Chest, Shoulder, and Tricep Bodybuilding Workout

Are you looking for a chest, shoulder, and tricep workout to gain upper body mass and strength? Then you’ve found the right article! This is a blueprint for building your pushing muscles with a selection of the best bodybuilding exercises available.

This article provides you with a comprehensive outline of the workout routine. It is one of many premium bodybuilding workouts available in the StrengtLog app, which you can download for free using one of the buttons below.

Benefits of Training Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps Together

Your chest, shoulder, and triceps are the muscles you use for pushing movements. It makes sense to train them together for several reasons.

  • There’s a significant overlap between the three muscle groups. When you train your chest, you invariably work your delts and, in many cases, your triceps, too. By training them together, you consolidate the work into one session where the exercises complement each other.
  • Working your chest, shoulder, and tricep muscles together allows you to train them more frequently without accumulating fatigue. There is overlap between the muscles during your training session, but not so much from workout to workout. Your chest, shoulders, and triceps get to rest during your back and biceps session and on your leg day. That means they are fresh and ready to go even though you’ve been training the rest of your body as hard as possible.

Training your chest, shoulders, and triceps together is likely the most popular and best way to combine your muscle groups into a three-day split. It’s one of the Ps in the PPL or Push/Pull/Legs split:

Other than the so-called “bro-split,” where you train one body part per day, a three-day split like Push/Pull/Legs is how most competitive bodybuilders structure their training plan.1

Read more:

>> The 10 Best Bodybuilding Splits: a Complete Guide

Chest, Shoulders, and Tricep Workout: The Basics

In this workout, you’ll train chest first, followed by shoulders, then triceps last. There is a good reason for this approach. Because your shoulders get partially fatigued when you train your chest, starting with your pecs lets you use heavier weights in the mass-building pressing exercises. Your triceps are secondary movers in many exercises for both chest and shoulders, and starting with them would severely limit your pressing strength later in the workout. Chest first, shoulders second, and triceps last is the logical and best progression system.

The chest, shoulders, and triceps workout is intended for intermediate bodybuilders. If you’ve just started bodybuilding, it’s too high-volume for you right now. Instead, give StrengthLog’s Barbell Training Program for the Beginner or StrengthLog’s Upper/Lower Body Split Program a look. Either will prepare you for advanced workouts like this.

For this workout, you need a barbell, dumbbells, an adjustable bench, and a cable pulley machine. You’ll be doing both compound exercises and single-joint exercises to hit every muscle fiber in your pushing muscles with a rep range from six to 15.

Chest Workout:

  1. Bench Press: 4 sets
  2. Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 sets
  3. Dumbbell Chest Fly: 3 sets

Shoulder Workout:

  1. Overhead Press: 3 sets
  2. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3 sets
  3. Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 4 sets

Tricep Workout:

  1. Barbell Lying Triceps Extension: 3 sets
  2. Overhead Cable Triceps Extension: 3 sets
  3. Tricep Pushdown: 3 sets

You’ll perform ten sets for your chest, ten sets for your shoulders, and nine sets for your triceps for a total of 29 sets. Because of the overlap, the actual number of sets for each muscle group is higher than the list above indicates. All pressing exercises activate your pecs and your delts, and your triceps are heavily involved when you train chest and shoulders.

According to up-to-date scientific evidence, 12–20 weekly sets per muscle group may optimize muscle growth.2 The chest, shoulders, and tricep workout works great whether you perform it once or twice per week. As part of a push/pull/legs routine, you could either do it once weekly or as part of a more advanced six-day-per-week training program.

Resting 2–3 minutes between sets is ideal. Research shows that longer rest intervals maximize the potential for muscle growth.3 You can use heavier weights for more reps, allowing for greater training volume and muscular overload, both critical factors for gaining lean muscle mass.

Warming Up

A good warm-up improves your flexibility and increases the blood flow to your muscles. In addition, you prepare your brain for the task at hand, improving focus and mental drive during the workout.

While not strictly necessary, five to ten minutes of low- to moderate-intensity cardio raises your heart rate and gets the blood pumping. You’ll be working most of your upper body in the chest, shoulder, and tricep workout, so doing some kind of cardio that involves more than your lower body could be a worthwhile idea. Good options include the cross-trainer, the rowing machine, or some rope jumping. You’re going for a warm-up here, not cardiovascular training, so don’t overdo the intensity.

Consider doing some mobility work for your shoulders before starting. Some dynamic warm-up movements prepare your shoulder joint and rotator cuffs for the action.

  • Arm circles, going from small circles to a full range of motion.
  • Shoulder rolls, both forward and backward.
  • Overhead pressing movements without any external load.

Perform a couple of ramp-up sets of the first exercises for each muscle group. Use progressively heavier weights until you feel warm and ready for the workout. It’s easy to gloss over your warm-up or even skip it entirely, but those minutes are well worth it, and your shoulders, in particular, will thank you.

Bench Press

You’re kicking things off with the good old flat barbell bench press, or, as some would say, the king of upper body exercises. The bench press is tremendous for your chest muscles and activates your shoulders and triceps as well, making it the best foundation for your chest, shoulder, and tricep workout.

It’s a great idea to start a workout with a compound exercise where you can move as much weight as possible. In a chest, shoulder, and tricep workout, that would be the flat bench press. Research shows that your strength increases the most in the first exercise of a training session.4 Because the bench press works all three muscle groups, it is not only one of the best chest exercises but improves your overall upper body pushing strength tremendously. As a bodybuilder, strength isn’t the end-all-be-all, but progressive overload is still a fundamental principle for muscle growth.

You’ll perform your bench presses in a pyramid fashion, starting with a moderate load and adding weight each set. You can see the weight progression in your StrengthLog app.

Bench Press Exercise

Muscles Worked in the Bench Press

Bench press muscles worked

How to Bench Press with Proper Form

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale, hold your breath, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control, until it touches your chest somewhere close to your sternum.
  5. Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
  6. Take another breath while in the top position, and repeat for reps.

Alternative exercise:

Incline Dumbbell Presses

Time for some incline presses! By using an incline bench instead of a flat bench, you transfer more of the work to your upper pecs. Many bodybuilders feel that a pair of dumbbells is more comfortable and easier on the shoulder joint than a barbell. In addition, the dumbbell bench press allows for a more extended range of motion, which might benefit muscle hypertrophy.

Raise the backrest of an adjustable bench to about 30 degrees for maximal activation of your upper chest.5 A 45-degree angle transfers more of the work to your anterior deltoid. You’ll work your delts later in the workout, but for now, you want to hit your pecs as much as possible.

Incline Dumbbell Press exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Incline Dumbbell Press

Muscles worked in incline dumbbell press

How to Incline Dumbbell Press

  1. Sit on a bench, and lift a pair of dumbbells up to the starting position.
  2. Press the dumbbells up to straight arms, while exhaling.
  3. Inhale at the top, or while lowering the dumbbells with control back to your shoulders.

Alternative exercise:

Dumbbell Flyes

After the heavy pressing, let’s isolate your pecs with the dumbbell fly. 

Use relatively light weights and focus on a full range of motion and getting a good pump. Feel the stretch at the bottom without overextending the shoulder joint, keep a slight bend at the elbow throughout the movement, and squeeze the muscle at the top.

Dumbbell Chest Fly exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Chest Flyes

Muscles worked in dumbbell chest flyes

How to Do Dumbbell Chest Flyes

  1. Lie on a bench, and lift a pair of dumbbells up to the starting position.
  2. With almost completely straight arms, lower the dumbbells out to your sides.
  3. When you’ve lowered the dumbbells as deep as possible, reverse the motion and return the dumbbells to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for reps.

Alternate exercise:

Rest up, then get ready for some heavy-duty shoulder training!

Overhead Press

Like with the chest workout, you’re kicking things off with the exercise that allows you to handle the most weight. In this case, it’s standing overhead presses with a barbell. It’s one of the best compound exercises for building strong and massive shoulders, with emphasis on the front delts.

Like you did with the bench press, you’ll increase the weight each set, this time finishing with an all-out set with low reps to failure. It’s safer to train to failure in the overhead press than the bench press, as you can just rack the weight when you can’t do one more rep, and you don’t need a spotter to catch the bar if you fail.

Brace your abdominal wall to stabilize your body and press the bar without bouncing or using your leg drive.

Overhead press exercise

Muscles Worked in the Overhead Press

Muscles worked in overhead press exercise

How to Overhead Press

  1. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Inhale, lightly brace your core, and unrack the bar.
  3. Let the bar rest against your front delts while you take a step back from the rack.
  4. Press the bar up to straight arms, while exhaling.
  5. Inhale at the top, or while lowering the bar with control back to your shoulders.
  6. Repeat for reps.

Alternative exercise:

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The dumbbell press is another great exercise for muscle mass and should be a staple in your shoulder workout. It allows you to target the medial deltoid more than when using a barbell.

Use good form and keep constant tension on your delts throughout the set by not locking out at any time.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Muscles worked in seated dumbbell shoulder press

How to Do Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

  1. Sit down on a bench with a raised backrest.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells, and lift them up to the starting position at your shoulders.
  3. Inhale and lightly brace your core.
  4. Press the dumbbells up to straight arms, while exhaling.
  5. Inhale at the top, or while lowering the dumbbells with control back to your shoulders.
  6. Repeat for reps.

Alternative exercise:

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Relying primarily on heavy compound movements is generally a good idea for most bodybuilders looking to build muscle mass. However, your side delts aren’t directly targeted by any of them and require isolation work to give you those round and full 3D-looking shoulders.

For best results, leave your ego outside the gym. Use relatively light weights and focus on your mind-muscle connection. When done correctly, the lateral raise is one of the best isolation exercises for your delts and primarily targets the outermost head.6 However, if you use momentum to lift more weight than your lateral deltoids can handle, you’re transferring the work to the wrong muscles, defeating the purpose of the exercise.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise exercise

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Lateral Raises

Muscles worked in dumbbell lateral raise

How to Do Dumbbell Lateral Raises

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells, in almost straight arms hanging by your sides.
  2. With control, lift the dumbbells outwards to your sides, until your upper arm is horizontal.
  3. Lower the dumbbells with control.
  4. Repeat for reps.

Alternative exercise:

That concludes the second part of your workout. Let’s finish off in style with triceps!

Barbell Lying Triceps Extension

The first exercise of your triceps workout is perhaps the overall best mass-builder for your upper arms: the lying tricep extension. It effectively targets the muscle fibers in all three heads of your triceps, and by using a barbell, you’re able to handle heavy weights to stimulate muscle growth.

Unlike “skull crushers,” where you bring the barbell to your forehead, you’ll lower the bar behind your head for a full range of motion and a good stretch. Then return to the starting position and squeeze your tricep muscles. Full extension and full contraction are the best ways to get the most out of your tricep routine.

Barbell Lying Triceps Extension

Muscles Worked in Barbell Lying Triceps Extensions

Muscles worked by lying triceps extension

How to Do Barbell Lying Triceps Extensions

  • Lie down on a bench which your head close to the edge. Hold a barbell with a close grip, and lift it up to straight arms over yourself.
  • Lower the barbell down behind your head. Try to keep the same distance between your elbows throughout the movement.
  • Reverse the motion and extend your arms again.

Overhead Cable Triceps Extension

The long head of the triceps is also the largest. It’s the size of the lateral and the medial head together, making a well-developed long head crucial for optimal triceps development.

The best way to target the long head is to perform some kind of overhead tricep extension. In this workout, you’ll be using a rope attached to a cable pulley, which allows you to maintain constant tension on your triceps. Get a good stretch at the bottom before extending your arms and contracting your triceps forcefully. Again, a complete range of motion is paramount.

Overhead Cable Triceps Extension exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Overhead Cable Triceps Extensions

Muscles worked in Overhead Cable Triceps Extension

How to Do Overhead Cable Triceps Extensions

  • Fasten a rope handle in the lower position of a cable pulley. Stand with your back against the pulley, with a slight forward lean, and hold the rope behind your head and your upper arms next to your ears.
  • Straighten your elbows until your arms are fully extended.
  • Reverse the motion by bending your arms again.

Pushdown

The tricep pushdown is the go-to triceps exercise for everyone, from beginners to competitive bodybuilders, and for a good reason. It’s easy to learn, comfortable, and effective. You’ll be doing it as a high-rep finisher for a fantastic triceps pump.

You’ll want to keep your arms tucked to your sides and the exercise movement to your elbow joint to force your triceps to do the work. If you start moving your upper arms, you involve other muscle groups like the latissimus dorsi. Using some momentum and moving heavy weights in the triceps pushdown can have its place, but here you’re looking to isolate the triceps as much as possible, meaning form is more important than load.

Feel free to use either a bar or a rope, whichever feels most comfortable to you.

Tricep Pushdown With Bar exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Tricep Pushdowns

Muscles worked in triceps pushdown with bar

How to Do Tricep Pushdowns

  • Stand one step away from the cable pulley and grip a bar or a rope.
  • Pull the handle down until your upper arms are perpendicular to the floor. This is the starting position.
  • Push the handle down until your arms are fully extended.
  • With control, let the handle up again.

What About Rear Deltoids?

You may have noticed the lack of rear delt exercises in the workout. Because the workout is already extensive, with close to 30 sets, I recommend training your rear delts with your back instead. As I wrote earlier in the article, “consolidate the work into one session where the exercises complement each other.” That fits perfectly for a back and rear delt session as well. If you’re doing a push/pull/leg routine, training back, rear delts, and biceps on the second day is ideal and evens out the training volume across the split.

Track the Chest, Shoulder, and Tricep Workout in the StrengthLog App

That’s the workout! By now, you should be feeling the pump and be on your way to gaining size and strength in your pushing muscles.

If you want to grow bigger and stronger, 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. 

It’s almost impossible to keep track of your progress without a workout log. Our app StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever.

You’ll also find a bunch of training programs and workouts in the app. Many are free, but our more advanced programs and workouts (such as this one) are for premium users only.

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.

Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:

Good luck with your training, buddy!

For more bodybuilding, check out these great resources:

>> All our bodybuilding articles

References

  1. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: June 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 6 – p 1609-1617. Training Practices and Ergogenic Aids Used by Male Bodybuilders.
  2. J Hum Kinet. 2022 Feb 10;81:199-210. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy.
  3. Eur J Sport Sci. 2017 Sep;17(8):983-993. The effects of short versus long inter-set rest intervals in resistance training on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review.
  4. Sports Medicine Volume 42, Pages 251–265 (2012). Exercise Order in Resistance Training.
  5. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 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.
  6. J Hum Kinet. 2020 Oct; 75: 5–14. Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas has over 30 years of training experience and is a highly appreciated writer and educator on exercise, fitness, and nutrition. Few people stay more up to date and have a better grasp of the field of exercise science than Andreas.