Training your chest and triceps together makes sense. In fact, it’s quite hard to train one without the other. Both areas are involved in one of the most fundamental movements your body can perform – pushing. Any movement in which you are pushing anything away from your body out in front, or your body away from anything, will involve them.
The chest muscles of the pectorals work to adduct, or depress, the arm (in opposition to the action of the deltoideus muscle) and rotation of the arm forward about the axis of the body. The triceps muscles run along the backs of your arms and extend the elbows.
Taken together, they give you a forward pushing motion.
Today, we’re going to run through a very simple, very effective routine for training your chest and triceps all together for hypertrophy (muscular growth). We’ll be mostly working in the 6-12 rep range, which is ideal for eliciting hypertrophy (though many of the chest exercises can be performed in the 1-5 rep range for a more strength-focussed workout).
Simply follow this routine from start to finish, pushing yourself hard through every set, and you’ll have a perfect muscle-building chest and triceps workout.
We have a mixture of compound and isolation movements below. Compound movements are those which feature two or more joints. They use heavier weights and much more muscle, so are far better for overall strength and mass gains. They should form the bulk of any training regime. Isolation movements are those which feature just one joint. They use a lot less muscle, at much smaller weights, and are perfect for building up specific target muscle groups.
Dips are amongst the best chest and triceps builders going. They hit every part of both areas, alongside some core and back, eliciting both hypertrophy and strength progression, and are generally more intense than any free-weight or barbell-based work.
You will, of course, need a set of dip bars or a power tower to perform them.
To perform dips:
- Take hold of the parallel bars and jump up, with your arms straight, holding your own bodyweight in your hands.
- To emphasise the chest more, lean forwards to about 45 degrees. To work the triceps more, keep a little more upright.
- Retract your shoulders and brace your lats. Bring your feet together and your knees apart, splayed like a frog’s legs. Keep your body in this position throughout.
- Lower yourself down until your upper arms are roughly parallel with the ground.
- Straighten your arms until they are straight, but not locked out.
Dumbbell Incline Chest Presses
The incline chest press is a free weight exercise that uses dumbbells to target the chest, shoulders, and triceps unilaterally. Where flat bench chest presses tend to hit the mid pec, the incline press will put more stimulus into the upper portion of the pectoral muscles, eliciting greater overload in this often hard to reach spot.
You will need an incline bench and a set of dumbbells.
To perform the dumbbell incline chest press:
- Set your bench up with an incline, sit down and lean back with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Bring your hands to your shoulders, elbows bent, palms facing your lower body.
- Relax the back of your head against the bench and keep your feet planted on the ground.
- Bracing your core, exhale and press the dumbbells up, straight over your chest. Bring the dumbbells in until they’re almost touching, keeping your wrists straight throughout.
- Reverse the motion, bringing your hands back down to your shoulders, flaring your chest out slightly as you do so.
Push ups are a classic upper body movement, designed to work your chest, triceps, shoulders, and core. There are plenty of modifications out there, but the classic is perhaps the best for building chest and triceps size (especially if you’re just starting out).
You will only need your own bodyweight for push ups, though a mat and perhaps some push up handles will make the exercise more comfortable.
To perform push ups:
- Get into a plank position, with your hips slightly raised, your feet on the ground at a comfortable distance, and your hands slightly wider than your shoulders.
- Keep your elbows loose, never locking them out.
- Brace your core, bringing your belly button in towards your spine, and inhale.
- Lower yourself down, bending your elbows until they form a 90 degree angle. Your upper arms should form a 45 degree angle with your ribs, never flaring outwards.
- Hold at the bottom, your chest just above the ground, then exhale as you push yourself up to the beginning.
To better emphasise your triceps, bring your hands in slightly closer together, to just within shoulder width, for close grip push ups. This is far more advanced and can be hard for beginners. To make push ups slightly easier, try performing them with your knees on the ground.
So far, we’ve been concentrating on compound movements. This is how it should be. As I mentioned earlier, they are far better for overall mass, are far more efficient, and will have far more athletic carryover. You should focus your routines on them.
However, you also need isolation work, especially for smaller muscle groups like those of your arms. Performing isolation work after your big compounds will help these smaller groups to grow, which in turn will give you more heft to put into your compounds.
Pushdowns are amongst the best isolation exercises going for the triceps. You will generally be best off using cable machines with either a horizontal bar or rope attachment (which any gym will have), though resistance bands work will also well.
To perform pushdowns:
- Face the pushdown cable machine and take hold of the attachment with an overhand grip. Bring it down to chest level, keeping your elbows tucked in close to your ribs. Your feet should be a comfortable width apart, your knees slightly loose.
- Bracing your abs, exhale and push the attachment down towards your waist, hinging at your elbows. Keep your back straight and resist the urge to lean forwards.
- Inhale on the return, allowing the attachment to come back to the start position.
Ab Wheel Roll Outs
Ab wheel roll outs are a core exercise more than they are a chest and triceps workout. In fact, they are one of the best core exercises going, stretching out your abs to near their fullest range whilst forcing your deep core to stabilise you.
However, any decent upper body workout needs to include core work, so we were always going to put something core-based in here. Roll outs are also pretty brutal on the triceps – beginners will often experience their upper triceps fatiguing quickly whilst performing them.
You will need an ab wheel and a mat. Alternatively, you can perform roll outs from standing, using a set of TRX ropes.
To perform ab wheel roll outs:
- Begin on your knees, on a mat, with the ab wheel in front of you on the floor.
- Take hold of the abs wheel with your arms fully extended, though not locked out.
- Brace your core, trying to keep your back as straight as possible from start to finish.
- From here, roll the wheel out as far as possible. The aim is to bring your torso parallel with the ground, arms out in front, but this will need working up to.
- Squeeze your core at full extension, then roll back to the start. This is the portion that will really get into your triceps, so focus in on it particularly for this workout.
We have the exercises, now it’s time to put them into order, with sets and reps, to create our chest and triceps workout (also hitting back, core, and shoulders.)
Each training session should begin with the big exercises before working down to smaller ones. This means going with the heavy compound exercises at the start, before moving onto assistance compound exercises, before ending with isolation work. This is how the workout below is structured.
Each set is made up of reps (repetitions). Complete each set for the required number of reps, rest for 60-120 seconds, then repeat. Do as many sets for each exercise as stated below.
Dumbbell incline chest presses: 4 sets of 10.
Push ups: 4 sets of as many reps as possible. If you can do more than 14 reps, consider using a weighted vest to increase resistance, performing harder variations, or minimising the rest period between each set.
Clos grip push ups: 4 sets of as many reps as possible. If you can do more than 14 reps, consider using a weighted vest to increase resistance or minimising the rest period between each set.
Ab wheel roll outs: 4 sets of 6.
Triceps pushdowns: 4 sets of 12.
This should take you around 45 minutes to an hour. Push each set hard so that you are approaching failure in the final rep of each one (though never going to complete failure). Do this, with good form, and you will have one hell of a chest and triceps workout on your hands – you’ll feel it hard the following day.