Full Chest and Back Workout for Max Muscle (HIGH INTENSITY!)

If you ever wondered what a full chest and back workout could look like if you traded in volume for intensity, this is it. Jeff Cavaliere takes you through a complete workout for chest and back that will help you to build max muscle in as little as 30 minutes.

This is an example of a low volume, high intensity workout for chest and back that was once popular and has since been eclipsed by high volume advocates. That said, when performed correctly, this may not only be a preferable way to train but the science may actually support it as a smarter way to train. This is particularly so when it comes to those that have underlying orthopedic issues that are exacerbated by high volume workouts.

So this chest and back workout consists of just 2-3 exercises for chest and 2-3 exercises for back. The key is to first identify whether or not your chest and back are strong muscle groups for you or are lacking in development. There are two simple ways to determine this. First, you can simply look in the mirror. What does your chest look like? Is it in line with the rest of your development or do you think it’s a bit lagging? Second, what is your ability to contract the muscle to the point of discomfort. This is an indication of mind muscle control. When it is lacking, it is usually a sign that points to a difficulty in developing that muscle.

If you lack good muscle development in either the chest or back, you are going to perform two sets of what is shown here called the mindful mass sets and only one set of the preexhaust compound exercise combo. If you have a good mind muscle connection with the muscle, you are going to flip that and perform two of the preexhaust compound exercise sets with only one of the mindful mass sets.

For chest, we’re picking two exercises that are going to be performed in back to back superset fashion. For maximum effectiveness and chest gains you are going to want to almost eliminate any rest time between the two component exercises. In this case, I’m choosing dumbbell floor flies and immediately following it up with dumbbell bench press. The floor flies are done to preexhaust the chest. It is necessary that you take this to complete failure.

As soon as the set is complete, rush over to the bench and perform the second half of the superset. Grab a dumbbell weight that allows you to fail within 6-8 reps if possible. If you are shy of this, simply adjust the weight the next set or in the next workout if you are only doing one set. Just be sure to take it to absolute failure.

There is controversy around the need to take sets to failure or not in order to see muscle growth. Research shows that taking sets a couple reps shy of failure is almost as effective if not just as effective as taking it to failure. The problem is, many people do not know what actual failure looks like or feels like. They wind up coming up well short of failure when attempting to stop short. When using a very low volume workout approach, going to failure ensures you did it right without a detriment to your next workout if your workouts are structured appropriately.

The next part of this chest and back workout is the back. Here I’m performing a straight arm pushdown into a lat pulldown. The same concept applies. Preexhaust the lats and then incorporate the biceps, brachialis, upper back and rhomboids into the lift to assist in driving them further to exhaustion. Follow this up with a mindful mass set of higher reps to absolute metabolic fatigue using the straight arm pushdowns once again.

Here is the chest and back workout:

DB Floor Flies supersetted with DB Bench Press: 1-2 sets to failure
Crossovers to failure: 1-2 sets

Use weight that causes failure in the 6-10 rep range on both ends of the superset and 15-20 reps on the crossovers.

Cable Straight Arm Pushdowns supersetted with Lat Pulldowns: 1-2 sets to failure
Straight Arm Pushdowns to failure: 1-2 sets

Use weight that causes failure in the 6-10 rep range on both ends of the superset and 15-20 reps on the pushdowns.

If you’re looking for a complete workout that trades in workout length for intensity, head to athleanx.com via the link below and use the program selector to find the plan that meets your exact body and goals right now.

If you want a perfect chest workout and perfect back workout to follow with higher volume, be sure to subscribe to our channel here on youtube via the link below and remember to turn on your notifications so you never miss a video when it’s published.

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35 thoughts on “Full Chest and Back Workout for Max Muscle (HIGH INTENSITY!)

  1. ATHLEAN-X™ says:

    “FAST ACTION” Q&A* – Leave your most burning question about this video or any other training, PT or nutrition question within the first 2 hours of this video’s release (AS A SEPARATE COMMENT!!) and I will pick 8 to get a detailed reply from me right here in the comments. Answers will be posted within the first 24-48 hours of you leaving the question. Good luck!

    • Furjin says:

      My triceps click on nearly every rep. It takes me almost an entire workout to get them freed/warmed up. Tried a lacrosse ball and stretches but nothing seems to work. Any tips on how to free then up quickly?

    • Troy Defond says:

      awesome advice, u should do this for all muscle groups. I’ve never seen this type of workout. the low volume, high intensity is very interesting to me. for longevity and time constraints this seems optimal to volume. definitely starting to feel my joints more that I’m into my 30’s from my 20’s.

    • David Alderman says:

      @Nikola _Svd I have the same issue in right elbow, not sure if it ever goes away. I just tiger balm it, take ibuprofen and go at it.

  2. xenocates says:

    Question for you! In some of your other videos you’ve mentioned that you do ab work every day, is it not necessary to give the abs a break? I have been doing the 6-pack shuffle every other day, but if abs need less time to recover then I want to work them more frequently. Thank you Jeff for everything you do!

    • Sebastian Croft says:

      @Kaan Can Weighted crunches supersetted with hanging leg raises. Copied from Milos Sarcev!

    • Damon Prince says:

      He has a video dedicated to this question, “How Often to Work Out Your Abs”. The gist of it is that the abs ARE NOT like other muscle groups because their purpose is to provide good posture and protect your spine. Your spine needs support all the time, not sometimes. The video goes a lot more in depth, so I suggest watching it!

    • SwissGangsta says:

      @Damon Prince Nope that’s bull. Your quads and hamstrings support your legs but don’t need daily training. A muscle is a muscle. Training them everyday doesn’t offer additional benefits.

  3. Navers Kay says:

    Would love to see something similar for legs, especially for quad development. Very motivated to get some good definition, and I have always had skinny legs from a physique standpoint. But I love squatting, and started to do more front and goblet squats to focus on the quads.

    • John Robinson says:

      @Eli Farmer I liked using the hack machine, too, at my old gym. Sadly, my current gym doesn’t have one. So I have resorted to Goblin Squats (my term for goblet squats) and Dumbbell squats. I found Dumbbell squats very effective for quads but you really have to kill yourself on them. I am next going to try elevating my heels a bit more on Barbell squats.

    • John Robinson says:

      @bobith popit Yeah, this is kinda true. I love goblet squats, I find them very ‘mobile’ and athletic, but the grip issue is real. Additionally, there can be some pain in the hands from pressure points if your grip is not just right, as the weight gets heavier. Also, did not find them as effective as Dumbbell squats for the quads. But they look badass in the mirror lol

    • XbenXwilsonX Highlights says:

      Lift your heels with a plate will help. And ATG split squats are good for quads.

    • catabolic beast says:

      Just as Jeff says: don’t just load your weights, load your exercise with more intensity. Do a metabolic exercise right after your squats, it can even ve bodyweight, and your legs will get an enormous pump.

  4. Brian Donley Worrell says:

    Hey Jeff, excellent stuff as always. Good to hear your take on intensity, both the mental approach and it’s effective application. Thanks for all the great work you do.

  5. Bruno Colman Kizur says:

    Hey Jeff!! Can we get a series on the perfect Upper-Lower split for those of us that can only train 4 days per week? Really love the content of the channel!!

  6. Zahid Shafait says:

    Great content Jeff, would you also be doing other body parts like this eg legs, shoulders? Have some issues with knees and shoulders and have not trained legs for fear of aggravating knee further.

  7. Maggi Mar says:

    First-class teaching, enjoy learning even for an old man like me! Thank you Jeff now as before.

  8. Connor Albin says:

    Great video Jeff! I was wanting your opinion on what it takes to be a personal trainer. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now and I was wondering what did you do to get to where you are. What steps do you take and what do you recommend? Thanks Jeff!

  9. Tom Hinds says:

    Would love to see you do this for legs! I have a meniscus injury which this could be great for!

  10. Daniel Mulero says:

    Very useful video! This format of video is really inspiring by all the delivered information in form of tips and real exercise execution!
    This kind of content motivates me to attack my next workout tomorrow morning. Thank you, Jeff!

  11. Jared Wilcox says:

    Been following you for years now! I suffer from a labrum tear as well. Ever since following you I have learned to train around it and make gains. Before finding you’re channel I thought my training career was over.
    So thank you Jeff, for everything!

  12. Mark Riley says:

    Thanks for this informative I do. I’ve been training my whole life; managing joint issues as I age. Really appreciate the detailed discussion of managing the workouts while limiting tread ware. Cheers.

  13. Gregg Bergonzi says:

    Thanks Jeff! Have watched your vids for years and this is one of your best. Loved Mentzer since the 80’s. Am in my 60’s and now using H.I.T. training. Also big fan of Dorian and think he was one of Greatest ever save for that freak Ronnie!

  14. mightylorddk says:

    Hey Jeff how you doing? I want to thank you for your quality contents, even after suataining injury. I have been working for over a decade still I am getting bigger. And your contents have a big play into it. Thanks once again, hope our next generation will also get help and guidance from you as we did

  15. John Finney says:

    Thank you so very much! That was such a good explanation of where I’m simply not going anywhere near the distance I can, or should! Would love to see similar videos for the other muscle groups too! Thanks again Jeff!

  16. Jee Gurda says:

    Love this video format, 30 mins, no cuts, high intensity workout and still dropping knowledge as clear as day.
    Absolute gigachad.

  17. Quality John Martinez says:

    Love watching the process in action Jeff, awesome video. Great learning experience for those like me that are more visual. Thanks Jeff

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