8 Chest and Back Workouts for a Perfect Upper Body

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: July 17, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
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There are countless chest and back workouts available for building the upper body; however, it’s always challenging to find one that suits your particular needs.

To help you find the right exercise, our team of fitness experts researched chest and back workouts that are scalable and, therefore, potentially suitable to people at different fitness stages, including beginners.

We have listed those that are not too complicated, require less use of equipment, and can be adjusted according to your needs.

During these 8 chest and back workouts for a perfect upper body, utilize strength training with free weights and bodyweight exercises to effectively target muscles with the same workout routine.

Quick Summary

  • The best chest and back workouts include bench presses, lat pulldowns, incline dumbbell presses, close grip lat pulldowns, chest dips, and T-bar rows.
  • A lot of people neglect their back, particularly the lower back muscles when exercising.
  • A study by the National Institutes of Health highlights the effectiveness of exercises like the lat pulldown in activating the lats muscles, which are crucial for back strength.
  • In my personal opinion, a combination of chest flies and dumbbell pullovers is particularly effective for enhancing the upper body's aesthetic appeal and strength.

Build a V Torso With These 8 Chest and Back Exercises

Incorporate these 8 chest and back workouts into your routine for an effective upper body workout, targeting the muscle group like the shoulder blades and upper chest, to achieve optimal muscle gains. Engage your entire upper body by focusing on upper arms, incorporating chest exercises that promote muscle growth in big muscle groups.

You can use different sets and repetitions for some time before finding out what works best for you.

For a start, you may do five sets for five repetitions.

Perform this exercise program for a V torso:

1. Bench Press

Man doing a barbell bench press

Drawing from our experience, the bench press has been a cornerstone in our chest workouts.

This exercise utilizes the Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, and the Triceps Brachii muscle groups.

You can use a barbell or dumbbells for this workout.

Here is how to do it using a barbell:

  • Grab a barbell using overhand grip. Your holding positions should be slightly wider compared to the shoulder width.
  • Grip the bar over your chest and slowly lower it till it reaches your chest and take a rest/pause. Raise it back up to your starting position, and perform the same routine.

2. Lat Pulldown

wide grip lat pulldown

Based on a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the lat pulldown is a cable exercise for the back that activates the lats muscles [1].

Ensure you sit properly on the pulldown seat with feet firmly rooted on the ground.

Steps:

  • Hold the resistance bar with an overhand grip. Other grips like the underhand grip might also work, but I advise using an overhand grip.
  • Brace the core and pull down the bar almost level with your chin. Pull down until a slight bend on your elbows, and they can’t move. Make sure to squeeze the shoulder blades together while maintaining a square shape.
  • Release the bar back and repeat the process.
youtube

3. Incline Dumbbell Press

Woman doing an incline dumbbell bench press

Through our practical knowledge, we've elevated the incline dumbbell press to a top spot in our chest exercises.

This exercise utilizes dumbbells and a bench. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this exercise is known to activate the muscles of the shoulder, particularly the pectoralis major and the anterior deltoid [2].

Before you start, it is better, to begin with, light dumbbells before increasing their weights.

  • Lie on an incline bench and grab the dumbbells on each hand by your shoulder.
  • Push the weights in a straight line up your chest and rest with your arms straight. Slowly return before you start again.

4. Close Grip Lat Pulldown

Close Grip Lat Pulldown

Close grip lat pulldown requires you to hinge forward your arms and inside onto the chest.

The close grip pulldown works the upper back muscles and the lats.

Steps:

  • Sit on the bench and secure your feet well underneath the knee pads. Extend your arms and grab the close grip attachment. Ensure your palms face each other.
  • Slowly lower or pull down the attachment with your arms slightly bent and take a pause before releasing it back up. Brace your core and repeat. A stable core prevents injury during the workout.

“Back and chest exercise helps you regain your posture. Besides helping your posture, the workouts can help reduce pain and risk of injury, making you focus better and work more efficiently”

- Jordane Zammit Tabona, Founder of London Gym 360Athletic

5. Chest Dips

Dips

Chest dips target the pectoralis major muscle group.

They are a great exercise, even compared to the bench press.

You need two parallel bars for this exercise:

  • Hang between the two bars pushing your chest forward and tucking behind your feet.
  • Lower your body until you feel a stretch in your chest. Pause before returning to the starting position.

6. T-Bar Row

t-bar-row

The T-bar row lets you lift weights, and it’s a great back exercise that uniquely activates the middle back muscles.

This exercise also lets you use a neutral grip which is the most substantial way to pull from.

Steps:

  • Begin with one foot on each side of the bar, then step down into a split stance. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep your feet flat on the ground and knees bent, then hinge forward. Ensure your back is slightly arched.
  • Hold the handle with both hands. With the arms straight, pull up the weight till your torso is parallel and 45 degrees to the floor.
  • Bend your arms and lift the handle onto your chest. Pull your elbows to lift the weights while keeping your wrists straight.

7. Chest Flies

Lying Chest Fly

Unlike other chest exercises that work different upper body muscles, chest flies activate only one muscle group.

There are different ways to perform a chest fly, but let's focus on inclined chest flies.

  • Lie back on a bench and maintain a 45-degree lying position. Grab your dumbbells with your palms facing each other.
  • Extend your hands wide, with both hands almost touching the floor.
  • Take a rest once you feel a stretch on your chest. Lastly, slowly return your hands to the starting position and repeat.

8. Dumbbell Pullover

dumbbell-pullover

A dumbbell pullover activates the lats. This exercise is good for strengthening the upper and mid-back muscles.

Steps:

  • Lie on a weight bench with your feet on the floor, slightly wider than the bench. Hold the dumbbell with both hands. Throughout this movement, support your back, neck, and head.
  • Extend your arms over your chest toward the ceiling. With your palms facing each other and elbows slightly bent.
  • Exhale and extend the weights back and over your head to reach a fully stretched position where the weights are behind—but not below—your head. Take about three to four seconds of rest before further repetitions.

Common Mistakes With Chest and Back Workout

Many things can go wrong when doing chest and back workouts.

However, I have highlighted some of the common mistakes you can avoid when performing these exercises:

  • Dumbbell chest fly. If you're not creating a wide enough arc, you might be just barely activating your chest at the top of the movement.
  • Neglecting your back. Many people put much effort into their chest and forget their back. It's not possible to make your chest look good if your shoulders are rounded, regardless of how big it is.
  • Neglecting lower back muscles. Many back exercises activate the middle and upper body. Perform other exercises like deadlifts to bulletproof your lower back.

FAQs

Can I Do Chest and Back Workouts Together?

Yes, you can do chest and back workouts together. Make sure you manage your training sets, reps, and weights, so you don't overload yourself.

How Often Should I Train My Back and Chest?

You should train chest and back at least twice a week. This gives the body time for recovery, and also, you can build on other muscle groups during the recovery.

Should You Train Back More than Chest?

Yes, you should train your back more than the chest, as that way, you will find it easier to activate the chest muscles and other muscle groups. It might be best to follow a 2:1 ratio.

How Long Should I Wait between Chest and Back Workouts?

You should wait at least two days between checks and back workouts as your body requires 48 to 72 hours for complete recovery to achieve optimal strength.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24245055/
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590897/
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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