Skip to main content

Basic Exercises for Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps

  • Author:
  • Updated date:
Weight training exercises for the chest, shoulders, and triceps are becoming more popular with women. Find out why along with detailed explanations of 8 simple exercises.

Weight training exercises for the chest, shoulders, and triceps are becoming more popular with women. Find out why along with detailed explanations of 8 simple exercises.

1. Flat Bench Press

The lying flat bench press is one of the most important exercises for both strength training and hypertrophy (building muscle). It is very much a compound exercise; meaning, it trains different muscle groups at the same time. Primarily, it builds the pectoral muscles, but it also builds strength and size in the shoulders and the triceps.

In Powerlifting, it is one of the only three disciplines used at meets overseen by the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) and the plethora of other Powerlifting federations. It is a classic exercise for building upper body strength. If you have visited any commercial gym or even specialized Powerlifting gym, you will know how much each bench pressing station is in demand.

Personally, I do three sets for strength with the maximum I can bench which is 150 Kg (330.69 lbs) with low reps and two sets for hypertrophy with 100 Kg (220.46 lbs) on the barbell with higher reps.

This exercise can be performed with either a barbell or two dumbbells. Most Powerlifters use a barbell when bench pressing due to the stability it gives, but some lifters use dumbbells as they also engage and strengthen stabilizing muscles in one's back.

Incline Press

Incline Press

2. Incline Bench Press

The incline press is a variation of the bench press, only the bench is slightly raised at up to a 45-degree angle but usually lower. The main purpose of the incline bench press is to develop the clavicular head of the pectoralis major (upper chest muscles). Again, this is also a compound exercise and also builds muscle in one's triceps and shoulders.

With the incline bench press, generally speaking, a lower weight on the barbell is used. Just like the flat bench press, either a barbell or dumbbells can be used.

Chest Flys

Chest Flys

3. Laying Chest Flys

This is another exercise with free weights that target the chest using dumbbells. Flys target primarily the chest muscles but as a compound exercise, they also strengthen the arms, primarily the triceps.

They also engage stabilizing muscles in one's back due to the dynamic of the exercise. They are roughly the equivalent of using a pec-deck on a multi-gym type machine.

I currently do four sets of 12 reps of chest flys with 40 Kg (88.18 lbs) dumbbells but as always this can be adjusted to meet the user's needs.

4. Overhead Press (OHP) or Shoulder Press

The overhead press (OHP), also known as the shoulder press, primarily targets the front deltoids (shoulder muscles) but they also, as a compound exercise, work one's pectoral (chest), triceps and (trapezius) upper back muscles.

There are a variety of names for, and slight deviations from the overhead press, such as the military press, etc. As an exercise for building upper body strength, I would rate it higher than the bench press. Performing the OHP with heavyweights involves a lot of explosive power and raw strength.

I currently do three sets of overhead presses and three sets of the slightly different behind-the-neck press shoulder press. These exercises can be performed with both a barbell, as I do, or dumbbells.

Upright Rowing

Upright Rowing

5. Upright Rowing

There is quite a little controversy about upright rowing with many fitness 'gurus' claiming it can be injurious. This is, of course, not strictly true if performed correctly. Upright rowing targets the traps, which are part of the upper to middle back, and the deltoids, which are the muscle group around the shoulders.

Although most use a barbell when performing upright rowing, others utilize kettlebells, dumbbells and weight plates themselves, especially tri-grip weight plates. Another option for those who have been injured or have reduced mobility is shoulder shrugs which basically target the same muscle groups. To date, I personally have suffered no injuries performing upright rows.

Shoulder Flys

Shoulder Flys

6. Shoulder Flys

Shoulder Flys, also known as Lateral raises, target the middle head of the shoulder muscles, as well as the rear and front of the Deltoid. Many use dumbbells for this exercise but there are also multi gym type stations specifically for this exercise.

Generally speaking, a much lower weighted dumbbell (or plate if using a machine) is used and one can either raise the arms simultaneously or alternate between arms. I currently do four sets of shoulder flys with 15 Kg dumbbells. You will certainly feel the proverbial 'burn' after completing sets of shoulder flys!

7. Narrow Grip Bench Pressing

Narrow Grip Bench Pressing primarily targets the triceps (the muscles at the back of one's upper arms) but as a compound exercise, it also exercises the chest and shoulders. A much lighter weight is used on the barbell on this exercise than, for instance the basic flat bench press. Close grip bench pressing improves one's strength for flat bench pressing as it isolates the triceps, a major muscle group employed in bench pressing. This exercise targets all three 'heads' of the triceps.

8. Tricep Pulldowns

Tricep pulldowns are arguably the best discipline for targeting the triceps (the muscles at the back of your upper arms. They are called 'triceps' as there are three separate parts or 'heads' contained in this group). Tricep pulldowns also work on the shoulders and lower arms when performed correctly.

Usually, a pulldown attachment or machine is necessary for triceps pulldowns but they can be performed with resistance bands in the gym or at home. For men, triceps pulldowns will generally build mass at the rear of one's arms while with women this exercise will tone the backs of their arms.

There are various attachments that can be used for this exercise including bars and ropes. On a personal basis, I use the same bar used for lat pulldowns rather than the thick ropes that some prefer.

  • With the plethora of commercial gyms mushrooming and the CrossFit phenomena more women are now involved in weight training, Powerlifting and Weightlifting and strength-related sports than ever before. Gone are the days when women in gyms were usually only seen using the treadmills or elliptical machines and free weights were the preserve of a clique of men.

It is worthwhile debunking the myth that women lifting weights will make them 'bulky'—this is pure fiction for the following reasons:

  • Women will not bulk up as they only have trace amounts of testosterone in their bodies, unlike men which causes the bulking-up process.
  • Even women with naturally slightly higher levels of testosterone will not become bulky.
  • Women who lift weights, whether heavyweights with lower reps or lighter weights will tone—they will not get bulky.
  • Women require between 1,800 and 2,400 calories daily, so unless one is eating many more times than calorific intake, there is no need to worry about getting overly muscle bound.

The only women who get bulky and overly musclebound are the likes of professional female bodybuilders who regularly use a variety of Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS), primarily using one of the many testosterone preparations as the basis of their 'stack'.

Maggie Phillips, a UA student sits on Michael McDonough as he bench presses as part of a UA clinical trial. The  clinical trial  found that men can do one more rep bench pressing when a woman is sitting on his lap. (Probably Testosterone related)

Maggie Phillips, a UA student sits on Michael McDonough as he bench presses as part of a UA clinical trial. The clinical trial found that men can do one more rep bench pressing when a woman is sitting on his lap. (Probably Testosterone related)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Liam A Ryan


Liam A Ryan (author) from Ireland on October 12, 2021:

Thanks for the kind comment.

Good to meet a fellow power lifter.

Its a great sport.

MG Singh from UAE on October 11, 2021:

Very interesting article. I have a home gym and in my younger days was a power lifter.