How to Build the Muscles to Look Better in Your T-Shirt

Chris Pratt in a black T-shirt
Chris Pratt in a black T-shirtThe Riker Brothers

While attacking the large muscle groups in your upper body—your back, chest, and shoulders—is obviously important, the key is in the finer details. In other words, it’s all about targeting the little muscles within the bigger muscles to look better in your T-shirt. For instance, your biceps comprise two parts—the biceps brachii, at the top of your shoulder, and the brachialis, which starts a bit lower down and helps you bend your elbow. Many people only focus on the former, but targeting the smaller component of the bicepsthe brachialis—adds that extra level of detail. (Don’t worry, we’ll light ’em up with hammer curls in the workout below.)

 

 

Triceps actually take up a larger percent of your arm than your biceps. They’re composed of three parts (hence the name): the lateral, medial, and long heads. So, that means you want to up the volume a little bit higher than you would for your biceps. That’s why we increased the sets for dips and dumbbell skull crushers in Workout B.

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And when you’re training your shoulders, it can’t just be all about pressing (which targets your front and middle delts). Many guys neglect rear delt development, but you need to find ways to work them to give yourself 3D symmetry. You’ll accomplish that from upper back exercises, which comes as a surprise to many. That’s why we incorporated the rear delt flye into Workout B.

Speaking of your back, training it can’t just be all about deadlifting and rowing. You want exercises that accentuate a V-taper, which helps fill out your frame. If you’re a rower, you may not think you need a wide-grip pullup, but you do. Rowing works your traps, but wide-grip pullups also get your latimus dorsi and the much smaller rhomboids to a greater degree.

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And to put the finishing touches on your T-shirt muscles, we’ve got chest day. You want to make sure you do exercises that hit the muscle fibers that make up the clavicular part of your upper chest to fill out your neckline and give the illusion of a bigger chest. And even though pectoralis major sounds more important, hitting the pectoralis minor with moves like dips are just as crucial.

We just threw a lot of physiology at you, but you don’t have to remember any of it because we did the hard part and crafted two workout that takes it all into account—helping you sculpt not only those big, major muscles, but also the smaller, sometimes-neglected ones so you’ll look better in a T-shirt.

Instructions: Perform workout A & B once a week with at least one day off in between (you can focus on your lower body that day).

Workout courtesy of Alyssa Ages, athlete with PowerNYC Training and trainer at Uplift Studios, EPIC Hybrid Training, and Global Strongman Gym.

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How to Build the Muscles to Look Better in Your T-Shirt

Workout A

Primary Muscles Worked: lats, biceps, chest

1. Lat Cable Pull-Downs – 4 x 10 reps
How to do it: Seated at a lat cable machine, take hands out to a wide grip and pull the straight bar down to just below your chin (it should feel difficult to pull the bar down farther). Slowly return to start and repeat

2. Wide-Grip Pullups – 4 x AMRAP (as many reps as possible)
How to do it: To build broader lats, perform pullups with a wider grip, about twice the width of your shoulders.

3. Hammer Curls – 4 x 8 reps
How to do it: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing one another. Keeping your upper arms against your sides, curl both weights up at the same time.

4. Seated Concentration Curls – 4 x 10 reps each side
How to do it: Sit at the edge of a bench with a dumbbell in one hand and feet placed wider than shoulder-width apart. Rest the arm with the dumbbell on the inside of your thigh. Curl the dumbbell to your shoulder and lower back to start.

5. Lying Dumbbell Pullover – 4 x 10 reps
How to do it: On a bench or the floor, press two dumbbells together with arms straight directly above your chest. Keeping arms straight, slowly bring the dumbbells overhead towards the floor or bench. Return to center.

6. Barbell Incline Press – 4 x 6-8 reps 
How to do it: Set an incline bench to an angle of about 45 degrees. Lower the bar to your upper chest and return to overhead.

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Workout B

Primary Muscles Worked: traps, triceps, shoulders

1. Barbell Shrugs – 4 x 8 reps
How to do it: Hold a barbell in front of your body with feet at shoulder-width distance. Palms should face your body. Raise shoulders, hold, and return to start.

2. Kettlebell Sumo High Pull – 4 x 10 reps
How to do it: Stand with feet in a wide stance, toes pointed out slightly. Place a kettlebell between your feet and squat down to grip with both hands. As you drive through your heels to stand up, pull the kettlebell to shoulder height, raising your elbows. Return to start.

3. Dips – 5 x AMRAP
How to do it: Using parallel dip bars, lower your body until your arms are at a 90-degree angle, and press back up to straight arms.

4. Dumbbell Skull Crushers – 5 x 10-12 reps 
How to do it: Lying on your back on the floor, hold a set of dumbbells with arms straight, shoulder-width distance apart, directly above the chest. Hinging at the elbows, lower the dumbbells towards your head, bringing them down to touch the floor on either side of your head.

5. Barbell Overhead Strict Press – 4 x 6-8 reps 
How to do it: With barbell at shoulder height in a squat rack, grip the barbell wider than shoulder width. Step out of the rack. Without dipping, press the barbell overhead, keeping a vertical path until the bar is completely overhead. Lock arms and slowly return to start position at your shoulders.

6. Dumbbell Lateral Raises – 3 x 10-12 reps
How to do it: Standing with feet hip-width distance apart, hold one dumbbell in each hand. Raise arms out to the sides of your body until arms are at shoulder height. Slowly return to start.

7. Rear Delt Fly – 3 x 10-12 reps
How to do it: Hinge forward from the hips holding a dumbbell in each hand, keeping a slight bend in your knees. Raise the dumbbells out to the sides of your body, palms facing down until they are even with your shoulders. Slowly reverse the movement to return to start. 

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Bonus Moves to Build Your T-Shirt Muscles

These moves work multiple muscle groups in the upper body and can be added to either day to really build the muscles to look better in your T-shirt.

1. Barbell Deadlifts – 4 x 6 reps
How to do it: Stand in front of the barbell and bend at the knees, maintaining a flat back to grip the barbell with an overhand or mixed (if the weight is difficult for you to move) grip. Tighten your upper back and with straight arms, pull the slack from the bar. Pressing through the heels, stand up with the barbell and lock out to complete the movement. Return to start.

2. Manmakers – 2 x 10 reps
How to do it:  A favorite of CrossFitters, this one works a number of upper-body muscles. Begin in plank position with a dumbbell under each hand. Perform one pushup. Perform a renegade row with each arm. Hop feet up towards hands, and rise to a squat position with dumbbells at shoulders. As you stand, use the leg drive to press dumbbells overhead.

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