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Cable Pushdown Curls for Biceps and Triceps



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Secret Training Tip #88 - Cable
Pushdown Curls for Biceps
and Triceps

Home -> BetterU News Archive -> Issue #23 -> Pushdown Curls

By Nick Nilsson

Get an instant increase in strength when you use this unique exercise to work your biceps and triceps at the same time in the same movement.

How is it possible to work both your biceps and triceps at the same time in the same movement? How can this possibly increase your strength instantly? The answer to this question is simple: Cable Pushdown Curls.

This particular exercise is done using cables but this training technique can also be done using free weights as well (there will be an example using free weights for those who don't have access to a cable set-up).

The Cable Pushdown Curl can technically be described as a contralateral antagonistic movement. In plain English, this means you're working the opposite muscles on the opposite arms at the same time - you'll be doing a bicep curl with your right arm and a pushdown with your left arm at the same time.

But how can this instantly increase your strength?

The answer lies in your nervous system. When you activate the nerves in your biceps, due to the way your body's nervous system is hooked up, this excites the nerves in your opposing arm's triceps. It's not enough to cause them to move, but it's enough to "prime" them, for lack of a better word, increasing the energy they have available to fire. This extra nervous system energy results in a small but noticeable increase in strength.

If you do an exercise for your triceps at the same time as you do an exercise for your biceps of the opposing arm, you're going to be a little stronger in both of the movements. This means the ability to use more weight and/or get more reps with it.

I originally came across this contralateral-antagonistic training theory in the writings of world-renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin, who refers to this type of exercise as "Scap Jacks." He reported instant strength increases of up to 10% over what the muscle was normally capable of.

This exercise can also save you time in the gym by allowing you to work your biceps and triceps fully at the same time.


How to Do Cable Pushdown Curls

To do this exercise, you will need one high/low pulley set up. This is normally found on a cable crossover pulley station. Attach one single cable handle to the bottom pulley and one single handle to the top pulley.

Figuring out how much weight to use on this exercise will require a little trial-and-error but start with a fairly light weight to get the idea of the movement first.

Facing the machine, grasp the lower handle and get into the start position for a cable bicep curl.

Now reach up with your other hand and grasp the high pulley. Get that handle into the start position of a one-arm pushdown. You should have tension on both your biceps and triceps at the start (meaning the weight stack should not be resting on anything).

Now comes the tricky part - do a curl with one arm as you do a pushdown with the other. It will feel very strange at first but do a few reps until you get the hang of it. The way the pulleys are set up allows you to get tension on both movements even though you're working in opposing directions.

Cable Pushdown Curls - Start

Cable Pushdown Curls - Finish


Notice how the right hand is in the bottom position of a cable curl and the left hand is in the top position for the cable pushdown.

Make sure the weight plates are not resting on the weight stack at the start. It's important to start with tension on the muscles.


As you curl with the right hand, you're doing a pushdown with the left hand.

This simultaneous contralateral anatgonistic action increases nervous system activation in the target muscles, increasing strength.


When you've completed the set, switch the movements on your arms and go directly back into it. Your arms will be extremely pumped up by the time you're done.

Once you've got the hang of the movements, it's time to add some more weight to the exercise. As you add weight, you will reach a point where you are stronger in one exercise than you are in the other and one will have a tendency to take over. You can use this to your advantage by using your stronger muscle to spot your weaker muscle. This will extend the set, putting even more tension on both muscles, working them even harder.

You can also adapt this exercise to free weights if you don't have access to a cable set-up. To do this, simply do a dumbell curl in one hand and an overhead dumbell tricep extension with the other. You'll get all the same benefits as in the cable version.


Give this exercise a try in your next arm workout. Not only is it an excellent way to give your strength a boost and throw some variety into your routine, it's a great timesaver as well.

Free Weight Adaptation - Dumbell Curl Extensions

Dumbell Curl Extensions - Start Dumbell Curl Extensions - Finish
Start with your right arm in the bottom of a dumbell curl and your left are in the bottom of an overhead dumbell extension. Curl your right arm up and do the extension with your left arm at the same time. The coordination can be a bit tricky.

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