December 16, 2019 10 min read

If you’re tired of going to the gym and feeling confused and lost for a few minutes, then settling on trusting machines like the butterfly, this is the right place for you. Doing sedentary exercises on machines will not build muscle and get you the rock hard upper chest you’re working for. You need a repertoire of solid, effective exercises to get you through your chest and tricep workout so you can start seeing results fast

Why are the chest and tricep such a popular and crucial muscle group to target? Let’s face it, having a big chest looks really good! Combined with a back workout that makes your shoulders wider, your upper body will look fantastic. It’s not just for looks or weight loss though. Having a built upper chest is practical for lifting heavy objects, physical jobs, and just for feeling capable and fit overall. 

A girl holding a weight in a gym.

Facts You Need to Know About Your Chest and Triceps

Before you get started with your new life-changing body workout routine, you need to understand your body and its anatomy so you know exactly what you’re doing to make these changes. The most important thing is to have a well-rounded knowledge of your muscle groups so you can end up with symmetrical muscles in the end. In the beginning, you may not feel a big difference if you prefer working one muscle group and focus on that instead of the other. 

While it’s true that everyone has a different body, the general anatomy of the muscles is basically the same. Since no area of your body is isolated, you need to build them all equally so that there are no inconsistencies or chances of injury later on, due to some muscles being drastically weaker than the others. 

Your chest is made up of two muscles, the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. 

  • The pectoralis major: It is responsible for the “major” flexing of your arms and moving your arm in front of the chest. It sits just under the collar bone (or clavicle) and reaches all the way to your upper arm. 
  • The pectoralis minor: This small, triangular muscle helps to retract your collar bone and pull your arms down. It lives just under the pectoralis major and attaches your rib cage to your collar bone. 
  • Triceps: Your triceps are the opposite muscles to the biceps. So if you work out your biceps you need to balance that out by doing equal exercises for your triceps. The tricep muscle is responsible for extending the forearm at the elbow joint. The muscle has three heads or points of origin, and its best to get all three of those when doing triceps exercises. The main head starts at the shoulder blade and attaches to the upper part of your forearm.  

Dangers and Risks of Not Warming Up

Don’t even think about starting an intense workout without warming up first. You’ll regret it later when you have unbelievable soreness or even a pulled muscle or tendon.

But that's not all... 

  • Disc Herniation: This happens when objects get lifted incorrectly. You may have this if you have localized back pain or tingling that goes from the waist down toward the legs. One thing you can do to prevent disc herniation is by standing with good posture. What exactly does this mean? Make sure you keep the natural curve of your lower back whenever you are standing, sitting, or especially lifting weights. 
  • SLAP Tear: SLAP (Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior) tears are like rotator cuff injuries. Throwing and overhead lifting the wrong way causes repetitive stress on your shoulder and will eventually tear your shoulder. You can watch out for this by taking note when you lift your arms and shoulders above your head. Are you experiencing pain every time you lift? Do your shoulders feel weak or excessively sore? Do you hear any popping sound when you raise your arms? These are signs you are probably lifting the wrong way and need to ask for help from a trainer or even a physical therapist. 
  • Tennis Elbow:This happens to your tendons at the elbow through overuse or over gripping. You’ll recognize it if you feel an aching soreness starting at the elbow and spreading up through the forearm. One of the biggest problems with this injury is inflammation, so if you start to feel this in your body, you should stop right away and ice the sore spot to get the swelling down. 

Tennis Elbow happens when you try to do too many reps of a weight that is not right for you. Sometimes people start with weights that are much too heavy. If you don’t have a strong grip at first, you need to strengthen that as you strengthen your other muscles to keep everything at a good pace. Others keep using a weight that is too light and they do too many reps. The point is not to do an endless amount of reps but to gradually increase the weight in a reasonable and healthy way. 

If you're not careful you can sustain serious injuries.

A man doing pushups.

Winner Warm-Ups For Your Chest Exercises and Triceps Workout

If you don’t want to worry about symptoms or injuries, the best plan of action is to budget adequate time for your pre-workout. Aim for 10 minutes of warm up time. You can even do it while you’re waiting for a bench or equipment. Here are the best techniques to keep your shoulders and arms limber. 

  • Plyo Push-ups: Do 2-3 sets of plyometric pushups (or clap pushups) to get more strength and momentum that will last through your whole workout. When you do them, make sure they are explosive! You’ll gain much better results if you get full triceps extension and attack them with energy and enthusiasm. 
  • Dumbbell Flyes: You can do dumbbell flyes later on in the workout with a heavier weight, but for warm-up purposes, it’s a great exercise to do with a lightweight at 2-3 reps of 15-20. It gets your shoulders moving, and it lets them know they’re about to get some intense weights and be worked within an inch of their lives. Fair warning. Lie down on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand, starting near your thighs. Raise the dumbbells up above your shoulders and bring back down. 
  • Weightless Dips: You might be tempted to get started with the weights on this one because when you work out you are totally amped get going with the good stuff. But weightless dips will stretch out and warm up your triceps to get them loose and ready. Make sure you keep your arms and shoulders tight through the whole movement. Don’t let them spread out or flare out when you’re coming down for the dip. 
  • Barbell Bench Press: Again, do three sets with a lightweight and just 8-10 reps. These are great for warming up your pecs (remember the pectoralis major and minor?). For an extra oomph before your workout, give your pecs a squeeze at the end of every extension. You can also substitute this with the dumbbell press. This warm-up will get your blood moving and improve muscle elasticity. 

Do These Workouts for a Stronger and Wider Chest:

  • Incline Dumbbell Chest Press
  • Incline Barbell Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Dumbbell Pullovers

Incline Dumbell Chest Press

This primarily works the pec major, the upper part of the chest. It gets the anterior deltoid, the front of part of your shoulder. The great thing about the dumbbell bench press is it also works your triceps at the same time. 

Lie back on your incline bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Raise both hands over your shoulders in the air with your palms facing away from you. This is the starting move. Then lower the weight so your arms are bent at a 45-degree angle at the elbow. Don’t try to do this exercise too quickly. It should be slow, and you should be exhaling through it. The slower you go, the more you get out of the move. Do three sets of as many reps as you can do with the weight you have. When you find that the weight is to easy, increase it and continue this way in your routine. 

Incline Barbell Bench Press

For a variation, try the barbell chest press, which is done in the same way, but with the barbell above your head. Your palms will face away from with a shoulder-width grip. 

What is the difference between barbells and dumbbells? Dumbbells are great for isolating specific muscles since you can vary your movements more freely than with a barbell. A barbell is a good compound muscle-building tool because it often targets groups rather than specific muscles. If you’re just starting out, a barbell is a good way to build even, symmetrical strengths all over your body. If you find that a certain area of the body is weak, dumbbells can be a good solution to work a small area that is lagging behind. 

Overhead Press

Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. It’s best to start this move with your Barbell on a rack in front of you. You can pick it up and start with a firm grip and your palms facing away from you. Have your arms bent so they hold the barbell directly in front of your chest. Then push the barbell up over your head so your arms are fully extended. For a variation, you can also do a seated press. For either version, you can also opt for dumbbells. 

A man working out in a gym.

Dumbbell Pullovers

This move works both the pecs major and minor, the latissimus dorsi, your triceps, and your core. It’s one of the greatest exercises you can do and you should be doing this muscle-building exercise at least once a week. To do it, just use one dumbbell. You can do the exercise standing or lie on your back. 

For both options, hold the weight with both hands and your palms facing each other. Lift the weight above your head with your arms fully extended. Lower the weight behind your head with an arc. When you feel your arms extended and your chest stretched out, hold the position for a second. Raise your arms back up through the arc they came down with, back up to an extended position above your head. 

Which is Better: Incline Bench or Flat Bench?

This question gets a lot of debate. Does it really make a big difference if you choose to incline the bench or keep it flat? While the difference is small, we all know small differences can have big consequences and changes. When you do a workout on a bench with an incline (between 15 and 45 degrees), you put more effort into your shoulders and upper pecs. It puts less stress on your rotator cuff, which is one spot that is easily prone to injuries. 

Some people dislike the incline bench though because it works your upper pecs and focuses on that rather than working the whole muscle throughout. You should also take note that an incline works your shoulders, so if you’re planning on doing a shoulder workout later in the week, you should opt for a leg day after your chest day to break up the stress on your shoulders. 

Best Workouts for Building Big Triceps Fast

  • Weighted Bench Dip
  • Triceps Push Down
  • Close Grip Barbell Bench Press
  • Skullcrushers

Weighted Bench Dip

This is the more advanced exercise to do after your weightless bench dip. For this one, place a bench in front of you a bench behind you. Place your legs up on the second bench, then your arms on the one behind you. Dip down slowly. Don’t let your torso shift forward since that will place the emphasis on your pecs and deltoids. For a variation, you can place the benches parallel to one another with your body in the middle and one arm on each side and your feet on the floor. This can increase the resistance and keep your torso in the position it should be. Another great one to try is the dumbbell push press

Triceps Push Down 

If you have one, use a V-Bar attachment or EZ bar for this exercise. Grab both sides of the bar with your palms facing down. Bend your torso slightly forward, but keep the back straight. Keep your upper arms close to your body and your lower arms pointing up to grab the bar. Pull the bar down until it reaches your thighs. Return to the original position, keeping the arms close to the body the whole time. You should feel the burn in your triceps. If you feel it in your back or lower arms, adjust until you feel it in the right spot. 

Close Grip Barbell Bench Press

You can follow the instructions for the incline barbell bench press used for the chest workout. To target the triceps, grip the bar with your hands as close together as possible, without dropping the weight or distorting your movement in an unnatural form. This movement is ideal during your workout because you can easily move from the barbell bench press to this variation and you will save time and crush more muscle groups. 

Skullcrushers

Lie back on a flat bench with your feet planted firmly on the ground, your butt in a squeeze position against the bench and your torso straight against the bench. Don’t stick your ribs up or flared while you are doing the exercise. Just think about keeping everything (including your shoulders) against the bench as if your life depends on it. 

Grab the barbell with a firm grip, and your palms facing away from you. Your starting position will have the Weight high above your head at a 90-degree angle. Lower the weight down toward your head by bending your elbows. Bring it down all the way until it is just one inch above your skull - hence, the name “Skullcrusher.” You can vary this with dumbbells, an EZ bar, cables or an inclined bench.  

People working out with weights in a gym. 

Time to get lifting

Now you have eight base workouts to get you going on the ultimate chest and triceps workout. Start out with easy weights to get a good form and then work your way up as you gain strength and muscle memory from the exercises. You can experiment with the variations we’ve listed here as well.

Try working some of the moves into a superset: going from one exercise to the next with just one set of high reps each at a fast pace. You will work in some cardio and enjoy the extra challenge and change up your regimen. 

If you stick these base eight moves, you will get a wide and muscular chest and arms in no time. You will get to know your body, your workout routine, and you will establish a comfortable and repeatable process that will give you the gains you’re working so hard for.