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November 01, 2021
There are a lot of chest and tricep workouts on the market. This is the best one. How can I be so sure? Because this program is written to address every single variable you need to know and more.
Anyone can write a chest and tricep workout routine. You do some bench press, maybe some push-ups, throw in some triceps pushdowns, and you’re good to go. To be fair, that would work; for a little bit at least. However, it doesn’t address all the concepts of proper training, nor does it come anywhere close to optimizing a chest and tricep workout routine for maximal muscle growth and strength.
That’s ok because this article does. We are going to teach you;
The chest and triceps are two important muscle groups. While you probably don’t really need us to tell you why to train them, there are bonafide reasons you should understand to realize their importance.
#1 Enhanced Aesthetics
Let’s get the vanity out of the way. When you’re walking towards someone on the beach, the first thing they will notice is your pecs. Well, maybe your stomach, but then definitely your chest. But even that depends on the size of your chest. You get the point.
The fact there’s a pejorative for guys with a small chest (it’s “bird chest” if you’ve never heard it) tells us that having an underdeveloped chest is not desirable by most people. Therefore, you want the opposite of that, a developed chest.
When it comes to triceps, as mentioned, they make up around 60% of your total arm’s mass. Having an underdeveloped set of triceps compared to your biceps will look silly PLUS, it’s impossible to properly fill out a shirt sleeve with small triceps.
In other words, if your aesthetic has any importance to you, train your chest and triceps appropriately. This is why having a hypertrophy aspect to your training (we’ll discuss this below) is vital for developing a large, muscular set of pecs and triceps.
#2 Pushing Is A Basic Functional Movement
The term “functional training” gets thrown around a lot to the point that it can mean just about anything. However, functional training is a real thing, and pushing is one of the essential functions in human performance. In fact, if we were to break down the most critical movement patterns, there are only about 7 functional movements, with pushing being one of them.
Why is this important? Well, your chest and triceps, along with your anterior deltoids, are your primary muscles used for pushing power. While they all work together to build pushing power, their contribution will change depending on their joint angle. The best exercise to illustrate this is with the bench press.
This makes training these muscles vital for essential human function and increases the quality of life. If you don’t have strong pectoral muscles and triceps, you’re missing out in life.
#3 Improve Pushing Power
#2 illustrates how pushing is a fundamental movement pattern necessary for quality of life. However, if you want to go even further and improve athleticism and better prepare yourself for life, following an optimal training program with progressive overload is critical. If your chest and triceps are weak, you’re not pushing anything.
Improved pushing power is going to be beneficial in a variety of situations.
More Weight Lifted → More Volume → More Muscle Hypertrophy
Having advanced chest strength and triceps will only help you succeed in the weight room and in life.
The pectoral muscles (aka chest muscles) are two large fan-shaped muscles that sit on either side of the chest, run from the sternum, and converge towards the arm. Further, each of these muscles on the left and right side of the body has two heads;
As mentioned above, the muscle fibers origin of the pectoral muscles are situated across the sternum and clavicle. The muscle fibers then run across the chest and converge to its insertion. This makes it a convergent muscle.
One of the benefits of a convergent muscle is that the muscle fibers run at different angles and can pull at various angles. This is what gives you the ability to push downward, straight forward, and upward.
More importantly, this tells us that we need to include various angles to optimally hit the upper, lower, inner, and outer areas of the chest.
The serratus anterior isn’t actually part of the chest but is heavily involved in pressing movements. Further, it greatly enhances the overall aesthetics of the chest musculature. The serratus anterior is sometimes known as “that rib muscle” as it sits on the 1st to 8th rib. It then wraps around the side of the body and inserts down the entire anterior length of the medial border of the scapula.
The primary function of the serratus anterior is pulling the scapula forward, which helps the arms move forward. Growing your serratus anterior will give your chest that “pop” as it will make the ribs look tight and pronounced.
The pectoral muscles are one of the primary muscles involved in actions that occur on the anterior of the upper body, including manipulation of the arms. The pectoral muscles have 3 primary jobs.
The triceps are three-headed muscles that sit on the back of the upper arms and makeup about 60% of the total arm mass. The three heads have different origins but come together at the same insertion across the elbow at the humorous. While the three heads have individual specific functions, as a whole, the triceps act as the primary extensor of the elbow due to crossing the elbow joint.
This means that when the triceps contract, they pull on the arm to straighten the elbow joint and extend the arm. However, the triceps are actually biarticular. A biarticular muscle is a muscle that crosses two joints. In this case, the triceps cross the elbow and the shoulder; at least one of the heads does. Here are the primary functions of the three heads of the triceps.
The triceps as a whole has 1 primary job. That is the extension of the elbow joint, which extends the arm. That makes it of utmost importance to have strong triceps for strength throughout a full range of motion. For example, the triceps role in the lockout makes movements like block presses or floor presses very common within the powerlifting and strength world to improve their lockout.
However, because the long head also crosses the shoulder joint, the triceps is also responsible for shoulder extension and assist in stabilizing the shoulder. This includes motions like the freestyle swim stroke, and the long head would assist in doing push-ups on rings to provide greater stability.
When optimizing your chest and triceps training, you want to include both strength work and hypertrophy work. It doesn’t matter which one you favor because both hypertrophy and strength will enhance the other. In other words, training for strength and hypertrophy will likely cause you to be bigger AND stronger than if you only trained for one purpose.
This is often a point of confusion as many associate a bigger muscle as being a stronger muscle. However, this isn’t necessarily true. In reality, a bigger muscle has MORE POTENTIAL to be a stronger muscle. So what’s the difference?
Improving your strength and creating bigger muscles are actually two distinct physiological processes that occur due to resistance training. Here’s a much more in-depth article on this exact subject that will dive deeper, but here are the basics for now.
TRAINING FOR STRENGTH:
When you are training for strength, you are essentially taking the current muscle you have and making it “better” or stronger. For instance, you can have the same amount of muscle mass yet grow stronger by teaching your muscles how to fire correctly. In fact, this is what causes the phenomena known as “newbie gains,” where a new trainee just walks into a gym and becomes stronger.
Anyways, a muscle contraction occurs through a series of events that must occur. Further, a muscle is composed of many individual muscle fibers that fire individually yet work together to accumulate force. Think of playing tug-o-war where you have a team of 10 guys who pull together but are out of sync with one another. They can create force, but they’re going to lose. Now picture those exact same 10 guys yet are pulling in unison as a cohesive unit. That is the superior method and is going to produce more force.
The above is a perfect example of how the same amount of muscle (the 10 guys) can actually become stronger after working better together. It’s a bit more complicated than that as there are various factors such as:
...but you can read the full in-depth article posted above for more information.
Regardless, what you need to know is why this is important for muscle hypertrophy. Quite simply, a stronger muscle will lift more weight which equals more volume, which means more significant muscle growth.
To train for strength, barbell movements with compound movements are generally your best bet. You’ll then perform your exercises with;
TRAINING FOR MUSCLE HYPERTROPHY:
On the other hand, muscle hypertrophy (or muscle growth) refers to physical, architectural changes to the muscle. This can happen through two different processes.
#1 Myofibrillar Hypertrophy: This refers to the actual addition of contractile units to the muscle. Myofibrillar hypertrophy increases the ability for a muscle to get stronger.
#2 Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy: This refers to when the sarcoplasm of a muscle cell fills up with fluid. Sarcoplasmic doesn’t seem to have as much of an effect on strength potential. It is the culprit behind the insult “all show, no go,” sometimes thrown at bodybuilders with large muscles but weak muscles (relative to their size).
Regardless, while there are other factors (Again, read the article above!), the number one driver of muscle hypertrophy is definitely volume. The best equipment for hypertrophy is going to be dumbbells and cable pulleys. These will allow unilateral work, higher activation for stabilization, better isolation movements (the cable pulley will enable you to work at different angles), and are easier to set up.
The exercises will include some compound movements and plenty of isolation exercises. When performing muscle hypertrophy exercises, you’ll want to use;
*Quick Note: The above information is a general description of training for strength and hypertrophy. There is plenty of overlap between the two.
In addition to training for both strength and muscle hypertrophy, the other variable you will follow is training chest and triceps twice a week. When trying to optimize neural muscular adaptation for strength and muscle growth, studies show that the optimal frequency is hitting a muscle group two times.
Not only will this allow you to use maximal volume while mitigating fatigue, it allows you to use a good mixture of exercises for strength and hypertrophy of the chest and triceps.
BARBELL BENCH PRESS
The barbell bench press is the absolute best chest exercise for maximal pushing power. Pressing with a barbell will allow maximal loads, which is required for more significant neuromuscular improvements. However, when performing the barbell bench press, you will want to use a slightly wider grip than usual. This does not need to be extreme; perhaps just a couple finger widths.
The reason being is that a wider grip will produce slightly more activation in the chest as the elbows are farther away from the body. Further, this program will utilize two other bench press variations, so you want your program to have as many bits of variety.
Related: Bench Press Guide
DUMBBELL INCLINE BENCH PRESS
To target the clavicular head, you’ll want to include an incline bench press. At the same time, to add variety, you’ll use dumbbells for a slightly different stimulus.
Ideally, you will have access to an adjustable bench, allowing more variety in your bench angle. Regardless, because the dumbbell will require more activation for stabilization, any angle is going to work. To be honest, there are differing opinions on of an incline will work the clavicular head to a higher degree. To optimize this movement, you will want to bring the dumbbells a bit higher on the chest towards the clavicle. You’ll also want to push up a bit narrower.
Regardless, the incline press is still advantageous to add to your chest workout routine. Even the studies like this one, which show no difference in the clavicular or sternal head, still show that the muscles will activate to a higher degree at various points. Again, variety is key to building strength and muscle hypertrophy.
The dumbbell pullover gets its fame from its use by some of the top weightlifters and bodybuilders of all time. People like:
In fact, this is one of the old school movements you would see during the “golden age” of bodybuilding. Unfortunately, it’s not as common today because….well because people just don’t know. But now you do, and you need to do them.
The dumbbell pullover works by lying flat on a bench and lifting a dumbbell over your head. Keeping a slight bend in the arms, you will let the dumbbell drift backward behind your head. Doing so is going to create a massive stretch of the pectorals due to the extreme shoulder flexion. Once the dumbbell is all the way behind your head, you are going to pull the dumbbell back over to its original position. When doing so, use a mind-muscle connection to contract your pecs and focus on bringing your elbows forward.
One of the primary muscles used is the serratus anterior, which will help round out your chest building exercises.
CABLE PULLEY CHEST FLIES (EVERY ANGLE)
Along with the dumbbell pull-overs, chest flies are one of few single-joint exercises to train the chest, and it’s pretty much the only other single-joint exercise you’ll need. However, we like to use the cable pulley for chest flies because you can work the pecs from literally every angle.
Horizontal, 45-degree decline, 60-degree incline...basically every direction. This is key as the chest muscle’s anatomy is designed to pull in every order making it crucial to include this variation in your chest training.
Further, because you’re not using a heavy object or need to support anything, these are your best bet to work to failure and beyond. Cable chest flies work great as your primary chest hypertrophy exercise. Further, you can work both sides at the same time OR unilaterally. There is a ton of variation here.
Regardless of what angle you are using, the basic setup is the same. Set the cable to the height of your choice. Next, you’re going to grab both handles (or a single handle) and stand out-of-line with the machine, so you’re slightly in front. This is to allow full tension throughout the entire range of motion and create a better pulling angle. Below is the grip you will use.
Next, you can use a staggered or neutral stance, but a staggered stance generally allows more stability and heavier loads. Stick your primary leg out so there’s about a foot length between your back leg. Let your arms extend out, keeping a minimal amount of bend in your elbow.
Last, you’re going to bring your hands together and give them a hard contraction. The level of the pulley will dictate where your arms meet. To know where you should pull, take a moment to notice the line of the pulley when your arms are extended outwards. You want to pull in a straight line following the cable.
Again, change the angle every time. Or you could even use different angles each session. This will give you some freedom to add variety to your sessions.
Related: Best Cable Chest Exercises
While most people automatically think of isolation movements for the triceps, we follow science and include 3 different compound exercises to train the triceps muscle. But don’t worry, there are still isolation movements for sure. Here are the best exercises to shape some beastly horseshoes on the back of your arms.
Dips are a must-have movement in anyone’s training regime. Forget “best bodyweight exercise” or “best pushing exercise” or "best tricep exercise"; they are simply one of the best exercises you can do, period. Using dips in your pushing program is going to increase strength and muscle mass while improving overall athleticism.
Due are so great as they allow you to load the triceps with your entire body weight. That’s a lot of mass that the triceps must move, meaning they will see high levels of activation. However, we want to do them the right way to get the highest levels of activation. Therefore, you will want to perform vertical dips as studies have shown this variation to get the highest activations level.
To perform these, your body is going to stay relatively vertical the entire movement. Only leaning slightly forward to allow yourself to come down. Further, you want to keep your elbows tucked into the body.
Still, remember above when we talked about the benefits of convergent muscles and pulling from various angles (every muscle pulls to create either a pulling movement or pushing movement)? You have already done straight above with the barbell bench press, upwards with the incline bench press, and now you will also take care of the downward motion.
TRIANGLE PUSH UPS
Another fantastic exercise that rivals for #1 triceps exercise is the triangle push-up. In fact, the #1 spot goes back and forth between these and dips, depending on the study. This study showed that both the long head and lateral head of the triceps (study) had the highest activation out of 8 exercises. Therefore, instead of arguing over which one is better, just do both of them!
Triangle push-ups work as they bring the arms close enough so that the hands touch. This creates a significantly greater range of motion at the elbow while also decreasing the contribution of the pectoral muscles. The pectorals are recruited more as the elbows go out from the body and create greater horizontal abduction. As we are virtually eliminating this, the triceps are worked to a much higher degree.
CLOSE GRIP BENCH PRESS
The last compound movement on this list of best triceps exercises has to be on here. As you probably noticed, both dips and triangle push-ups are bodyweight movements. They are fantastic, but they rely on your body’s weight to load the exercise. This is fine and can easily be fixed with external loading or assistance, BUT the close grip bench press fixes all of that and makes it easy to go as heavy as you want or allows you to keep it light and rep out.
The close grip bench press works similarly to triangle push-ups in that due to your hands being closer together, you will have to perform a greater range of motion when letting the bar down.
However, when you perform the close-grip bench press, you’ll want to use a supinated grip. Studies have shown that performing the close-grip bench press with a pronated grip does indeed activate the triceps to a higher degree, BUT it decreases activity in the pectorals. However, when using a supinated grip, you will increase the activity of the pectorals while maintaining the same higher activity of the triceps.
ROLLING DUMBBELL EXTENSIONS
Rolling dumbbell extensions are the first isolation movement on this list of best triceps exercises. However, this isolation movement doesn’t mean you won’t be moving a lot of weight. In reality, while we call the rolling dumbbell extension an isolation exercise, this movement occurs at two joints: elbow extension and shoulder extension. The purpose of allowing shoulder extension is to allow body momentum to move more weight.
As you lie on a bench, you will hold two dumbbells directly over your body with arms extended. Next, let the dumbbells come down by bending the elbow in the same manner as a skull crushers. Once you hit full flexion of the elbow joint, you then allow your arms to rotate behind your head. The triceps will get tighter as you go back. When the triceps can’t go back anymore, you will power your arms up so that the elbows go vertical. You will then let the momentum you just created explode into elbow extension; thus, allowing you to use a heavier weight.
Like the cable puller chest flies, the triceps pushdown can be done with a range of implements. Some variations include;
Therefore you are going to rotate through various variations in your workout. You can do this per session or per month. The main objective is using variety and pushing to failure by using either drops sets or assisted reps.
Related: Triceps Pushdown Exercise Guide
Triceps kickbacks are a prime example of how you don’t need a lot of weight for a practical exercise. Due to the mechanical disadvantage, you’re in during this movement, you will be forced to use a lower load. Don’t let this turn you off. When you can put your ego aside and pick up some small dumbbells, you’ll unlock one of the best pure isolation exercises for the triceps.
This is such a great movement because before you even begin the exercise, you must use an isometric contraction to keep your arm from falling as you lean over. As we have discussed above, this is akin to shoulder extension in which your long head plays a pivotal row.
Further, due to the motion, no other muscle can add force. While the other movements are fantastic, even things like cable triceps extensions, you’re still going to recruit different muscles. However, you get no help with triceps kickback.
These are great to use at the end of a session to use to train to failure.
Now we’ll put all the above information together. Again, this program includes 2 sessions that will be trained every week with 2-3 days in between.
|Barbell Bench Press||4 sets||4 reps|
|Dips Bodyweight (use band if needed)||4 sets||RPE 7 for 8+ reps|
|Close Grip Bench Press||3 sets||8-12 reps|
|Rolling Triceps Extensions||3 sets||8-12 reps|
|Cable Chest Flies||3 sets||12-15+ reps (use failure, drop sets, forced reps)|
|Reverse Grip Triceps Pushdown||3 sets||12-15+ reps (use failure, drop sets, forced reps)|
|Weighted Dips||4 sets||4-6 reps|
|Dumbbell Incline Bench Press||4 sets||6 reps|
|Triceps Push Ups||3 sets||RPE 7-8|
|Dumbbell Pullovers||3 sets||8 reps|
|Cable Chest Flies (use different angle)||3 sets||
12-15+ reps (use failure, drop sets, forced reps)
|Reverse Grip Triceps Pushdown||3 sets||12-15+ reps (use failure, drop sets, forced reps)|
This program IS NOT a program you just run for a couple of months and then move on. In fact, this basic blueprint can literally last a lifetime if you just follow these simple rules. For the first couple months, you will utilize basic progressive overload by either increasing the weight or reps.
Creating variety by altering the exercises for movement patterns and rep ranges is the key to continual progression. To clarify, this is actually one of the reasons this program adds so much variety as it introduces you to a range of tactics.
Here are 3 easy alterations you can make to your program (using Session A as an example):
#1 The first variable you will alter is the rep range. For example, look how you could alter the rep range for session A after a couple months of training or when things begin to feel stale.
#2 Another simple technique is to simply alter the order. You’ll still need to keep your bigger exercises up front and smaller exercises towards the back. Generally, you’ll find that there’s one movement that you can’t progress on. You would move this to the front of the line so let’s pretend everything is improving but your dips. You’d move that to the front.
#3 Once you get to a point where none of that is working, you’ll then exchange movements with the same movement pattern. In other words, do not replace bench press with pull-ups.
That's It! The Best Chest And Triceps Workout Routine!
You just learned the best gym chest and workout that you can follow. Above is all you need to add serious muscle mass to your chest and triceps and build insane pushing power. Further, you learned how to use progressive overload and alter training variables to make progress forever. Now, it’s up to you to put in the work. We can’t do that for you but we know you are.
Now go train!
By the way, here are some good chest and shoulder stretches for before and after the workout. And if you're looking for another awesome workout to try, check out our Ultimate Chest And Bicep Workout!
Check out some of our other ULTIMATE workouts:
Prepare to maximize your gains with our exclusive 12-week hypertrophy training program. Choose between a 4 or 5 day training split and gain 2-12 pounds of muscle over 90 days...
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