The 7 Best Tricep Cable Exercises (2024) - Lift Vault (2024)

The cable machine is a super versatile piece of gym equipment – the perfect ally in your pursuit of stronger, more muscular arms. When you want to work your triceps, this machine comes in handy with plenty of different tricep exercises you can do by only changing the attachments!

Below, we’ve listed some of our favorite tricep cable machine workouts to help you get familiar with this versatile piece of gym equipment and realize your goals.

Table of Contents

  • 1 7 Best Tricep Cable Exercises
    • 1.1 Cable overhead triceps extension
    • 1.2 Cable single-arm pushdown
    • 1.3 Cable triceps pushdown
    • 1.4 Bent-over tricep extension
    • 1.5 Rope kickback
    • 1.6 Single-arm cable extension
    • 1.7 Lying rope extensions
  • 2 How To Train The Triceps
  • 3 Tricep Anatomy
    • 3.1 Long head
    • 3.2 Lateral head
    • 3.3 Medial head
  • 4 Cable Tricep Exercises FAQs
    • 4.1 How often should you train the triceps?
    • 4.2 At what intensity should the triceps be trained?
    • 4.3 What rep range should be used for training the triceps?
    • 4.4 What types of exercises train the triceps?

7 Best Tricep Cable Exercises

  1. Cable overhead triceps extension
  2. Cable single-arm pushdown
  3. Cable triceps pushdown
  4. Bent over tricep extension
  5. Rope kickback
  6. Single-arm cable extension
  7. Lying rope extensions

Cable overhead triceps extension

Benefits of cable overhead triceps extensions

  1. Constant resistance
  2. Hypertrophy of all three tricep heads
  3. Less stress on the elbows and wrists

Constant resistance

Using a cable machine provides constant tension throughout the entire range of motion. This resistance can help to maximize your muscle engagement and, therefore, promote muscle growth.

Unlike some free-weight exercises where the resistance can vary throughout the movement, cables help to maintain steady tension in your triceps during the entire exercise.

Hypertrophy of all three tricep heads

The triceps brachii muscle has three heads: the long, lateral, and medial heads. A cable overhead tricep extension targets all three heads effectively. In fact, it’s one of our favorite medial head tricep exercises for building strong, powerful upper arms.

This exercise involves extending your elbow joint against a good amount of resistance, which activates the triceps and encourages muscle growth.

Less stress on the elbows and wrists

In comparison to some free-weight exercises like skull crushers, overhead tricep extensions are much gentler on your elbows and wrists. This is because the cable machine allows for a more natural range of motion. It’s a fantastic alternative exercise if you have discomfort performing other tricep exercises.

Tip: Be sure to check out our blog for a head-to-head of a tricep extension vs skull crusher.

How to perform cable overhead triceps extensions

  1. Add a rope attachment to the cable machine and set it to its lowest position.
  2. Stand with your back against the pulley and lean slightly forward.
  3. Hold the rope behind your head with your arms next to your ears.
  4. Extend your arms over your head, making sure to keep them straight at the top of the movement.
  5. Slowly allow your elbows to bend backward, bringing your hands behind your head

Check out this video from Colossus Fitness to learn how to use this machine correctly:

How to PROPERLY Overhead Cable Tricep Extension | Fix Your Tricep Extension Form NOW!

How to program cable overhead triceps extensions

Ideally, you’ll want to include around 6 – 25 sets of cable overhead triceps extensions a week, distributed across your training sessions. This would include around 2 – 5 sets of 5 – 10 reps for heavy weights and the same number of sets but with 20 – 30 reps for lighter loads.

However, if you’re using moderate weights, you can increase the number of sets (between 4 and 12 sets) but keep a median rep number (10 – 20 reps).

Cable single-arm pushdown

Benefits of cable single-arm pushdowns

  1. Balanced arm development
  2. Easy on the shoulder joints
  3. Good isolation exercise

Balanced arm development

Cable single-arm pushdowns are great for unilateral (one-sided) training and can help address muscle imbalances between your left and right arms. This ensures that each works independently which promotes equal development of the tricep muscles on both sides.

Easy on the shoulder joints

Some compound exercises involve heavy shoulder use. However, single-arm pushdowns place much less stress on your shoulder joints as they primarily involve extension at the elbow joint. This makes it a suitable choice if you have any joint issues or you want to minimize the strain on your shoulders.

Good isolation exercise

This tricep cable workout isolates and targets the tricep muscles effectively. This means that consistent practice of single-arm pushdowns can help to build muscle definition in the back of your upper arms.

Of course, building and defining the triceps can enhance the overall appearance of your arms for a more sculpted and toned look. So, if you’re into the aesthetics of a bigger upper body, you’ll want to add this exercise to your training regime.

How to perform cable single-arm pushdowns

  1. Stand in front of the machine with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab the handle with an overhand grip (with one hand).
  2. Keep your elbows tucked close to your body and make a 90-degree angle with your elbow – this is your starting position.
  3. Slowly extend your arm down, pushing the handle toward the floor while keeping your elbow still.
  4. Extend your arm fully, squeezing your triceps at the bottom of the movement.
  5. Pause briefly before slowly returning the handle to the starting position.
  6. Repeat with the other arm.

Want to see how it’s done? Then check out the video below:

Exercise Index - Single Arm Pulldown

How to program cable single-arm pushdowns

When it comes to cable tricep exercises like single-arm pushdowns, it’s important to know how to incorporate them into your exercise regime. To do this, you’ll need to factor in the reps and sets for both arms. You can use the following guidelines on how to add them to your routine:

  • Weekly training sets: 6 – 25 sets per week
  • Lighter load (25%): 2 – 5 sets of 20 – 30 reps each
  • Moderate load (50%): 4 – 12 sets of 10 – 20 reps each
  • Heavy load (25%): 2 – 5 sets of 5 – 10 reps each

Cable triceps pushdown

Benefits of cable triceps pushdowns

  1. Good for different strength levels
  2. Stabilizes the shoulder joint
  3. Muscle engagement in the upper body

Good for different strength levels

Changing or adjusting the weight on a cable machine is incredibly easy, making single-arm tricep pushdowns suitable for people with different levels of strength.

From beginners to bodybuilders, anyone can use this exercise to build their upper arms. All you need to do is choose a comfortable weight and gradually increase it as you get stronger.

Stabilizes the shoulder joint

The triceps play a huge role in stabilizing the shoulder joint, especially during pushing movements. Tricep pushdowns involve elbow extension at the joint, which means that they contribute to stabilization in the shoulder. This is particularly beneficial if you want to focus on strengthening the muscle group supporting the shoulder joints.

Muscle engagement in the upper body

Tricep pushdowns are some of our top long-head tricep exercises. Over and above engaging the triceps, tricep cable exercises like pushdowns also engage your core, rhomboids, traps (around the scapula), and the latissimus dorsi (also known as the lats).

With so many different muscle groups engaged during one exercise, it’s perfect for a comprehensive workout. It’s also ideal if you want to work on the entire upper body without performing multiple exercises.

How to perform cable triceps pushdowns

  1. Using a bar attachment, adjust the machine to a lower weight and grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  2. Engage your abdominals and tuck your elbows in at your sides with your feet slightly apart.
  3. Inhale and push down until your elbows are extended. Try to avoid locking your elbows and keep a straight back without leaning forward.
  4. Exhale and return to the starting position using a smooth, controlled movement.

For a visual representation of how to do cable tricep pushdowns, you can watch this video from Muscle & Strength:

Quick Tip: How to Perfect Your Tricep Pushdowns

How to program cable triceps pushdowns

Tricep cable pushdowns can be tailored to suit your workout goals, with options ranging from light to heavy loads.

For strength, you’ll want to focus on heavy sets of around 5 – 10 reps each. You can do around 2 – 5 sets every week. However, if you want to build muscle, then you may want to shift your focus to lighter and more moderate loads. For lighter loads, you can perform around 4 – 12 sets of 20 – 30 reps each, while heavier loads should be limited to 2 – 5 sets of 10 – 20 reps each.

Bent-over tricep extension

Benefits of bent-over tricep extensions

  1. Improves posture
  2. Better overall upper body strength
  3. Improves balance and coordination

Improves posture

When you perform bent-over tricep extensions, you need to bend forward at the hips and keep your core engaged to stay in that position. When you’re doing this, you can improve your overall posture by encouraging a neutral spine position and strengthening the muscles in your lower back.

Better upper body strength

Like most triceps exercises, a bent-over tricep extension involves moving the weight of the cable machine against gravity, which challenges not only your triceps but the surrounding muscles as well. Over time, this resistance helps to build upper arm and body strength – in your upper back as well as your arms and shoulders.

Improves balance and coordination

Bent-over extensions require a degree of balance and coordination to keep your body stable while you’re bending. When you perform this exercise, you’re actually engaging various muscles in your core and back to maintain balance.

How to perform bent-over tricep extensions

  1. Stand with one leg in front of the other and grip the rope attachment behind your back before bending slightly forward.
  2. Keep your elbows tucked in and exhale as you pull the rope down, keeping your arms fully extended in front of your head.
  3. Pause and exhale as you bring the rope back up, bending your arms slowly to control the movement. Make sure to keep your arms parallel to your head.

To learn more about how to do this exercise properly (including the correct form), this video is a great watch – it starts at the relevant timestamp:

My Top 7 Triceps Exercises "CABLES ONLY" For Big Arms

How to program bent-over tricep extensions

To get the best results out of your tricep cable workouts, you should aim for 6 – 25 sets a week. Just remember to distribute them properly across different weight loads. For instance, you can distribute 25% to heavier loads (5 – 10 reps per set), 25% for lighter loads (20 – 30 reps per set), and 50% for medium loads (10 – 20 reps per set).

Rope kickback

Benefits of rope kickbacks

  1. Better mind-muscle connection
  2. Adjustable for different fitness levels
  3. Controlled range of motion

Better mind-muscle connection

Cable rope tricep kickbacks allow for a more direct and focused engagement of your tricep muscles.

The constant tension that the cable machine provides also lets you establish a strong mind-muscle connection. This boosts your ability to feel and target your triceps throughout the entire range of motion. Tricep kickbacks are also some of the most effective lateral head tricep exercises, leading to more effective muscle activation and growth.

Adjustable for different fitness levels

Cable machines have adjustable resistance, which makes cable rope tricep kickbacks suitable for people with different fitness levels. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro weightlifter, you can easily adjust the weight to match your current strength level and gradually increase it as you progress on your fitness journey.

Controlled range of motion

The cable allows for a controlled range of motion during tricep kickbacks. This is essential for effective muscle engagement and helps reduce the risk of using momentum to guide the movement or using the improper form. Plus, the ability to keep tension in your triceps throughout the entire range of motion is perfect for optimal muscle stimulation.

How to perform rope kickbacks

  1. Set the cable machine to a low setting.
  2. Stand back and grab the handle using an overhand grip. Keep your knees together but slightly bent and lean your body forward as well.
  3. Bring your elbows up and keep them tightly at your side before extending your arm behind you, keeping your arms straight at the end of the movement.
  4. Squeeze your tricep and hold the position before slowly returning to the starting position.

Be sure to check out the video below to learn how to perform rope kickbacks on a cable machine – it starts at the relevant timestamp:

My Top 7 Triceps Exercises "CABLES ONLY" For Big Arms

How to program rope kickbacks

Like most other cable machine exercises, properly incorporating rope kickbacks into your routine is important to get the results you’re after. To get stronger, more muscular arms, you can use a combination of lighter loads (20 – 30 reps of 2 – 5 sets a week), medium weight loads (10 – 20 reps of 4 – 12 sets a week), and heavier loads (5 – 10 reps of 2 – 5 sets a week).

Single-arm cable extension

Benefits of single-arm cable extensions

  1. Low impact
  2. Unilateral training
  3. Improves range of motion in the elbow joint

Low impact

Single-arm cable extensions are considered low-impact triceps exercises. Unlike some other high-impact activities that involve heavy joint stress, this exercise allows for more controlled and smoother movements. In turn, it’s the perfect choice for beginners, anyone who struggles with joint pain, or anyone who wants a low-impact workout.

Unilateral training

Since you’re working on one arm at a time, single-arm extensions using a cable machine allow for unilateral training. This means that you can effectively address any imbalances in strength in your arms. These unilateral exercises ensure that both sides of the body get equal attention and can contribute to more symmetrical development.

Improves range of motion in the elbow joint

When you perform these single-arm extensions, you need to stretch your elbow out and push against the resistance of the machine’s weight.

Doing this with a cable machine gives you a chance to do this in a more controlled and consistent way. In turn, this adds to the flexibility and range of motion in your elbow joint. Not only is this good for your joint health, but for your overall function and mobility in the elbow, too.

How to perform single-arm cable extensions

  1. Attach a single handle to the machine and stand directly in front of the weight stack with one foot in front of the other for balance.
  2. Grab the handle in one hand and pull down with your upper arm and elbow locked at your side.
  3. Squeeze your tricep and move your arm down until it’s straight, making sure to exhale.
  4. Pause before slowly returning the handle to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the other arm.

It’s important to perfect single-arm cable extensions to get the most out of your workout. If you want to practice, you can follow along with the video below – it starts at the relevant timestamp::

My Top 7 Triceps Exercises "CABLES ONLY" For Big Arms

How to program single-arm cable extensions

For single-arm cable extensions, you’ll need to factor in the loads, sets, and reps for a unilateral yet comprehensive workout. Based on your fitness levels and goals, you can follow the usual rule of thumb of doing 6 – 25 sets every week.

You can distribute these sets between different weight loads with 25% going to light and heavy loads (20 – 30 and 5 – 10 reps, respectively) and 50% going to moderate loads (10 – 20 reps).

Lying rope extensions

Benefits of lying rope extensions

  1. Better definition
  2. Improved bone density
  3. Reduced risk of injury

Better definition

Lying rope tricep extensions specifically target the triceps, which helps to isolate and emphasize the muscle. As the back of your arms are engaged and extended against resistance, it contributes to the development (and the definition) of the triceps muscles.

Improved bone density

Resistance training, including triceps exercises like lying rope extensions, has been linked to better bone density levels. This is because performing weight-bearing exercises puts pressure on your bones, which prompts them to adapt and become denser.

This advantage is perfect for anyone who wants to improve their bone health and reduce the risk of conditions like osteoporosis.

Reduced risk of injury

Lying rope tricep extensions are generally considered low-impact exercises and don’t involve any heavy joint stress. This is because the lying position provides great stability and support. In turn, it reduces the risk of injury that is associated with movements that put a strain on your lower back.

How to perform lying rope extensions

  1. Lie down on the cable machine bench and position your head towards the rope attachment (this will be behind your head when you lie down).
  2. Grab the outside of the ropes with your palms facing one another and bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Try to keep your arms perpendicular to your torso.
  3. Extend your arms until they are straight, making sure to exhale during the movement.
  4. Inhale and slowly return your arms to the original position.

Ryan Humiston has a great video on the best exercises to bulk up your triceps – including lying rope extensions. So be sure to check it out:

BEST Exercises For MASSIVE Triceps - Cables Only (Also Guaranteed!)

How to program lying rope extensions

Lying rope extensions are easy to incorporate into your workout routine. Of course, you’ll want to focus most of your time on moderate loads of up to 12 sets a week (10 – 20 reps per set). However, to make your workout more effective, you’ll also need to do around 2 – 5 sets for each one per week. For lighter loads, 20 – 30 reps make up one set, while you only need 5 – 10 reps per set for heavier loads.

How To Train The Triceps

If you want to train your triceps for perfectly defined and stronger upper arms, you can use the guidelines below. Just remember to stay consistent and be patient – results happen over time, not overnight.

  1. Warm-up: Always start your workout with a proper warm-up. This can include light cardio exercise to increase the blood flow to your muscles or dynamic stretches to prepare your joints. Additionally, it helps reduce strain on your joints and muscles when you’re working your triceps.
  2. Add variety to your workout: Try to incorporate a mix of compound and isolation exercises for your triceps. Compound exercises like bench presses can indirectly work the triceps, while isolation exercises like tricep pushdowns help to target them directly.
  3. Adjust your grip: If you can, experiment with different grips during your workout. For example, a narrow grip during a bench press or when you’re doing push-ups can put more emphasis on your triceps.
  4. Vary your rep range: Be sure to include a variety of rep ranges in your workout. Lower rep ranges with heavier loads can help to build strength. On the other hand, higher rep ranges with moderate weights improve your endurance.
  5. Progressive overload: You’ll want to gradually increase the intensity of your workouts by progressively overloading your muscles. You can do this by increasing the weight, reps, or number of sets over time.
  6. Proper form: Remember to maintain proper form when you’re training to maximize the effectiveness of your routine and reduce the risk of injury. If you need to, you can consult a personal trainer to ensure you’re performing the exercises correctly.
  7. Balance your training: You’re going to want to balance your training by working on other muscle groups. This includes your biceps, chest, and shoulders for overall arm development.
  8. Rest and recovery: Be sure to give your muscles adequate time to rest and recover between cable tricep workouts. Overtraining can lead to injury and ultimately hinder your fitness progress.

Tricep Anatomy

The tricep brachii (triceps) is a three-headed muscle at the back of the upper arm. It’s also the only muscle in the arm that combats the bicep or biceps brachii, since the biceps are responsible for flexing the forearm while the triceps help to extend it.

Long head

The 7 Best Tricep Cable Exercises (2024) - Lift Vault (1)


The long head of the triceps brachii starts at the infraglenoid tubercleof the shoulder blade, below the shoulder joint (glenoid fossa). This head has a relatively longer tendon compared to the other two heads – hence its name!

This head merges with the other two at the elbow joint and allows them to work as a single muscle rather than a muscle group.

Lateral head

The 7 Best Tricep Cable Exercises (2024) - Lift Vault (2)


The lateral head of the triceps begins at the upper half of the humerus bone, which is the long bone in the upper arm. This head wraps around the humerus and forms the outer part of the tricep muscle.

Medial head

The 7 Best Tricep Cable Exercises (2024) - Lift Vault (3)


Like a little brother to the lateral head, the medial head originates at the lower part of the humerus bone. However, instead of wrapping around the humerus, it makes up the middle of the tricep and works together with the other two heads to allow for elbow extension.

Cable Tricep Exercises FAQs

How often should you train the triceps?

The frequency at which you train your triceps should depend on your existing workout regime. For most of us who head to the gym a few times a week, 1 – 2 training sessions with a focus on triceps are the perfect amount. However, you’ll want to remember to adjust your weekly set amount to suit this as well. For example, if you’re doing 2 training sessions, then 6 sets of tricep exercises may be ideal.

At what intensity should the triceps be trained?

You should train your triceps with a mix of intensities. You’re going to want to include heavy loads (70-85% of 1RM) for strength, moderate loads (60-70%) for building muscle, and lighter loads (50-60%) for endurance. Of course, you can also adjust these intensities based on your fitness levels.

What rep range should be used for training the triceps?

When you’re training your triceps, you may want to consider mixing it up with your repetition ranges. Usually, between 5 and 30 reps is sufficient for a complete set, but this is heavily dependent on how heavy the load is and your fitness level.

Here are the ideal rep ranges for tricep cable exercises for different weight classes:

  • Lighter loads: 20 – 30 reps
  • Moderate loads: 10 – 20 reps
  • Heavier loads: 5 – 10 reps

What types of exercises train the triceps?

If you want to bulk up your triceps, isolating exercises are a great choice. However, this isn’t the only way! Compound exercises can be just as effective, although it may take slightly longer to see the results you’re after.

Besides the awesome cable exercises we’ve already listed, there are a few other exercises you can do to train your triceps effectively, including:

  • Tricep dips
  • Close-grip bench press
  • Skull crushers
The 7 Best Tricep Cable Exercises (2024) - Lift Vault (4)

About Kyle Risley

Kyle Risley founded Lift Vault in 2016 to make finding great powerlifting programs easier. Since then, the site has grown to include hundreds of programs for strength, bodybuilding, Olympic weightlifting, and more. He currently lives in Massachusetts and continues to compete in powerlifting.

The 7 Best Tricep Cable Exercises (2024) - Lift Vault (2024)


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