For a total triceps workout that targets this three-headed muscle at the back of the upper arm, use the cable machine. You can do almost 20 different exercises using various attachments, angles and grips. The machine allows you to hit the triceps from multiple angles, augmenting other tricep exercises you perform.
About the Cable Machine
The hulking cable machine is based on a pulley system. It features a steel frame about six feet tall with a weight stack at either end. Cables run through adjustable pulleys to attach to the weight stacks. You can alter the height of the pulley handles to change the angle of an exercise. The weights are adjusted using a pin that you insert into holes in the weight stack. The weight available on cable machines varies from a minimum of 10 to 20 pounds to well over 100 pounds on each side. For triceps, beginners should start with lower weights. As you progress, you may use 50 or more pounds in some exercises.
You can attach various handles and bars to the ends of the cables for different triceps exercises. The bar and rope attachments offer slightly different ways to do bent over extensions or pushdowns. You can do the extensions from a kneeling, reclined flat or declined position. Single-handle attachments allow you to isolate each arm independently when doing pushdowns and triceps. The flexibility of the handle also gives you options in terms of grip – you can hold it with an overhand or underhand position to provide a slightly different emphasis on the muscles. Do a variety of moves with different attachments to create a well-rounded triceps session.
The cable machine is the best to use if a machine is your preferred triceps workout option, but exercises using your bodyweight and dumbbells may be more effective. A study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise and published in 2011 found that the triangle pushup was best at targeting the triceps. Kickbacks and dips also ranked highly in terms of effectiveness. Overhead triceps extensions were only 76 percent as effective in activating the triceps as the triangle pushup and rope pushdowns just 74 percent as effective.
Include cable machine triceps exercises in your routine, but also use dumbbell kickbacks, dips and triangle pushups for variety and greater stimulation. Work your triceps at the most every other day. Working against resistance breaks down muscle fibers that repair and grow stronger during recovery. Without adequate recovery, you hinder the growth process. Beginners should start with just one set of eight to 12 repetitions of one or two cable exercises, along with either dips or triangle pushups from the knees. As you become stronger, add in dumbbell kickbacks, increase weight and/or add another set or two.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.