Chest and Shoulder Workout Routine (8 Exercises)

Your chest and shoulder muscles go together like cookies and milk. They complement each other and tie together to form a functional and aesthetic part of your torso. It only makes sense to train them together in a chest and shoulder workout.

Indeed, many athletes and bodybuilders take advantage of this synergy, combining pec and delt training into one push-oriented upper body workout.

This article outlines a great chest and shoulder workout to sculpt a powerful, chiseled upper body. Whether you’re a seasoned lifter or just starting your fitness journey, this workout will challenge you physically and mentally and give you the desired results. It is one of many premium workouts available in our strength training log, which you can download for free using the button for your device:

Benefits of Strong and Muscular Chest and Shoulders

Few muscle groups draw more attention than your chest and delt muscles. Muscular pecs give the impression of overall strength and power, and broad shoulders are the hallmark of an athletic physique. In addition, your chest and shoulders are some of the most critical muscles for physical performance.

Athletic Performance

Strong chest and shoulder muscles are crucial for almost all physically demanding sports, including football, basketball, and swimming. In strength sports, every athlete benefits from powerful pushing muscles.

Powerful pecs and delts are paramount whenever you press something away from you or throw something.

Improved Posture

A balanced chest and shoulder development improves your posture by pulling your shoulders back and helping you stand straight.

Tight pecs can pull your shoulders forward and give you a slouching appearance. Strength training improves flexibility for a greater range of motion as effectively as stretching.

Enhanced Appearance

Well-developed chest and shoulders greatly enhance your overall appearance, giving you a more muscular and defined upper body.

Research shows that most people consider the chest and shoulder muscles significant parts of the ideal male body for both men and women.1 2

It’s easy to say that looks don’t matter, but confidence about your appearance translates positively into many other parts of your life. And for a bodybuilder, massive pecs and delts are essential for success.

Chest and Shoulders Anatomy and Function

Your chest and shoulders consist of seven major muscles responsible for moving your upper extremities in a wide range of motion. The pectoral muscles and the deltoids are major muscle groups in their own right, but together they make up a significant percentage of your upper body muscle mass.

Chest Muscle Anatomy and Function

Your pectorals consist of four separate muscles: the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior, and subclavius.

The pectoralis major is the muscle most people think of as “the pecs.” It’s the muscle you see when a bodybuilder flexes their chest and one of the larger muscles in the upper body.

It has two distinct parts: the clavicular and the sternocostal. The clavicular head flexes your upper arm bone, and the sternocostal adducts it. There is also the abdominal head, which assists in both. If you have it, that is. Some people have a sizeable pectoralis major abdominal head, others a small one, and it doesn’t even exist in some people.

Different parts of the pectoralis major have different functions, from bringing your arm forward to rotating it internally and moving it backward and towards the midline of your body.

While the pectoralis major might be the biggest and strongest of the bunch, your pectoralis minor, serratus anterior, and subclavius are also important, for function if not for looks. Among other functions, they help stabilize your shoulder blades, raise your arms, lift the ribs, and stabilize your collarbone.

Shoulder Anatomy and Function

The shoulder muscles have three parts, or “heads”: the anterior deltoid, the lateral deltoid, and the posterior deltoid. Or, using less fancy words, your front delts, side delts, and rear delts.

Together, they form one of the biggest muscle groups in the upper body.

  • The primary function of the front delts is to bring your arms forward. In the gym, they do a significant amount of the work when you perform pressing exercises like the bench press and the overhead press. You can also target them directly with isolation movements like the front raise.
  • Your lateral deltoids lift your arms to your sides and stabilize your shoulder joint. The best way to target them effectively is with some type of side raise, like the dumbbell lateral raise. They are sometimes referred to as the medial deltoid, which is incorrect, as “medial” means something close to the midline of your body, not “middle.”
  • Your rear deltoids help externally rotate your shoulders and assist in bringing your arms back when you perform exercises like the barbell or dumbbell row and work together with your lats in all shoulder extension movements.

Benefits of a Chest and Shoulder Workout

Your chest and shoulders are complementary muscle groups that work together to help you perform pushing movements. 

There is considerable overlap between movements, and when you train both muscle groups in the same workout, not only do you need fewer exercises to stimulate each muscle fully, but you also develop them in balance and save time.

A chest and shoulder workout allows maximum recovery between training sessions and potentially more significant increases in strength and muscle mass. Your delts and pecs aren’t heavily involved when you train legs, back, and arms, meaning they will be ready for another workout sooner.

Chest and Shoulder Workout: The Basics

In this chest and shoulder workout, you’ll start with your pecs before moving to your delts.

The chest part of the workout session is the most demanding and the one where you’ll handle the heaviest weights. You want your muscle fibers fresh when you lay down for the bench press, not pre-exhausted by extensive shoulder work.

The first exercises for each muscle group are pressing movements where you can handle relatively heavy weights. Research shows that performing compound exercises before isolation movements is superior for strength gains.3 A stronger muscle is often a bigger muscle, which means placing multi-joint exercises first, followed by isolation work, is the best way to go for both muscle and strength gain.

The chest and shoulder workout is intended for intermediate to advanced lifters.

If you are new to strength training, take a look at the Barbell Training Program for the Beginner or the Bodybuilding for Beginners workout routine for an excellent introduction to the weights.

If you have some training experience but consider yourself a beginner, you can still benefit from this chest and shoulder workout. In that case, do one set less of each exercise.

You can see the workout’s exact set and rep configuration in StrengthLog.

This workout requires no advanced training equipment, only an adjustable bench, a barbell with a rack, and a set of dumbbells and weight plates suitable for your fitness level. A cable crossover machine is beneficial but optional as you get alternative exercises using free weights where applicable.

Chest Workout

You start with the chest and a variety of exercises that target your entire pectoral region, including your upper, middle, and lower chest.

  1. Bench Press
  2. Incline Dumbbell Press
  3. Chest Flyes
  4. Push-Up

Shoulder Workout

Once you’re done training your pecs, you move on to your delts with four shoulder exercises targeting all three heads for balanced muscular development.

  1. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  2. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  3. Upright Row
  4. Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

Chest and Shoulder Workout: Training Volume and Frequency

You want to put just enough stress on your muscles for the best results, but not too much.

optimal training volume bodybuilding

Studies show you need at least 10–12 sets per muscle group weekly for optimal results.4

The StrengthLog chest and shoulder workout has you covered, even if you only do it once every week.

You might need 20 or more sets per week if you are an advanced bodybuilder or lifter. In that case, you can increase your workout frequency (and your gains) to twice weekly.

I suggest you rest between 2–3 minutes for heavy lifts like the barbell bench press and shoulder presses. When you recover adequately, you can handle more weight, which in turn helps you gain strength and lean mass.

For isolation exercises, feel free to self-select your rest time. There is no benefit to rushing your workout unless you’re in a hurry, but you recover faster from single-joint movements and can keep a higher pace if you want to. Sixty seconds of rest might be enough for isolation exercises like the lateral raise.

Chest and Shoulder Warm-Up Routine

Warm muscles perform better than cold ones. A proper warm-up before a heavy chest and shoulder workout prepares your muscles for the work to come, activates your central nervous system, increases blood flow, and might reduce the risk of injury.

  1. Optionally, start with 5–10 minutes of light cardio, such as jogging in place or jumping jacks, to get your blood moving and to increase your heart rate and body temperature.
  2. Perform dynamic stretches to activate the target muscles you will use during your workout. Examples of dynamic stretches for the chest and shoulders include arm circles, shoulder circles, and chest openers.
  3. Finally, do a series of ramp-up sets of the first exercise of the workout, the bench press in this case. 

How many warm-up sets you should do depends on the weight you use for your work sets.

The heavier the weight, the more ramp-up sets you need on the way there. 

If your bench press calls for a 10 lb plate on each side, one or two warm-up sets with the bar might be enough. But if you’re benching hundreds of pounds, you want to start with a light resistance and gradually increase the load to prepare your muscles.

The ramp-up sets shouldn’t be exhausting: you should feel prepared and raring to go once you reach your target weight, not tired. 

Chest and Shoulder Workout: The Exercises

Let’s do this! This is your chest and shoulder workout, with detailed step-by-step instructions on how to perform each exercise.

Time to build some muscle, starting with the pecs, specifically the mighty barbell bench press.

Bench Press 

The first chest and shoulder workout exercise is the flat barbell bench press. Many lifters would call the bench press the king of upper body exercises, and it might be a legit claim to the throne.

It is the most popular exercise globally, and powerlifters, bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts use it to increase upper body strength and muscle mass. When someone asks you how much you lift, chances are they are talking about how much you bench.

Bench presses target not only your chest but also your shoulders, primarily the front deltoid, and triceps. Starting your chest session with compound movements like the flat bench press when you are fresh ensures you can use heavier weights to overload your pecs: the best way to trigger muscle growth.

You’ll utilize the pyramid training system for your bench press sets. That means starting with a relatively light weight, increasing the load each set, and going from twelve reps in the first set to six in the final.

Muscles Worked in the Bench Press

Bench press muscles worked

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform the Bench Press

  1. Lie on a bench with your feet flat on the floor and your eyes directly under the bar.
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width. Arch your back slightly, but keep your glutes and shoulders on the bench.
  3. Take a breath, and tighten your core and upper back muscles, then lift the bar off the rack. Hold it over your chest with straight arms.
  4. Lower the bar to your chest in a controlled manner until it touches the middle of your chest somewhere close to your sternum.
  5. Press the bar back up to the starting position, exhaling as you do. Keep your shoulders down and avoid shrugging during the movement.
  6. Take another breath while in the top position, and repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Alternative Exercises

Incline Dumbbell Press

For the second exercise, we’re moving away from the barbell with the incline dumbbell press, one of the best chest exercises emphasizing your upper pecs.

The upper chest can be difficult to target, but research shows that incline presses promote greater muscle growth in this area compared to the flat bench press.5 Combining flat and incline presses is an excellent way to develop your chest muscles completely.

To maximize the focus on your upper chest, use an adjustable bench and raise the backrest to an incline of around 30 degrees. Any higher, and you place greater emphasis on the anterior deltoid rather than the pectoralis major.6

Using dumbbells for your chest presses means a greater range of motion, which might benefit muscle growth. In addition, many lifters feel that dumbbells allow for a more natural range of movement when performing the incline bench press and make it easy to get into the proper position.

Muscles Worked in Incline Dumbbell Press

Muscles worked in incline dumbbell press

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform the Incline Dumbbell Press

  1. Adjust the bench to approximately a 30-degree angle. Sit on the bench and ensure your feet are flat on the ground for stability.
  2. Lie back on the bench with your feet firmly on the floor and your back pressed against the backrest. Hold a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and lift them to the start position.
  3. Take a breath, brace your core, and press the dumbbells upwards until your arms are extended, your palms facing forward. Keep your shoulder blades squeezed together throughout the movement.
  4. Inhale and lower the dumbbells with control back to your shoulders.
  5. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Alternative Exercises

Standing Cable Chest Fly

Time for chest movement number three, the standing cable chest fly, an excellent isolation exercise to target your pecs and help you build muscle mass in your chest muscles.

For the standing cable chest fly, you need a cable crossover machine. If you train at home and don’t have access to one, perform the dumbbell chest fly instead. It only requires a pair of dumbbells and a flat bench, making it the go-to option if you train at home with basic equipment.

If you have a cable crossover, the cable fly is the superior option for most trainees.

  • Cable chest flyes put constant tension on your chest muscle through the entire range of motion. With the dumbbell fly, you lose that tension at the top of the movement and basically balance the weights against gravity.
  • While both cable and dumbbell flyes have similar movement patterns, cables allow you to adjust the movement on the fly according to your mobility, which makes it easier on your shoulder joint.

If you really like the dumbbell variant or don’t have a cable crossover machine, the dumbbell fly is a good option. However, the continuous tension throughout the entire movement is beneficial for muscle growth, and most people feel a better contraction in the chest using cables. You can even cross your right hand over or under your left to squeeze the last juice out of your pecs.

Three pro tips for the best chest fly experience:

  • Don’t use too much weight. You’ve already done two pressing exercises with heavy free weights. Here, choose a weight you can control at all times and focus on feeling your pectoral muscles working.
  • Don’t overextend the motion. While a full range of motion benefits muscle hypertrophy, you don’t want to overdo it. Get a good stretch in your pecs, but don’t let the weight extend your shoulders backward. You lose tension in the chest muscles and place your shoulder joints in a vulnerable position.
  • Maintain slightly bent elbows throughout the movement. Locking your arms out lessens the tension on your chest muscles and transfers it to your biceps, and bending your elbows too much turns the chest fly into another pressing movement. 

Muscles Worked in Standing Cable Chest Flyes

Muscles worked in standing cable chest fly

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform the Standing Cable Chest Fly

  1. Set up a cable machine with two handles, one on each side, between chest to shoulder height. Stand in the center of the device, facing away from the weights.
  2. Grasp the handles, one in each hand, with your palms facing forward. Take a step forward to create tension on the cables. Stand with your feet comfortably apart and your knees slightly bent. You can step forward with one leg if that feels more comfortable and stable. Keep your core engaged and your shoulders back.
  3. Pull the handles towards each other with a slight bend in your arms until your hands meet in front of your body.
  4. Contract your chest muscles, then slowly release the handles back to the starting position. Your arms should remain slightly bent throughout the movement.
  5. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Push-Up

You can undoubtedly build a fantastic physique with bodyweight exercises—a case in point: the push-up.

The classic push-up has been a staple for building a strong chest and sculpting shapely pecs for thousands of years, and for a good reason: it’s one of the best exercises for your chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles.

Research shows that it is comparable to the barbell bench press for strength and muscle gain, with the added benefit that you require no equipment besides your own body weight.7 8 9

As the final pec exercise of this chest and shoulder workout, you’re going all-out, doing as many reps as you can to failure. Aim for 15–20 reps each set, using proper form and going all the way down and up. 

If you find regular push-ups too challenging, perform the kneeling push-up instead. Conversely, if push-ups on your feet are too easy, use a resistance band to make them more difficult.

resistance band push-up for chest and shoulder workout
A resistance band can make push-ups more challenging as you get stronger.
Push-up exercise technique for chest and shoulder workout
Push-Up

Muscles Worked in Push-Ups

Muscles worked in push-ups

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform the Push-Up

  1. Start in a prone position on the ground, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your fingers pointing forward.
  2. Engage your core and glutes to keep your body in a straight line from head to heels. Avoid allowing your hips to sag or your lower back to arch.
  3. Bend elbows and lower your body until your chest touches the ground or comes very close to it.
  4. Reverse the motion by pushing yourself back up to the starting position, fully extending your arms. Keep your body straight and avoid sagging or piking at the hips.
  5. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Alternative Exercise

Kneeling Push-Up

Rest up, then get ready to blast your shoulders into boulders!

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

As you did for your chest, you’re kicking your shoulder session off with a pressing exercise that allows you to use heavy weights for maximum overload. The seated dumbbell shoulder press is one of the best exercises to add lean mass to your deltoid muscles.

Using dumbbells instead of a barbell for your overhead presses targets each side individually and strengthens both equally. In addition, they allow for a more extended range of motion, which can lead to more significant muscle hypertrophy.

Muscles Worked in Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Muscles worked in seated dumbbell shoulder press

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform the Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

  1. Sit down on a bench with a raised backrest. In the seated position, ready a pair of dumbbells by resting them on your legs.
  2. Lift the dumbbells to the starting position at your shoulders.
  3. Inhale and lightly brace your core.
  4. Press the dumbbells upwards, extending your arms straight overhead while exhaling and maintaining a tight core.
  5. Inhale at the top or while lowering the dumbbells with control back to your shoulders.
  6. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Alternative Exercise

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Time to focus on the side deltoid with the dumbbell lateral raise, your number one exercise for building full, round delts and shoulder width.10

When doing lateral raises, you want to use relatively light weights and ensure you’re zeroing in on the side delts. It’s easy to transfer the work to your front delts and traps by using too much weight.

In addition, avoid using momentum to raise the weights, as doing so decreases the effectiveness of the exercise. Let the intended muscles do all the work, and you’ll be rewarded with greater gains.

You can also do the cable lateral raise for variety if you like. Using a cable lets you keep greater tension on the working muscle throughout the movement.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise exercise for chest and shoulder workout
Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Lateral Raises

Muscles worked in dumbbell lateral raise

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform the Dumbbell Lateral Raise

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the dumbbells in your hands with your palms facing your thighs.
  2. Begin the movement by lifting both arms out to the sides, keeping a slight bend in your elbows, and raising the dumbbells until they reach shoulder height.
  3. Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position while maintaining control.
  4. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Upright Row

The upright row is the only open-chain multi-joint exercise targeting the middle deltoid, effective for building both shoulder and trapezius size and strength. It is an essential movement to learn when engaging in weightlifting, especially as part of the high pull component of the clean.

Upright rows have a negative reputation due to their requirement of raising the arms above shoulder height while in an internally rotated position. This position may increase the likelihood of shoulder impingement when executed in the traditional manner.

Fortunately, most people can perform upright rows safely by avoiding elevating their upper arms above shoulder height at the top of the movement.11 Doing so turns the upright row from a somewhat risky exercise to an effective mass-builder for your shoulder and trapezius muscles.

If the exercise still feels uncomfortable, or you are looking for an alternative, you should check out the monkey row.

Barbell Upright Row exercise technique  for chest and shoulder workout
Upright Row

Muscles Worked in Barbell Upright Row

Muscles worked in barbell upright row

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform the Upright Row

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grip a barbell with both hands using an overhand grip with your palms facing towards you and your hands positioned slightly closer than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the barbell at waist height with your arms extended and elbows straight.
  3. Pull the barbell straight up towards your chin, keeping it close to your body as you lift it. Your elbows should be pointing outwards to the sides.  Focus on lifting the barbell with your shoulders, not your biceps.
  4. When your upper arms are parallel to the floor, focus on contracting your shoulder muscles as much as you can, then slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

Alternative Exercise

Monkey Row

Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

You can’t neglect your posterior deltoids if you want optimal athletic performance and an aesthetic upper body. Many people, even competitive bodybuilders, focus primarily on the front and middle deltoids, neglecting the rear deltoids.

By incorporating rear delt flyes into your routine, you ensure that your shoulders are well-rounded and evenly developed, adding to the overall appearance of your shoulder muscles and upper back.

So, why is the reverse dumbbell fly optional in this chest and shoulder routine?

Because they fit just as well on shoulder day as on back day.

You can include them in your shoulder workout, in which case you’d perform them last in this workout, or you can do them after training back.

Both options are viable, and it’s a matter of your personal preference.

Muscles Worked in Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

Muscles Worked in the Reverse Dumbbell Fly

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Perform Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

  1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and your arms by your sides, palms facing each other.
  2. Bend forward at the waist, keeping your back straight until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Let your arms hang down towards the ground.
  3. Lift both arms out to the sides, with a slight bend in the elbows, until they reach shoulder level. Focus on squeezing your rear deltoid at the top of the movement.
  4. Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back towards the ground, maintaining control throughout.
  5. Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.

How Do You Fit the Chest and Shoulder Workout into Your Training Split?

Combining chest and shoulders is a versatile way to structure your weight training. It fits into almost any effective workout routine.

For example, a 4-day split implementing the chest and shoulder workout could look like this:

  • Day one: chest and shoulders
  • Day two: back (and rear delts if you didn’t train them on day one)
  • Day three: quads and hamstrings
  • Day four: biceps and triceps

Train four days in a row and rest the next day, train two days and rest one, or train on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday with the weekends off. You have many options depending on your time and schedule.

You could even add some direct tricep work, making it the perfect P in a three-day  push/pull/legs split:

  • Day one: chest, shoulders, and triceps
  • Day two: back and biceps
  • Day three: lower body
Push pull legs bodybuilding split

I am sure you can devise many more ways to integrate the chest and shoulder workout into your routine. Your imagination is the only limit.

Track the Chest and Shoulder Workout in the StrengthLog App

Give this workout a go, and you’ll be on your way to building the chest and delts you want.

It’s available exclusively in our workout tracker.

A workout log is the best way to keep track of your progress. 

Remember that progressive overload is the key to consistent gains over time. To continue making progress, you must gradually increase the demands on your muscles.

A training log helps you stay consistent, set and achieve specific goals, track your progress over time, identify patterns in your training, and hold yourself accountable to your fitness goals. 

While this workout requires a premium subscription, StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever. It’s like a personal trainer in your pocket.

Download StrengthLog for free, keep track of your weights and reps, and try to beat your previous numbers each workout.

Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.

>> Click here to return to our list of training programs and workouts.

For more stand-alone bodybuilding workouts like this, check out these great resources:

References

  1. PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50601. What is an attractive body? Using an interactive 3D program to create the ideal body for you and your partner.
  2. PLoS One. 2016; 11(6): e0156722. The Body and the Beautiful: Health, Attractiveness and Body Composition in Men’s and Women’s Bodies.
  3. Eur J Sport Sci. 2021 Feb;21(2):149-157. What influence does resistance exercise order have on muscular strength gains and muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis.
  4. J Hum Kinet. 2022 Jan; 81: 199–210. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy.
  5. Int J Exerc Sci. 2020; 13(6): 859–872. Effects of Horizontal and Incline Bench Press on Neuromuscular Adaptations in Untrained Young Men.
  6. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Oct; 17(19): 7339. Effect of Five Bench Inclinations on the Electromyographic Activity of the Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, and Triceps Brachii during the Bench Press Exercise.
  7. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Jun; 19(2): 289–297. Push-Ups vs. Bench Press Differences in Repetitions and Muscle Activation between Sexes.
  8. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness. Volume 15, Issue 1, June 2017, Pages 37-42. Low-load bench press and push-up induce similar muscle hypertrophy and strength gain.
  9. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: January 2015 – Volume 29 – Issue 1 – p 246-253. Bench Press and Push-up at Comparable Levels of Muscle Activity Results in Similar Strength Gains.
  10. J Hum Kinet. 2020 Oct; 75: 5–14. Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals.
  11. Strength and Conditioning Journal 33(5):p 25-28, October 2011. The Upright Row: Implications for Preventing Subacromial Impingement.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas is a certified nutrition coach and bodybuilding specialist with over three decades of training experience. He has followed and reported on the research fields of exercise, nutrition, and health for almost as long and is a specialist in metabolic health and nutrition coaching for athletes. Read more about Andreas and StrengthLog by clicking here.