Tris for the Guys: 12 Chest + Tricep Exercises for Massive Gains

Chest and Tricep Workout  

This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for… an effective chest and tricep workout guide developed for those who desire to take their gains to the next level!

Now, the chest as a whole is not a complex muscle but training it thoroughly is a whole different story. There are so many different exercises and methods of building an impressive set of pectorals.

And the triceps are no different. It’s a three-headed muscle which adds a lot of width and power to the upper arm. And training both together can yield some amazing results.

So, we’ve put together the absolute best chest and tricep workout information so you can maximize your training to make some real gains!

1. CHEST ANATOMY 

The chest muscles consist of the pectoralis major and minor.

Now, the pectoralis major is the largest muscles of the anterior chest wall. And it’s responsible for flexion, adduction, and medial rotation of the humerus. The pectoralis minor protracts the scapula and elevates the ribs when the scapula is fixed.

The pectoralis muscles attach near the clavicle down to the sternum area.

2. TRICEP ANATOMY 

The triceps or triceps brachii is an upper posterior chain (Backside of the body) muscle which has three heads (Lateral, medial, and long). The function of the tricep is to extend the elbow. The long head stabilizes the shoulder joint, and the medial head is responsible for elbow joint capsule retraction during extension.

3. WHY TRAIN CHEST AND TRICEPS TOGETHER?

Both muscle groups are involved in “pushing” movements (Bench press, dips, push-ups, etc).

And for the majority of movements; training one muscle group will involve the other. So, this is why training chest and triceps together is such a popular method of training.

Now, a common workout method is to train chest first since it’s a larger muscle group. This allows for maximum strength necessary to train the chest optimally. But then, the triceps are heavily involved and for many people, it makes sense to just finish them off.

4. 6 BEST CHEST EXERCISES 

  • Barbell Bench Press

  • Pec Dec Fly

  • Bend-forward Cable Crossover 

  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

  • Chest Press Machine 

  • Dumbbell Pullover 

BARBELL BENCH PRESS

No chest routine would be complete without the king of upper body compound movements... The barbell bench press is an effective, power exercise which really works the entire surface area of the pectoralis major.

An ACE-sponsored study led by Whitnee Schanke, M.S., and John P. Porcari, Ph.D., compared 9 chest exercises to see where they ranked for effectiveness. The study involved 14 health males who performed all movements with everything being equal.

And it was no surprise that electromyographic (EMG) activity was highest during the barbell bench press. EMG testing involves attaching electrodes to the muscles in order to monitor muscle activity during resistance training.

And it’s a good way to determine which exercises are worthwhile.  But, the bench press is an obvious, effective movement for chest development.

Movement Execution: Lie flat on the bench and grip the barbell with hands wider than shoulder-width. Tuck your elbows in slightly (45-degrees) and plant your feet on the floor almost parallel to your butt. Arch your back slightly and unrack the barbell.

Then, lower the bar down to your lower chest with shoulder blades pinned back. Press the bar upward and contract your chest.

Variations: Dumbbell press, machine press. Smith machine press

PEC-DEC FLY

Next up is the pec dec which is essentially a machine fly.

And during the same ACE study this exercise elicited 98% muscle activation, coming in second to the bench press for EMG activity.

The pec dec is a machine which involves a movement similar to the cable crossover but you’re in more of a fixed position. And it’s a great exercise for purely isolating the chest.

Movement execution: Adjust the seat so the handles are at chest level and make sure the levers are not too far back (You only need to feel a slight stretch in your pecs). Grip the handles and lower your elbows slightly.

Then bring the levers together while contracting your chest until your hands almost touch. Hold for a few seconds and reverse the motion until you feel a slight stretch.

Variations: Dumbbell fly, cable crossover

BENT-FORWARD CABLE CROSSOVER 

The bent-over cable crossover made the podium, coming in at 93% muscle activation. This is 14% higher than the chest press machine which was the fourth most effective exercise in the ACE study.

Now, the bent-forward cable crossover is similar to a fly but it’s performed standing up. And, cables are excellent because they allow to train more naturally and still keep constant tension on the target muscles.

So, this is a great addition to your chest training along with other proven, effective exercises.

John P. Porcari, Ph.D. explained,Essentially, you can use the barbell bench press, pec deck or the cable crossovers interchangeably”.

Movement execution: Set up the single-grip handles on the cable pulleys so they’re at chest level. Then, grab both handles and walk forward so you have adequate range of motion.

Now, lower your elbows slightly and bring both hands together in a semi-circular motion until they touch. Reverse the motion until you feel a slight stretch. Make sure to fully contract your chest muscles during the concentric (Positive) phase of the rep.

Variations: Dumbbell fly, pec dec fly

INCLINE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS

What’s the difference between the barbell bench press and the dumbbell bench press? It’s simple.

The barbell bench press is a bilateral (Affecting both sides) movement which allows you to train heavier since the weight is distributed equally across the surface area of the chest.

The dumbbell bench press allows for a more natural range of movement, so you can get a slightly better stretch during the eccentric (Negative). And dumbbells recruit more stabilizer muscles since each side cannot depend on the other for support.

But, for this exercise we’re going to do incline since this angle really emphasizes the upper chest.

Movement execution: Adjust the bench to a 30 or 45-degree angle. Sit on the end of the bench and rest the dumbbells on your thighs near your knees. Then, kick one dumbbell back and lie down on the bench while kicking the other back.

Both dumbbells should be at chest level (Overhand grip) and you should feel a slight stretch. Tuck your elbows toward your torso slightly.

Press the dumbbells straight up and contract your pecs. Then, lower the bar back down to the starting point.

Variations: Incline barbell press, incline machine press

    CHEST PRESS MACHINE 

    Machines are amazing when it comes to training with variety. But the newer equipment in a lot of gyms is much safer and effective because they allow the body to move more naturally.

    A lot of people prefer to use machines sparingly and no one could argue with this strategy. But, they are more useful than most would assume. Now, they shouldn’t be the primary method of training since functionality isn’t achieved as much as using free weights.

    But, machines actually may be safer for some people and they do a great job at isolating a muscle.

    Movement execution: Adjust the seat to chest height, grip the handles and tuck your elbows in slightly. Press the weight while contracting the chest muscles. Bring the weight back until you feel a stretch in your chest and repeat.

    Variations: Barbell/dumbbell bench press, Smith machine press

    DUMBBELL PULLOVER 

    The dumbbell pullover is a great exercise for targeting the chest. And the movement is much different than others since the lats are also activated. But, the entire surface area of the chest gets stimulated through a deep, full stretch.

    So, the dumbbell pullover is a must for complete gains!

    Movement execution: Hold a dumbbell at the bottom with both hands. Then, lie perpendicular on the bench with your back so your feet are on the floor. Now, press the dumbbell straight above your chest so arms are extended but elbows should be slightly bent.

    With your elbows tucked in, lower the dumbbell back behind your head until you feel a slight stretch in your lats and chest. Now, press the dumbbells back up by contracting your chest muscles. Elbows should lead the way back up to ensure the pectorals are engaged.

    Variations: Standing cable lat pull-down

    5. 6 BEST TRICEP EXERCISES 

    • Triangle Push Up

    • Tricep Kickback

    • Dips

    • Rocking Tricep Rope Pushdown

    • Overhead Tricep Extension

    • Close Grip Bench Press 

    Guys always want to get rid of their bellies, while women always seem to want to tone their triceps,” says John Porcari, Ph.D.,

    Triceps play a big role in the appearance of the upper arm, and it’s important to train them accordingly. They make up 2/3 of the upper arm and there are a few different ways to train them. So, let’s see which tricep exercises made the cut…

    Triangle Push-Up

    ACE enlisted a team of researchers led by John Porcari, Ph.D., and Brittany Boehler, B.S., to find the best tricep exercises out there. Well, what may be surprising to everyone is that the triangle push-up was the most effective when compared to 8 other popular tricep exercises.

    And that’s because you’re using pure triceps to push against your bodyweight and using momentum is very difficult.

    All across the board, the triangle push-ups elicited the most muscle activity in our subjects,” said Brittany Boehler, B.S. “The dips and triceps kickbacks weren’t that far behind either.”

    But the appealing thing about the triangle push-up is that you don’t need any equipment.

    Movement execution: Get into a push-up position on the floor but form a triangle with your hands close together. Tuck elbows in close to your body and lower yourself down a few inches from the floor.

    Now, push yourself up by contracting your triceps. Repeat the exercise as desired.

    Variation: Close-grip press, standard push-up

    Tricep Kickback 

    So, the tricep kickback might be seen as a “wimpy” exercise but that’s a big misconception. And if it was true, then it wouldn’t have shown such high EMG activity (87-88%) during testing.

    Most people’s triceps are relatively weak, especially if you isolate them,” said John Porcari.  “If you’re doing the kickbacks correctly, it doesn’t really take a whole lot of weight to get a good workout.” 

    Movement execution: Grab a dumbbell you can handle for at least 10-12 reps. Lean your torso forward, keeping a straight back and bend your knees. Place your non-working hand on a surface for stability and raise the elbow of the working arm up and back behind you.

    Extend your forearm behind you and flex your tricep. Do for as many reps as you desire and repeat the exercise with your opposite arm.

    Variations: Cable tricep kickback

    Dip

    The dip is a convenient exercise because you only need a raised surface to perform it. But, it’s effective because it works all three tricep heads at a slightly lower percentage of overall activation as the kickback.

    Now, what makes the triangle push-up, kickback, and dip so effective is that you use less momentum when compared to other exercises tested. And so the triceps are really isolated under the resistance loads.

    Movement execution: Sit on the bench and place your palms on the edge. Move your legs out a few feet from the bench or place your heels on another bench so legs are elevated. Now, hold yourself up and lower your body down until your arms are bent at a 90-degree angle.

    Push yourself back up by flexing your triceps and squeeze for a few seconds. Repeat.

    Variations: Dip stand, machine dip

    Rocking Tricep Rope Pushdown

    The rocking tricep rope pushdown is an excellent isolation exercise which emphasizes the outer head when you turn the ropes outward during each repetition. Now, you don’t want to go too heavy on this one as it can place a lot of stress on the elbows.

    But, the rocking movement will keep the tension on your triceps which is beneficial for muscle hypertrophy.

    This movement is ideal for high rep training.

    Movement execution: Place one foot in front of the other and face the cable pulley. Then, grip the rope attachment. Then, thrust your chest upward, keep your back straight and pin your shoulders back.

    Now, push the rope down and rock backward simultaneously while flexing your triceps. Return to the starting position but keep forearms parallel to the floor.

    Variations: Straight or EZ bar pushdown

    Overhead Tricep Extension

    The overhead tricep extension is a magnificent exercise which really emphasizes the long head. And you’re less likely to cheat due to arms being overhead in an isolated position.

    But, an issue many people run into is elbow pain and discomfort. And warming up sufficiently with other exercises which require elbow flexion will remedy this. But, training with moderate resistance is the best way to prevent long term issues.

    Dumbbells are the best possible tool for this exercise and you can either train one arm at a time or both.

    Movement execution: Sit erect on a bench or chair and hold the dumbbell overhead with a neutral grip. Then, lower the dumbbell to head level and flex your triceps by extending your forearm upward. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

    Variations: Barbell overhead extension, rope overhead extension, tricep extension machine, Tiger push-ups

    Close-Grip Bench Press

    For pure tricep overload, there are few exercises more effective than the close-grip bench press. But, the variation here is to place your hands closer together to minimize chest activation, and maximize tricep activation.

    Now, according to one study, high (HL) and low-load (LL) training both elicit significant muscle hypertrophy. But, the HL training was superior for strength adaptations, and that’s a good reason to include the close-grip bench press in your tricep routine.

    Movement execution: Lie on the flat bench and grip the bar shoulder-width or slightly closer. Plant your feet on the floor and unrack the bar. Now, tuck your elbows in and lower the bar only half way down and press upward. And repeat.

    Variations: Close-grip push-up, close-grip machine press

    6. WHAT SET/REP SCHEME TO USE?

    This will depend on your current level of training experience and how often you train each muscle group. If you train more frequently, then you’ll need to cut back on the volume for each workout.

    But, if you train once per week, then you need to make sure you’re doing enough volume. The following outline is a good starting point if you train once per week. The more advanced you become, the more you can start to tailor a training routine based on your experience…

    Beginner – If you’re just starting out, 3 sets of 2-3 exercises and 10-20 reps is plenty. You don’t want to over train because you’ll set yourself back. Then as you progress and adapt to the training stimulus, you can adopt a more advanced training routine.

    Intermediate – If you’ve been training for at least 6 months to a year, then you’d be considered intermediate. 3-4 sets of 3-4 exercises and 8-15 reps is a safe and effective way to structure your training regime.

    You can also experiment every few workouts with different rep ranges for new stimulus.

    Advanced – Training experience will allow you to be more flexible and utilize more volume.

    Doing 4 exercises and 4 sets of each one is sufficient for optimal stimulation. It’s a great idea to use a wide range of reps but the more advanced, the heavier you can train and more frequently. But, overtraining still exists and experience usually helps to detect it before it occurs.

    7. CHEST AND TRICEP TRAINING FREQUENCY 

    The frequency at which you train a single muscle depends on several factors.

    • Experience
    • Schedule (How often you can train)
    • Goals
    • Nutrition

    Experience level is a very important factor because knowing how often to train a muscle is important. Sometimes nutrition may not be up to par and you may not be able to train as often.

    Having adequate macronutrient (Protein, carbs, fats) and micronutrients (Vitamins and mineral) intake will ensure you can get back into the gym sooner without overtraining.

    But your schedule is also another important factor because some people may be able to train less and they need to adjust. If you have limited time and can only train once per week, then up your training volume.

    But, if you’re someone who likes to train a lot, then cut back on volume.

    8. CHEST AND TRICEP WORKOUT ROUTINES 

    Now for the exciting part… we’ve comprised a full workout plan for you so that you can build that impressive size and strength. But, making gains is a journey and so you’ll need a progressive routine to add to your already head-turning results.

    So, we’ve included a progressive routine for each experience level too.

    Now, the below workout routines do not include warm-up sets. So, it’s important to warm-up with 30 to 50-60% of your one-rep max in a pyramid-like sequence for two sets. And then stick with no more than 80-85% of your one-rep max for the routines provided.

    So, do 2 sets of the pec dec before any pressing exercises to get the rotator cuff warmed up. This will prevent injuries.

    Each set should be taken to failure and give yourself a minimum of 4 days rest in between workouts.

    BASIC BEGINNER CHEST AND TRICEP WORKOUT

    Low volume training is recommended if you’re just starting out. This is because your body and nervous system must adapt to the training stimulus.

    Stick with a once per week training regime for this beginner workout, and then you can advance after a month of adaptation.

    LIFT

    SETS

    REPS

    REST

    Bench Press

    3

    12-15

    45 sec.

    Dumbbell Pullover

    3

    12

    45 sec.

    Pec Dec Fly

    2

    12

    30 sec.

    Dips

    3

    12

    45 sec.

    Tricep Kickback

    2

    15

    30 sec.

      If you’re at an intermediate or advanced level of training, then you can add an additional set for each exercise. Training experience will also dictate the amount of resistance used. So naturally, intermediate and advanced lifters can increase poundages and still maintain a good mind/muscle connection.

      BASIC INTERMEDIATE/ADVANCED CHEST AND TRICEP WORKOUT

      LIFT

      SETS

      REPS

      REST

      Incline Dumbbell Press

      3

      10-12

      1 min.

      Machine Chest Press

      3

      8-12

      45 sec.

      Bent-Forward Cable Crossover

      3

      10-12

      45 sec.

      Overhead Tricep Ext.

      3

      12

      45 sec.

      Rocking Tricep Rope Pushdown

      3

      8-12

      30 sec.

        PROGRESSIVE BEGINNER CHEST AND TRICEP WORKOUT

        Progressive training will take you a little bit further in your training/progress and provide even more stimuli to the muscles. This is important for continued growth and strength gains.

        This is called progressive overload; which involves an increase in weight, sets, reps, and training frequency. But, you can also reduce the time you rest in between sets and this will create a larger challenge to the muscles.

        Now, too much progressive overload is not beneficial and so a gradual increase in recommended.

        Here’s a workout routine to shock your muscle and stimulate your nervous system.

        LIFT

        SETS

        REPS

        REST

        Barbell Bench Press

        4

        10

        1 min.

        Dumbbell Pullover

        3

        10-12

        45 sec.

        Bent-Forward Cable Crossover

        3

        12-15

        30 sec.

        Dips

        3

        15

        30 sec.

        Rocking Tricep Rope Pushdown

        3

        12-15

        45 sec.


          PROGRESSIVE INTERMEDIATE/ADVANCED CHEST AND TRICEP WORKOUT

          LIFT

          SETS

          REPS

          REST

          Barbell Bench Press

          3

          8-10

          1 min.

          Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

          4

          10-12

          1 min.

          Pec Dec Fly

          4

          10

          30 sec.

          Overhead Tricep Ext.

          3

          15

          45 sec.

          Dips

          2

          8-10

          30 sec.

          Tricep Kickbacks

          2

          10-12

          30 sec.

            9. BOTTOM LINE

            Training for lasting results does not have to be difficult. But, there is a strategy for each experience level which will make the process more effective.

            Following a smart training protocol will do wonders for your progress and fortunately for you, we’ve provided a good setup for you to follow.

            So, what are you waiting for? Get to training and remember to prioritize good nutrition to make your goals a reality!

            COMMON QUESTIONS + ANSWERS 

            Q: WHAT IS A REP?

            A: A (rep) or repetition is a single movement of any exercise. 

            Q: WHAT ARE REP RANGES FOR?

            A: Rep ranges are used to meet specific goals. Whether you are training to build muscle or endurance, there is a specific rep range that will help you succeed.

            Strength = 1-5 reps

            Strength/Hypertrophy = 6-7 reps

            Hypertrophy (muscle size) = 8-12 reps

            Hypertrophy/Muscular Endurance = 12-15 reps

            Muscular Endurance = 15+ reps

            Q: HOW MANY REPS TO BUILD MUSCLE?

            A: Training for Hypertrophy (muscle size) consists of sets within the 8-12 rep range. In each set, 8 reps would be your minimum and 12 reps would be the max. 

            Q: HOW MANY SETS PER MUSCLE GROUP?

            A: 10-20 sets per muscle group each week. In order to build muscle, you should be training each muscle group at least 2-3 times per week. If you add up all the sets within these workouts, you're looking at 10-20 sets per muscle group. 

            Q: HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO BUILD MUSCLE?

            A: 2 weeks to about a month. After your muscles develop strength and get stronger, you will be able to see some growth within 2 weeks - 1 month after your strength increases. Building muscle is a gradual process that also takes diet, rest, and recovery into consideration.

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