weight lifts off the stack until it returns to it. This is different from free weights, where the resistance is determined by gravity. That means that there are points throughout a free-weight exercise where there is no resistance at all.
The constant tension that you get with cables makes sure that your triceps are engaged throughout the entire exercise.
A cable machine allows you to adjust to a variety of angles. This means that you can work the triceps in accordance with the direction of the muscle's natural movement pattern. To optimally load a muscle, the muscle should be directly opposite the resistance. This is the principle of opposite position loading.
Cables allow you to align the direction of your resistance with your muscle's direction of movement in accordance with this principle. For example, the two-arm cable extension, the first exercise on our list, provides a direction of movement that is perfectly opposite to the direction of the cable.
The variety of angles available on a cable machine also allows you to focus on each of the three triceps heads separately.
A cable machine allows you to work your triceps in isolation more effectively than free-weight alternatives. When you use dumbbells or barbells, you can't help but bring other muscle groups, such as the deltoids and core, into the movement.
Compare this to a tricep pushdown, which allows you to completely isolate the backs of the upper arms.
When you're using a cable machine, you are able to quickly adjust the resistance on the weight stack. This makes using cables ideal for techniques like drop sets.
This is when you do the maximum number of reps you can achieve with a certain weight, then immediately lower the weight and push out a few more reps. You perform 4-5 drops within your set.
The triceps pushdown is extremely effective when done in a drop-set fashion.
The triceps are made up of both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers, with the fast twitch being slightly more numerous. Fast twitch fibers respond best to heavy weights and low reps, with the opposite being true for slow twitch fibers. To work the muscle completely, you need to do a combination of high and low reps.¹
Here's a suggested tricep workout set and rep scheme for all versions of press downs that has been very successful with my bodybuilding clients:
Increase the weight on each succeeding set.
When you are doing any type of triceps pressing exercise, you should consciously keep your elbows tucked at the sides of your body. Doing so forces the triceps to take all of the load.
When you allow the elbows to flare out, other muscles in the shoulders and chest are brought into play. Flared elbows also place undue stress on the shoulder joint.
I see a lot of people in the gym who pile too much weight on and then only do half, or sometimes quarter, reps of an exercise. You don't want to be one of these people. Unless you fully extend the muscle from full contraction to full extension, you'll be leaving most of your gains on the table. So, never sacrifice the full range of motion in order to lift more weight.
In order to get ready for your workout, discover the eight best stretches for your triceps.
Few things are as impressive as fully defined, shirt-splitting triceps. To get them, you've got to train smart as well as hard. That means prioritizing cable tricep workouts. Cables allow for the ideal resistance angle, versatility, constant tension, and isolation ability you need to promote optimum muscle growth.
I recommend including at least two cable machine exercises in every triceps workout. Then, add in a dumbbell exercise, such as the skull-crusher, to round out the session. Do a total of 10-14 sets for triceps twice per week, with at least 72 hours rest between sessions. Do this consistently, and you'll be rewarded with a pair of muscular horseshoe-shaped triceps.
(All image credits to original owners)
At SET FOR SET, we strive to equip you with the tools and knowledge needed for your fitness journey. Our team of experts, including certified trainers, dietitians, and athletes, brings over a decade of industry expertise. Our goal is to be your primary resource for all fitness inquiries, guiding you toward a stronger and healthier life. Sign up to stay up-to-date!