In the classic 1982 swords and sorcery movie Conan, the Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character is asked, “Conan, what is best in life?”
Arnie replies with the now-famous line, “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women!”
But, if Arnie or, indeed Conan, had been asked, “What is worst in life?” he’s may well have said, “To spend hours in the gym without getting results!”
And while there ARE far worse things than not gaining muscle or getting stronger, if you are a bodybuilder, or even just an enthusiastic exerciser, making little or no progress can be frustrating and disheartening.
Of course, some lifters undermine their own progress. For example, not getting enough sleep, training inconsistently, eating too much junk food, spending more time on your phone than working out, and committing other progress-killing sins will make your training less effective.
But, in some cases, all that’s needed to rekindle your progress is a new workout.
Remember how you felt when you first started training? Every new exercise triggered soreness, and your muscles grew like weeds! Now, with plenty of workouts under your training belt, muscle soreness happens less often, and your progress has ground to a halt.
That’s not to say that muscle soreness is indicative of a good workout. But the soreness that follows a new workout does suggest you’ve done something novel and more challenging, and that can help stimulate new muscle growth.
So, to that end, for this article, we’ve got an all-new chest and triceps workout for you to try. If you are currently stuck in an upper-body muscle-building rut, this is the workout that’s going to smash you out of it.
Chest and Triceps Anatomy 101
Before we get into your all-new chest and triceps workout, let’s take a quick look at some essential anatomy of these critical muscle groups.
The pectoralis major is a fan-shaped muscle with three broad attachment sites that come together at a single insertion point. It can be divided into two sections or heads – the clavicular or upper head and the sternal or lower head. The sternal head is also known as the abdominal head (1).
The functions of the pectoralis major are…
The Clavicular head:
- Shoulder flexion
- Horizontal adduction
- Internal rotation
The Sternal head:
- Shoulder extension
- Horizontal adduction
- Internal rotation
The clavicular head of the pectoralis major, often just called the upper pecs, is more active during incline chest exercises, while the sternal head, or lower pecs, is more active during decline movements (2). Because of this, you must train your pecs from multiple angles to develop them fully.
The triceps brachii, or triceps for short, is located on the back of your upper arm. It’s functions are:
- Elbow extension
- Shoulder flexion
While the biceps is arguably the most famous muscle in the human body, when it comes to building bigger arms, the triceps is actually more important as it makes up roughly 60% of your upper arm mass. In short, if you want to fill your sleeves, you cannot afford to neglect your triceps!
The triceps has three different heads that come together at a single insertion point. The three heads are:
All three heads work together but it’s possible to emphasize each one by positioning your arms in a specific way, i.e.:
- When your arms are by your side, the long head produces more force than the other two heads.
- With your arms at 90-degrees to your body, the medial head is more active.
- When your arms are vertical, the lateral head generates the most force.
Bulking Up – Chest and Triceps Workout
This workout is designed to be done as part of a bodybuilding-style split routine, where you train different muscles on different days.
|Chest & triceps||Legs||Rest||Back & biceps||Shoulders||Rest||Rest|
Alternatively, you could do this workout twice if you want to jump-start chest and triceps growth.
|Chest & triceps (1)||Legs||Back & Biceps||Chest & triceps (2)||Rest||Shoulders||Rest|
Regardless, you should begin each workout with a warm-up to prepare your muscles and joints for what you are about to do.
Start with 5-10 minutes of cardio, preferably using an exercise with an upper-body component, such as rowing or an assault bike. Then, when your blood is pumping, and you’re feeling warm, do some dynamic flexibility and mobility exercises, focusing on your shoulders, chest, and lats. Finally, finish off your warm-up with 50-100 reps of band pull-aparts to increase shoulder stability and really get those lubricating synovial fluids circulating nicely.
|1||Guillotine press||4||6-8||90 seconds|
|2||Incline dumbbell bench press||4||8-10||90 seconds|
|3||Supine cable flyes||4||10-12||60 seconds|
|4||Chest press machine||1||6-8||N/A|
|5a||Skull crusher||3||8-10||90 seconds|
|5b||Close-grip bench press||10-12|
|6||Triceps pushdown (rest-pause)||3||12+8+4||60 seconds|
|7||Push-up mechanical drop set||3||AMRAP||60 seconds|
Exercise 4, the chest press machine, is a single drop set. Select a weight that allows you to do 6-8 reps. On reaching failure, reduce the weight by 10% or the nearest weight denomination and rep out again. Continue until you have worked your way up the stack and there are no lighter weights left to use.
Exercises 5a and 5b are to be performed as a superset. In other words, do a set of skull crushers immediately followed by a set of close grip bench presses. Rest one minute and then repeat the pairing. Do three supersets in total.
Exercise 6, triceps pushdowns, uses rest-pause training to hammer your muscles into submission. Do 12 reps with your 15RM, rest 15 seconds, and then pump out an additional eight reps. Rest another 15 seconds and then squeeze out a final four reps. Rest a minute and then repeat the entire sequence.
There are two ways to do any exercise – the right way and the wrong way. The right way is safe, effective, and usually produces the best results. The wrong way could cause injury and is often not as productive.
So, get the best from our latest chest and triceps workout by doing each exercise correctly.
1. Guillotine press
While a good many bodybuilders get decent pec-building results from the bench press, there are lots who don’t. Some find that bench presses hit their anterior deltoids more than their pecs, and there are also lifters who get more shoulder pain than muscle growth from bench presses.
Legendary bodybuilding coach Vince “The Iron Guru” Girondawas so against the bench press that he banned it from his Hollywood gym and prescribed the Gironda neck press or Guillotine press instead.
As the name suggests, Guillotine presses involve lowering the barbell to your neck instead of your chest. This decreases anterior deltoid activation while increasing the range of motion and stretch in the pecs. As such, it’s an excellent alternative to traditional bench presses and one that’s guaranteed to get you out of your current pec-building rut.
2. Incline dumbbell bench press
Incline dumbbell bench presses work your upper chest and are an excellent mass builder. Set your bench to about 30-degrees to maximize upper chest recruitment without overloading your anterior deltoids.
Also, use moderately heavy weights and the fullest range of motion your flexibility allows. Get a good stretch and pause for 1-2 seconds at the bottom of each rep. Resist the temptation to cut your reps short or bounce out of the bottom of each rep, as doing so makes this exercise less effective.
3. Supine cable flyes
Cable flyes are superior to the dumbbell variation because they keep your muscles under almost constant tension. This creates plenty of metabolic stress and a better pump than dumbbell flyes.
Doing this exercise on a bench means you won’t have to worry about using your core to stabilize your spine, so you’ll be able to go heavier and work harder. In short, supine cable flyes beat dumbbell flyes by a county mile!
4. Chest press machine
Your final chest exercise, for now, is a chest press machine drop set. Machines are ideal for drop sets because they allow you to train to failure in safety, and you can reduce the weight in seconds.
Start moderately heavy and then rep out to failure. Reduce the weight by 10% and repeat. Continue until you reach the lowest weight increment.
4a. Skull crusher
Skull crushers are an excellent exercise for beefing up your triceps and filling your sleeves. They can be a little hard on your elbows, so don’t go too heavy. Instead, focus on keeping your upper arms vertical and squeezing your triceps at the top of each rep. Use a straight bar or EZ bar as preferred.
On completion of your set, immediately transition to close-grip bench presses. Use the same bar and weight – just change movements.
4b. Close-grip bench press
Where skull crushers are an isolation exercise, close-grip bench presses are a compound exercise. As such, they allow you to use your chest and anterior deltoids to push your triceps beyond their usual point of failure. This is called a pre-exhaust superset.
Simply switch from skull crushers to close-grip bench presses to push your triceps to their limit.
5. Triceps pushdown
Pushdowns are a popular and effective triceps builder that you can do using a straight bar, V bar, rope handle, or EZ bar. Use whichever one you prefer. Select a weight you can lift about 15 times and then do 12 reps. Rest 15 seconds and then do 8 reps. Rest a final 15 seconds, and do four reps. That’s one set – rest a moment and then go again.
6. Push-up mechanical drop set
Push-ups work your chest and triceps, making them a great way to bring this upper body workout to an end. But, because we’re trying to bust you out of your current training rut, you won’t be doing regular push-ups. Instead, you’re going to do mechanical drop sets to wring every last bit of energy from your muscles.
For this mechanical drop set, do as many reps as you can of the following push-up variations:
- Decline push-ups (feet on the bench)
- Regular push-ups (feet on the floor)
- Incline push-ups (hands on the bench)
Rest a moment and then repeat the entire sequence twice more to make three sets.
Bulking Up – Chest and Triceps Workout
There are times in life when the best way to overcome an obstacle is to smash through it. Sure, you can try and be clever or subtle, but more effort is often the most straightforward, quickest solution.
This workout is designed to break you out of your current chest and triceps rut by combining some unusual exercises with intensity-boosting training methods. This strategy is sure to trigger renewed muscle growth.
But, needless to say, this is an advanced workout and not suitable for beginners. So, if you are a newbie in a training rut, you need to revisit your workout and diet, as they are the most likely reasons you aren’t making progress.
1 – Encyclopedia Britannica: Pectoralis muscle https://www.britannica.com/science/pectoralis-muscle
2 – PubMed: An electromyography analysis of 3 muscles surrounding the shoulder joint during the performance of a chest press exercise at several angles https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20512064/