The rope tricep extension is one of the best isolation exercises for medial and lateral tricep hypertrophy.
Based on my experience working with numerous clients, I recommend performing rope triceps extensions at the beginning of a workout to pre-exhaust the triceps or toward the end to finish the workout with a sick muscle pump.
In the sections below, I will cover proper form and technique, the best tips, the most common mistakes, and the best variations to include in your workouts.
How To Do a Rope Tricep Extension: Step-By-Step Guide
Here is how to perform rope tricep pushdowns properly:
Step One — Set the Rope Attachment and Assume the Starting Position
Secure a rope attachment to the cable pulley and place it at the highest setting. Pick an appropriate weight. Assume a hip-width or split stance, depending on your preferences.
Slightly bend your knees, hinge at your hips, maintain a neutral back, and fix your gaze directly forward. Grasp both ends of the rope with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
Pro Tip: Before you start with the exercise, slightly push the ropes down and engage the weight so you feel tension in the starting position. My clients experienced massive benefits in terms of muscle hypertrophy just from this single modification at the beginning of each rep.
Step Two — Extend Your Elbows
Extend your elbows while keeping them tight to the sides, and push the rope toward the floor. Avoid pressing the rope towards your thighs since that can limit the range of motion. Limit the movement to your elbows. I found that consciously thinking about elbow extension and tricep contraction helps with better muscle hypertrophy.
Pro Tip: Contract your glutes and core for better stability. Plus, I highly recommend pushing your shoulder blades back and down to avoid compensatory movements.
Step Three — Return the Rope to the Starting Position
Slowly flex your elbows to return to the starting position. Don’t allow the weights to rerack; it will remove the tension from the target muscles.
Pro Tip: To maximize hypertrophy, spend three seconds on the eccentric phase. In my experience, this will also improve your mind-muscle connection, isolate your triceps better, and increase the target muscles’ time under tension.
Here is another variation of the Rope Tricep Extension, featuring one leg slightly forward for enhanced stability:
Muscles Worked — Rope Tricep Extension
The triceps brachii is the primary muscle in the rope tricep extension. The secondary muscles include the anconeus, deltoids, and forearm flexors.
Tips For Rope Tricep Pushdowns
Here are some of the best tips for performing rope tricep pushdowns:
Set Proper Pulley Height
A proper pulley height is crucial to get the most out of this exercise. Set the cable pulley at a height so that your triceps are loaded even when they are in the fully lengthened position.
Use a Rope of Suitable Length
A longer rope will keep you from achieving a full range of motion. On the other hand, using too short of a rope can negatively affect your form and technique, as the weight might hit the top of the rack before you can achieve a full elbow extension. To avoid these mistakes, ensure your tricep rope is between 27 and 36 inches.
Keep Your Wrists Neutral
While this isn’t mandatory for advanced lifters, beginners often find it helpful to keep their wrists neutral. In my experience, this allows beginner lifters to avoid discomfort and focus more on the proper form and technique. You can add a slight wrist lateral flexion at the end of each rep if you don’t feel any discomfort. Otherwise, avoid it altogether.
Developing a Strong Mind-Muscle Connection
Developing a strong mind-muscle connection can enhance muscle hypertrophy and better isolate the triceps brachii during the exercise. You must keep your core and glutes engaged throughout the exercise for optimal muscle isolation.
Lean Slightly Forward
Leaning slightly forward during the exercise will result in better balance and triceps isolation. Experiment with your torso positioning until you find the most stable setup.
Control the Eccentrics
Controlling the eccentric portion of rope tricep extensions is crucial for maximizing mind-muscle connection, time under tension (TuT), and muscle hypertrophy . This will also help you improve your form.
Most Common Rope Tricep Extension Mistakes
Here are the most common mistakes during rope tricep extensions:
Using Excessive Weight
Don’t start with too much weight because it will lead to compensatory movements and can butcher your technique. Start light and progress gradually.
Incomplete Range of Motion
I always advise following a full range of motion to avoid developing muscle imbalances. A limited range of motion is also bad for building functional strength.
Flaring your elbows too much is often the result of compensatory movements such as internal shoulder rotation and contraction of your front delt. Avoid this by pulling your shoulder blades back and down and maintaining a neutral spine.
Using momentum will help you perform more reps but at the cost of promoting hypertrophy. Stick to controlled reps and focus on isolating your triceps as much as possible during each repetition.
To perform rope triceps extensions effectively, you must keep your knees and hips slightly flexed, your back and neck neutral, and your shoulder blades slightly pinched. Without these postural elements, the exercise will be much less effective. Also, there is a great chance you will injure yourself.
Bad Breathing Patterns
To maximize the effectiveness of breathing, you must properly inhale and exhale during every rep. During the eccentric phase, you must slowly inhale and prepare for the forced exhale during the concentric phase. Also, during the concentric phase, I want you to quickly and sharply exhale from your abdomen. This will create sufficient intra-abdominal pressure and help stabilize your trunk for a reduced chance of injury and better exercise performance.
Rope Tricep Extension Alternatives
Here are some of the best rope tricep extension alternatives you should consider:
Bar Tricep Pushdowns
Bar tricep pushdowns are biomechanically similar to rope tricep extensions. They involve a slightly limited range of motion than the rope variation.
- Set the pulley at the highest setting.
- Select an appropriate weight.
- Assume a hip-width or split stance.
- Slightly bend your knees and keep your spine neutral.
- Grasp the bar with a shoulder-wide overhand grip.
- Extend both of your elbows and push the bar toward the floor.
Pro Tip: To maximize tricep engagement during bar tricep pushdowns, I often instruct my clients to pause for a second at the bottom of each rep and squeeze their triceps, ensuring full muscle contraction. This isometric hold intensifies the stretch, increasing muscle activation and growth.
Reverse Grip Bar Tricep Pushdowns
The reverse grip tricep pushdown mirrors the bar triceps pushdown, except it employs an underhand grip. However, it alters muscle fiber stimulation, engaging the muscles differently.
- Grab the bar attachment with an underhand (supinated) grip.
- Extend your elbows to push the bar toward the floor.
Pro Tip: Grip the bar firmly to enable better muscle contraction and stability throughout the exercise. I often instruct my clients to squeeze the bar as hard as they can during each rep. This enables them to keep the bar stable and to follow a full ROM.
Cable Overhead Tricep Extension
This rope tricep extension variation ensures you target all three tricep heads effectively.
- Set the cable pulley at hip height and pick an appropriate weight.
- Grab both ends of the rope, step forward, and face away from the pulley to get into the starting position.
- Your arms should be extended overhead and perpendicular to the floor in the starting position.
- Maintain your torso at 45 degrees and contract your core muscles for better stability.
- Slowly flex your elbows to achieve a deep tricep stretch.
- Extend your elbows to contract your triceps in the overhead position.
- Hold the top position for one second and reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
Pro Tip: Ensure a stable base by engaging your core and glutes and slightly stepping forward with one foot. This will allow for a controlled and effective overhead extension while minimizing lower back strain. My clients found this tip extremely useful for boosting stability.
The rope triceps extension is one of the best exercises to isolate and strengthen your lateral and medial tricep heads. However, if you wish to target all three heads effectively enough, it is better to perform rope extensions in the overhead position.
In addition to that, I find rope tricep extensions quite effective as a superset exercise for different pull workouts. I also love them as a workout finisher, allowing me to squeeze that much more out of every tricep workout.
In the comments below, let me know your thoughts on rope tricep extensions and how you implement them in your workouts.
- Suchomel TJ, Wagle JP, Douglas J, et al. Implementing Eccentric Resistance Training-Part 1: A Brief Review of Existing Methods. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2019;4(2):38. Published 2019 Jun 24. doi:10.3390/jfmk4020038