Tri-sets allow you to train multiple muscle groups back-to-back while allowing each muscle group to recover while you're working another area. Not only is this a great way to build size and work capacity, it also helps maximize training time. The upper-body tri-sets here have been designed with the big-box gym member in mind. Each one uses the same piece of equipment, which makes it a useful option when you're training at a crowded gym.
Sets and Reps
Since these tri-sets tend to involve isolation-type exercises, stay above 5 reps. Anything heavier than that makes it tough to avoid cheating. Do 2-3 sets of 6-15 reps per exercise in any given tri-set. Also, do tri-sets towards the end of your weight-training workout, which of course should include compound lifts.
Dumbbell Tri-Set 1
These exercises go well together because they're each performed back-to-back with a pair of dumbbells while lying on a flat bench.
A – Flye
B – Dumbbell Skull Crusher
C – Dumbbell Pullover
- You can perform these exercises in any order of your choosing. That said, the order listed has a nice flow to it because finishing the last rep of the chest flye puts you in position to begin doing the skull crushers. Then, the final rep of the skull crushers flows right into doing the pullovers.
- Since the idea is to perform all three of these exercises back-to-back while lying on the bench, use a higher number of reps for the easier exercises (the ones you're strongest at) and use a lower number of reps for the most difficult exercises (the ones you're weakest at).
- Perform the pullovers holding two dumbbells parallel to one another instead of using both hands to hold one dumbbell. Holding two dumbbells should be more comfortable and less awkward on the shoulders.
Dumbbell Tri-Set 2
A – Dumbbell Biceps Curl
B – Triceps Kickback
C – Shoulder A's
- Since these exercises are performed standing, switching out dumbbells between exercises doesn't interfere with the flow. You can grab a heavier set of dumbbells for the easier exercises (the ones you're strongest at) and use a lighter set of dumbbells for the most difficult exercises (the ones you're weakest at).
- Although you can perform this tri-set in any order you like, the order here works very well because it usually only requires you to change dumbbell loads once. You start off using the heavier dumbbells to perform the biceps curls and then switch to a lighter set to perform both the kickback and the A's.
Dumbbell Tri-Set 3
This one is also performed standing, so the same guidelines provided for the previous tri-set also apply here.
A – One-Arm Overhead Triceps Extension
B – Dumbbell 45-Degree Shoulder Raise
C – Rear-Delt Flye
- The 45-degree shoulder raise serves as a nice middle ground between the conventional lateral raise and front raise.
- The order of the exercises is the preferred order for most people because it usually only requires them to change dumbbell load once. Start off with heavier dumbbell to perform the triceps extensions and switch to a lighter pair to do both shoulder movements.
Cable Tri-Set 1
This tri-set involves rope handles attached at the top of a cable column (above your head). Perform the following exercises back-to-back:
A – Rope Face Pull
B – Rope Triceps Extension
C – Compound Straight-Arm Pulldown
- Instead of performing the rope triceps extension, you can perform overhead rope triceps extensions (facing away from the cable column).
- Also, instead of doing the compound straight-arm pulldown, you can substitute straight-arm pulldowns with a rotation.
Cable Tri-Set 2
This one involves a D-handle attached at the top of a cable column.
A – Lateral Straight-Arm Pulldown
B – High to Low Cable Chop
C – One-Arm Triceps Extension
- Keep your torso fairly perpendicular to the cable column; don't rotate your torso away from the cable column more than a few degrees as you reach the bottom of the range of motion. Doing so greatly reduces the rotational tension on your torso.
- For both of the cable tri-sets, switch the pin placement to use a heavier load on the easier exercises and use a lighter load for the most difficult exercises.
Medicine Ball Tri-Set
You'll need a 6-12 pound rubber medicine ball (well-inflated) for this one.
A – Medicine Ball Walkout
B – Close Grip Push-Up on Medicine Ball
C – One-Arm Medicine Ball Plank
- When performing the walkout, roll the ball out in front of you as far as possible without allowing your lower back to extend, or as far as possible without feeling discomfort in your lower back.
- When doing the close-grip push-ups, turn your hands outward so that your fingers point down towards the floor. Your elbows should be against your sides at the bottom of each push-up.
- When performing the one-arm plank, don't allow your shoulders or hips to rotate, or your head or belly to sag towards the floor.
This one has a very intensive abdominal element to it.
A – Stability-Ball Arch
B – Stability-Ball Straight-Arm Rollout
C – Stability-Ball Pike + Push-Up Combo
- Arches are a version of the "stir the pot" exercise that simply eliminates the bottom part of the circle made by your arms. This action is unnecessary and only makes the exercise more awkward.
- When performing the walkout, roll the ball out in front of you as far as possible without allowing your lower back to extend, or as far as possible without feeling discomfort in your back.
- When doing the pike part of the stability-ball pike + push-up combo, use your abs to raise your hips toward the sky while keeping your legs fairly straight. Raise your hips just barely above your shoulders. This will help maintain constant tension on your abs.
Note: For demonstration purposes, all of the videos use a lighter-than-normal weight and a fewer-than-recommended number of reps.