As a personal fitness and strength coach, I’ve spent a lot of time with amateur and professional athletes. And when it comes to shaping your upper body, two of the glory muscle areas for most people are the upper arms and back.
And to help our readers do the same back and biceps workout that our clients go through, we decided to create this post and show you exactly how to approach it.
We spent a few weeks reaching out to colleagues in the fitness industry to come up with the ideal workout routines.
- When it comes to planning your back and biceps workout, it’s all about striking a balance between compound and isolation exercises.
- Achieving even muscle growth in these areas should also be a major priority for all athletes.
- When it comes to your back, you have to be especially careful about proper form to avoid some of the common injuries.
Panning The Best Back And Bicep Workout
One of the mistakes I often see people make is that they head to the gym and immediately work on their arms.
While this is a muscle group that bodybuilders show off the most, taking such an approach can limit the effectiveness of your back exercises.
Here’s why that can happen.
If you think of some common back exercises like cable rows and pullups, those will also engage your arm muscles to a lesser extent.
And if you start with your workout by focusing on your bicep muscles, then they will be tired when it comes to your back.
Based on some research and testing on our preferred back and bicep workout, we got some interesting results.
We simply switched around our back and biceps workout routine and took note of the performance of five of our clients. In all cases, they didn’t do as well with the back exercise portion.
And the more effectively you can execute your training, the more muscle growth you’ll experience .
Read More: Best Exercises for the Middle Back
The Best Back And Biceps Exercises
Let me now bring you the back and biceps workout that we recommend for our clients after extensively testing how much effect they have on the upper arm and back muscles.
1. Back Exercises
For your back muscles, we’ll focus on a mix of workouts that involve free weights and cable machines.
Seated Cable Rows
For the seated cable row, you want to get set up at a cable machine with a row seat and footplate attachment.
First of all, adjust the seat position with your knees bent slightly and where you have some tension on the cable while sitting up straight with your arms stretched out.
Grab hold of a seated cable row handle that you grip with your hand less than a foot apart.
From this starting position, concentrate on not allowing your upper body to tilt forward or backward. You want your shoulder to do most of the work.
Pull the handle to your chest while counting to two.
hen hold it there for a second and feel the pressure between your shoulder blades. Now it’s time to slowly release the tension for a count of three.
The next part of the workout routine will focus on the upper back muscles, and you’ll use the same cable pulley or lat pulldown machine for the lat pulldown.
Use a straight bar for a lat pulldown that you can grip wider than shoulder-width apart, and make sure that the thigh pads are comfortable and tight.
With the overhand grip, pull down the bar for a count of two, hold the tension for a second, and then slowly release the tension for a count of three.
This process will increase the time under tension, and that can significantly improve your muscle growth .
“Time under tension (TUT) refers to the amount of time a muscle is held under tension or strain during an exercise set.”
- Gregory Minnis, DPT
Read More: Wide Grip Lat Pulldown 101 Guide
Reverse Cable Flyes
Here is a compound exercise that I personally love the most.
You’ll use the cable machine and set yourself up with a handle in each hand by your thighs so that the cables cross in front of you.
With your feet shoulder-width apart, it’s time to pull each handle up and perpendicular to your body with your arms straight.
This will trigger multiple muscle groups from your shoulder all the way to the middle of your back.
This is a great free-weight alternative to the cable row. You’ll want to set up with a pretty heavy dumbbell on the ground.
Take one step forward so that the dumbbell is below your chest, lean forward, bend your knees, and grab hold of the dumbbell.
You’re now in the starting position for the single-arm dumbbell row, and you should pull the weight up to your chest without changing your upper body position.
Then slowly lower it down again and feel the strain between your shoulder blades.
Straight Arm Pulldowns
This is the last back exercise before we move on to our favorite bicep workout options.
Set up the cable machine as if you were going to do triceps pull-downs.
But rather than stand close with your elbows bent, take a step away and keep your elbows straight.
Now, slowly pull the handle down while keeping your arms perfectly straight until your hands reach your thighs.
Then slowly release the tension and feel the strain release in the muscle fibers of your upper back.
2. Biceps Workouts
Your back should be tired at this stage, and those exercises will also have properly warmed up your arms, ready to do some biceps exercises.
I prefer doing a dumbbell curl standing up, but you can also do this as an incline dumbbell curl on a bench.
To start the barbell curl, grab a reasonably heavy weight with palms facing away from you, and stand up with your knees slightly bent and feet hip-width apart.
Then slowly pull the dumbbell up to your chest, hold it for a second and then slowly lower it down again.
This is one of those biceps workouts where going slowly with proper form will pay off a lot.
Dumbbell Hammer Curl
Hammer curls are a great variation for any biceps workout routine, and you could also just alternate this one with a regular dumbbell curl.
Use the same dumbbell as before but hold it with palms facing each other and beside your thighs. Now slowly pull one dumbbell up and notice that you’re holding it like a hammer.
Then lower it down again slowly and switch to doing a hammer curl with the other hand. Alternatively, you could complete a set with each arm before switching to the other.
I generally recommend that bodybuilders do preacher curls using an EZ bar, but if you don’t have one available, then a dumbbell preacher curl can be just as effective.
To set up these bicep workouts, find the padded preacher curl station and adjust the height so that you can comfortably lean forward. Rest both elbows on the pad with a dumbbell in each hand.
Then slowly pull one hand up at a time and alternate between the two.
If you’re using an EZ bar, then you’ll do this bicep workout with both hands at the same time.
Also Read: How to Do Preacher Curls?
This is a bicep workout that is very underrated by many athletes.
The setup is very simple, with a dumbbell in each hand while standing up straight. Hold the weights with your palms facing your body in front of you.
Then, start the curls as normal and notice the difference in the strain on your arms as your hands face in the opposite direction.
Choosing Reps And Weights
When it comes to back and bicep exercises, my general advice is that you should aim for maximum strength gains by doing fewer reps and loading up the weight a bit.
For the above routine, I would suggest doing three sets of each exercise and doing six to eight reps in each.
You can push it up to about ten reps, but to take advantage of limited time, I’d keep the sets shorter and do more exercises.
Anatomy Of These Muscle Groups
To better understand why we structured the back and biceps workout like this, let me show you a bit of background to these two muscle groups.
1. Biceps Anatomy
There are two muscles to be aware of that make up the biceps .
- Biceps brachii: this is the large thick muscle that has the primary role of flexing the elbow and does most of the work in the above exercises.
- Brachialis: This is a smaller muscle and lies between your brachii and the triceps on the outer side of your arm.
These two muscles work very much in unison, and you’ll target both with all the above workouts.
The different hand grips will add or reduce the strain on the brachialis, which is why we have added a mix.
2. Back Anatomy
There are several major muscles in the back that you need to keep in mind .
- Latissimus dorsi: These are the lats that you’ll find at the top of your back, and they help to pull your arms downward and backward.
- Teres major: This small muscle below your shoulders is responsible for pulling your arms backward.
- Rhomboids: These upper back muscles help to control and move the shoulder blades.
- Trapezius: This is another large muscle group that is involved in moving the shoulder blades.
Note: The erector spinae muscles which run along your spine in your lower back are generally part of your core, and you won’t directly target them with the above back and bicep workout.
Is It Good To Work Out Back And Biceps Together?
Yes, it is good to work out your back and biceps together in the same training session.
You can work on each muscle group with separate compound and isolation exercises without causing too much strain fatigue in one area.
You’ll also find that these are two areas where you want to achieve consistent and parallel growth in muscle mass.
I’ve seen it too many times that amateurs spend too much time on their upper arms.
They have massive biceps, and then their shoulders and back look completely out of proportion.
The great thing about a back and biceps workout is that you can adjust what kind of sets you do.
Starting out, it would make sense to do more compound exercises, as they can boost overall muscle mass growth .
And then, when you want to shape certain muscles, you can switch to doing more target isolation exercises.
“While there’s no way to speed results at the gym—nothing will replace consistently working hard—there are ways to make sure you’re training smarter, and doing compound exercises is one of them.”
- Alexa Tucker, Editor at self.com
Related Article: Best Chest and Shoulder Workout
Should You Train Biceps Or Back First?
You should ideally train your back first and then your biceps. The reason is that many back exercises will also require your arm muscles as support. And if you exhaust your arms, then you won’t be able to do as much lifting for your back.
Is Back And Biceps A Good Split?
Yes, a back and biceps workout is a good split. These muscle groups can be separately targeted, meaning that you have a better chance to reduce your rest time between different sets.
Take A Step Up In Your Upper Body Workouts
Try out the above back and biceps workout for one of your next upper body days to maximize muscle gains and control over your physique.
And because you’ll need to pay attention to how your body recovers and builds up new muscle tissue, I would advise you to also pay close attention to the post-workout proteins you take.
We have done extensive testing and have some great recommendations:
Try adding these to your routine for much faster recovery times.
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