Why Work Your Back and Biceps Together?
The biceps are the secondary or tertiary muscle group that is worked when doing any type of row, pulldown, or pullup. According to the text, it is more efficient to work the biceps in conjunction with compound lifts that involve more than one joint, as opposed to biceps exercises where only the elbow flexes.
Rowing or pulldown exercises are usually the first exercises in a back and biceps workout in order to target the larger back muscles when you have more energy. Doing biceps curls at the beginning of your workout will make your arms tired, which means they won’t be able to help you as much with your back exercises. It’s better to do biceps curls after you’ve already trained your back.
One of the most popular workout splits among weight lifters is the push-pull split, where you train muscles that push one day and those that pull the next. An example split could be working your chest, shoulders, triceps, quads, and calves on Monday, and then working your back, biceps, glutes, hamstrings, and rear deltoids on Tuesday. This type of schedule allows you to keep all your training in balance and ensures that you do not neglect any muscle groups.
You don’t have to train your whole body every day. One way to break up your workout routine is to do upper-body pushing one day, upper-body pulling the next, and then a leg day later in the week. A back and biceps session is a type of workout that can be easily incorporated into all variations of the push-pull split.
Back and Biceps Anatomy
The major muscles involved when training back and biceps include:
–Latissimus dorsi (aka, the “lats”). The large muscles located on either side of the spine that allow individuals to move their arms in a downward and backward motion are known as the latissimus dorsi muscles.
–Teres major. A small muscle located below the shoulder helps to pull the arm down and backward.
–Rhomboids. Muscles in the upper back are responsible for elevating, retracting, and rotating the shoulder blades downward.
–Middle and lower trapezius (“traps”). These guys retract and depress the shoulder blades.
–Biceps brachii. The biceps muscle is located in the front of the upper arm. It is the muscle that allows you to twist your wrist outward and flex your elbow.
–Brachialis. This tattoo lies between the biceps and triceps on the outer side of the arm. It flexes the elbow.
When discussing “back training” in strength and conditioning circles, experts are usually talking about exercises for the upper back. This area includes the muscles between the base of the neck and the lower part of the rib cage. The lower back muscles, known as the erector spinae, are a key part of the core musculature. These muscles are also heavily involved in exercises that work the legs, such as deadlifts and squats.
5 Best Biceps Exercises for Building Muscle
Barbell Or EZ-Bar Curl
Why it’s on the list: The standard shoulder-width curl engages the short and long heads of the biceps equally, you can alter grip width to slightly change the emphasis (wide to target the short head, narrow for the long head), you can really pile on the weight, and you don’t have to sit there endlessly working one arm at a time.
If you want to use a straight bar instead of a cambered EZ-bar, all you have to do is switch out the weight plates. Have at it, if your wrists don’t mind. A study in 2018 found that while both variants produced greater activity than dumbbell curls, “The small difference between [barbell] and EZ variants… makes the choice between these two exercises a matter of subjective comfort.”
Barbell Curl Variations for Biceps Growth:
- Standing Barbell curl (standard, close grip, wide grip)
- Standing EZ-bar curl (standard, close grip, wide grip)
- Seated barbell curl (emphasizing the top half of the range of motion)
Your heavy curls should be at the beginning of your biceps workout so you can challenge yourself with weight. Choose a weight that you can lift for about 6-8 repetitions if you want a greater strength stimulus. Another option is to use a rep range that is classic for size and strength, like 5 sets of 5 repetitions. A common mistake people make when doing biceps curls is moving their bodies too much. Keep your lifting strict most of the time, especially when the weight is heavy.
But this curl variation works your muscles a little differently. Why it>s on the list: This movement works your muscles a little differently than the standing barbell curl. The grip width is shoulder-width and both hands face the same direction in an underhand grip. What separates this exercise from others is that similar to the most beneficial cable exercises for building muscle, the angle of loading provides continuous tension on the muscle throughout the entire range of motion.
This means that you can not take a break at the bottom or the top of the movement, which will create more time under tension. The number of handle options and body positions available at a gym can vary, providing an opportunity to mix up your routine and keep you engaged.
Cable Curl Variations for Biceps Growth:
- Cable straight-bar biceps curl
- Squatting cable EZ-bar biceps curl
- Standing reverse-grip cable curl
- Lying cable biceps curl
You should pick either the barbell curl or the machine curl because they are similar. Start your workout with a fairly heavy weight and 6-10 reps per set. If you would rather do it later in the workout, pick a weight that you can lift 8-12 or more times per set.
This exercise is similar to a barbell curl, but it is performed with one arm at a time. That’s up to you. You can do the moves in the same workout, but we recommend varying the routine. While there are many different ways to execute a dumbbell curl, the real value is that each variation can target different arm muscles. For example, standing or seated, with both arms or alternating, rotating your wrists into Zottman curls to work on your fearsome forearms, or twisting that pinky up to focus purely on the biceps. In short, you have options.
Dumbbell Curl Variations for Biceps Growth:
- Standing dumbbell curl (bilateral, alternating)
- Seated dumbbell curl (bilateral, alternating)
- Zottman curl
If you curl a lot with barbells or cables, Zottman curls or bilateral seated curls will help you change things up.
If your reps feel sloppy, then you should focus on the negatives. Even when you are tired, it has been shown that you can produce more force by doing reps that focus on the eccentric movement rather than the concentric movement.
They’ll teach you a new definition of pain. Why the max-rep chin-ups are on the list: They are a very difficult exercise and will teach you a new definition of pain. You can tell the biceps are working hard during this move. Although both pull-ups and chin-ups involve a high degree of elbow flexion, research has shown that chin-ups place a greater emphasis on the biceps.
Are sets of 8-12 reps too easy? Add weight. Too hard? Use assistance. Too uncomfortable on your wrists or elbows? You can do pull-ups with either a neutral or cambered grip or on rings. Is grip giving out? Wear wrist straps.
Chin-up Variations for Biceps Growth:
- Standard chin-up
- Machine-assisted chin-up
- Band-assisted chin-up
- L-sit chin-up
If you’re working out your back and biceps, this exercise could be a great way to transition between the two body parts. Try doing 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. If you are looking for an upper-back and biceps move to do at home, strength coach Paul Carter’s program Jacked at Home: Bodyweight Muscle-Building Workouts is a good option. Taking a few sets to failure will give you the best results.
Reverse-Grip Barbell Row
The bent-over row is on the list because it is a back-focused movement in which you can go very heavy, and with the reverse grip, the biceps are heavily engaged. It’s a good exercise to do between the back and biceps days.
Row Variations for Biceps Growth:
- Reverse-grip bent-over row
- Cable seated row (underhand grip)
- Incline dumbbell row (underhand grip)
Include the exercise in your back routine, or do it as a bridge exercise when training back and biceps together. Use a weight that is heavy enough to challenge you, but not so heavy that you cannot complete the desired number of reps. The classic muscle-building rep range is 8-12 reps.
How Many Back Exercises And Biceps Exercises Should I Do?
The different amount of work that the back and biceps can tolerate is vast. Rusin suggests doing four to six exercises for both the back and biceps in a workout, using a two-to-one ratio of back-to-biceps exercises. This would mean doing four back exercises and two biceps exercises that don’t involve other muscles in one session.
Rusin says that the back can be trained multiple days a week. The muscles in your back are very durable and can easily recover from a lot of work. “But the biceps can’t take the same amount of training volume and frequency as the back. It is commonly believed that performing an equal number of back and biceps exercises is the key to achieving desired results. However, this is not an effective long-term strategy for maintaining physical health and achieving desired results.
The biceps are small muscles and therefore recover faster than big muscles. The biceps muscles are used to move the elbows and shoulders, which are joints that can be easily injured if they are worked too hard. When chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles are worked out during the week, it is especially important to not overwork the biceps to avoid injury.
In other words, you shouldn’t train your biceps more than once a week if you want to stay healthy.
How Many Sets and Reps Should I Do for the Back and Biceps?
If you exercise a lot, a good rule to follow is to do 2-3 sets of each exercise. A working set is a set where you use a challenging load and go to failure, or close to it.
You may not always hit the two-to-one ratio of back-to-bicep exercises perfectly. For example, you may do three back exercises for every two bicep exercises. The goal is to do two sets for the back for every set of biceps. In this example, that would be a total of six sets for the back and three sets for the biceps.
Based on the research, Rusin recommends doing 8 to 25 repetitions of back exercises with 45 to 75 seconds of rest in between sets. Do 10 reps of biceps exercises, with 20-45 seconds of rest in between each rep.
Rusin advises that you can tailor your back training to either focus on strength or on maximum muscle growth, depending on whether you do low reps or moderate to extremely high reps respectively. However, he says there is no need to train for strength when it comes to the biceps. The elbows are not built to lift heavy weights, so you will get more out of them by training for muscle growth. “That’s what the biceps respond best to,” says Rusin.
How Should I Set Up A Back and Biceps Workout?
The order of your exercises is just as important as the exercises you choose. Rusin follows a simple protocol in order to gain size and strength, while also minimizing the risk of injury. The system consists of three parts: Prime, Perform, and Pump.
1. Prime. An exercise that primes the central nervous system is the best way to start your workout. This will help to wake up the muscles you are trying to train and help you to get the most out of your workout. This is a lift where you should feel the target muscles working. The weight you lift should be light so you can focus on your form and make a mind-muscle connection. The priming exercise, when done correctly, will help increase blood flow to the muscles and decrease your likelihood of injury.
For the back, straight-arm pulldowns are a good choice. Instead of doing a regular row, you could try a machine or chest-supported row. Machine rows are good because they provide support for your body and the movement is somewhat isolated. For the biceps, Rusin recommends hammer curls. The number of repetitions for both of the preliminary exercises should be between twelve and twenty-five.
2. Perform. After the prime, you will do one to two strength-focused exercises using heavier weights and lower reps (around 8). This is the most important part of your workout, but that doesn’t mean you can skip the other exercises and go straight to this one.
For the back, barbell and dumbbell rows are money. According to Rusin, people usually can’t do more than 8-15 pull-ups, so they can’t continue to the next part of the workout. For biceps, you can use barbell and dumbbell curls, or cable curls.
3. Pump. In this phase, you focus on achieving total muscle growth by using light to moderate weights and more moderate to high repetitions.
We don’t want our posture to limit how many reps we can do in back exercises. The lat pulldown exercise is ideal for this purpose because it minimizes the involvement of core and postural muscles while the person is seated and locked into place. You can also try seated cable rows, machine rows, or rows with a band.
Doing preacher curls, incline dumbbell curls, and band curls are effective for working the biceps. Rusin says that any curls where you put a stretch on the biceps should be done at the back of the workout.