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The Ultimate Push Workout: Target Your Chest & Triceps With These 12 Best Exercises

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Nowadays, we see the increased popularity of a push/pull/leg split. The chest and tricep workout is a part of this training routine. In this article, we’re going to discuss the chest and tricep workout, explain what it is, the muscles it works, why to do it, and the benefits of doing it. Let’s get into it.

Chest and Tricep Workout: Understanding the Muscles Worked

First of all, let’s explore the anatomy of both triceps and chest.

A man does incline barbell press
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Chest Muscles

The chest is made up of four muscles that require different exercises and movements to work them effectively.

  1. Pectoralis Major: The pectoralis major literally means big chest muscle. This muscle creates most of your chest muscle mass.
  2. Pectoralis Minor: The pectoralis minor is located below the pectoralis major. It helps you pull your shoulder down and forward.
  3. Subclavius: This is a little muscle that goes from the first rib to the clavicle.
  4. Serratus Anterior: This small stabilizing muscle is located beneath the pectoralis major. The serratus anterior is named so because it looks serrated. 

If you want to find these muscles with touch, you can feel your serratus anterior and your pec major when you punch forward with a straight arm. Your pecs are always easy to feel. However, you need to press harder at the side of your chest to feel your serratus anterior.

Anatomy of the pectoralis major
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Tricep Muscles

The tricep brachii plays a role in elbow extension and has three heads: a lateral head, a medial head, and a long head. If you have a look at your tricep, you’re going to have the lateral head on the lateral side and the long head on the medial side of the muscle. The medial head sits behind and under the long head and you can’t actually see it. 

The long head and the lateral head are really strong muscles. The long head goes across two joints; it covers the shoulder joint and the elbow joint which means it plays a role in movement at two joints. Its functional role is not only the elbow extension but also shoulder extension and shoulder adduction.

The lateral head cannot be isolated alone from the medial head. If we look at it in combination with the medial head which is the deepest one, the medial head is going to be the major head of the tricep that is going to be activated during all tricep movements. It seems to be that the lateral and long heads get activated to support the medial head when we’re encountering resistance.

Here is an important point: When you supinate your wrists (palms up), you’re going to isolate the long head. If you pronate, you’re going to work on the lateral head.

Triceps brachii muscles
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How to Incorporate the Chest and Tricep Workout Into Your Training Plan: A PPL Workout Split

One of the most effective training routines you can use to boost muscle mass is a push/pull/leg split in which your major muscle groups are split into three different workouts. 

On the push day, you train all of your upper-body pushing muscles – your chest, triceps, and shoulders. The pecs are usually the main players while performing the most pressing exercises.

In the pull workout, you work on all of your upper-body pulling muscles – your rear delts, back, and biceps. And then finally, you train your entire lower body on the legs workout. 

How Many Times a Week Should You Do Chest and Tricep Workout?

In the push/pull/leg split, the workouts are usually performed for a total of six days a week with a rest day in between every three consecutive days. They can simply be adjusted in different ways to best fit your workout program. 

Do the chest and tricep workout 1-2 times a week. Pick at least 5 exercises from our list below and do 4 sets with 10-12 reps for the best result.

Our Chest and Tricep Workout

The chest and tricep workout may be defined as a push workout. The exercises we choose will attempt to work those muscles at the same time. For example, a benchpress. That’s going through pressing through as a compound movement. Working those muscles we also then throw some challenging exercises in that would isolate certain muscles to have more stimulus specifically in certain areas as well. 

In our push workout, you’re going to start with the biggest muscle – your chest. When you’re working that, you’re secondarily warming up the other muscles – triceps and shoulders.

Choose the Correct Weight

The next point to note is the fact that you need to choose the correct weight. Most people use too heavy weight and swing all over the place. Not only does this risk injury, but you’re not actually stimulating the muscle to grow. 

The main thing you need to do is just use a target muscle to do the exercise. Otherwise, you waste so much energy swinging all over the place, trying to create that stimulus and it’s just not happening. 

By choosing the correct weight, you not only reduce your risk of injury, lower fatigue levels, and create a stimulus, but you’re actually going to gain muscle faster because you’re using the target muscle to do the work. Keep it precise to the muscles you’re trying to work and choose exercises that are very effective for doing so. You’ll see far more muscle growth over the course of your workout program. 

Why Should You Train Chest and Triceps Together?

A push pull legs workout routine creates an incredible physique. The reason why the push/pull/legs split is so effective for muscle development is that it trains each major muscle group at the optimal training frequency of two times per week which is most effective for growth. It allows plenty of recovery time for each muscle. Also, it can easily be tailored to fit various schedules goals, and different levels of training experience.

Now we are going to provide you with the push workout based on the recommendations of scientific literature and our anatomical knowledge.

Warm Up

The first thing you’re going to do is a warm-up. Start with a 5-minute general warm-up on a treadmill and then do a few quick dynamic stretches like arm swings and external rotations.

Then you are going to grab a band and do some shoulder dislocations. This is going to improve your shoulder mobility. If you can’t do this movement, you’re going to do a partial shoulder dislocation or just stretch as far as you can. 

Chest and Tricep Workout: 12 Exercises to Build Muscle Mass

We are going to be taking you through the 12 best exercises that target the chest and triceps muscles. You can put them together into a complete push workout. So, choose the movements that you’d like to add to your own training split and perform on a regular basis.

At first, you’re going to be doing the flexion exercises of bench press and incline bench press to hit both your pecs – minor and major. Then you’re going to do the adduction exercises of flies and cable crossovers. Adduction is when you’re compressing your muscles horizontally in front of you.

To achieve the best results, you want to use moderate to heavy weights with 4 to 5 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise. We recommend that novice lifters stay on the lower end of the volume requirements whereas more experienced lifters can opt for the higher recommendations. 

As for your second push workout during the week, you want to simply stick to the same general outline and target muscles but switch out the exercises.

It’s quite a simple tricep and chest training workout but it’s going to hit each muscle with almost every exercise really effectively hitting it from all different angles, and getting a really good stimulus for the muscles to grow.

The Best Chest Exercises

1. Incline Barbell Bench Press

The first chest exercise we’re going to use is the incline barbell bench press. This exercise is going to be used to work on the clavicular head of the pecs which builds the mass of the upper chest and is often a weak point for a lot of lifters yet it’s key to getting a well-developed chest. The incline barbell bench also targets the anterior deltoid and triceps.

There are a couple of reasons as to why this exercise was chosen to do so. 

It Improves Chest Muscle Size

Firstly, the bench press is highly effective at activating the chest

One study has shown a strong positive correlation between chest size and bench press. This is probably not only due to the high amount of chest activation but also because the bench press is the most effective to gradually add weight to and progressively overload over time in order to constantly develop as you get stronger.

It Emphasizes The Upper Chest Muscle

Secondly, an inclined bench angle adds a little more shoulder flexion to the bench press. As a result, this will emphasize the upper chest muscle to a greater degree because this is one of its main movement functions

However, with that being said, the research shows that setting the proper incline angle is vital when it comes to maximizing the effectiveness of this exercise for upper chest growth and is therefore key that you perform so correctly.

Use an Angle of 30 Degrees to Target The Upper Chest 

The optimal bench angle does vary between studies. However, the research has indicated a trend where we see improved upper chest activation when going from a bench angle of 0 degrees to 30 degrees and then another slight boost when we bumped it up at a 30-45 degree angle. By the way, you can see an increase in anterior deltoid activity as well during an increase in bench angle with 45 degrees.

Therefore in order to prevent the front delts from taking over and maximize the engagement of the upper chest muscle, it does seem that an angle of 30 degrees is optimal which is usually two notches above the bottom position for most benches. 

Regardless though, it would still be a good idea for you to experiment with lower and higher bench angles just to see what best activates your upper chest as this is going to vary for many individuals.

Use a Slightly Narrower Grip

We would also recommend experimenting with a slightly narrower grip during this exercise. One paper from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that this not only increased upper chest activation but also minimized the activation of the front delts during the arm motions.

When implementing this, make sure that your forearms still remain stacked vertically at the bottom position by adjusting your elbow angle during the press accordingly.

Use a Full Range of Motion

In addition to that, we recommend you use a full range of motion coming all the way down to the upper chest and a rep range of 10 to 12 reps using relatively heavier weights.

2. Flat Dumbbell Press

The next one we’ll be using is the flat dumbbell press

It Activates the Middle Chest

This exercise emphasizes the sternal costal head of the pecs more specifically the middle chest which is important we do since we instead prioritize the upper chest by using an incline earlier in this chest and triceps workout.

Flat dumbbell bench presses are a wonderful option for this since they’re very effective at targeting the middle chest. Bret Contreras conducted an extensive EMG research and analyzed the chest activity within 15 different chest exercises. He found that the flat dumbbell press was the most effective at activating the middle chest.

Ability to Use a Great Range of Motion

One of the great benefits of using dumbbells is that you’re able to use a greater range of motion for the chest than you could when compared to using a barbell.

It Builds Strength Out of The Bottom Position

For this exercise, we would also recommend incorporating a 1-2 second pause at the bottom position of each rep repeatedly in your training. 

This will not only add some more variety to chest pressing isolation movements but it’s also going to help you build more strength out of the bottom position where most people are weakest. This prevents your muscles from receiving any assistance from the stretch-shortening reflex that you typically get at this bottom position.

In addition, short pauses in the bottom position help strengthen your body isometrically. This will in turn better help you perfect your form for the movement since you’re now forced to maintain tightness without breaking down your form at this bottom position before you proceed to the next rep.

For this exercise, we recommend using moderately heavy weights for a rep range of 10 to 12 reps per set.

3. Decline Cable Chest Fly

This is time to work on the chest with decline cable chest flies that’ll be used to target the lower region of the chest which is yet to receive much emphasis but is important to build that outer and lower chest muscle

What you want to do is move the cables up such that they’re slightly above the height of your shoulders. Next, you want to perform a high-to-low fly motion and supinate your wrist at the end position by rotating your palms up and driving your elbows in. 

The high-to-low motion implemented here enables us to apply tension in a direct line with the lower fibers of the chest. The supination of the wrist at the end will simply heighten the lower chest contraction that you experience by enabling the elbows to travel inward to a greater degree. 

Use relatively lighter weight and a higher rep range of 10 to 15 reps. 

A man does cable crossovers
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Alternative Chest Exercises

4. Incline Dumbbell Fly

The next movement is an alternative to the incline barbell bench press. In this exercise, you’re also hitting the top area of your chest. So, you want to incline your flat bench. 

You’re going to have a slight arch. If your back is completely flat, you can’t isolate your chest.

5. Close Grip Cable Chest Press

Here is how to perform the close grip cable chest press. You can either do the standing or seated variation. If you do the standing close grip cable press, start out with one foot stepping forward and engage the weight. You’re going to keep your hands inside of your shoulders and press it straight out.

6. Standing Cable Crossover

This exercise is going to be working primarily your chest muscles with a little bit of your anterior deltoid that’s going to be involved as well.

Here is how to do cable crossovers. You’re going to attach two D-handle attachments to the upper part of the cable machine. Then adjust the weights based on your fitness needs. 

You’re going to grip the handles and come to the center. You’re going to step forward, keep your back nice and straight, and keep your palms facing out. On the exhale, you’re going to bring your hands straight around to the middle of your chest. Inhale on the way back. You’re not swinging the weights. You’re doing this exercise in a smooth and controlled manner.

After you complete this exercise, be careful, come back slowly, and return the weights to the starting position.

The Best Tricep Exercises

Your chest should be pretty tired after those exercises. You can check that off the list and your triceps should be pretty warmed up from the chest exercises. We’re going to hit those next.

You’re going to do the most popular triceps exercises such as triceps extensions and kickbacks. 

You can go a little bit lighter with the triceps because it’s a stubborn muscle. But you’re going to go to failure with every set. The same as before, we want to aim for 10 to 12 repetitions but do as many sets as you possibly can. 

7. Incline Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extensions

We’ll be able to effectively emphasize the long head of the triceps due to the added shoulder flexion of this exercise. It is important that we do this effective exercise in this workout because the long head is responsible for most of the mass of your triceps.

For these extensions, use relatively lighter weights and a higher rep range of 10 to 15 reps as this is generally easier on the elbows.

a man does dumbbell tricep extensions
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8. Rope Pressdown

We’re going to move on to the rope pressdown to target the triceps. 

The first thing that you want to keep in mind when you’re doing this is you are training the tricep. There are a couple of things that you can do to make sure you keep your tricep as isolated as much as possible.

The first is whenever you start, you’re going to want to retract your scapula and keep your shoulders back. If you’re pushing with your shoulders forward, all of that push at the bottom comes from your chest instead of your triceps. By keeping your shoulders back, you’re able to isolate the tricep more especially at the bottom of the rep where you’re looking for that good squeeze and contraction.

The second thing is once you get the weight into the starting position, you want to keep your shoulders and elbows stationary as much as possible. Your elbows should not move from your side. If your elbows are coming up, you are using your lats to do that and you’re also using momentum.

The last thing you want to keep in mind when doing this exercise is at the bottom of the rep you want to pull your hands out and squeeze as much as possible.

A man does rope pushdown
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9. Tricep Dips

Here is how to perform the tricep dips focusing on the triceps. 

Where should you put your hands? If you take a wide grip, you will use your chest more. However, if you take a very narrow grip, you end up running into yourself at the bottom and you don’t get an entire range of motion. It also can cause instability. We recommend using a medium grip.

If you want to hit your triceps with dips and don’t so much care about your lower chest, tuck your elbows behind, take your feet, and stick them out in front of you a little bit.

If you tuck your legs behind you, this shifts the center of gravity back and it ends up being more of a chest exercise. If you push your feet forward and can stay upright, it’s way harder but better for the triceps.

So, to get maximum tricep engagement, you are going to lock your elbows and keep your feet underneath. Perform the exercise slowly squeezing the muscle at the top. 

Alternative Tricep Exercises

10. Pushups

Now we’re going to learn how to do a tricep push-up. This is a great move not only for your triceps but for your upper body and your core. 

Common Mistakes:

  • your head going up;
  • your elbows too wide;
  • your chest dropping down;
  • your butt lifted too far or too low; 
  • and an arch in the back. 

This is how we do it correctly. Come to that high plank position. Make sure your eye gaze is down rather than having your head up. As you lower down, your elbows are going to stay close to your body. Stop when your elbows get in line with your shoulders. 

On the way up, your hips stay in line with your shoulders. Rather than too far up or too low, they’re directly in line. Your tailbone is going to stay tucked under rather than arching your back. So, elongate out that long spine and squeeze your abs nice and tight.

11. Tricep Kickback

You are going to place your right hand and right knee on the bench under your shoulder. Keep your back flat. Then lift the dumbbell with your left hand so your left elbow is at the same height as your shoulder and extend your arm. Return to the start position and then repeat the exercise on the other side. 

To do a tricep kickback with proper form, it’s crucial that you keep that elbow level with your shoulder.

12. Bench Dips

Firstly, make sure you have a stable bench or a chair because you’re putting a lot of pressure on the edge of the bench. 

What you’re going to do is sit down on the edge of your flat bench. Place your hands outside of your hips and grab the edge of the bench. Keep your core tight and move your feet out in front of you so your heels are right out in front of you.

From here, you want to focus on bending your elbows and falling to the floor as low as you can safely. Some people are going up and down driving the wrong muscles. So, it’s important to slow down and target the right muscle – your triceps.

A man does dips on a bench
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Chest and Tricep Workout: FAQs

Are 4 exercises enough for the triceps?

It’s enough to do 4 key exercises in triceps training but you need to perform as many sets as you can to reach the best results. The four most popular triceps exercises are the skull crushers, triceps extensions, kickbacks, and bench dips.

Is chest and triceps a good workout split?

Both chest and triceps perform pushing movements so you can definitely do them in the same training session. They will not obstruct the development of each other.
An example of a push workout would be a flat pressing exercise first, like a barbell bench press, and then an incline pressing exercise, like an incline dumbbell bench press. You’ve got chest, shoulders, and triceps working there. Then for the next two exercises, you can perform the dip and the tricep extension. You focus on all the muscles with the dip and then fully isolate the triceps.

Which Exercise Will Help Develop Chest and Triceps Strength?

Many chest exercises stimulate your triceps because those two muscles are highly synergistic. The bench presses, dips, and push-ups target both the chest and tricep muscles and are the best exercises for muscle building. 

About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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