What are tricep cable extensions? (A guide for bodybuilders)

What are tricep cable extensions?

What are tricep cable extensions?

The cable tricep pushdown goes by many other names such as tricep extension or tricep pulldown. It is probably the best isolation exercise for targeting your triceps. But, what is a cable tricep pushdown?

The cable tricep pushdown is a resistance exercise performed on a cable pulley machine. It is an isolation exercise that targets the triceps at the back of the upper arm. Tricep pushdowns allow you to maximize the stretch of the tricep as well as keep it under tension throughout the movement. 

What do I need to perform a tricep cable pushdown?

The tricep cable pushdown is performed on a single cable pulley machine as can be found in the majority of gyms. You will just need to select your lifting weight and an attachment. A standard pushdown uses just a straight bar, but you can also use a V-bar, EZ bar or double rope to hit different heads of the triceps. 

It is possible to replicate a cable pushdown with bands attached to a high pin. Make sure that you are using a high quality, strong band and that it is securely attached before you start. Bands are also a great way to warm the triceps up before moving to a cable machine.

Which muscles are targeted by a cable pushdown?

The target muscle for a cable pushdown is the triceps, which are at the back of your upper arm. The tricep muscle is made up of three heads, the lateral head, the long head, and the medial head.

What are tricep cable extensions?

Within the triceps, the cable pushdown primarily works the medial and lateral head so it is great for packing on size to your upper arms. Although there are no other secondary muscles directly targeted, you are standing in an upright position and supporting a heavy weight so your lats, traps, shoulders and abs all take part in the exercise as stabiliser muscles. 

The benefits of a cable tricep pushdown.

  1.  Isolation: The cable tricep pushdown allows you to isolate the tricep muscle without putting excessive tension on the shoulders or chest. 
  2. Convenience: Cable machines are the ultimate in convenience for resistance training. You can easily adjust attachments for a different grip and easily adjust the weight load for drop sets or pyramid sets.
  3. Strength: In addition to being great for hypertrophy training, cable pushdowns can also be a good way to increase strength, Unlike a lot of other tricep exercises, it is easy to use a heavy load and still use correct form making rep ranges of 4-6 possible.

How to perform a cable pushdown.

The standard cable pushdown is performed with a straight bar attachment. Set the pin on the cable machine at a height so that the bar is by your chin when hanging. Face the cable machine with your feet just shoulder-width apart and grab the bar with an overhand grip.

Tuck in your elbows to your side, put your chest out and shoulders back. Take a deep breath and upon exhaling, extend your arms, pushing the bar in a downwards position.

Tricep rope pushdown
Once the arm is fully extended, squeeze your tricep before slowly raising your forearms. Repeat the movement for the required number of reps and sets. For hypertrophy, aim for 4-5 sets of 12-15 reps.

Things to look out for when performing a tricep extension.

  1. Keep your elbows tight to your body. There is a natural tendency to flare the elbows out, but this puts strain on the brachialis and can lead to injury.
  2. Upper arms must stay rigid. If you start swinging your upper arms up and down, you are bringing your lats in to play and not isolating your triceps.
  3. Another common mistake is to lean over and press the bar down. This does allow you to move a heavier weight, but you are shifting the load onto your chest and shoulders and away from the target muscles.

The grip makes all the difference

You can target different heads of the tricep by using different grips and different cable attachments. A good way to really fry the tricep is to superset two tricep movements with no rest between sets. 15 standard pushdowns followed by 15 reverse grip pushdowns for example. 

What are tricep cable extensions?

Variations to the cable tricep pushdown. 

V Bar pushdown.

Instead of using a standard straight bar, try using a V-bar attachment. The neutral grip takes pressure away from the wrists when fully extended. The V-bar tends to be the favourite among professional bodybuilders. 

Tricep cable pushdown

Rope cable pushdown.

The double rope is another great alternative to a standard pushdown. It is great for lower weights with higher rep ranges as it allows for an extra stretch at the top of the movement. It is not so easy to use a rope for a heavy weight due to the grip strength required and the tension on the forearms. 

The rope pushdown attacks the triceps from a different angle as you are pulling out to the sides while pushing down. It is great as a finisher or to use in high rep range sets such as FST7.

Reverse grip pulldown.

The reverse grip pulldown is performed in much the same way as a standard, straight bar pulldown. The only difference is that you grip the bar from the underside. If you find that this puts uncomfortable strain on your wrists, you can use an EZ bar attachment and hold it at the ends with your palms facing slightly inwards. 

Reverse grip tricep pushdown

The reverse grip cable pulldown can not be performed correctly with a heavy weight, so it is ideal to superset it with another tricep exercise.

The reverse grip cable pushdown can also be performed with one arm using the stirrup attachment. 

One arm cable pushdowns
The reverse grip allows you to shift the focus onto your outer tricep head, giving a fuller-looking tricep.

Tricep pushdown with bands.

If you do not have access to a cable machine, you can always use the good old resistance bands. An advantage of using bands instead of a cable machine is that you can switch between standard, hammer and underhand grips instantly. This allows you to target different heads of the tricep. 

Resistance  band tricep pushdown

The resistance band movement is similar to the cable movement. The stance, grip and motions are the same. 

Take away

We hope that you have found this article informative and that we have answered the original question - what are tricep cable extensions?

Check out our free training programs by clicking on the menu bar at the top of this page. 

What are tricep cable extensions alternatives?

Skull Crushers

Close Grip Press

Overhead Tricep Extension


Gymenix offers a selection of free training programs to suit all abilities and goals. Click on the links below for FREE access. 

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