You probably already use the cable rope attachment in your training. But that doesn't mean you're using it to the best of its abilities! Because this classic lifting tool is so pliable—as opposed to, say, a straight bar—it allows you to use a wide range of grips and hand position options if you're simply willing to explore them.
And yet, take a look around the gym, and you'll see quickly that most people don't. Their rope triceps work is like a race to finish each set, rather than an opportunity to focus and make the most of every peak contraction.
So let's take an in-depth look at three contraction-enhancing techniques I've used to make good movements even better. Try them, and then it's up to you to pass the word on.
1. Twist Your Wrists Out
During any extension-focused movement with the rope, your hands start out in a neutral position, but that's not where they have to end. I like to pronate my palms, turning them all the way down and outward, to overemphasize the peak contraction and elongate the normal range of motion.
Experience has taught me that this dramatically increases the intensity, further sucking the life out of your triceps. Because this variation is more difficult, this usually requires you to drop the weight to avoid becoming sloppy or resorting to momentum, but that doesn't mean you have go feather-light. I suggest reducing the load by just a single plate from what you'd normally use.
2. Pull The Ropes Apart
You can go one step further than simply pronating your hands, and try to physically pull the rope ends apart. Just that little bit of extra movement puts additional stimulation on the triceps, further accentuating the peak contraction. Again, perform this with purpose, and you may even have to further back off on the load a bit.
3. Hold The Contraction
Once you've reached the end of the range of motion, rather than slip straight back into the eccentric phase, apply a static hold by squeezing the muscle hard. In some movements, a pause provides a place to rest, but not in rope triceps work. In fact, the opposite is the case! You really have to squeeze hard to isometrically hold the peak-contracted position.
I've found that adding a simple pause is the perfect way to drill the triceps when using rope exercises, often leading to an extreme pump.
Wondering where you can use these techniques? All three work perfectly with the classics: extensions, kick-backs, and press-downs. No need to reinvent the wheel here with new movements. Just make the ones you already know better—and more brutal! Here's how.
Overhead Rope Extension
Because the triceps long head attaches to the shoulder blade, you have to raise your arm overhead for it to fully stretch. That's important, because a fully stretched muscle is capable of a stronger contraction, which is why arms-overhead movements are necessary to beat down that long (inner) head. Moving your hands overhead, as when doing this triceps movement, engages the long head to a greater degree.
Plenty of people opt for an EZ bar or dumbbell when doing extensions, but the rope allows you to more fully incorporate all three variations at the end of the ROM. If you've only done these with weights, you'll find that a peak-contraction hold with a rope and cable is a whole different animal.
Single-Arm Cable Kick-Back
This unilateral exercise is the perfect way to make the most of the added freedom you get from exercising one arm at a time. For starters, rotate your wrist as far back and up as you can once you reach the end of the ROM.
Once you're there, add a static hold to increase the burn on the triceps lateral head. That's actually something you can't do with a dumbbell, because of the altered angle of pull.
With your upper arms by your sides, this is another lateral-head-focused triceps exercise. This is probably the easiest way to learn how to manipulate hand position at the end to boost intensity. Be sure to keep your elbows pinned to your sides to keep the stimulation squarely on the triceps.
Give these techniques a try, and earn your horseshoes the way blacksmiths of old did: by forging them out of fire!