Triceps Push-Down: Straight Bar Vs. Rope

There's more than one way to do a tricep pushdown: an exercise done with a cable machine that works the triceps. You can perform a pushdown using either a rope or bar as handles. But which one is more effective?

There are several variations for the tricep pushdown. Credit: Bojan89/iStock/GettyImages

Anatomy of the Triceps

The triceps is a muscle located in the back part of the upper arm with three heads, the lateral, medial and long head. Its main function is to extend the elbow. The triceps muscle is also helpful for bringing the arm downward from an overhead position.

In order to fully contract the triceps, the upper arm should be behind the torso as the elbow straightens, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs. There are several exercises that can be done to strengthen the triceps, such as pull-ups and pushdowns.

What is a Tricep Pushdown?

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) explains how to do a proper tricep pushdown. You must begin by facing the cable machine and situating the cable attachment at a height above your head. Attach the bar or rope and grasp it securely. Keep your body rigid and strong. Push your shoulders back and down, and try to maintain this position throughout the exercise.

Press the handles of the rope down in front of your chest, so that your elbows are aligned with the middle of your trunk, then extend the arms downward, pressing the rope or bar down toward the floor.

Extend your arms fully, while maintaining the same position with the rest of the body. Pause, then allow your elbows to bend upward back to the middle of your trunk. Repeat this movement.

Read more: The Ultimate Workout for Sexy, Sculpted Arms

Tricep Pushdown Variations

There are a few variations on the tricep pushdown. ACE describes the power push down which involves forcefully pushing a medicine ball toward the floor underneath the chest. You should begin with your elbows at your sides and the medicine ball at your chest. Push the ball to the floor, fully extending your arms, and catch the ball when it bounces back up.

The straight arm pressdown, also described by ACE, involves a similar movement to the pushdown, except with the arms kept straight. The feet should be hip-distance apart, body straight. Hold both ends of the bar attachment and move the arms up and down, while keeping them straight.

Read more: 12 Cable-Machine Moves That Build Muscle and Torch Calories

Rope Pushdown Vs. Straight Bar Pushdown

A May 2012 study by ACE determining the most effective tricep exercises, found a difference in pushdown effectiveness when done with a rope versus a bar. Researchers tested several different tricep workouts, including tricep kickbacks, overhead tricep extensions, bar pushdowns, rope pushdowns, closed-grip bench presses and lying barbell triceps extensions.

When researchers analyzed the results, they found that the muscle activity was greatest when subjects performed triangle push-ups. Kickbacks were ranked as the second most effective exercise. The rope pushdown was ranked as number five, and the straight bar pushdown as number six. Therefore, rope pushdowns are considered more effective than straight bar pushdowns in working the triceps muscle.

Triangle push-ups: so what are triangle push-ups exactly? Imagine the traditional push-up, body in plank position, except with the hands facing inward and touching each other, essentially forming a triangle. Keeping the body rigid, lower the body, bending at the elbows, then straighten the arms on the way up.

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