Back and Bicep Workout for Muscle Gain
Are you tired of the same back and biceps routine? Have you been pumping out set after set of the same three exercises for weeks (or even months)? Ready for a new pull day routine?
You already know that consistent back and bicep training will develop an athletic and robust look while improving posture and performance. But do you know what the best back and bicep exercises are?
Let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of your back and biceps along with the best exercises to grow your back and make your biceps pop.
Table of Contents
- Anatomy of the back and biceps muscles
- Choosing exercises for back and bicep workout routine
- Benefits to training the back and biceps in the same workout
- Best bodyweight-only back and bicep exercises
- Dumbbell back and bicep workout routine
- Exercise basics to maximize results
- Sample back and bicep workouts
- Wrapping up
Anatomy of the back and biceps muscles
The back and biceps are muscle groups made up of several isolated muscles. The muscles of the back and biceps work together to perform many different movements.
There are several categories of back muscles: deep, superficial, and intermediate. The primary muscles that are worked during most back-focused exercises include Erector spinae, Rhomboids, Trapezius, and Latissimus Dorsi.
The three muscles that make up the biceps include Coracobrachialis, Brachialis, and Biceps Brachii.
Choosing exercises for back and bicep workout routine
The back muscles are best trained using pulling motions. There are two primary ways to perform these pull motions, vertical and horizontal.
Vertical pulling exercises include chin-ups, pull-ups, and lat pull-downs.
Horizontal pulling includes exercises like seated low rows, bent-over dumbbell rows, and bodyweight options like inverted rows.
Within the vertical and horizontal categories are two sub-categories of movements: open chain and closed chain.
Open chain exercises include exercises where you are not fixed on a stationary object. A bent-over dumbbell row is an open chain, horizontal pulling movement. Bicep curls are an open chain exercise where you’re curling a weighted implement up and down.
In contrast, closed chain exercises have your hands fixed to the surface. For example, a chin-up is a closed chain, vertical pulling exercise.
Most bicep-building exercises involve repetitive flexion and extension at the elbow joint.
The elbow is a hinge joint, so the motion path is very isolated. Movements like dumbbell bicep curl variations will train the biceps effectively, and varying the grip, range of motion, time under tension, and equipment can change the stimulus.
The interesting part about pulling exercises that train the back muscles is they require a significant synergistic contribution from the biceps. That means while performing chin-ups, you’re effectively training the back and biceps using a compound movement — more on this idea in the next section.
Combine your back and bicep workout with triceps exercises to pump your upper arms better.
Benefits to training the back and biceps in the same workout
Training the back and biceps together in the same workout offers numerous benefits.
Combining back and biceps workout allows you to maximize your time at the gym and train two muscle groups at once. Time can be a real problem for many people and leveraging supersets can provide a tremendous training stimulus for the time investment.
Great for stubborn arms
The bicep muscles can be challenging to develop for some people. But since both groups of muscles are trained using pulling motions, many back-focused exercises target the biceps indirectly, pre-fatiguing the biceps.
Before performing isolated bicep exercises, a little pre-fatigue can deliver a significant training stimulus without having to do endless isolation exercises.
Exercises such as chin-ups incorporate the biceps as a secondary mover. For those looking to optimize gym time and hit those stubborn biceps, you can perform functional compound exercises such as chin-ups first. After that, you can follow it up with a biceps-focused exercise such as bicep curls. This will provide the necessary stimulus for the biceps to develop.
Besides workout efficiency, combining back and bicep workouts on the same day can give you an extra day of recovery, which is vital for muscle growth and performance.
Since you’re training both muscle groups on the same day, you can take advantage of an extra day of rest to recover.
Staying consistent with your bicep training can be very satisfying. Still, the reality is most biceps-focused exercises are single-joint elbow flexion exercises. They can be pretty boring and repetitive. Combining back and bicep movements in the same workout gives you more options and variety.
Best bodyweight-only back and bicep exercises
Regarding a back and bicep workout without equipment, there are plenty of options to build upper body strength and muscle mass. The exercise selection for at-home, no-equipment back exercises is a little more plentiful than bicep exercises.
As mentioned earlier, the back muscles are trained best using pulling motions, and most pulling movements incorporate the biceps. Even if the training stimulus to the biceps is indirect, they’re getting worked. This provides an advantage to training both muscle groups effectively, regardless of whether you’re working out at home or have access to equipment.
Here are a few at-home equipment-free exercises you should focus on.
If you’re only going to do one exercise on this list, chin-ups are it. The chin-up is a unique multi-joint movement that trains the biceps and back muscles. Many people will find bodyweight-only chin-ups incredibly challenging, even at lower reps and with a modified range of motion.
Chin-ups are also fantastic for improving grip strength and posture, building lean muscle, and increasing functional strength.
- Grip an overhead bar with the palms of the hands turned toward your face.
- From a dead hang, flex the elbows and pull upward until your chin is above the bar.
- Lower down to a dead hang with control.
- 3×5 sets of 6-8 reps
- Start with ¼ or ½ repetitions to build strength.
- Focus on eccentric-only (just lowering) as slowly as possible.
- Loop a resistance band around the top of the pull-up bar and your feet for assistance during a full range of motion chin-up.
Inverted rows can be performed using dedicated fitness equipment or everyday items found around most households and hotel rooms.
You only need a surface to grip onto and space to pull your body up and down. Inverted rows are sometimes referred to as “reverse push-ups” since the motion is a mirror-image opposite of the traditional push-up action.
Horizontal pulling is fantastic for maintaining postural balance and off-setting the over-dominating muscles on the front side of the body (pecs, abs, etc.).
Aiming to maintain a balance of strength between pushing and pulling exercises is a great way to prevent everyday aches and pains associated with overtraining.
- Elevate the feet onto a box or chair, gripping your hands onto a sturdy waist-height surface.
- Starting with elbows straight, pull your chest toward the hands, pause at the top, and lower back down slowly until the elbows are straight.
- 3-5 sets of 8 reps
- Use bent legs with feet in contact with the floor to decrease the difficulty.
- Graduate to inverted rows with the body at a 45-degree angle and your legs straight.
- Place your feet on an elevated box to make your body horizontal with the floor surface during the sets.
- Add weight to increase the challenge.
Towel/Rope/Bodyweight bicep curls
Fancy equipment is not needed to hit the bicep muscles. You can use a towel, short rope, or create resistance by using your leg.
Towel/Rope curls technique
- From a seated position, loop the towel/rope around the bottom of one foot.
- Grab the ends of the towel/robe with arms extended and push against the looped end of the towel with the foot.
- Press the foot out and in while you resist with the arms.
Bodyweight curls technique
- From a seated position, with the right arm, grab the opposite leg under the knee.
- Slowly perform a curl, bringing your leg up as high as possible with your arm while resisting the motion with your leg.
- Make a pause then put your leg back down.
- Exhale while curling your bicep; inhale while lowering your leg.
- 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps
- Create the maximum amount of resistance.
- Spend 3-5 seconds lowering the arms.
Dumbbell back and bicep workout routine
Dumbbells are one of the most versatile pieces of fitness equipment. Here are some of the most effective dumbbell-loaded exercises for the back and biceps.
The rowing motion is a fundamental movement pattern that people should be training at the gym to build a strong back and assist with tasks in everyday life. The dumbbell row has numerous variations, but we will focus on the traditional bent-over row today.
- Bend at the hips, maintaining a flat back.
- Grab a dumbbell and pull (row) it up to just outside the rib cage.
- Keep the elbow tight to the rib cage, going up and down.
- 3-5 sets x 6-8 reps per side
- Square the chest up with the floor surface.
- Keep the elbow tight to the side of the body.
- Pull up fast, lower slowly.
Seal rows are a unique exercise that puts the torso into a position where it cannot assist the pulling motion. The benefit here is the isolation work to the back muscles, which is intensified.
- Lie face down on a bench, dumbbells on either side of the bench.
- Extend your elbows, grab the dumbbells and pull them up outside the rib cage.
- Pause for 1-2 seconds and lower back with control.
- Keep your head, chest, and waist in contact with the bench during the movement.
- 3-5 x 6-8 reps
- Seal rows require a great distance from the floor to reach with the dumbbell and use a full range of motion.
- This is a much different exercise than regular rows, so use a lighter weight to start.
One-arm bicep curl
The benefit of performing curls on one side is that it will activate your core to stabilize the movement.
Whatever side you’re curling on, the opposite side of your core engages to stabilize the spine. Single-arm curls are also a great option if you’re short on resources. For example, if you only have one dumbbell at a certain weight.
- Assume a standing position, feet shoulder-width apart, elbow straight, and weight outside the thigh.
- Contract and curl the weight up until the elbow is fully flexed.
- Slowly lower the weight back down until the elbow is straight.
- The bilateral or two-arm bicep curl uses the same coaching cues, except you’re curling the dumbbells with both arms simultaneously.
- 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps per arm
- Avoid movement outside of the working arm.
- Don’t lean back to curl the weight.
- Slow down on the descent to the bottom.
The Zottman curl is a great way to build strength in the forearms and biceps. This is one isolation exercise that people experiencing elbow pain perform to alleviate those symptoms.
The initial curl upward looks like any other bicep curl but once at the top, the hands rotate for the lowering phase. By turning the hands, you’re putting direct stress on the forearm muscles. Increasing grip strength offers many benefits and has been correlated with longevity.
- From a standing position, curl the weight up until the elbow is fully flexed.
- Rotate the hand 180 degrees and lower the weight back down with the hand facing the floor.
- Reverse the hand rotation at the bottom and repeat the steps.
- 5-6 sets of 8-10 reps
- Use a lighter weight because the lowering portion will be the weakest part of the lift.
- Lower the weight for 5 seconds.
Exercise basics to maximize results
Exercise selection, level of resistance, and range of motion are simple and time-tested principles that are sure to maximize your gym time. These are critical to factor in while pursuing strength and muscle gains.
Choosing an exercise with the appropriate starting difficulty will allow you to practice the movement using the ideal technique.
This will help you avoid cheating the repetitions and set the stage for future progress. Once you’ve chosen the proper exercise, you can increase the resistance to further challenge your muscles over time.
Range of motion
Range of motion can be defined as the degree of movement that occurs at a given joint during exercise performance. Exercise selection and resistance greatly influence how well you can control any exercise’s full range of motion (ROM). (source: PubMed)
Let’s suppose the exercise is too challenging for your fitness level. In that case, you may compensate (“cheat”) to complete the target repetitions or lack the strength to perform full ROM repetitions.
Training a full ROM will result in improved joint stability, muscle balance, and activation of the working muscles.
By using appropriately selected exercise and level of resistance, you’re also going to mitigate the risk of injury. Stay smart about your strength training as this is one of the best ways to bulletproof your body. Performing each exercise through a full ROM will create strength in every position.
Time under tension
Lastly, increasing the time under tension during work sets can catapult your gains.
Focusing on prolonging the eccentric phase or the lowering part of a move is fantastic for improving strength and adding lean muscle mass. The eccentric phase of a movement is when the muscle is lengthened while under load.
Research studies have demonstrated eccentric muscle action to create greater muscle force than concentric muscle actions. What’s more, a few studies have shown eccentric-focused training to deliver more muscle growth. (source: PubMed)
Sample back and bicep workouts
Below are three sample workout templates that you can put into action immediately. There are three types of workouts:
- Bodyweight only
- Hybrid workouts incorporating body weight and equipment
Workout #1- Bodyweight-only
This is a simple yet brutally effective bodyweight back and bicep workout with a mix of exercises that pack a considerable punch. Take note of the reps and suggested rest periods for each exercise.
E1) Chin-Up x8
Rest: 45-60 seconds
E2) Inverted Row x8
Rest: 45-60 seconds
E3) Towel/Rope/Bodyweight Bicep Curls x8
Rest: 45-60 second
Workout #2 – Supersets with equipment
Equipment needed: dumbbells, pull-up bar.
Supersets involve performing two different exercises back to back with minimal rest in between. Supersets are a fantastic way to achieve a lot of work in a time-efficient manner.
You’ll complete the reps for exercise 1 (E1) during each superset and move right into exercise 2 (E2). After completing exercise 2, you’ll rest for the recommended time. A set is an equivalent of completing each exercise one time.
E1) Bent-Over Dumbbell Row x8 per arm
E2) One-Arm Bicep Curls x8 per arm
Rest: 60-75 seconds
E1) Chin-Ups x8
E2) Zottman Curls x8 per arm
Rest: 60-75 seconds
Workout #3 – Bodyweight + equipment
Equipment needed: dumbbells, pull-up bar, suspension trainer or rings
E1) Inverted Rows x8
E2) 2-Arm Standing Bicep Curl x8 per arm
E3) Seal Rows x6
E4) Zottman Bicep Curls x8 per arm
*Perform all exercises back to back without rest.
**After completing exercises 1-4, rest for 75-90 seconds
***Complete 5-6 rounds
Use these back and bicep workout samples to build your upper back muscles and save your workout time training multiple muscle groups at once. Add the routines to your muscle-building workouts to achieve a strong, well-balanced body.
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