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Which piece of tricep exercise equipment will give you the best gym workout?

Here are the best pieces of tricep exercise equipment that you'll find in the gym.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd May 2022
A man using some of the best gym equipment for triceps

There’s a variety of tricep exercise equipment that you can use to build and tone the backs of your arms. Some machines completely isolate the triceps, whereas other pieces of kit have built-in versatility that enables them to work every muscle in your body.

But which piece of tricep gym equipment is the most effective for building muscle?

That’s the topic of this article. Keep reading to learn the pros and cons of all the different types of tricep workout equipment.

Related: Forearm exercise tool

Which gym machines work the triceps?

There are many pieces of triceps equipment in the modern gym. Some workout stations train your triceps exclusively, while other machines can be used to work your triceps in addition to a variety of other muscles.

Cable pulley

A man using some tricep workout equipment at the gym

The cable pulley station is the most versatile machine in any gym. But as far as the triceps are concerned, you basically have two choices; tricep pushdowns and tricep extensions. That said, there are more cable machine tricep exercises that you can check out if you want extra variety in your workouts.

Pushdowns, which you can perform with a variety of different attachments, enable you to safely isolate your triceps. The only downside is that the biggest head of the triceps—the long head—isn’t massively active during pushdowns because it also acts on the shoulder joint. [1]

As such, you need to perform overhead exercises if you want to train your triceps optimally. You can do this by attaching a rope to a low pulley, turning away from the machine, and then lowering the rope behind your head. This exercise creates the most intense tricep stretch that you’re ever likely to experience and will almost certainly get your arms growing.

The final exercise that you can do with this piece of triceps workout equipment is a skull crusher. Like the overhead extension, the skull crusher optimizes tricep hypertrophy by training the long head of your triceps, which is the single biggest muscle in your upper arms.

To perform it, you simply wheel a bench to a low pulley and connect your desired attachment. You can also do the exercise on the floor if you don’t have a bench (or if you’re not able to get the bench into position), but it might feel a bit uncomfortable. From there, you simply lower the attachment behind your head (or to the top of your head) and then straighten your arms.

Tricep extension machine

A man using some tricep exercise equipment during his workout at the gym

The tricep extension machine comes in different forms, but each version basically does the same thing, which is to say that it 100% isolates your triceps.

You’ll typically be sat down while using these contraptions, which means that you can train your triceps harder because you won’t need to put as much effort into stabilizing your core.

Since your triceps don’t have any other muscles to help them out, the tricep extension can be quite an elbow-intensive machine. So make sure to stick to high reps and do a few warm-up sets in order to avoid injury. [2]

You’re much better off using a full range of motion and a controlled lifting tempo than you are performing partial reps with heavy weights. Using good form takes the pressure off your elbows and puts more tension on your triceps, so there’s really no downside to using this piece of tricep equipment with the correct technique.

Dip machine

Bodyweight dips are great, and you can do them pretty much anywhere. But if you want to keep your shoulders as safe as possible, then the tricep dip machine is the way to go.

Keep your elbows pinned to your sides and maintain an upright torso to focus on your triceps. It’s fine to feel your chest working as well, but if you want to take your triceps to the next level, then be sure to make your triceps do the majority of the work.

Since you’re doing tricep dips on a machine, you don’t need to put a ton of effort into keeping your core stable, which in turn lets you better focus on working your triceps.

Additionally, out of all the exercise equipment for triceps, the dip machine enables you to lift the heaviest amount of weight, which is particularly beneficial for triceps development because the triceps are a very fast-twitch muscle group. In other words, your tris respond excellently to heavy poundages and explosive low rep lifting.

Lat pulldown machine

A man using one of the most popular gym machines for triceps development

While most people use the pulldown machine to build their back, pulldowns also train the long head of your triceps. This is why you’ll often complain about feeling lat pulldowns in your triceps when, in actual fact, you’re trying to keep the tension on your back.

However, since the long head of the triceps is, by definition, a shoulder extensor, it’s not like you can completely remove your triceps from the exercise. And after all, most people could use a better developed long head, so you might as well enjoy the extra tricep stimulation.

Of course, you can always limit your triceps involvement during pulldowns by actively pulling with your back and keeping your shoulder blades pinned back and down. Just don’t take things to the extreme; otherwise, you might make yourself weaker by trying to isolate your lats (which is technically impossible).

Overhead tricep extension machine

The overhead tricep extension machine is a much rarer piece of tricep exercise equipment than the standard tricep extension machine because the overhead version has your arms above your head.

In this sense, the overhead tricep extension machine is very much like an overhead extension, whereas the standard tricep extension machine is actually more like a skull crusher.

These machines are fantastic for growing your arms because they place the long head of your triceps under a tremendously deep stretch. Just make sure to use a full range of motion to enjoy the best effects of this clever triceps contraption.

What is the best tricep exercise equipment?

A man trying out some tricep equipment at the gym

The best piece of gym equipment for triceps development is the tricep extension machine because it completely isolates your triceps. These contraptions usually have pads to keep your elbows and shoulders stable, which means that you can dedicate 100% of your attention to training your triceps.

In second place, I’d put the cable pulley station. Although not a dedicated piece of tricep workout equipment, the pulley station allows unparalleled freedom of movement, which is great for both injury prevention and stimulating the broadest possible range of muscle fibers.

Cable stations also permit the use of different attachments, which enables you to customize the exercises to suit your liking.

Are there any gym machines for triceps that you should avoid?

A man showing which pieces of triceps workout equipment to avoid

The only tricep gym machine that you should avoid is the one that causes you discomfort, which will obviously be different for different people.

Some lifters, for example, feel elbow discomfort when they use the tricep extension machine because it exerts all of its tension directly on your elbow joint.

But just because someone says that a certain piece of tricep exercise equipment is bad or didn’t work for them doesn’t mean that you should avoid it. After all, that person might have been using the machine incorrectly.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t feel that you have to use a piece of dedicated tricep workout equipment. Indeed, you can make great triceps gains through a combination of heavy presses and cable exercises, such as pushdowns or overhead extensions.

How can you select the right piece of tricep workout equipment?

First, consider your goals. Which head of your triceps is most lacking?

If the long head of your triceps needs more work, then you should focus on overhead movements.

If you need more lateral head, then it actually makes sense to keep your arms in front of your body (i.e., a pushdown) so that you can take tension off the long head and make the lateral head do more work.

If you just need more triceps mass in general, make sure that you’re performing heavy presses and supplementing these exercises with overhead movements.

Conclusion: Which piece of tricep equipment is right for you?

There’s no one piece of tricep equipment that’s best for every lifter. There are many different gym machines for triceps, and the best one for you comes down to which you find the most comfortable and which allows you to get the best triceps stimulation.

If you’re training for hypertrophy, then you might want to select the machine that gives you the greatest stability (likely the seated tricep extension machine) so that you don’t need to put as much effort into stabilizing your core and shoulders. This way, you can focus purely on training your triceps.

On the other hand, if you’re just training for general strength, use the piece of tricep exercise equipment that you find the easiest to use. This is most likely the cable station because you literally just connect an attachment and start training (no need to adjust seats and backpacks).

Also, cable machines are in pretty much every gym, whereas triceps extension machines are not. Therefore, you don’t have to sacrifice your routine if you move gyms or if your gym changes some of their equipment.

References

  1. Hacking, C. (2021, August 25). Triceps brachii muscle. Radiology Reference Article | Radiopaedia.Org. https://radiopaedia.org/articles/triceps-brachii-muscle-1
  2. Brooks, J. H. M., & Erith, S. J. (2008). Warm-up programmes in sport. BMJ, 337(dec09 2), a2381. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2381
James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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