The function of the triceps muscle is to extend, or straighten, the elbow. Any exercise movement which involves straightening the arms, regardless of what body part is being targeted, will involve the triceps. For example, when performing chest exercises, most trainees will include some pressing movements, such as the bench press or incline press. These exercises will unavoidably work the triceps as well as the chest. The same holds true for overhead shoulder presses, dips-anything where the arms straighten. One reason people have problems with arm growth is overlap, which causes over training. A trainee will start their workout with chest, performing 5 sets of bench presses, 4 sets of inclines and 3 sets of dips. Then they go to shoulders and perform 4 sets of overhead presses and some other exercises. Next on their list is triceps, so they select 2 or 3 exercises to “work” the triceps, not realizing their triceps have already done 16 sets! Worse yet, they will split their routine and do chest on Monday, shoulders on Tuesday and triceps on Wednesday. This equates to 3 straight days of multiple set training for the triceps. Remember, a muscle must first recover before it can grow-you must first compensate before you can overcompensate. In the above examples, the triceps are probably being pounded with more volume than they can recover from. You want to train the triceps, or any muscle group, as intensely as possible with the fewest sets necessary to stimulate growth, then rest and allow that growth to occur.
In light of the above discussion, I don’t think it’s necessary to include more than 2 exercises in your triceps program. This could include one single joint exercise and one multi-joint exercise. My 2 favorites are the triceps push-down from a high pulley as the isolation exercise, and dips using parallel bars or a machine for the multi-joint exercise. Consult your fitness professional for the proper performance of these exercises, remembering the principles of full range of motion, slow controlled rep speed, and maximum intensity. Arm exercises, be they for the triceps or biceps, should be performed at the end of your upper body routine so you don’t pre-weaken your arms and undermine your chest, back or shoulder workout. For the reasons outlined above, I am not an advocate of separating body parts into different workouts. I recommend full body workouts or upper body one day/lower body the next day to maximize recovery. So work your upper body hard, finish it off with one or two tricep exercises, then get out of the gym and let yourself grow!