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Do You Need Triceps Isolation Exercises? Best Exercises

Should you train your triceps directly with isolation exercises and what is that good for? Is isolating the triceps actually necessary and useful if you just want to play sports or have some real world strength or is is just for aesthetics? Here’s what you want to know. 

Triceps isolation exercises are not absolutely necessary to get bigger and/or stronger triceps. Compound exercises are enough to get decently sized and strong triceps. If the triceps are lagging or you need more growth, isolation exercises are the best way to accomplish this.

Let’s dive a little deeper into why certain ways of working out are better for certain goals. 

Are Triceps Isolation Exercises Necessary?

If training any body part is necessary depends on what your needs/goals are and triceps are no exception. Unless your life depends on the size of your arms, it’s probably not necessary to do triceps isolation exercises. However, there are some goals you can have that do make it necessary to directly train the triceps to reach those goals. 

The most common goals people have is to have bigger arms or triceps specifically or to perform better in their respective sports. Do you have to train your triceps to reach either of those goals? 

Most upper body exercise that involves any pushing will use the triceps as well. Bench pressing, push ups, overhead presses all involve the triceps quite heavily but not in isolation. Even sports like boxing use your triceps for punching. 

So with most sports and weightlifting you’ll use your triceps to some degree and train them to some degree without targeting them directly. The other movements you do aren’t traditional tricep exercises but the muscle is still used enough to make it a little bigger and/or stronger. 

After a while, you might start feeling you run into the limits of your tricep strength or endurance. That is the moment you should start considering adding some extra tricep training. If a single part of your body is holding you back in your athletic performance, training that muscle extra is a good idea. In most situations outside of weightlifting just doing the sport is enough to give the triceps enough of a training impulse. 

That’s for athletic performance. However, many people want to have bigger arms for aesthetic reasons. This changes things a little bit. While the triceps are worked much harder than the biceps on most pushing exercises (compared to pulling exercises), it’s still not optimal for growth. While you can get decent muscle gains by doing those pushing exercises, for maximum size, and especially if you feel your triceps are lagging, separate triceps isolation exercises will help. 

The best way to go about it is doing isolation exercises on top of your compound exercises. Muscles grow when you give them the right combination of sets, repetitions and resistance.

The compound exercises will grow strength and has some effect on size. Then doing isolation exercises on top of the compound exercises, will add extra growth so you get the best of both worlds. However, if you’re strapped for time and outright triceps size is not the most important, isolation exercises can be left alone.

If aesthetics really aren’t a goal (they are for most people even if they don’t want huge arms), the extra exercises just take up time, energy and recovery capacity you could use for other things. However, just adding one or two isolation exercises after a workout doesn’t take much time or recovery capacity. 

5 Best Triceps Isolation Exercises

If you’re looking for some good triceps isolation exercises, take a look at the following list.

  • Dips: Dips are a great triceps builder that can be overloaded easily. Dips are very effective for the triceps but they’re not great for your shoulders. It’s not a true isolation exercise since it also targets the chest and front deltoid.
  • Skull Crushers: Sounds dangerous but is a great exercise. It can be done with dumbbells or EZ curl bar. With dumbbells you’ve got less chance to hit yourself in the head.
  • Cable Triceps Pushdown: If you’ve got access to a cable machine, this is a very effective and very safe triceps exercises. This can be done with a rope or rotating bar.
  • Cable Reverse Triceps Pushdowns: The same as above but hold the bar with the palms up instead of down. This targets the medial head of the triceps much better.
  • Close Grip Push Ups: The closer you put your hands together on the push up, the more you target the triceps and take the chest out of it.

Are Triceps Isolation Exercises Useful In The Real World? 

So if you want bigger triceps, the best way to get them is to train them directly although with enough pushing exercises you’ll grow them considerably as well. For athletic performance it’s not strictly necessary in most situation unless you notice your triceps to be a restriction on performance. But what about normal people? You go to the gym to be in better shape and have some real world strength but don’t care about athletic performance or how big your arms are. Is tricep training useful for you? 

If you want to build some useful real world strength but don’t care about looks, using your time to do compound exercises for your upper body will yield more time efficient result. You won’t see the muscle growth like with direct isolation exercises but it will improve the strength and endurance and still get pretty good triceps growth. 

Suggested: How many sets of triceps a week is optimal for growth?

Compound exercises are exercises that move more than one joint at the same time. Isolation exercises only move one joint at the same time. Compound exercises use more muscle mass at the same time which means you can move more weight and build more strength. Often these movements are done in a way that focusses more on building strength and less on building muscle. Also, the way you perform the exercises often means it’s suboptimal for triceps growth. 

Compound exercises are the way you usually use your strength in the real world. You push something away, get up from the floor or put a heavy box on a high shelf.  Almost nothing you do in daily life requires just the use of a single muscle. Training a single muscle in isolation will make it stronger and bigger but if the surrounding muscles aren’t any stronger, you can’t really use that strength. 

Examples of compound exercises that use the triceps as one of the muscles are; Push ups, burpees, bench press, dumbbell press, shoulder press. 

Again, just like with athletic performance, there might be a point where your triceps are the limiting factor to performing one of the exercises above. If that is the case and you want to get stronger, training the triceps in isolation will help you improve your weak points and improve your overall strength. 

Tricep Training Resources

If you want to directly train your triceps, here are some resources you could find useful.

Is Training Triceps Twice A Week Enough?

Is Training Triceps Every Day OK?