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Contest Prep Training: Chest, Shoulder, Triceps

’Tis the season for contest prep. Soon, we will all be shedding our layers of blubber to unveil what muscle gains we have made during the winter months. For me, this means starting a 17 week prep for my next bodybuilding competition. I’ve been asked if contest prep training should be really different than off season training. In most cases, my answer is no.

Whatever training led you to build muscle is the same plan that can help you retain muscle during the dieting process. Switching to contest mode is no time to jump ship and adopt a new training philosophy. Your recovery capacity will change, however, so you’ll need to be mindful of training volume. So, you don’t need to revamp training, only adjust as needed. If strength and recovery drop off, then it’s time to switch out the drop sets for straight sets.

Although my typical training split is a push, pull, legs set up, I deviate from this at times depending on recovery. For this contest season, I train 6 days on and 1 day off.

Current Training Split


Day 1: Back, rear delts, biceps
Day 2: Chest, side/front delt, triceps
Day 3: Hams and calves
Day 4: Back, rear delts, biceps
Day 5: Chest, side/front delt, triceps
Day 6: Quads and calves
Day 7: Off

Check out Day 1:


The workout below is my Day 2 training session of the week. On this chest, shoulder, and tricep workout, I stick to more straight sets, heavier weight, and lower reps than my other chest day. My first chest session is low rep and second session is high rep.

John’s Day 2 Chest Workout


*Warm up sets are not included in descriptions, take as many warm up sets as needed. Pyramid up in weight.

*All listed sets are taken to or near failure, consider safety when training to failure.

Smith Machine Incline Press


2 rest pause sets: set 1 @ 10-15 reps total, set 2 @ 15-20 reps total.
A rest pause set is lifting a weight to muscular failure, resting 20 seconds, then lifting the same weight again to failure. Add up the total reps completed.



My first compound lift targets the upper chest. This is a lagging area for most, so start your training off with the weaker developed body part. The smith machine is a good choice, since it is a controlled movement and the bar path is straight out rather than pushing back toward the head like a barbell press. If you’re lifting alone, it is a great choice for safety as well. But don’t assume the smith machine won’t stimulate growth—muscle only knows tension. If you can produce greater tension in a smith machine, then go ahead.

Plate Loaded Flat Machine Press


3 sets @ 10-12 reps

Next, I move to a pressing movement for the mid and lower chest. I like a plate-loaded machine since it will allow me to concentrate on mind muscle connection compared to other lifts. The challenge with any machine is setting up correctly. Arms should be around 75 degrees to the body; you do not want elbows flared out at 90 degrees.

Work up to a max out set of 10-12 reps. Stick with that same weight for 2 more sets. When training to failure, the reps in each subsequent set should be decreasing due to fatigue.

Super Set: Pec Deck Fly into Dumbbell Floor Press


3 rounds with no rest between each exercise, 10-15 reps on each exercise on the first sets. Reps will drop with each subsequent set.

The super set is a continued circuit of two exercises with a 60 second rest after each round. The purpose of this super set was to pre-fatigue my upper chest with the pec deck fly prior to performing the dumbbell floor press. This allows my triceps and shoulders to not fatigue before my chest does. Also, the floor press will work the chest in a fully shortened state where it is weakest.

For the pec deck fly, set up so the hands will come together about mid chest. If you are too high or low, it will change the muscle groups worked. Lean slightly into the fly, keeping the shoulders squeezed back to engage the chest more.

For the dumbbell press, make sure to again keep the shoulders squeezed back. Control the weight in the eccentric phase with only a slight pause in the bottom position.

Pin Loaded Shoulder Press


3 sets @ 10-12 reps, 60 second rest periods.

Set up for this shoulder press facing the pad of the machine. Keep the handles slightly in front of you to keep the shoulder joint healthy and still work the front delts hard.

Super Set: Pin Loaded Machine Lateral Raise into Lying Cable Upright Row


3 sets @12-15 reps

Keep strict form on the lateral machine raise—avoid shrugging your shoulders to initiate the movement. Aim to hit 15 reps on the first set, reps will drop with subsequent sets.

Move straight to a lying cable upright row. The lying upright row prevents torso sway that causes momentum during the lift. This stricter form will require lighter weight than usual, but elicits a very strong contraction in the lateral deltoid head. Aim to hit 15 reps on the first set.

Super Set Rope Push Downs with JM press


3 sets @ 10-15 reps

Keep the elbow locked in place at the side for a strict tricep contraction. Control the eccentric movement and really spread the rope at the bottom position.

JM presses are a mix of a skull crusher and close grip bench press. Start with a close grip and the bar at eye level. Bring the bar straight down to the eye. The elbows should stay tucked in close to the body. This movement can save the elbows but still really work the medial head of the tricep.

That wraps up my chest, shoulder, and tricep day. Contest prep is no time to train easy. It’s time to push your limits just like you did in the off season. Try the workout above and see how far you can push your limit.

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