If you want a simple but effective workout designed to give you a defined back and bigger biceps, this page will show you what to do.
This back and biceps workout hits all the major muscle groups in your back, and is designed to form part of a push/pull/legs split, done 4-5 days a week.
Specifically, you’ll train the back and biceps on pull day, chest, shoulders and triceps on push day, and the quads, hamstrings and calves on legs day.
Why Train Back And Biceps Together?
Training your back and biceps together is an efficient way to train, in part because upper body muscle groups that work together are trained together in the same workout.
A major benefit of training this way is that if you run out of time, you have the option of skipping the last 2-3 exercises. That’s because those exercises are hitting arm muscles that have been worked already.
In other words, a back and biceps workout routine will normally start off with a compound lift like seated cable rows or lat pull-downs, before moving on to some isolation work for the biceps.
However, those same compound exercises will have delivered a muscle building stimulus to the biceps, albeit not as much had you trained the biceps directly.
So if you’re pushed for time, you can always leave out some of the isolation work and stick with the compound movements.
Back and Biceps Workout
- Wide Grip Front Lat Pulldown 3 sets x 8-15 reps
- Pull-Ups 3 sets x 5-10 reps
- Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown 2 sets x 12-15 reps
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row 3 sets x 5-8 reps
- Bent-Over Barbell Row 2 sets x 10-12 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Curl 2 sets x 10-12 reps
- Dumbbell Preacher Curl 2 sets x 12-15 reps
- Hammer Curl 2 sets x 12-15 reps
Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
Sets 2-3 Reps 8-15
The first exercise is the lat pulldown, which serves as a warm-up. Start off with a relatively light weight, and do 15 reps, making sure to use a full range of motion. Once that first warm-up set is done, stretch out the lats for 10 seconds or so.
Because you’re warming up, you don’t need to rest too long between each set – 45-60 seconds is plenty.
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Add a little more weight, and do another 10 reps. Stretch the lats again. Then add more weight, and do a final warm-up set of 8 reps.
Remember, these are warm-up sets. Don’t go anywhere near muscular failure, and just focus on contracting the lats.
Pull-up OR Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
Sets 3 Reps 5-10 OR 8-12
The first exercise is the pull-up, done for sets of 5-10 reps. Many people lack the strength to do multiple sets of pull-ups with their own body weight. If you’re one of those people, do lat pulldowns on a cable machine instead, using a wide, overhand grip and a slightly higher rep range (8-12).
Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown
Sets 2 Reps 12-15
Next up is the reverse grip lat pulldown, done for sets of 12-15 reps. Unlike the wide grip front lat pulldown, the reverse grip pulldown is done using a narrow, underhand grip.
If you’ve already done pulldowns earlier in the workout, why do them again?
There are lots of muscles in the back, and using different grip widths and hand positions helps to ensure complete development of those muscles.
It can also help to reduce the risk of any repetitive stress injuries to the elbows, wrists or shoulders, which can happen if you do the same exercises all the time.
If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can also use a pull-up bar to do chin-ups or TRX pull-ups.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Sets 3 Reps 5-8
Next, it’s time for a rowing exercise, in this case the single-arm dumbbell row. To emphasise the lats, keep your elbows close to your side. Rather than straight up and straight down, the dumbbell should come up and slightly back.
Suitable alternatives include other rowing movements like the seated cable row, inverted row, or chest-supported row done on an incline bench.
Bent-Over Barbell Row
Sets 2 Reps 10-12
The target muscles here are the lats, biceps and upper back muscles (traps and rhomboids). The bent-over barbell row also works the posterior core muscles, mainly the spinal erectors, which have to work hard to stop your back rounding.
Rather than using a narrow grip with your elbows tucked into your side, do this exercise with a wide(wish) grip, flare the elbows out to the side and row the bar closer to your chest. This helps to emphasise the muscles in the upper back.
Make sure to focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together as you row the bar up towards your sternum.
If you find that lower back fatigue causes you to cut the set short, you can replace this exercise with some kind of chest-supported row (e.g. chest-supported T-bar row, machine row).
Incline Dumbbell Curl
Sets 2 Reps 10-12
Next, we have incline curls, which is an isolation exercise for your biceps. When you sit on the bench, which should be set at roughly a 45-degree angle, your elbows should be positioned behind your back.
Putting the biceps muscle in this stretched position will involve the long head of the biceps to a greater extent than dumbbell or barbell curls done with your arms at your side.
Make sure to use a full range of motion, straightening your arms fully at the bottom of the movement before you return to the starting position.
Dumbbell Preacher Curl
Sets 2 Reps 12-15
With the preacher curl, your elbows are positioned in front of your body, rather than behind as they were on the incline curl. This shifts the emphasis of the exercise to the short head of the bicep muscle.
If you don’t have access to a preacher bench, you can also do preacher curls using an incline bench.
Sets 2 Reps 12-15
Using a neutral grip, where your palms face you, tends to involve more of the brachialis muscle, a muscle that sits between the triceps and biceps.
Neutral-grip curls also build strength and size in a forearm muscle known as brachioradialis. Like the biceps brachii and brachialis, brachioradialis helps to flex, or bend, the elbow.
Suitable alternatives to the dumbbell hammer curl include the cable hammer curl (with rope attachment), cross body hammer curl, or reverse curl (which works brachioradialis even harder).
1. In terms of training volume, you’re doing 2-3 work sets per exercise, for a total of 10 work sets for the back (excluding warm-up sets) and 6 for the biceps, which get some stimulation from the back exercises done earlier in the workout.
2. You’ll notice that most of the exercises are done in the 5-15 rep range, which works well for muscle growth. While using a very heavy weight in the 3-5 rep range will help when it comes to building strength, gains in muscle size are often best achieved with a higher rep range.
3. The addition of some lower body exercises will turn the routine into a push-pull split. That is, you’d add some hamstring work to a back and biceps workout and quad work to a chest, shoulders and triceps workout. This way, you’ll train your entire body in two rather than three training sessions.
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