Among experienced lifters, heading into the gym for a focused chest and triceps workout stands as a testament to serious commitment. From powerlifters aiming for their next bench press PR to bodybuilders striving for a near-perfect physique, these sessions are fundamental in the lifting world. It’s not just about the aesthetics; it’s about strength, resilience, and dedication.
Training your chest and triceps together offers a balanced approach, maximizing both push mechanics and muscle engagement. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or someone just starting out, there’s always room to refine technique, push boundaries, and see genuine progress.
This workout uses an approach inspired by the “Mountain Dog” — legendary bodybuilding coach John Meadows. This method consists in a specific sequencing of exercises thought out to maximize the mind-muscle connection, build the muscular pump, and preserve longevity in the gym. Time to dive in and elevate your chest and triceps game to the next level.
Warming up before diving into an intense chest and triceps workout isn’t just a suggestion — it’s an essential step. A proper warm-up primes the body, gradually increasing the heart rate, enhancing blood flow to the muscles, and lubricating the joints. This ensures not only optimal muscle engagement and flexibility but also significantly reduces the risk of injuries. (1)
This is especially true for sessions involving the shoulder joint (chest, shoulders, or “pushing” workouts) as it is the most flexible, but also relatively fragile, in the body. Without this preparatory phase, muscles remain stiff, making them more susceptible to strains or pulls, and joints can be caught off guard, leading to unnecessary stress or even long-term damage.
Warming up has mental benefits, as well. It provides a transition period, allowing you to mentally prepare and focus on the upcoming workout. This mental shift from rest to activity is crucial for optimal performance, ensuring that both the body and mind are in sync. Thus, skipping the warm-up not only jeopardizes physical health but also diminishes the overall quality and effectiveness of the workout. (2)
This workout consists of six exercises — four chest exercises and two triceps exercises — organized in a specific manner to reap the most benefits. You can perform it once or twice per week, depending on whether you find these body parts to be a “weak point” or not.
The chest and triceps workout can be include in either a traditional body part-focused workout split or as a “pushing workout” in a push/pull/leg plan, with a second push day focusing on the shoulders instead of the chest.
First, we launch with the decline dumbbell bench press. It’s all about activation — think of the exercise as coffee for your chest. Discard the typical “barbell exercise first” approach many lifters use and, instead, take a more for a joint-friendly approach. The decline position, as well as using dumbbells, will help you feel and activate your chest muscles better. (3)(4) This way, you’ll reduce the risk of injury and you’ll be able to recruit your chest better in the next exercises.
The devil’s in the detail and, for a better chest recruitment and comfort, we want to use slight angles or we risk shifting the load away from the pecs and onto the shoulders or triceps. So don’t get crazy with the decline and use a roughly 10-degree angle — or place a single 25 or 45-pound weight plate under the foot-end of a flat bench. Always perform a few warm-up sets beforehand, as it is the first exercise of the session and your shoulder joints still need gradual preparation.
Benefits of the Slight Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
Next up is the incline barbell bench press for those craving power and oomph. After the “activation” exercise, it’s time for the “explosive” phase with a big barbell movement. This will let you use a ton of weight to promote hypertrophy through mechanical tension. It’s still early in the session, so you should have a good deal of strength left.
This is called the “explosive” exercise because we want to move the barbell as fast as possible during the concentric phase (when you push the weight up) in order to improve strength and recruit as many type II fibers as possible — these are the biggest muscle fibers, the ones we’re after to optimize growth.
The slight incline bench press is an excellent pièce de résistance, as the incline will focus on the upper chest, a body part many lifters are deficient in. Once again, aim for a slight angle instead of a steep incline. Something like 15 to 30-degrees will better recruit the chest instead of the anterior deltoids. (5) Aim for heavy sets of six the first week, then try to do 7, then 8 reps with the same weight the following weeks before increasing it.
Benefits of the Slight Incline Barbell Bench Press
Now we use a chest press machine to chase that coveted pump. Ever been so pumped you felt like you could bounce coins off your chest? If not, you soon might be. We’re aiming for that in the “pump” phase by driving a lot of nutrients, metabolites, and blood into the muscles to stimulate sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This can increase the volume of the muscle cells and potentially trigger even more growth. For a great pump effect, you want an exercise which will be relatively safe to go to failure so you can really push yourself, while also targeting your chest as much as possible.
The machine chest press is a perfect fit as it develops the chest as a whole, rounding out the previous angle-focused pummeling. A quality machine doesn’t necessitate balance or high-level technique, so the movement is more secure. End with the high-intensity rest-pause technique to push yourself out of your comfort zone and stimulate maximum muscle growth. (6) Aim for a very hard set of 15 repetitions, then wait for 20 seconds, and do as many reps as you can with the same weight. Then do it again twice! It will mostly likely be only a few reps the last time.
Benefits of the Machine Chest Press
Rounding off the chest, the pec-deck (or machine chest flye) offers the stretch you didn’t know you needed but won’t forget anytime soon. Now that our muscles are really warmed up, we can safely use exercises emphasizing the stretch without injury. The stretch is not only great to improve mobility, but also is linked to more muscle growth. (7)
You could use cable crossovers instead, but the pec-deck machine has the benefit of nullifying the balance and bracing needed so that you can only focus on your muscles. It’s a superb exercise to isolate your chest and deep dive into the stretch with a minimal set-up time and effort. Do hard sets of 15 repetitions and, after the final rep, pause in the stretch position for 15 seconds to keep stimulating the muscle beyond failure.
Benefits of the Pec-Deck Machine
Now it’s time to hammer your triceps. Doing them last ensures you can lift the most weight during your chest exercises, and that your sensitive elbow joints are completely ready for the pummeling ahead. In the same spirit, we’re going to use the classic triceps pushdown with a rope attachment, a very joint-friendly exercise. Stick to isolation exercises to simply finish off your triceps because they were already stimulated a lot during the chest-focused part of the session.
This exercise is a perfect fit to start the triceps segment as the rope allows for a smooth and natural motion, enhancing mind-muscle connection without putting excessive stress on the elbows.
Benefits of the Rope Pushdown
We’re saving the best for last, as the lying triceps extension is a meat and potatoes movement in triceps training. You can use a ton of weight, thus promoting incredible strength and hypertrophy. But this exercise can be hard on the joints and we want to keep egos in check to avoid any injury. This exercise is also called the “skull crusher,” so doing it at the end of a session means that your joints will better tolerate the stress, and you won’t be able to use as much weight because of the cumulative fatigue.
In any case, this exercise remains the king of triceps isolation exercises, so don’t think for a minute that it won’t make your arms stretch your sleeves. If you have bad wrists, feel free to use the EZ bar, as this squiggly thing can be easier on the joints.
Benefits of the Lying Triceps Extension
When you’re performing a chest and triceps workout, you’ll use various exercises to target these muscles, ensuring comprehensive development. Compound movements like bench presses engage multiple muscle groups, while isolation exercises like triceps pushdowns or chest flies focus more specifically on one group.
This is the largest muscle in the chest, well, the one we simply call “the chest.” The clavicular head (upper chest) originates from the clavicle and helps in flexing the humerus (as in lifting the arm in front of you). The sternal head (lower/mid-chest) originates from the sternum and aids in adducting and rotating the humerus (as in flapping the arm down and inward).
Exercises done on an horizontal plane work the pectoralis as whole, while incline variations target the upper chest, and decline exercises work more the lower chest.
Located on the back of the upper arm, it has three heads. The long head is the largest and runs along the back of the arm. It plays a role in extending the arm and adducting it (moving it toward the body). The lateral head is located on the outer side of the arm, giving the triceps its horseshoe shape. Finally, the medial head is deeper and runs beneath the long and lateral heads. It assists in extending the forearm.
While the pectorals and triceps are the primary focus, the anterior deltoid (front shoulder) is unavoidably activated and worked to a significant degree. This overlap is one reason why many training programs often pair chest with shoulders or allow adequate rest between chest and shoulder workouts to ensure the anterior deltoids recover properly. The middle and posterior deltoids are also recruited to an extent especially on incline movements or as stabilizer.
There’s an art and science to effective training and this workout beautifully melds both. By prioritizing joint health and muscle activation, we’re not just lifting weights; we’re sculpting an upper body masterpiece. The thoughtful arrangement of exercises, combined with techniques like iso-holds and rest-pauses, ensures each muscle fiber is recruited for maximum gain.
So as you power through each rep, remember that it’s more than just motion — it’s purposeful progress. Whether you’re a seasoned gym-goer or stepping onto the workout floor for the first time, this chest and triceps routine promises results that speak for themselves. Give it your all and watch as strength, definition, and confidence become your workout rewards.
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