Are you looking for an effective chest and triceps workout?
You've come to the right place!
In today's article, I'm going to be show you step-by-step how to build bulging pecs and ripped triceps.
Here's what you'll learn:
You can also download my 3 advanced chest and tricep workouts (PDF).
The anatomy of the chest
The chest is divided into two muscles:
The pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor.
- The pectoralis major inserts at the clavicle (under the collar bone) and attaches to the upper humerus (the arm bone).
It's responsible for flexing the shoulder joint and moving your arm across the chest.
How to target: Horizontal presses are the best way to target the chest, this includes exercises such as the flat barbell bench press and pushups. Dumbbell flyes also recruit the chest, but less effectively.
- The pectoralis minor (the upper chest) is a small, triangular shaped muscle that lays underneath the pec major. It inserts at the clavicle and attaches to the rib cage.
Its job is to help retract the scapula and pull the shoulders down.
How to target: The incline barbell bench or reverse grip bench press is the best way to target the upper pectorals. Vertical presses, such as the OHP, also target the upper chest indirectly.
Alongside the pec major/minor, there is also a third muscle group known as the serratus anterior.
While it's technically not part of the chest, it does attach near the pectorals on the rib-cage.
Many bodybuilders work the serratus to 'expand' the rib-cage and create the illusion of a wider v-taper.
How to target: Dumbbell pullovers work the main function of the serratus, which is to move the scapula forward and upward.
Cool benefits of training the chest
The chest is one of the most popular muscle groups for 'gym bros' to train...
If you don't believe me, then try to grab hold of a bench on a Monday...(yeah good luck with that).
But what makes it such a desirable muscle for most guys?
benefit #1 a big chest makes you look more impressive shirtless
Let's face it, a big chest looks badass when you're strutting around on the beach.
It also enhances the rest of the upper body, making you look much bigger from the side view.
benefit #2 A big chest is great for overall upper body strength
Strong pecs are very handy in everyday life, especially for athletes.
A great example of this is golf:
A golf swing involves winding the club back and swinging your arms across your body (a function of the pectorals).
A strong chest is also useful for physical jobs, requiring labour.
For example, If you have a job in construction, you'll often be tasked with pushing heavy objects forward- which requires a strong chest, shoulders, and triceps.
The 9 best chest exercises for a muscular upper body
If you want to maximise your chest gains, then you need to use the best exercises for the job.
For the most part, you'll want to stick to heavy compound lifts and include a few isolation exercises at the end of the workout.
Below, you'll find my top 9 exercises.
Barbell chest exercises
The flat barbell bench press (paused)
You can make the exercise even more effective by pausing each rep for 1-2 seconds.
This will increase your explosive strength in the weakest part of the range of motion.
It also deloads the shoulders and places more tension onto the pectorals.
The incline barbell bench press
The incline bench press is awesome for targeting the upper chest.
You can chose either a 30 or 45 degree incline:
- The 30 degree incline places less stress on the shoulder joint but isn't as effective for hitting the upper pecs.
- The 45 degree incline is more effective for building the upper chest, but it can be stressful on the rotator cuff (shoulder joint).
This will mostly come down to shoulder/scapula flexibility.
If in doubt, then stick with the lower incline.
The overhead press
The overhead press? A chest builder?
In fact, the OHP is one of the most effective methods for targeting the upper pecs.
It's also a great rehabilitation exercise for the rotator cuffs (which can get beaten up with heavy benching).
Chest exercises with dumbbells
Dumbbell bench press
The dumbbell bench has many advantages over the barbell bench.
Firstly, when using the dumbbells you can freely rotate your hands which allows you to use a more natural 'bar path'.
Secondly, you get a much larger range of motion with the dumbbells, which is beneficial for muscle growth.
The only caveat, is that dumbbells can be a pain in the ass to get into position (especially when going heavy).
You'll find that you waste a good amount of energy just getting setup...
This is why I recommend using the dumbbell bench press as an accessory exercise for high reps (8-20).
Dumbbell incline bench press
Incline benching with the dumbbells feels much more natural in my experience.
You can also rotate the palms inwards to take pressure off the rotator cuffs and emphasise the upper pecs more.
Flat/incline dumbbell flyes
Dumbbell flyes are a hit and miss exercise...
Sure, they isolate the pecs very effectively.
But you'll be very limited with how much weight you can use.
It's also fairly easy to tweak your shoulders by extending past the natural range of motion.
If you do use this exercise, I recommed performing it on the floor (rather than the bench).
This will safely limit the range of motion and eliminate shoulder pain.
Bodyweight chest exercises
Pushups are a great bodyweight exercise that can be done virtually anywhere.
If you find the standard bodyweight pushup too easy, you can use harder variations, such as decline pushups and assisted one-arm pushups.
Another option, is to use a weighted vest.
Dips are one of (if not the) best upper body exercises.
If you get a strong weighted dip, it will have immediate carryover to the bench press.
However, there's a catch:
A large percentage of people can't do dips safely, due to their anthropometry (build).
As a result, they're at risk of cracking the sternum.
Here are a few indicators that suggest you aren't built for the dip:
If this describes you, then I recommend avoiding dips altogether.
The Anatomy Of The Triceps
The triceps brachii is a large three-headed muscle, that consists of the long head, medial head, and the lateral head.
- The long head: Is the largest of the three tricep muscles and is found on the inside of the arm.
How to target: The long head of the tricep can be targeted with overhead extensions and coumpound exercises such as the close grip bench press.
- The medial head: Is the smallest of the three tricep muscles and inserts directly into the elbow joint.
How to target: The medial head is activated when the elbow extends (past 90 degrees). Exercises such as the skull crushers and rope pushdowns are a perfect example of this.
- The lateral head: Is a long and thin muscle found on the outside of the arm.
How to target: The lateral head is targeted with most tricep exercises, therefore it's hard to isolate it directly.
cool benefits of training the triceps
When most guys train their arms, they tend to stick to bicep training.
But this is a BIG mistake:
After all, the biceps only make up 1/3 of the total arm mass.
So before you do another set of curls, why don't you consider doing extensions instead?
Triceps are a larger muscle group and have big performance benefits.
Benefit #1 focusing on the triceps will get you bigger arms (faster)
The triceps comprise 2/3 of the arm...
So if you focus on getting stronger triceps, you'll get bigger arms much faster.
The triceps make up 2/3 of the entire arm! So stop curling and start doing extensions instead...
Benefit #2 Strong triceps= a strong bench
Want to know a secret?
A strong bencher needs big triceps!
The reason for this is simple:
If you have weak tri's, you'll struggle to lockout heavy weights.
Want a big bench press? You need more direct tricep work!
You can eliminate this problem by doing more direct tricep work.
benefit #3 proofing the elbows from injury
Do you get elbow pain from skull crushers?
You can remedy this by building the tendons and ligaments surrounding the elbow joint.
To do this, you need to target the medial head of the tricep with pushdowns and extensions.
the best way to eliminate elbow pain is to build the tendons and ligaments...try including more band pushdowns in your routine!
The 9 best tricep exercises (for ripped arms)
Luckily, the triceps don't need a ton of volume to grow...
As they get plenty of indirect work from benching.
However, this doesn't mean you should neglect direct tricep work altogether.
A few sets of extensions and accessory exercises can make all the difference.
Here are my top 9 recommendations.
Barbell tricep exercises
Close grip bench press
The close grip bench press is a variation of the standard barbell bench.
It makes the lockout tougher and recruits the triceps to a greater degree.
The close grip also puts less stress on the rotator cuff joint and increases the range of motion in the lift.
It's arguably a more effective way to bench and is much safer too.
The JM press was invented by JM Blakely, a renown powerlifter (and bench specialist).
It's essentially a combination of a press and an extension.
This grants you the best of both worlds:
- It's extremely specific for benching, meaning it has great carryover.
- It strengthens the medial head of the triceps.
I recommend the exercise to anybody looking to build strength and size.
On the conventional bench press, the range of motion ends when the bar touches the chest.
This is necessary for building strong pecs and developing the tendons/ligaments.
However, it's not optimal for building the triceps.
An easy solution to this, is to use the floor press.
The floor press safely limits the range of motion to 90 degrees.
This is great for building lockout strength from a dead-stop.
Bench press w/doubled bands
If you want a bigger bench press and huge triceps, then you need to try bands!
Bands reverse the strength curve of a standard bench press by making the bottom easier and the top harder.
This is called accommodating resistance.
Here's the main reasons why this is beneficial:
- The bands actively pull the bar down, which forces you to accelerate. This builds tremendous speed at the lockout.
- The lockout is overloaded, which puts most of the tension on the triceps (at the top).
- On the eccentric (negative) portion of the rep, the bar is pulled down faster than gravity which gives you a strong stretch reflex.
Tricep exercises with dumbbells
Dumbbell skull crushers
If you suffer with wrist pain on the babrell skull crusher, then switch to dumbbells.
They allow you to rotate your palms inwards (neutral grip), which places less stress on the wrist joint.
You can also get a larger range of motion by flexing he shoulder joint up and bringing the dumbbells behind the back of the head.
This targets the long head more effectively too.
Dumbbell overhead extensions
Dumbbell overhead extensions work the long head of the triceps and are more specific to vertical pressing.
If you want a strong OHP, then definitely include these in your routine.
Bodyweight tricep exercises
If you don't have access to a cable/rope pushdown machine for the triceps, then bands are a great substitue.
They primarily target the medial head of the triceps, but you can also activate the long head by raising the elbows up at the top of each rep.
Diamond pushups are a close grip variaiton of the pushup.
By bringing your hands inwards, you emulate the close grip bench press and target the triceps much more effectively.
Bodyweight tricep extensions
Bodyweight tricep extensions are a suprisingly effective tricep exercise.
The great thing is that they can be done anywhere, using a park bench, tables, and other pieces of furniture.
How To warm up (the right way)
Warm-ups are crucial for priming the central nervous system (CNS) and preventing injury.
Studies have also shown that you can lift more weight following a warm-up routine.
But you also need to consider the type of warm-ups you use:
Instead of focusing on raising body temperature (with cardio or dynamic stretching), you should practise the movement patterns.
Another common pitfall to avoid, is over-exerting yourself on your warm-ups.
Sets of 8+ repetitions can build up lactic acid in the muscles and adversely effect performance.
Avoid going above 5 reps on warm-up sets, this will preserve energy and increase performance.
Therefore I recommend keeping your sets under 5 repetitions.
For compound exercises you should do 3-4 warm-up sets for the 1st exercise and 1-2 for the following exercises.
E.g. Bench press: 1x5 (bar) 1x5(40kg) 1x3 (55kg) 1x1(67.5kg) + working set 3x5 (80kg)
Here are the best percentages for warm-ups:
For isolation exercises 1 warm-up set with 50% of your working weight is sufficient.
chest and triceps workout for strength
If you're looking to build maximum strength, then this is the workout you should chose.
You'll be working with 70-90% of your one rep max and focusing on compound exercises.
The Exercise selection is geared towards maximum carryover for the bench press.
Barbell bench press w/doubled bands
DB overhead extensions
Chest and triceps workout for mass
This is a high volume workout designed to get the most out of lighter weights.
You'll be using approximately 50-70% of your one rep max and doing a mixture of compound and isolation exercises.
Rest periods should be kept under 1 minute between sets.
Barbell incline bench press (pause reps)
Dumbbell bench press (the repetition method)
Dumbbell skull crushers
chest and triceps workout for cutting
If you're dieting and want to preserve your muscle mass, then this is a great option.
The total volume is much lower compared to the previous 2 workouts, but it should be sufficient to maintain strength.
Barbell bench press
Barbell incline bench press
EZ skull crushers
BONUS: 3 advanced chest and tricep workouts
A big chest commands respect and strengthens the entire upper body...
Whereas strong triceps are crucial for benching and building bigger arms.
Your workout should always begin with a proper warm-up routine...
This is essential for preventing injury and maximising performance.
Now it's over to you!
Which chest and tricep workouts will you be using? And what's your #1 favourite exercise?
Let me know in the comments below.