Looking for a chest and tricep workout that will both make your upper body grow and increase your raw pressing strength?
Look no further.
In this article, I outline a workout routine that hits all your chest and triceps muscle fibers and sets you up for large gains in strength.
Here’s what we’re going to cover:
Let’s get into it!
Training for Strength & Muscle Mass
Your strength is closely tied to how much muscle mass you’ve got.
One study measured the fat-free mass of 20 elite male powerlifters and found a strong correlation (r=0.88) with their bench press 1RM. Their level of fat-free mass, of which a large part is muscle, explained 77% of their strength in the bench press.1
Training for strength and muscle mass have much in common, but there are a few differences and in this chest and tricep workout you will target both types of gains.
- Training for strength revolves around learning to move heavy weights. Powerlifters and weightlifters routinely train with weights in the 1–5 rep range (>85% of 1RM), altough higher rep ranges have also been proven effective for strength gains.2 3
- Training for muscle growth has more to do with challenging and tiring out your muscles. As long as you push your muscles close to failure, you get similar muscle growth from anything between 5–40 reps per set (~40–85% of 1RM).4 5
Do you have to choose one or the other?
It’s perfectly fine to mix training with heavy weight and low reps, with light weight and high reps within the same session, just like we are going to do in this workout. This will give you results from both sides, and thus increase both your strength and muscle mass.
Chest Training: Exercises, Sets & Reps
If you’re looking for pressing strength, you should make an effort to grow and strengthen your chest muscles. There is a strong correlation between the pectoralis major cross-sectional area and the 1RM in the bench press.6
The take-away is: if you want greater pressing strength, you should work your pecs.
If you want your chest muscles to grow as much as possible in strength and size, you need to train them in a full range of motion and work as many of their muscle fibers as possible.
While flat presses such as the bench press or dumbbell press are great exercises for growing your pecs in general, you can probably squeeze out a little more growth by adding in some kind of incline press as well as some declines.8
Three effective exercises for these different angles are:
By doing all three exercises in your chest workouts you are sure to hit almost every single muscle fiber in your pecs.
How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do per Chest Exercise?
Around three hard sets per exercise is a good number to aim for. If your goal is a combination of strength and muscle growth, I’d begin with some heavier sets with low reps (around 5 reps per set) in the bench press, and then go up a little higher in reps (anywhere between 6–20 per set) in the second two exercises.
In the chest and triceps workout later in this article, you will get rep suggestions for every exercise.
Read More: How Many Reps to Build Muscle vs. Strength?
Tricep Training: Exercises, Sets & Reps
Want big upper arms?
Train your triceps.
Your triceps have three heads, and for optimal triceps growth, you will need to work all three.
Pressing exercises like the bench press works the lateral head of the triceps, but for growing the long and medial head effectively you need isolated triceps work. This was demonstrated in a study where participants trained either the flat barbell bench press or barbell lying tricep extensions for ten weeks, the results of which you can see in the diagram below.10
The long head of your triceps is the largest one, and it is also the one that requires a little extra attention. Unlike the lateral and medial head, the long head originates from your shoulder blade and crosses over your shoulder joint. Because of this, the muscle length of your long head is affected by the position of your arm.
One recent study had participants train either overhead tricep extensions (where the long head is at a long muscle length) or tricep pushdowns (where the long head is at a short muscle length). They found that both groups experienced similar total growth in the long head of the triceps (~16%), but that the muscle growth was distributed differently.11
- Overhead cable triceps extensions led to growth primarily in the distal part of the long head (the part closest to the elbow).
- Tricep pushdown led to a more evenly distributed growth, in the whole length of the long head.
So what does this mean for your triceps training?
That for the best results, you should probably be doing:
- One pressing exercise (like the bench press)
- One tricep exercise at long muscle length (like overhead tricep extensions)
- One tricep exercise at short muscle length (like tricep pushdowns)
We will incorporate all of the above into the chest and tricep workout below.
How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do per Tricep Exercise?
In addition to the pressing exercises we’ve already covered, I recommend you do two or three sets of each of the two types of isolated triceps exercises: one at long muscle lengths and one at short muscle length.
If you’ve been working with low reps and heavy weights in the pressing part of your chest and triceps workout, you can go a little higher in reps per set here. That usually feels better on your elbows as well. Anywhere between 10–30 reps per set is a good number to shoot for, and you should focus on getting a nice muscle pump in your triceps.
Now, let’s take a look at the five exercises you will be doing in the chest and triceps workout.
Chest & Tricep Exercises For Strength & Mass
1. Bench Press
The flat bench press works most of your chest muscle fibers and therefore forms a nice foundation for this workout.
2. Incline Dumbbell Press
You can use either dumbbells or a barbell in this exercise, but many people find that dumbbells allow for a freedom of movement that feels better on their shoulder joints.
3. Bar Dip
Use an assisted dip machine if you can’t knock them out on your own yet, or use added weight if you’re strong.
- Bench Dips
- Ring Dips
4. Lying Tricep Extension
The barbell lying tricep extension works your long and medial triceps heads, which together make up about two-thirds of your triceps muscle volume.
If you don’t like the lying variant, you can do a standing overhead tricep extension like the alternative exercises below.
5. Tricep Pushdown
The tricep pushdown likely works all three triceps heads to some extent, and it works the long head along its whole muscle length.
You can use either a bar handle (like in the gif above) or a rope handle, depending on which you prefer. It probably doesn’t make a big difference in terms of muscle activation.
Let’s put together these exercises into one workout aimed at both strength and muscle growth.
Chest and Triceps Workout for Strength & Mass
- Bench Press: 3 sets x 5 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 sets x 8 reps
- Bar Dip: 3 sets x 12 reps (add weight if necessary)
- Lying Tricep Extension: 3 sets x 15 reps
- Tricep Pushdown: 3 sets x 20 reps
This workout is available for free in the StrengthLog workout app.
This chest and triceps workout begins with three straight sets of bench press. If you hit three sets of five reps, you increase the weight for the next workout and stick with that until you can once again do 3 x 5.
You will not be able to increase the weight each week, but keep at it, and try to increase by a rep here and there (for example getting 5, 4, 4 instead of 5, 4, 3 last time) until you get all 3 x 5. Use our workout log to keep track of your performance.
After the bench press, it is time to move on to incline dumbbell presses and dips. The same principle of progressive overload still applies to these exercises, and you should always strive to increase the weight you’re using for a given rep goal. However, you shouldn’t increase the weight at the cost of technique.
After these three compound movements, your pec muscles will be thoroughly trained, but your triceps have only been partially worked. Two finishing tricep exercises will take care of this, and work slightly different parts of your triceps: the lying tricep extension and the tricep pushdown. With much of your strength and power work already taken care of in the three chest exercises, you can focus on muscle contact and getting a nice triceps pump in these two exercises.
How often can you train this same chest and triceps workout?
For a workout with this volume and intensity, something like 1–2 times per week is probably enough. Once a week will probably be plenty for many, but if you feel that you have recovered quicker and that you can beat your previous weights, you could repeat it every 4–5 days.
An alternative is to do this workout once a week, but do a lighter second workout in between each workout. In the lighter workout, you can reduce both volume and weights, so that you are refreshed and helping your recovery along the way, rather than adding to the burden.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Let’s wrap up with some frequently asked questions about chest and triceps training.
- How many exercises should I do for chest and triceps?
- Is it best to train chest with triceps?
- Should I do triceps or chest first?
- Which exercise will help develop chest and triceps strength?
- Is two exercises enough for triceps?
How Many Exercises Should I Do for Chest and Triceps?
You can get great results from doing one good chest exercise and one tricep exercise, like the bench press and the tricep pushdown. For optimal muscle growth, however, you probably need to do one or two more exercises for each of the muscles in order to work all of your muscle fibers.
By adding one incline and one decline chest exercise like the incline dumbbell press and the bar dip, you are sure to hit almost 100% of your chest muscle fibers. And by adding an additional tricep exercise where your tricep is at a long muscle length, such as the lying tricep extension, you work all muscle fibers of all your three tricep heads.
Is It Best to Train Chest with Triceps?
It depends. Many chest exercises (like the bench press) work the lateral head of your triceps, but they don’t work the long and lateral head very well. Thus, if you complement your chest training with one or two tricep exercises, you will have gotten in a good workout for your triceps along with your chest.
However, the more exercises you cram into one workout, the more tired you will be when you get around to them. And as a result, the workout quality for these exercises will be lower. If you find that your performance is lacking when you reach the tricep exercises after you’ve already done your chest training, experiment with moving the tricep exercises to their own workout day where you can do them in a fresh state.
Should I Do Triceps or Chest First?
It is generally best to begin your workouts with compound exercises that work several muscle groups at the same time. By doing chest exercises (like the bench press) first, you will already have worked your triceps to some extent when you’re done training your chest.
With that said, another way to structure your workouts is to lead with your highest prioritized muscle group. Because you will become more and more tired, your workout quality will suffer the further you get into your workout. Therefore, moving the prioritized muscle to the beginning of your workout could improve your training results for that muscle. In this case, doing tricep exercises before your chest exercises would likely benefit your triceps training, but at the cost of your chest training.
Which Exercise Will Help Develop Chest and Triceps Strength?
Pushing exercises like the bench press, push-up, and dip are great for developing your chest and triceps strength. Any exercise where you push or press something away from your body works your pecs, front delts, and triceps.
Is Two Exercises Enough for Triceps?
Two exercises are probably enough to work all three heads of your triceps. A good combination is a pressing exercise (like the bench press) which works your lateral tricep heads and an overhead tricep extension (like the lying tricep extension) which works your long and medial tricep heads.
If you wish to take it one step further, tricep extensions where your long tricep head is at short muscle length (like the tricep pushdown) seems to work a different region of this head compared to overhead tricep extensions where the head is at a long muscle length.
The Most Important Thing For Getting Bigger and Stronger
There you go, a fine workout for increasing the strength and size of your chest and triceps.
However, you won’t gain an ounce of strength or size unless you do one particular thing right.
That is to challenge your muscles increasingly more.
Your muscles grow bigger and stronger in response to the demands you place on them via your training. Once they’ve adapted to lifting a certain weight for a certain number of reps, they will not grow anymore. The key to fast and consistent gains in strength and muscle is to increase the weight you use in your training or to do more reps.
A workout log is ideal for this purpose. With our free app StrengthLog you can track your weights and reps, and the next time you’re in the gym you can make sure to increase the weights by 2.5 kg/lbs or do one rep more than last time. This is the key to making gains.
The app is 100% free to download and use. You can track unlimited workouts, and it has dozens of free workouts and training programs.
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