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A chest and tricep workout for women to build lean muscle

A chest and tricep workout for women to build lean muscle

If you’re looking for a full and detailed chest and tricep workout for women that builds lean muscle mass and develops upper body pushing strength, then this routine is for you.

This custom female chest and tricep workout includes 5 muscle-sculpting exercises with the sets, reps, and rest periods fully specified.

I’ll also discuss whether or not women should train their triceps and chest like men. But before that, let’s take a look at the actual routine that you’ll be following.

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A full chest and tricep workout for women to build lean muscle

This chest and triceps workout for women is fairly high-volume and, when performed with plenty of effort, will definitely challenge and change your body.

That said, if you’re relatively new to strength training, then I recommend simplifying things by removing exercises 3 and 5 (flys and pushdowns) from the routine. The reason for this is that it’s often better for novice lifters to focus on a few core exercises so that they don’t get mentally or physically overwhelmed.

And anyway, your chest will get plenty of work from the two bench press exercises, which also work your triceps to a large extent as well.

As for rest periods, you want to rest 1-2 minutes between exercises or until you feel properly recovered. In general, you’ll rest a bit longer between sets of compound movements and less time between sets of isolation exercises.

Exercise 1: Barbell bench press — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

A woman doing a bench press

If you could only do one exercise for your chest and triceps, then I’d recommend doing the barbell bench press—for multiple reasons.

A free weight barbell bench press enables you to overload your pushing muscles—chest, triceps, front delts—with plenty of resistance so that you can train the many fast-twitch muscle fibers in your chest and tris. [1]

Building strength on the bench press will improve your pushing power on a number of other exercises, too, including the dumbbell press and shoulder press.

Also, barbells are available in pretty much any gym, so you can always stay consistent with your routine regardless of where you’re training.

  1. Load some weights onto a barbell (or start with an empty bar if you like).
  2. Grab the bar just outside shoulder width and then unrack it.
  3. Retract your scapula by pinning your shoulder blades back, and then tuck your elbows in at a 45-degree angle.
  4. Inhale and lower the bar down to your chest.
  5. Once the bar touches your body, press it back up by extending your elbows and aggressively pushing your hands into the barbell. Exhale once you get past the “sticking point” in the rep.
  6. Keep pushing until your elbows reach full extension.
  7. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.

Exercise 2: Incline dumbbell bench press — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

A woman doing an incline dumbbell press

The incline dumbbell bench press makes a great addition to any women’s chest and tricep gym workout because it helps you to sculpt a strong yet symmetrical upper body by forcing you to lift two independent weights.

Incline presses emphasize the upper chest and also train the anterior deltoids to a larger degree than flat presses. For this reason, I recommend using a moderate incline (around 30 degrees) so that you can keep the movement as chest-focused as possible.

Since you’re lifting two separate weights, you’ll be more likely to build a proportional upper body because you’ll be giving your muscles equal amounts of work. That’s the aesthetic benefit. 

But dumbbell presses—since they help to develop symmetry between both sides of your body—will also encourage you to keep the barbell straight during the regular bench press.

  1. Set the back pad of an adjustable bench to a 30-degree angle. You can also try 45 degrees if you feel that it works your upper chest better.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on the weight bench.
  3. Kick the dumbbells up with your legs, and then lie back on the bench.
  4. Tuck your elbows in at a 45-degree angle, and then press the weights up until your elbows reach lockout.
  5. Lower the weights under control so that they end up at either side of your chest.
  6. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.

Exercise 3: Cable fly — 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps

A female performing a cable chest fly

The cable fly really enables you to contract the muscles in your chest by bringing your arms all the way across your body, which naturally results in an intense muscle pump.

While chest flys are a good exercise for finishing off your pectoral muscles, they’re an exercise that some women may want to skip depending on the physique that they’re aiming for. More on that later.

With flys, don’t worry too much about the weight that you’re lifting. The intensity of the pump and contraction in the target muscles is far more important than the number on the weight stack.

  1. Set the cables on a crossover machine to a high position.
  2. Grab the handles with a neutral grip, and then take a step away from the machine.
  3. Bring your upper arms all the way across your body and contract your chest muscles.
  4. Hold the contraction for a second, and then release the handles in a controlled manner by letting your chest stretch out.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps.

Exercise 4: Overhead tricep extension — 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps

A lady doing an overhead extension for her triceps

No women’s chest and tricep workout is complete without the arm-sculpting overhead extension. This is because overhead extensions emphasize the long head of the triceps, which resides on the inner part of your upper arms.

Since the long head is also the largest triceps muscle, you can develop arms that are firm and toned rather than fat and flabby by including this movement in your routine.

Just make sure to lower the weights as far as you comfortably can so that you can really give your triceps that muscle-sculpting stretch that they need to grow and develop. If this means lifting really light weights, don’t worry about it. Form is more important than weight, especially when it comes to isolation exercises.

  1. Cup your hands around one end of a dumbbell, and then press the weight over your head.
  2. Tuck your elbows in slightly, and then bend your elbows to lower the weight behind your head.
  3. Keep going until you feel a deep stretch in the backs of your arms (in your triceps).
  4. Reverse the motion by flexing your triceps forcefully until your elbows are completely extended.
  5. Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps.

Exercise 5: Tricep pushdown — 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps

A woman doing a tricep pushdown

The rope pushdown makes an excellent addition to any chest and tricep workout for women because it targets the backs of your arms, which are a problem area for many ladies.

Pushdowns really work the lateral head of your triceps, which can help to make your upper arms look lean and toned since the lateral head is located on the outside of the triceps.

  1. Connect a tricep rope to a high pulley on a cable station.
  2. Grab the attachment and then take a step away from the machine.
  3. Move your shoulders and upper arms back so that they’re in line with your upper body.
  4. Bend over at your waist slightly, and then flex your triceps to push the rope down toward the floor. Keep going until your elbows are locked out.
  5. Hold the peak contraction for a moment and then release the contraction in a controlled manner. Keep going until your forearms press right up against your biceps.
  6. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 15-20 reps.

Should women train their chest and triceps differently from men?

A woman performing a specific female chest and tricep workout

Since this is a chest and triceps workout for women, I made a few female-specific adjustments to the routine so that you can get the best possible results. But if you want to get stronger and more muscular, shouldn’t you just train like a man?

Yes and no.

Of course, lifting weights is the best way to gain strength and muscle, [2] but women’s bodies typically respond better to higher reps and also higher training volumes, which is reflected in this routine. This may be because most women are generally lifting a bit less than men; hence, they need to perform more sets to get enough volume to provoke muscle growth.

Additionally, you might want to limit your chest work unless you want your chest area to have a muscular appearance. To be sure, you won’t build big pecs overnight. However, one or two chest exercises are enough for women who don’t have bodybuilding ambitions.

In terms of the triceps, doing two isolation exercises can really help to firm up your arms and make them look more toned. You can check out the best tricep toning exercises for more ideas.

Conclusion: What makes an ideal chest and tri workout for women?

A lady doing a specific women's chest and tricep workout

The ideal chest and tri workout for women should contain a mixture of compound movements and isolation exercises.

Compound movements help you to get familiar with barbells and dumbbells, which are two of the most important strength training tools in the gym. Compound lifts are also incredibly efficient because they train multiple muscle groups at once, which means that you need fewer isolation exercises in your routine.

But isolation exercises still have their place in any chest and tricep workout for women because they enable you to focus on the areas of your body that need the most attention. Overhead extensions and pushdowns, for example, really let you hone in on the backs of your arms so that you can make them toned rather than flabby.


  1. Gomez, A. (2017, October 20). Exactly How To Do A Bench Press (The Right Way). Women’s Health.
  2. Fetters, A. (2019, May 10). Lifting Heavier Weights: A Beginner’s Guide. SELF.