Chest & Arms Training Made Simple


Whenever I am asked a question about training, especially chest and arms training, it seems that people want an incredibly complicated answer involving periodisation, Eastern Bloc adaption principles, and esoteric exercises that even Charles Poliquin has never heard of.  Let me tell it to you straight – the main secret to gym success, and in the case of today’s subject the secret to bigger and more muscular arms and chest, is being able to consistently smash yourself in the gym and then knowing the appropriate time to back off.  I’ve written this on countless occasions in the past, but if you give me the hungry man who tears the gym up with passion, rage, and an unstructured training routine, and contrast him with the man with the “perfect programme” but who lifts like a p*****, then there will only ever be one winner.   Always remember, you get what you train for.  If you train like a beast, you will eventually become a beast.  If you train like a maggot…

The chest and arms training I did today is a great example of just going for it, but also using a measure of common sense and what I like to call “educated effort”.  I do think that on occasion a total smash up session is called for, but more often than not you will achieve better results by understanding what it is you are trying to achieve and then letting loose with all the joy and fierceness that you can muster.  To set the scene, I am in a modified hypertrophy stage with my own training – I’m trying to very slowly lean up to about 6/7% body fat whilst keeping my weight around the 120kg mark.  Before this makes me sound like a professional bodybuilder, bear in mind that I am 6ft 3, so there is a lot of room to spread that weight over.  Normally in this current training phase I’d have trained twice today (and you can find more information in this old post on twice a day arms training), but the fact of the matter is our new Mayfair personal training gym opened just a few days ago, and my stress levels are peaking just as my spare gym time is plummeting, so I needed to optimise my session for “just” one workout.  And the final factor to bear in mind when planning this chest and arms workout is that I am coming to the end of a volume phase, and that my next chest and arms workout after this one will be low volume of about 3-5 sets per body part.

The answers as to what I needed to do today are all indicated in the paragraph above.  I want muscle growth / hypertrophy, and I want volume.  That’s it.  I can structure anything I want around that so long as I have those two things in mind.  I don’t believe in unnecessary complications for workout routines, or anything in life to be honest, and right now I certainly don’t have time to be planning my gym sessions weeks in advance.  So as I drove to the gym this morning, accompanied by my training partner of the day young Sat “Abs” No Surname Necessary, I planned the session out with only one intention – to trash as many muscle fibres as possible and to ultimately drive as much blood into my chest and biceps / triceps as humanely achievable.   If you think about this for a second, this is something of a dual purpose because I am not merely thinking of doing a tonne of giant sets for maximum pump, although I do want the sarcoplasmic growth stimulated by higher repetitions, stretch movements and peak contractions, but I also want the myofibrillar thickening of the muscle’s protein filaments caused by stimulating the fast twitch muscle fibres and high threshold motor units when doing heavy, more explosive, lower repetition work.


I’m not always such a funny colour…

Chest & Arms Training – The Thrash All Muscle Fibres Workout

A1: Flat Dumbell Press: 4 sets / 5 reps / 4110 tempo / 90-180 secs rest

This was my heavy, semi “neural activation” movement.  The plan was not to go to failure and tire myself out, but to peak with the heaviest weight possible for 3-5 repetitions.  The tempo indicates a pause at the bottom of the movement, which does slightly restrict the weight lifted as it takes out momentum and the stretch reflex, but I was more concerned with waking up my nervous system so that I could better hit all my muscle fibres later in the workout.

The rest periods got longer as the sets got heavier, as I was pyramiding up in weight.  The first work set was with 140lbs, then 145, 150, and finally I hit 3 reps with the awkward (the handle is too small for me to get a comfortable grip) 160s.

B1: Decline Dumbell Press: 3 sets / 10-15 reps / 3010 tempo / 75-90 secs rest

In total contrast to the first exercise these were done in a continuous tension fashion with no lock out and as much squeezing and stretching of the pectoral muscles as possible.  I went a bit too light on the first set and hit 15 reps (to failure) with 110lb dumbells, but then this fried me so much that with the same weight on the second set I only achieved 7 reps and did a quick drop set to achieve the desired 12-15 rep range.

C1: Pec Minor Dips: 3 sets / 10-14 reps / 2020 tempo / no rest

With all the heavy lifting out of the way I wanted to focus on getting more blood into the muscle, hit a stretched position (flyes below), and try a different type of an angle / movement to keep my chest muscles from stagnating and firing different motor units via different movement patterns.  So this is where you can get a bit fancy (IF you have been training a long time) and throw something unusual into the equation.  Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but you have to be willing to experiment to keep on learning.

I can’t claim I invented this “pec minor” dip variation, far from it as I read about just on the morning of the workout in the always interesting elite fts website.  This is the brainchild of a bodybuilder called John Meadors who writes with massive sense about all matters pertaining to training and nutrition, and who consistently comes up with some interesting exercise variations.  This dip variation involves pushing yourself up by flexing your pecs, and don’t allow more than a ten degrees bend to come into your arms.  Driving your chin into your chest, and closing your eyes to really focus on moving yourself up and down with pectoral contractions is the key, and if you get the right groove you should find that whilst it doesn’t really feel all that much whilst you are actually doing the exercise, once you jump off you should really feel swollen pectoral minor muscles, which can be notoriously hard to hit with more conventional movements.

C2: Incline Flyes: 3 sets / 10 reps / 3110 tempo / 60 seconds rest

At this stage it is all about stretching and squeezing the muscle, and weight is utterly irrelevant.  In this case I used a partial range of movement for 75% of the repetitions, sticking in the bottom portion in order to keep the stress on the chest muscles.  To further add to the pain / stimulus I also used a trick whereby at the maximum stretched position I first internally rotated and then externally rotated my humerus (upper arm) to further stretch and damage the muscle fibres.

Sat sometimes wears clothes to the gym, sometimes not...


Onto Biceps & Triceps…

D1: Incline Hammer Curls: 4 sets / 8 reps / 4010 tempo / 45 secs rest

Pyramided up to 32.5kg and hit 4 working sets of ultra strict 8 reps.  I had “strength” in mind at this first arm superset so wasn’t pushing to failure, although the last couple of sets were pretty tough.  Remember, flex your triceps as hard as possible at the bottom of the movement as this stretches the biceps and you’ll get an extra kick to the following rep!

D2: Seated Overhead Cable Triceps Extensions: 4sets / 6-8 reps / 4010 tempo / 45 secs rest

Just used the stack here and focused on really contracting the triceps as hard as possible at the top of the movement, whilst always keeping the elbows tucked in as tightly as possible.

E1: Seated Preacher Cable Curls: 3 sets / 10-15 reps / 3010 tempo / 30 secs rest

Stepping up the pace here, both in terms of workout density and effort.  Each set is now taken to failure, and I threw in partials at the end of each set – I find that cable movements lend themselves very well to continuous tension and extending the set via partial range movements once you have reached regular muscular failure.

If you do this exercise right then your biceps will blow up with blood.  Cock the wrists back, keep the shoulders down, and squeeze the weight up.  Think about flexing your biceps, not curling your hand up towards your anterior deltoid.

E2: Triceps Pushdowns / Kickbacks: 3sets / 12-15 reps / 3011 tempo / 30 secs rest

This is a bit of a funny movement to describe as it just doesn’t have the same effect as regular pushdowns or kickbacks, the latter of which I would never do other than in this variation.  We have a 4 foot long cable attachment that is a dual chain attached to 2 handles.  It allows you to do a pushdown / kickback type combination where you can lean forward and squeeze the chains not just in front of your body (as with a regular triceps pushdown) but also to the side and even behind you a little bit.  This gives a massively strong (and painful, cramping) contraction and is my personal favourite pushdown variation by a multiple of several thousand.

F1: Prone Dumbell Concentration Curls: 3 sets / 25 reps / screw tempo! / no rest

A super light, peak contraction, deeply painful movement.  Leaning with my chest on an 45 degree incline bench and arms hanging down I grasped a pair of very light (25lb) dumbells and then curled them up. This sounds easy, and as ever it is all about the most effective execution.

Elbows forward, wrists cocked, and squeeze! Can you sense a pattern here when it comes to squeezing a muscle?

F2: Incline Triceps Extensions (extended set variation): 3sets / 25 reps/ 2020 tempo / no rest

At this stage weight it totally irrelevant, but I think I used the same 25lb dumbells as with the curls.  As a different variation I started with palms facing down, and upper arms angled backwards so the dumbells travelled behind my shoulders, and then as the set became progressively difficult the hands became more semi-supinated (thumbs pointing down at the floor).  When failure was hit in this position I used the principle of mechanical advantage and pushed my elbows forwards so that the dumbells came to rest on my upper pecs at the bottom of the range of motion, and then when I could no longer even do a rep that way I flared my elbows right out and finished off with Tate presses.

Would you be surprised that I could no longer drink from my water bottle as my arms were so swollen?!

As ever please feel free to share this via the buttons to the left if you think its useful information for others, and why not let me know in the comments section below what is the one thing that you struggle to include in your workouts and I can address it in brief in a response, or even write up a whole new blog post about it!


And finally, if you enjoyed this breakdown of my chest and arms training, I have an e-book due out before Christmas that details very much in this same narrative style a full 10 weeks of my own personal workouts and diet as I prepared for a photo shoot earlier this year.  It has about 70 individual workouts in it so its only for those who love detail!  I am going to put the e-book (the “Nick Mitchell Transformation Diary”) out alongside a special bonus free webinar for those who register early, so if you want to be one of the first in on this, and be in the 100 who are entitled to sit in on the webinar and ask me any questions that you want, then just drop [email protected] an email with the title “Nick’s transformation Diary” and we will be in touch asap with all the details for you.