Man gym barbell bench press chest tricep workout muscle strength training

The best chest and tricep workout for muscle size and strength

Do this chest and tricep workout I’ve specifically designed so you can build an action hero physique complete with a broad and strong chest as well as bigger and more defined arms, says New Body Plan co-founder and Men’s Fitness cover model Jon Lipsey

If you want a leaner, more muscular physique then a chest and tricep workout should be on your training agenda. It’s a classic muscle group pairing for good reason. Why? Because most exercises that target the chest also work the triceps. So it’s an efficient and effective way of hitting two muscle groups and fully fatiguing your muscle fibres.

And if you structure it in the right way you can use a chest and tricep workout to burn fat, build muscle and get stronger. Read on to get my expert tips and my go-to chest and tricep workout so you can add serious muscle size, strength and definition to your chest and arms!

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Why should I do a chest and tricep workout?

When you start lifting weights, you may want to do a whole-body workout plan or an upper-body and lower-body split training programme. Those sessions will work several muscle groups during the same session, which makes sense when you’re developing your work capacity. If you dedicated an entire session to a single body part as a beginner, you’d fatigue very quickly.

But as you progress, you can make your sessions more focused. And that’s where a chest and tricep workout comes in. Working two muscle groups in a session is a great way of both burning fat and building muscle. The chest and triceps go well together because they often work together in the same movement. Any chest pressing movement, for example, will work both your chest and triceps.

Should I always train my chest and triceps together?

You don’t have to. A chest and tricep workout fits neatly into a four days a week body-part split. On your three other training days you might do: back and biceps; legs; then shoulders and abs. But you could do a chest and back workout. Or a back and bicep workout. Or this eight-move bicep and tricep workout.

There are lots of body-part split options. There isn’t a perfect split that you can use endlessly. Your workout split should be dictated by your experience, your training frequency and your goals.

How many exercises should I do in a chest and tricep workout?

The perfect number of exercises in a session comes down to your experience and training frequency. But the sweet spot for a chest and tricep workout is probably six to eight exercises. Your set and rep selection should also influence how many exercises you do. If you’re doing a high number of sets for each exercise, you probably need fewer exercises. The session below gives you an example of an ideal chest and tricep workout for building bigger muscles.

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Chest and tricep workout for muscle size and strength

1. Dumbbell bench press

Target Chest and triceps
Sets 4 Reps 8 Rest 60 seconds
This is a classic way to kick off a chest and tricep workout. Dumbbells are safe to use when training on your own and they ensure that each side does the amount of same work.

How to do the dumbbell bench press

• Lie on a bench with your feet planted firmly on the floor.
• Hold a dumbbell in each hand at chest height then press the dumbbells until your arms are straight.
• Avoid the dumbbells clashing at the top.
• Lower under control and repeat the move.

2. Cable crossover

Target Chest
Sets 3 Reps 10 Rest 60 seconds
This is an excellent chest exercise because the cable keeps tension on the muscle for the duration of the rep. It’s also easier to execute than a bench fly, which does a similar job.

How to do the cable crossover

• Set the cables at just higher than shoulder height
• Start with tension in the cables and your arms out wide with a slight bend in your elbows.
• Use a split-foot stance (one foot forward, one foot back) and keep your chest up throughout the set.
• Use your chest to bring your arms together in front of you, leading with your little fingers so they touch in the middle.
• Pause in the middle to squeeze your chest muscles then return slowly to the start and repeat.

3. Chest press machine

Target Chest and triceps
Sets 3 Reps 12 Rest 60 seconds
This is a great addition to a chest and tricep workout because it is a safe way of pushing yourself. Machines put you in a fixed path of movement, which massively reduces your risk of injury. They don’t work your stabilising muscles but you’ve already done that with the first two moves.

How to do the chest press machine

• Position yourself in the machine according to the instructions.
• Set the seat at a height where your hands are level with your chest.
• Press the weight until your arms are straight but not locked then return slowly to the start.

4. Narrow-grip bench press

Target Chest and triceps
Sets 3 Reps 15 Rest 60 seconds
This bench press version shifts the emphasis from your chest to your triceps. The narrower the grip, the more you emphasise the triceps. We’ve used a higher rep range to make it safer. The higher reps means the weight will be lower. If you fail early you can take a few breaths before you have enough strength to return the bar to the rack.

How to do the narrow-grip bench press

• Lie on a bench then take the bar out of the rack using a narrow grip (with hands shoulder-width apart).
• Lower the bar to your chest then press back up to the start.

5a. Cable overhead tricep extension

Target Triceps
Sets 3 Reps 10 Rest 0 seconds
Note: this is the first exercise of a two-move superset (5a and 5b). That means you do one set of 5a, then go straight into a set of 5b. When you have done one set of each, rest for 60 seconds, then repeat for a total of three sets.

Cables are a great tool for targeting the triceps. It’s also a great way to finish your chest and tricep workout because you can hammer your triceps safely.

How to do the cable overhead tricep extension

• Set a cable to the lowest height possible and add a rope attachment.
• Get into position where you’re facing away from the cable stack with your upper arms vertical and either side of your head and your elbows bent at at least 90 degrees.
• With the cable behind you, straighten your arms using triceps strength.
• Lower back to the start and repeat the move.

5b. Cable tricep pressdown

Target Triceps
Sets 3 Reps 10 Rest 60 seconds
This is a really satisfying chest and tricep workout finisher. You can really feel the triceps muscle working, particularly if you turn your wrists out at the bottom.

How to do the cable tricep pressdown

• Set a cable as high as you can and use the same rope attachment you used in the previous exercise.
• Start with tension in the cable and your upper arms by your sides with you elbows bent.
• Use triceps strength to straighten your arms and really squeeze the triceps muscle at the bottom.
• Control the movement back to the top and repeat the exercise.

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