You’ve most likely asked yourself “what are triceps” and how can I work them out? Well, they’re those muscles at the back of the upper arm, that are responsible for fully extending the elbow joints and flexing the arm toward the body. But rather than being a single muscle, they’re composed of three heads: lateral, long, and medial.
Your triceps are a crucial cluster whether you want to avoid joint injury, nail endless pull-up sets at the gym, or hold that overpacked grocery cart steady as you push it through the parking lot to your car. So, what triceps exercise can you do to strengthen this muscle group? While you can do plenty of tricep exercises with dumbbells, not everyone can feel comfortable with them or prefer to use them. Here, find 5 ways to use your gym’s cable machines to build tricep strength and give your arms a 360º tone-up.
#1 Triceps Pushdown
To kickstart your next triceps workout, target your lateral heads with a tried-and-true exercise: the triceps pushdown. Whether you’re at the beginning of your fitness journey or not, the tricep pushdown is a great exercise to not only strengthen the triceps muscle group and target the lateral head but can also help prevent injury to the muscles.
To do this tricep exercise, you’ll need a cable machine set at a comfortable weight, keeping a few feet of distance. Here’s what to do:
- Face the cable machine with a straight spine and shoulders pulled back
- Keep your elbows to your sides and grab the bar with both hands
- Hinging at the elbows, pull the bar down until your arms are fully extended
- Gradually allow elbows to flex and the bar to lift. Repeat.
Workout tip: If you find you need to move your back, shoulders, or hips to pull the bar down, that’s your sign to opt for a lower weight. The more you can isolate the motion in your arms, the better you’ll work out your triceps.
#2 One-Handed Overhead Extensions
The overhead triceps extension (otherwise known as “the Superwoman Extension”) trains your long heads one arm at a time. While one variation of this tricep exercise works both arms simultaneously, exercising muscles individually can help isolate and correct muscle imbalances.
To start, you’ll need a handle grip with the cable installed just under chest level. Here’s how to do a cable overhead triceps extension:
- Facing away from the machine, place the foot opposite to the arm you’re starting with in front of the other foot. Start with your knees gently bent and your body leaned slightly forward (like how a runner might start a race).
- Grab the handle with one arm and lift your elbow to your ear, maintaining a 90-degree bend to your elbow.
- Pull the bar to fully extend your forearm while keeping your active wrist stable. Repeat, then switch to the other side.
#3 Lying Down Triceps Extensions
This workout targets all three heads of the tricep at once. For the tricep extension, you’ll need a flat bench, a pulley installed near the base of the machine, and a narrow overhand grip.
Place the bench a foot or so in front of the pulley, and begin this tricep workout:
- Lay on the bench on your back and place your feet firmly on the ground at a 90-degree angle.
- Extend your arms straight above you and grab the grip with both hands. Arms and wrists should be perpendicular to the rest of your body.
- Stabilize your upper arms, keep the elbows tucked in, and bend at the elbows. The pulley should stop just above your forehead before you start the next rep.
#4 Reverse-Grip Pushdowns
This exercise is similar to the triceps pushdown, but it targets the long and medial heads.
Start at a pulley machine with a straight bar, and begin:
- Facing the machine, hold the ends of the bar with both hands and lean slightly forward.
- Pull the bar down in front of your chest, guiding the elbows against your torso. You should have a 90-degree angle at the elbow.
- Now, pull the bar down from the elbow until your arms reach full extension. Repeat.
#5 One-Handed Horizontal Tricep Extensions
Complete triceps day with an exercise that targets the lateral, long, and medial heads in one fell swoop—while building up elbow strength. This tricep extension workout is unique, as it involves pulling the cable to the side instead of up and down.
Set up your pulley at chest height, and begin:
- Stand with feet a little more than shoulder-width apart and face one side of your body towards the cable machine. Grab the handle with the arm furthest from the machine.
- Lift your arm to chest height, parallel to the floor. Bend the elbow so your hand comes towards you at 90 degrees.
- Now, move your upper arm back and allow your forearm to extend with it. In the final position, your entire arm should be completely straight and parallel to the floor.
- Repeat for several reps. Then, repeat on the other side.
Build Strength and Confidence with Chuze Fitness
With each triceps exercise, you’ll be on your way to strengthening the muscle group and building stronger triceps. As you’re playing with these cable tricep exercises, 3 to 4 sets with 8 to 12 reps each is a good jumping-off point for each. That said, it never hurts to get workout recommendations tailored to you—and if you’re looking for guidance, that’s where we come in.
At Chuze Fitness, our friendly fitness experts want to send you on your fitness adventure with the advice and motivation you need to grow confidence and nail your goals. Our community of fitness enthusiasts welcomes people at every stage of their fitness journey—to start yours, check out a location near you by searching “gyms near me” online and get started today.
Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.
- University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Muscle strength and balance are important for healthy joints. https://uihc.org/health-topics/muscle-strength-and-balance-are-important-healthy-joints
- ACE Fitness. The Benefits of Unilateral Training. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/pros/expert-articles/7035/the-benefits-of-unilateral-training/
- Verywell Fit. How to Do Tricep Pushdowns: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes. https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-do-the-triceps-pushdown-3498613
- NCBI. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Triceps Muscle. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536996/