Before we get to the good stuff, let me be clear: This isn't some pretty-boy aesthetics workout. This is a heavy, strength-building, chest-and-back workout that's designed to challenge your body and push your physical limits.

I prefer to do this workout during the offseason, when I have the calories to really push heavy weight. Having the energy to go heavy is important for this workout because you're going to be using percentages of your bench-press one-rep max (1RM).

If you don't know your 1RM, fill in this calculator to quickly determine it.

Back when I was playing football, I did a lot of strength training. But as a physique competitor, I was always trying to get bigger or get shredded, so my training was geared toward those goals. These days, I like to have time each year dedicated solely to strength training.

There's just something that happens when you train for performance. Yes, I want to look a certain way, but I also want to be super strong and function well. That's what this workout will do for you.

Steve Cook's Strength-Building Chest-And-Back Workout
Close-grip bench press
2 sets, 10 reps (warm-up)
4 sets, 6 reps
+ 4 more exercises


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Cook's Training Cues

Superset 1

When performing the close-grip bench press, slowly lower the weight to your chest, then come up 1/4 of the way. Bring the bar back down to your chest, then press it all the way back up. Performing quarter reps increases the amount of time your muscles are under tension—an important part of building bigger, stronger muscles.

Steve Cook's Strength-Building Chest-And-Back Workout

Close-grip bench press/Face pull

I like to use a narrow grip to bring my triceps and front delts into play. For each consecutive set, use 60, 65, 70, and 75 percent of your regular bench-press 1RM. If you have a spotter, use them when the going gets heavy.

The face pull is a great exercise to train your middle back, rear delts, and even your traps. Use weight that's heavy enough to make the last couple reps on each set difficult, but really focus on your form here.

Superset 2

For this superset, start with the weighted pull-up. If you have a weight belt, use it. If not, hold a dumbbell between your feet. If you can't use weight, just do 6 reps with your own body weight. If you can't get 6 reps, have someone help you, or use an assisted machine. Do the reps as best as you can!

Steve Cook's Strength-Building Chest-And-Back Workout

Weighted pull-up/Incline dumbbell press

Control your descent, and pull hard on the way up. Try to fail on that sixth rep. Next time you do this workout, try to increase the weight you use or employ less assistance.

Your second exercise here is an incline press. I like to use dumbbells because they force each side of my body to work independently. If one side is weaker than the other, I'll be able to tell. The incline will really smoke your upper chest.

Superset 3

Perform the dumbbell bench press with roughly 22-23 percent of your regular bench-press 1RM. Do all 6 reps on one arm before moving to the next. Hold that nonworking arm up and out, but don't lock it out.

Steve Cook's Strength-Building Chest-And-Back Workout

Dumbbell bench press/Bent-over dumbbell row

On the row, use about 25 percent of your bench-press 1RM. It may seem strange to base a row off your bench, but using a percentage that correlates to your bench max will really strengthen the back and shoulder girdle to support a heavy press. Being in a bent-over position will also make breathing difficult, so your heart rate should be elevated throughout the exercise.

Metabolic Conditioning Circuit

While many of you might not want to perform cardio immediately after your strength work, I like to incorporate some cardio after resistance training because I want a healthy, strong heart. I also like to keep cardio in my workouts because, if I do happen to go back into a leaning-out phase, my cardiovascular system is already prepared for the work.

This circuit is unique because you'll be using the muscles you just used in your workout. You're using your chest to press up in the burpee and your back during the pull-ups. Throwing in some box jumps will really get your heart rate up to help you burn calories the rest of the day. Now get after it!

About the Author

Steve Cook

Steve Cook

Steve Cook is a spokesmodel, Optimum Nutrition athlete, winner of the 2010 Fit Body Competition, and much more.

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