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A chest and tricep workout is a match made in heaven. Both muscle groups naturally work together in many exercises, helping each other get stronger and bigger. However, inexperienced lifters often rely too heavily on one muscle or the other, leading to imbalances and injuries in extreme cases.
If you have this problem, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together the ultimate chest and tricep workout routine that will make your upper body pop like never before. This guide contains the exercises, sets, rest periods and general tips for two separate workouts that you should complete every week. So enough with the preamble – let’s get to work!
The first workout only contains four exercises – three for the chest and one isolation movement for the triceps. Our muscles don’t need as much volume per workout as people think. Quality is far more important than quantity. Plus, we want to conserve some of our strength for the rest of the week.
1. Incline Barbell Bench Press
The incline barbell bench press is the perfect start to your chest and tricep workout. It primarily targets the upper chest, but the rest of the chest also gets a sufficient warm-up for the rest of the workout. Here are the sets and rest times:
- Warm-up sets: do two to four warm-up sets, depending on your strength and experience. Focus on squeezing the muscle with slow reps.
- Working sets: 4×5,3,5,5 with 3:00 rest. A lower rep range is ideal for the first exercise. You want to take advantage of your body’s full strength.
- Form advice: your entire body should be involved in heavy compound movements. Drive your feet into the floor, brace your core, keep your upper back tight and squeeze the bar to your palms.
2. Single-Arm Cable Crossover
You want to follow up your primary strength exercise with an isolation movement. All of your muscle fibers are activated and sensitive, so the cable crossover should give you a significant contraction with every rep.
- Warm-up sets: warm-up sets are optional after the first exercise, though most people do one just to familiarize themselves with the movement.
- Working sets: 5×10,10,8,10,8 with 1:00-1:30 rest. This set/rep structure gives each pectoral muscle plenty of isolation action. Do an extra set for your smaller side, if you have one.
- Form advice: The cable should be no taller than eye level. Keep your shoulder stationary and bring the cable more than halfway across your body each time. The reps should be slow and controlled, with a tight squeeze at the end.
3. Strict Machine Press
This exercise is beautifully basic – the perfect way to finish off your chest. Find your gym’s best chest press machine and adjust the seat to a neutral position. The bars should sit slightly below your lower chest during the movement.
- Working sets: 5×10,10,8,8,6 with 2:00 rest. This exercise has a wider rep range to shock your tired muscles with a new challenge.
- Form advice: glue your butt and upper back to the seat and squeeze your arms together as you push the bars. If you start to feel it more in your shoulders, tuck your elbows closer to your body.
4. Close-Grip Tricep Extension
We end the workout with an exercise that primarily targets the flashy lateral head (the horseshoe-shaped muscle on your outer arm). This is the final movement because your triceps are already warmed up and you can still go surprisingly heavy despite exhaustion. You can choose any close-grip cable attachment besides ropes.
- Working sets: 5x12x12x10x10x8 with 1:30-2:00 rest. This rep range is a little higher to focus on hypertrophy. Your triceps already got enough strength work during the pressing movements.
- Form advice: straighten your wrists, keep your upper arms stationary and push straight down, not at an angle.
Assuming you don’t lollygag and you have immediate access to the equipment, this workout should only take about one hour. Stick to the rep ranges and rest times AS INSTRUCTED, down to the last number. Every detail of this workout has a purpose.
The second workout contains five exercises – three for the chest and two for the triceps. Only one exercise remains from the previous workout because we want to hit the muscles from every angle for complete development. This workout should be the culmination of your week’s training.
1. Flat Barbell Bench Press
The flat bench press is the king of chest exercises for one simple reason: it allows you to push the most weight. More weight leads to more muscle tension, which leads to more gains. Everyone should have this exercise in their routine at some point.
- Warm-up sets: do three to five warm-up sets, based on your strength and experience. Focus on perfecting the movement, not on the chest. Each rep should look exactly the same.
- Working sets: 4x5x5x3x5 with 3:00 rest. Load up the bar and stay within a lower rep range. However, don’t bother with a one-rep max. It’s a waste of time unless you’re a powerlifter.
- Form advice: follow the same incline bench press cues discussed earlier. Every body part should be tense to help support the weight.
2. Single-Arm Cable Crossover
This is the only exercise that appears in both workouts. Why? Because it’s the perfect isolation movement. With the proper form, every muscle fiber is under your control. Do the same rep and rest structure as before. Remember to bring the cable across your body for a full contraction.
3. Incline Dumbbell Press
The upper chest is the weakest part for most people, so every chest workout should have an incline movement at some point. The dumbbell press is a perfect option. Just make sure you set the bench to a slight incline of around 30 degrees. Anything upwards of 45 degrees causes the shoulders to take over.
- Working sets: 4×8,8,6,6 with 2:30-3:00 rest. We included another lower rep range to ensure you empty the tank and leave everything in the gym.
- Form advice: the success of this exercise depends on how you hold the dumbbells. Some people like an overhand grip, while others prefer a neutral grip or something in between. Play around with your grip until the dumbbells rest comfortably in your palms. Other than that, follow the incline bench press cues mentioned in the first workout.
4. Overhead Tricep Extension
You can perform this exercise with a cable attachment or a single dumbbell. It targets the long and medial heads on your inner arm, which make up the bulk of your upper arm’s mass. These heads are difficult to isolate, so we needed to include this movement just for them.
- Working sets: 5×12,12,10,10,8 with 1:30-2:00 rest. This exercise is purely for hypertrophy and this rep range accomplishes that goal.
- Form advice: keep your elbows tucked close to your body. The moment your elbows start to flare outward, the triceps stop working and the forearms take over.
5. Single-Arm Tricep Extension
We end this chest and tricep workout with a final isolation movement. It’s basically a close-grip extension, but with one arm at a time. At this point, you should be able to feel every tricep fiber. This exercise takes advantage of that feeling.
- Working sets: 5×10,10,8,8,8 with 1:00-1:30 rest. The reps don’t have to be very high for unilateral movements, since all the pressure is on a singular muscle.
- Form advice: keep your upper arm stationary and experiment with the grip. Neutral, overhand and underhand grips are all sufficient options.
This workout takes a little longer than the first, but it shouldn’t take any longer than one hour and 15 minutes. Workouts don’t need to be three hours long to get you results. With the specific workouts outlined, now we need to talk about a key concept for building muscle: progressive overload.
You need to have the right bulking diet and make steady improvements with each workout. This process is called progressive overload. Most people think they can only improve their workouts by adding weight and getting stronger, but that’s far from the truth. You can accomplish progressive overload through the following ways:
- Develop better form
- Use shorter rest periods
- Increase how often you train a specific muscle group
Even the smallest improvement shows that your muscles are adapting to your training and getting stronger, one way or another. Adding weight is the most rewarding form of progressive overload, but it’s certainly not the only way to track progress.
Revolutionize Your Training
Other chest and tricep workout ideas have fancy exercises and set structures, but none of those workouts remember the fundamentals. They’re all brain and no brawn. Modded’s workout plan has both. Armed with these workouts, you will revolutionize your chest/tricep training and turn your weaknesses into strengths.
Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.