Straight Bar Vs. Rope Tricep Pushdown

Portrait of three models showing off their muscles

Tricep pushdowns are great exercises that effectively target and challenge the triceps. Several versions of the pushdown use different cable attachments to perform the exercise. Both the straight bar and the rope attachments hit the triceps, but each target the muscles at slightly different locations.

Anatomy of the Tricep

The tricep is easily identifiable as the “horseshoe” that appears at the back of the arm when the arm is held straight against the body. The visible definition of the tricep belies the fact that there are three sections to this muscle. The lateral head of the tricep is the largest, most obvious part of the muscle at the back of the arm. The long head of the muscle extends along the inner part of the arm. Not much credit is given to the medial head which tucks up under the long head, but this section is vital in assisting the other two in extending the arm and supporting the elbow joint.

Straight Bar

Pushdowns with the straight bar focus work on the long head of the tricep. The straight bar naturally positions the hands in an overhand grip with the knuckles facing up. With the elbows tight against the body, the long head of the tricep activates as the arms straighten. The medial and lateral heads of the tricep activate as well but the focus of the work rests on the long head of the tricep.


Using the rope instead of the straight bar changes the position of the hands during the pushdown. The knuckles face out instead of up which directs more of the work of the pushdown towards the lateral head of the tricep at the outside of the arm. The rope allows for a greater range of motion than the straight bar. The range of motion with the straight bar usually stops when the bar hits the legs when the arms are fully extended. However, the rope allows the hands to move to either side of the legs when the arms are fully extended. This greater range of motion also allows for an extra squeeze at the bottom of the extension. The added range of motion activates the rear deltoids in addition to targeting the lateral head of the tricep.


Both the rope and straight bar effectively hit all three heads of the tricep. The V-Bar or “rabbit ear” attachment is a happy medium between the rope and the straight bar. The v-shaped handles position the hands like similar to the rope pushdown, but takes a great deal of strain off of the wrists and forearms by providing a solid surface similar to a straight bar. Mix up your use of all three attachments to keep the workout fresh as well as to work the triceps in their entirety.