We regularly see gym-goers use dumbbells, barbells or machines to target their triceps. However, there could be specific situations when you need, or simply want, to work on triceps using only cable machines. These types of workouts involve specific techniques to get the best effect in terms of triceps growth and symmetry.
I want to walk you through five triceps cable workout tips to help you maximize your training and results.
1. Use different angles
When you limit your workout exclusively to cable machines, it’s crucial to train your triceps from different angles. This will allow you to equally develop all three triceps heads: long, lateral, and medial. You can execute this condition by choosing various exercises, which involves different arm positions.
One related study conducted in 2018 revealed the following:
A 0-degree shoulder elevation will most likely work the long head of the triceps while at 90, 135, and 180-degree arm position, the medial head will experience most of the tension. For example, overhead rope extension and triceps cable pushdown are two exercise examples that allow you to strengthen different triceps aspects.
2. Try a variety of handles
It may not seem like it at first, but the angle at which your hands are placed when conducting a movement can make a big difference to the area of the muscle in which it’s contracting. Again, the purpose of this is to target each anatomy of the triceps muscle and ensure balanced growth.
There are three types of grips you can use to perform triceps exercises:
- Underhand – palms facing upward. This palm position allows increasing tension in the outer part of the triceps.
- Overhand – palms facing downward. Using overhand grip promotes greater focus to the inner part of your triceps.
- Neutral – palms facing each other. This type of gripping technique equally spreads the force on all triceps areas.
So, selecting an appropriate grip on each exercise can boost or lessen stress on a particular triceps head.
For example, if you perform triceps cable pushdown and use underhand grip you will maximally emphasize the long head of your triceps. By contrast, when you decide to reduce tension in the long head you can switch to an overhand grip.
3. Work in a different range of movement
We can find both the pros and cons of using a full or partial range of movement within triceps exercises. In terms of muscle growth, the studies show mixed results. Moreover, they reveal that each type of movement could cause slightly different regional triceps muscle hypertrophy.
It is best to consider periodically changing the range of motion to find out what works best for you.
In case of injuries, adhering to partial reps could be a better option.
Training at a full range of motion, for some exercises, is likely to increase tension in tendons and ligaments within the joints being worked – in this case, elbows and shoulders. This could increase pain and not allow you to fully recover from injury. In this case, training with a partial range of movement allows greater control and focus on a specific area of the triceps, while reducing the risk of injury within joints.
4. Increase volume in moderation
On average, it’s suggested to perform between 5 to 10 sets per muscle group each week. This amount of workout volume should be enough to promote optimal muscle growth. However, if your triceps are lagging, you should consider gradually increasing training volume.
Begin by adding another couple of reps to your sets. The next week, add another set, followed by another set the week after. This is called progressive overload, where you incorporate additional reps and sets into the given exercise routine.
It’s important to remember the emphasis on ‘progressive’ overload. This process shouldn’t be abused. Don’t jump straight in by overworking the muscle in comparison to what it is used to – this may cause injury, and you will likely hit a point where the triceps are being overworked and progress will not be made.
In addition, remember after some period of training (1 – 3 weeks) for about a week, significantly decrease volume to allow muscles to fully recover and reduce the risk of over-training.
5. Add other exercises
Unfortunately, it’s common for weight training to hit a plateau. This is where you focus on specific exercises over a period of time, but you stop getting stronger and your triceps stop growing.
Although your ‘plateau’ stage can be aided by ensuring your progressive overload each time you repeat an exercise, it is not completely avoidable. When this happens, incorporate or try completely new exercises that work the triceps.
For example, according to the American Council on Exercise study, the three very effective exercises for the triceps are:
- Diamond push-ups
Fitness heavyweight, Bret Contreras, conducted his own experiment and found that the most effective triceps exercises are:
- Rope Extension,
- Cable Extension,
- Weighted Dip
As you can see, there are other alternative exercises which you can easily add to your triceps cable workout. A good example is diamond push-ups. To perform it, you don’t need any special equipment except for your own body weight!
Triceps cable workout examples
Let’s look at two examples of how to organize a triceps workout using only a cable machine.
- Overhead rope extension – 3 sets of 8–12 reps
- Triceps cable pushdown – 3 sets of 6–10 reps
- Triceps pushdown V bar – 3 sets of 8–10 reps
- Kneeling cable triceps extension – 2 sets of 8–10 reps
- Single arm cable kickback – 2 sets of 10–12 reps
- ACE study identifies best triceps exercises.
- Differences in muscle activity during cable resistance training are influenced by variations in handle types.
- Dose-response of 1, 3, and 5 sets of resistance exercise on strength, local muscular endurance, and hypertrophy.
- Inside the muscles: best chest and triceps exercises.
- Evidence for an upper threshold for resistance training volume in trained women.
- Influence of full range of motion vs. equalized partial range of motion training on muscle architecture and mechanical properties.
- Resistance training volume enhances muscle hypertrophy but not strength in trained men.
- Triceps brachii muscle strength and architectural adaptations with resistance training exercises at short or long fascicle length.
- The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension.