The biceps might be the most famous muscle in the human body, but if you really want arms you can be proud of, you need to work your triceps, too.
In fact, because the triceps make up more mass than your biceps, they’re arguably the most crucial upper arm muscle.
There are lots of ways to train your triceps. Dips and close grip bench presses are especially effective, as are many other free weight and bodyweight exercises.
However, one of the best ways to train your upper arms is with cables.
Cables allow you to target your triceps with laser-like precision, and small changes in hand position or body angle can make your chosen exercise even more effective. In addition, cable exercises are usually very joint-friendly. They also make it hard to cheat as momentum is practically eliminated.
So, in this article, we share 11 of our favorite (and the best) cable machine exercises for bigger, more muscular triceps.
Triceps Anatomy 101
While you don’t need a degree in functional anatomy to build your triceps with cables, knowing a little about how the triceps work may help you choose the best exercises for your goals.
The full name of the triceps is triceps brachii. This means three-headed arm muscle. Located on the back of your upper arm, your triceps has two main functions:
- Elbow extension – straightening your arm
- Shoulder extension – drawing your upper arm backward
As mentioned, the triceps have three heads. This is because the triceps have three separate origin sites, all of which come together at a common insertion point on the ulna, which is the smaller of the two forearm bones.
The three triceps heads are:
- The long head
- The medial head
- The lateral head
All three triceps heads work together, but the amount of force each one generates depends on the position of your upper arm (1):
- When your arms are by your side, the long head produces more force than the other two heads.
- With your arms at 90-degrees to your body, the medial head is more active.
- When your arms are vertical, the lateral head generates the most force.
Because of this, it is possible to target specific areas of your triceps, and any arm workout should include a variety of triceps exercises to ensure each head is worked equally.
Best Cable Exercises for Bigger Triceps
Not sure which cable exercises to choose for your triceps workouts? Here are 11 of the best!
1. Cable triceps pushdowns
The pushdown is probably the most widely performed cable triceps exercise. It’s straightforward to learn, easy to master, and reliably effective. It’s a good mass builder that preferentially targets the long head of the triceps, so it’s part of almost every decent arm workout.
However, a lot of people make a complete mess of this exercise by going too heavy and turning what should be an elbow isolation exercise into a sort-of dip with cables.
So, use light to moderate weights, keep your upper arms stationary, and don’t use your shoulders and chest to push the handle down. Instead, use strict form to maximize triceps engagement.
2. Lying cable triceps extensions
Also known as cable skull crushers, this exercise targets the medial head of your triceps. Like the freeweight version, this is an excellent exercise for building upper arm size and strength.
However, because you need to work a little harder to keep your arms vertical during cable triceps extensions, you will probably find that this exercise produces superior results.
Learn how to do this terrific triceps exercise here. You can also do lying cable triceps extensions on an incline bench to hit your arms from a different angle. Find out more here.
3. Cable concentration extensions
Studies have revealed that the dumbbell concentration curl is one of the best biceps exercises around (2). And while no one has studied cable concentration extensions, it’s not unreasonable to think that it’s similarly effective for the triceps.
This exercise won’t work with heavy weights and sloppy form. Instead, you should use light to moderate weights, zone in on your mind-muscle connection, and squeeze your triceps hard at the mid-point of each rep.
4. One-arm reverse grip cable triceps extensions
While you can do reverse grip triceps cable extensions with both hands, it’s usually more comfortable using just one arm at a time. This allows you to really concentrate on the movement, engaging your triceps to the max.
This is another exercise that’s best done using light to moderate weights and super-strict form. However, even then, you’ll really feel your triceps working during every rep of this isolation exercise.
5. Cable rear drive
This exercise might not have the word triceps in its name, but it’s still a very effective if a little usual, triceps exercise. Also known as the horizontal triceps extension, the main advantage of this exercise is that it hits your triceps from an entirely new angle.
This may help unlock new triceps hypertrophy. Working one arm at a time will also allow you to really zone in on the muscle you’re working on.
6. Cable triceps kickbacks
If you want to hammer your triceps from top to bottom and side to side, this is the cable exercise to do it. Cable triceps kickbacks involve concurrent elbow and shoulder extension. Performing these movements simultaneously produces a very intense contraction in the target muscles.
Unlike the freeweight version, you won’t be able to swing the weight up, and you’ll be able to keep your triceps under load over a wider range of motion. This all adds up to a very effective cable triceps exercise.
7. Cable overhead triceps extensions
Cable overhead triceps extensions put your triceps in a very stretched position, which increases triceps engagement. You will need good shoulder mobility to do this exercise. Still, if you can perform it safely and comfortably, you’ll be rewarded with an excellent workout for the lateral head of your triceps.
You can also do this exercise while seated, which, if you use an incline bench, will provide some welcome back support.
8. High cable triceps extensions
This exercise is very similar to #7. However, the main difference is that instead of using a low cable and pulling up straight from the floor, the pulley is set to roughly shoulder-height, so you’ll be pulling from behind and over your head.
This is a minor difference but means that this variation is a little more shoulder-friendly, and the different angle means hitting your triceps in a slightly different way. So try both variations and see which one you prefer. The chances are that the one you find most challenging is the one you should be doing!
How to do it:
- Attach a straight bar, rope handle, or V-shaped bar to an overhead pulley. Grab it with an overhand grip. Turn your back to the pulley machine and adopt a split stance for balance. Lean forward so your torso is inclined to about 45 degrees.
- With your biceps close to your ears, extend your arms and push the handle forward until your arms are straight but not locked.
- Bend your elbows as far as you can without raising your upper arms and repeat.
9. Straight arm pulldown
The straight arm pulldown is usually thought of as a lat exercise – which it is! But, the triceps extend your shoulders as well as your elbows, which means this popular lat isolation exercise is also a good way to train your triceps.
While this exercise is usually done using a straight bar, you can increase the range of motion to work your triceps harder by using a rope handle.
10. Kneeling cable triceps extensions
If you have a tendency to move your upper arms during triceps training, this is the exercise for you. In some ways, it’s a lot like preacher curls in that you place your upper arms against a bench to prevent cheating.
You’ll need good shoulder mobility to do this exercise but, if you can pull it off, you’ll get a great triceps isolation workout.
How to do it:
- Place a bench next to a high cable machine. Fix a straight bar, V-bar, or rope handle to the cable. Hold your chosen handle with an overhand grip. Kneel down and place your triceps on the bench.
- Starting with your arms bent and hands behind your head, extend your arms out in front of you. Make sure your upper arms stay in contact with the bench.
- Bend your elbows as far as you can without moving your upper arms and repeat.
11. Cable crossover triceps extension
Most triceps exercises involve both arms working together or one arm at a time. This exercise involves both arms simultaneously, but each operates independently. Is this important, and does it matter?
But this is a unique exercise, and adding it to your upper arm workouts could provide some much-needed variety.
How to do it:
- Stand in the middle of a cable crossover machine. Hold the left cable in your right hand and the right cable in your left hand. Grip the ends of the wires; there is no need to use handles. Pull your upper arms into your sides.
- Starting with your arms bent, extend your elbows and push the cables down and out to your hips. Keep your torso stationary to ensure your arms do all the work.
- Bend your elbows and repeat.
More Triceps Exercises & Workout
- Best Old-School Triceps Workouts
- Best Long Head Triceps Exercises
- Skull Crusher Alternatives for Stronger Triceps
- Best Triceps Pushdown Alternatives
- Best Lateral Head Triceps Exercises
- Best Triceps Exercises For Building Bigger and Stronger Arms
- Dumbbell Triceps Exercises For Mass and Shape
- Best Compound Triceps Exercises for Size and Strength
- Blast Your Triceps for Mass-Building Workout
You’d soon get bored eating the same meal over and over again. And that’s how your muscles feel if all your triceps workouts feature the same old exercises. So if you haven’t changed your workouts for a while, it’s no wonder that it’s been so long since your arms showed any signs of growth!
Breathe new life into your training with any of the 11 best cable machine exercises for bigger, stronger triceps.
You don’t have to give up dips, close grip bench presses, diamond push-ups, or any of your other favorite triceps exercises. But, if you want to continue building bigger muscles, variety matters.
Supplementing your usual arm workout with some new cable exercises could be precisely what you need to get your training back on track. Variety is, after all, the spice of life!
1 – Science Direct: The Different Role of Each Head of The Triceps Brachii Muscle in Elbow Extension https://www.sciencedirect.com
2 – American Council on Exercise (ACE): ACE Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises https://www.acefitness.org