Back and Biceps Workout Routine (9 Exercises)

Training your back and biceps together in the same workout is one of the most popular ways to blast these two muscle groups to make them grow. It’s a tried and true method proven to work, and why change a winning concept?

This article outlines a great workout for building a tremendous back and bulging biceps. It is one of many premium workouts in StrengthLog, and you can download it for free using the links below.

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Back and Biceps: Bodybuilding Backbones

A well-developed, thick back might be the most impressive thing you can see on a bodybuilder or strength athlete. However, you don’t see a stand-out back that often. Building a big back is challenging and requires many hours of heavy lifting. The effort is well worth it, though. A thick, wide back demands respect. You know that person has put in the work.

In addition, a strong back is essential for all lifters and other athletes. Every time you pull something or lift something off the floor, you depend on your back muscles being able to handle the load.

Even though your triceps is the larger muscle group, the biceps brachii often gets most of the attention. Who doesn’t want a set of building biceps? Yes, the shape of your biceps is mainly determined by genetics. Not everyone can build bicep peaks like the Matterhorn. But everyone can develop a pair of biceps guaranteed to make heads turn.

And don’t underestimate the importance of your biceps for physical performance. Like your back, you use your biceps whenever you pull or carry something, and you’re never stronger than your weakest link.

Benefits of Training Back and Biceps Together

Training back and biceps in the same workout offers several benefits.

  • It’s efficient. Your back and biceps consist of muscles you use to pull things: moving a heavy box in your garage or doing pull-ups and rows in the gym. When you train your back, you work your biceps simultaneously. It only makes sense to combine the two into one workout.
  • It allows for maximum recovery. If you split your back and biceps into several workouts, you might run into recovery issues depending on how you schedule your workout week. If you train your bicep muscles a day or two after your back workout, then your back again a few days later, your biceps will see a lot of action for such a small muscle. Also, a biceps session the day before training back could create a weak link for the much bigger and stronger back muscles if your arms haven’t recovered enough. Training back and biceps together solves any potential issues, and you don’t have to worry about recovery between workouts.

It’s not wrong to train your back and biceps with other muscle groups. A separate biceps day might not be ideal, but many combine them with chest or triceps. However, the back+biceps combo is proven and effective.

One of the most popular bodybuilding splits is the Push/Pull/Legs (PPL) split, in which your train the back and biceps on the second day.

Push pull legs Back and Biceps Workout

The PPL split is a versatile way to integrate optimal training volume and training frequency for muscle growth. Many bodybuilders of all levels use the Push/Pull/Legs split. and you can tailor it to your preferences, training three to six times per week.

You could train three times per week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for example, with the weekend off.

For advanced bodybuilding, two rounds of PPL back-to-back or with a rest day in between is a viable option and a favorite of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Regardless of which training split you prefer, PPL or something else entirely, StrengthLog’s Back and Biceps Workout is your best option.

Back and Biceps Workout: The Basics

In this workout, you train back first, then biceps. Your back muscles are bigger and stronger than your biceps, and it’s best to train them first. Doing the opposite and exhausting your biceps would limit the weights you can handle in your rows and pulldowns.

According to research, doing multi-joint exercises like row variations before single-joint exercises, like biceps curls, is superior for getting stronger.1 And a stronger muscle is often a bigger muscle. In the back and biceps workout, you do your compound exercises first, then move on to isolation work.

StrengthLog’s Back and Biceps Workout Routine is for the intermediate to advanced lifter. But suppose you’re new to bodybuilding or strength training in general. In that case, I suggest you take a look at our Barbell Training Program for the Beginner or the Bodybuilding for Beginners workout routine. You’ll build a solid foundation from which you can advance to this workout once you’re more experienced.

You don’t need any advanced machines for this workout. You’ll mainly use free weights, with some pulley exercises for the total package to build your back and biceps from all angles. You perform eight to twelve repetitions for most exercises, an excellent rep range for muscle hypertrophy.

Back Workout

The back part of the workout consists of five exercises: four for your latissimus dorsi muscles, rhomboids, and trapezius, and one for your lower back. Several of the exercises are also effective for targeting your rear delts.

  1. Pull-Up or Lat Pulldown
  2. Barbell Row
  3. Cable Seated Row
  4. Dumbbell Shrug
  5. Back Extension

Bicep Workout

For isolating your biceps, it’s all curls, curls, and more curls. Variations of the basic bicep exercises hit the short and the long head of the bicep slightly differently and also target the brachialis, which lies deeper than the biceps.

  1. Barbell Curl
  2. Hammer Curl
  3. Preacher Curl

You perform fewer sets for your biceps than back. The bicep is a smaller and much less complex muscle group than the back and requires less work for optimal growth. Check out the detailed number of sets and reps in the StrengthLog app. 

According to current research, 12–20 weekly sets per muscle group may optimize muscle growth.2 StrengthLog’s Back and Biceps Workout Routine guarantees optimal training volume for both muscles, regardless of experience. You get enough training for muscle growth if you only do it once per week. However, advanced bodybuilders, with the training experience to recover from a high number of sets, can do it twice per week to ensure they’re getting more than enough training for optimal results.

I recommend you rest 2–3 minutes between sets for best results. Some evidence suggests that longer rest intervals might be necessary to maximize muscle growth.3 4 Feel free to self-select how long to rest between sets but don’t rush your workout unless you’re in a hurry. Taking a few minutes between sets allows you to lift heavier and possibly see better results in the long run.

Warming Up

Even though I’m sure you’re eager to hit the weights, it’s a good idea to take a few minutes for a proper warmup. You raise your body temperature, pump blood into your muscles, and prepare yourself physically and mentally for the upcoming session. It might also help prevent injury compared to jumping straight into your work sets, even though bodybuilding training has a low injury rate as is.

Consider spending 5–10 minutes doing low to medium-intensity cardio on a treadmill or stationary bike to get your heart rate up and break a light sweat. You’re not going for cardiovascular exercise here, so keep it short and sweet.

Before your work sets, do a couple of ramp-up sets using progressively heavier weights. Not only do they act as a warmup, but they also coordinate your muscles and central nervous system for better performance. A few sets of lat pulldowns do the trick as a warmup for pull-ups.

Back and Biceps Workout: The Exercises

Time to hit the weights, starting with your back.

Pull-Ups / Lat Pulldowns

The pull-up is a fantastic lat exercise to build back width. It requires only two pieces of equipment: your body and a pull-up bar. The lat pulldown is a similar movement but without the added challenge of pulling your own body weight.

Both exercises mainly work your lats but also your biceps and the lower parts of your trapezius. Pull-ups require plenty of overall body control and stability to hit your target muscles, while the lat pulldown machine makes it a comfortable and stable option.

The benefit of the pull-up is that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better exercise for building wide lats. The downside is that it is a very challenging exercise, especially with bodybuilding-style form. If you cannot perform eight reps minimum for four sets, I suggest you substitute it for the lat pulldown, another great exercise. You can’t go wrong with either one, which is why you have the option to select your favorite in the back and biceps workout.

If you feel the pull-up is too easy using only your body weight, you can use a weight belt and hang a plate between your legs as added resistance.

Be sure to observe proper form regardless of your choice. 

In the pull-up, pull your body up by letting your upper body muscles do the work, focusing on your back. That means avoiding momentum to get your body moving by kipping your legs and knees upward. If it’s too heavy, do lat pulldowns instead.

When doing lat pull-downs, focus on pulling the bar to your chest using your upper back muscles without leaning backward too much or rocking back and forth. Use a medium-width overhand grip, as it offers advantages over the close-grip or wide-grip lat pulldown.5

Pull-Up exercise technique Back and Biceps Workout
Lat pulldown pronated grip Back and Biceps Workout

Muscles Worked in Pull-Ups and Lat Pulldowns

Muscles worked in pull-ups

How to Do a Pull-Up

  1. Grip the bar with palms facing away from you, slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Keep your chest up, and look up at the bar.
  3. Inhale and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar or the bar touches your upper chest.
  4. Exhale and lower yourself with control until your arms are fully extended.

How to Do Lat Pulldowns

  1. Grip the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you), slightly wider than shoulder width.
  2. Sit down with your thighs under the leg support, keep your chest up, and look up at the bar.
  3. Inhale and pull the bar towards you.
  4. Pull the bar down until it is below your chin or touches your upper chest.
  5. Exhale and slowly return the bar until your arms are fully extended.

Barbell Row

For building back thickness, few exercises, if any, equal the barbell row. Many lifters consider the bench press the king of upper body exercises, but the barbell row is the monarch from the back.

If you look at videos of ten bodybuilders doing the barbell row, you’ll see ten different ways to perform the exercise. Overhand grip, underhand grip, leaning forward to the point of parallel, or almost standing upright: are all viable variations of the barbell row. However, for this back and biceps workout, we’re going the basic route:

Use an overhand, medium-width grip, and lean forward until your upper body is slightly above parallel to the floor by bending at the hips to just above a 90-degree angle. Standing more upright transfers the work to your upper back and traps, but performing the barbell row leaning forward like this is a fantastic exercise for all major muscles of back, plus your posterior deltoids. You won’t be able to use as much weight, but we’re going for all-over muscle mass here, not hoisting as much weight as possible.

Barbell Row Back and Biceps Workout

Muscles Worked in Barbell Rows

Muscles worked in barbell row exercise

How to Do Barbell Rows

  1. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, and lean forward with the bar hanging from straight arms.
  2. Inhale and pull the bar towards you.
  3. Pull the bar as high as you can, so that it touches your abs or chest if possible.
  4. With control, lower the bar back to the starting position.

Alternative exercise:

T-bar rows

Seated Cable Rows

The seated cable row is the perfect exercise to follow the pull-ups and the barbell rows. You might be a little fatigued at this point after the heavy pull-ups and barbell rows, but the seated row allows you to sit down and just focus on your back in an easy-to-do movement. 

Seated rows primarily develop your upper and middle back muscles. They are particularly effective for your lats and middle trapezius.6 You also activate your biceps when doing the seated row, although not to the extent of pulldowns.

Attach a close-grip handle or a V-bar to the cable and pull the handle to your chest. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to forcefully contract your back muscles and pull your elbows as far back as possible. Use a full range of motion and feel the stretch in the lats when leaning forward.

Cable Close Grip Seated Row exercise

Muscles Worked in Cable Close Grip Seated Rows

Muscles worked in seated cable row with close grip

How to Do Cable Close Grip Seated Rows

  • Grip a narrow handle, and assume the starting position.
  • Inhale and pull the handle towards your abdomen, while leaning back slightly.
  • Exhale and slowly return to the starting position by extending your arms and leaning forward.

Alternative exercise: 

A horizontal pull chest-supported row like the machine row

Dumbbell Shrug

The shrug is an exercise to build the trapezius muscle, more specifically the upper traps. The trapezius is a large muscle that extends from the base of your neck, across your shoulders, and down to the middle of your back. Massive traps give your entire upper body a powerful look and complement your back, neck, and shoulder development. The shrug is the best exercise to work them directly.

Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides and lift your shoulders as high as you can using your trapezius. Avoid rolling your shoulders as it only stresses the shoulder joint without adding anything to the exercise. It’s possible to use heavy dumbbells in the shrug, but ensure you don’t use too much weight to the point where you can’t go all the way to the top and contract your traps properly.

Dumbbell Shrug exercise technique Back and Biceps Workout

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Shrugs

Muscles worked in dumbbell shrugs

How to Do Dumbbell Shrugs

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
  • Lift your shoulders straight up as high as possible.
  • Lower your shoulders again.

Alternative exercise:

Barbell Shrug

Back Extensions

You’re done with the heavy part of your back workout! However, for complete back development, you can’t ignore your lower back. Back extensions strengthen your erector spinae muscles that run the entire length of your spine. Well-developed erector spinae muscles give your lower back the “Christmas tree”-look if you’re shredded enough.

Hold a plate to your chest if you find that your bodyweight doesn’t provide enough resistance to challenge you.

Back Extension exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Back Extensions

Muscles worked in back extensions

How to Do Back Extensions

  • Adjust a back extension bench and get into position. Hold a weight plate against your chest or a barbell across your shoulders if you want to use additional weight.
  • Lean forward as far as you can by hinging in your hips.
  • Reverse the movement with control and return to the starting position.

Back’s done! Now it’s time to train your biceps directly, and you know what that means: curls!

Barbell Curl

You kick things off with the barbell curl, your primary mass builder for bigger biceps. Biceps curls using a barbell allow you to handle more weight than dumbbells to overload your muscles and stimulate growth.

Use a shoulder-width underhand grip on a straight bar to target both the short head and the long head of the biceps and observe good form: don’t use body momentum to swing the weight up. The barbell curl is a biceps isolation exercise, so stay in control of the movement and let the right muscles do the work. However, feel free to use a slight momentum on the last rep, just enough to get the bar past the sticking point. That’s called a “cheat curl.” Use it sparingly as a great way to add a bit more training volume to your workouts and fry those muscle fibers.

Barbell biceps curl exercise technique Back and Biceps Workout

Muscles Worked in Barbell Curls

Muscles worked in the barbell curl

How to Barbell Curl

  • Grip a bar with an underhand (supinated) grip, hands about shoulder-width apart.
  • Lift the bar with control, by flexing your elbows.
  • Don’t let your upper arm travel back during the curl, keep it at your side or move it slightly forward.
  • Reverse the movement and lower the bar back to the starting position.

Alternative exercise:

Incline dumbbell curls

Hammer Curl

The dumbbell hammer curl is not just another great biceps exercise. Besides building your biceps, especially the long head, it also targets your forearms and another muscle called the brachialis. The brachialis lies deeper than the biceps, and while it’s true that the peak of your biceps is primarily dictated by genetics, a well-developed brachialis pushes up the biceps and adds the illusion of a more significant peak.

Hammer Curl exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Hammer Curls

Muscles trained in the hammer curl exercise

How to Hammer Curl

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells in a neutral grip (palms facing each other), arms hanging by your sides.
  • Lift the dumbbells with control, by flexing your elbows.
  • Don’t let your upper arms travel back during the curl. Keep them at your sides or move them slightly forward.
  • Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

Preacher Curl

A pure isolation exercise for the biceps, the preacher curl is an excellent finisher to chase the ultimate upper arm pump. For this one, don’t use too much weight. Instead, focus on muscle control and “mind-muscle connection.” Be sure to extend your arms at the bottom and squeeze your biceps at the top for full muscle contraction.

You can choose between several variations of the preacher curl. Use a barbell, a dumbbell, a cable pulley machine, or a dedicated preacher curl machine. You don’t need a preacher curl bench with a dumbbell, as you can use any regular weight bench with an adjustable back rest. All the preacher curl variations are equally suitable for muscle hypertrophy, so pick the one you prefer.

Barbell Preacher Curl exercise technique
Dumbbell Preacher Curl exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Preacher Curls

Muscles worked in dumbbell preacher curl

How to Do Barbell Preacher Curls

  • Grab a barbell and sit down at a preacher curl bench, resting your upper arms against the pad.
  • Lower the barbell as far as you can, with control.
  • Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.

How to Do Dumbbell Preacher Curls

  • Use a preacher curl bench, or position the back rest of a regular training bench so that it leans back slightly.
  • Grab a dumbbell, stand behind the bench, and rest your upper arm against the back rest.
  • Lower the dumbbell as far as you can, and then reverse the motion, returning to the starting position.

Frequently Asked Questions

You have the questions, and we have the answers. Let’s do a little FAQ!

Can I Use Supersets with the Back and Biceps Workout Routine?

You can, but be aware that it might impact your performance. 

Because your biceps are involved in your upper back training, they will become partially fatigued during your pull-ups, pulldowns, and rows. If you jump straight into a set of curls after a back set, you won’t be able to use the same weights as usual. That isn’t necessarily bad for muscle growth, but it’s something to keep in mind.

A variant of this workout adapted to supersets could look like this:

  1. Pull-Ups + Barbell Curls
  2. Barbell Rows + Hammer Curls
  3. Seated Cable Rows + Preacher Curls
  4. Shrugs + Back Extension

You’ll save time and make for a high-intensity, challenging workout, but again, be aware that performance could take a nose-dive. If you only have a certain amount of time to complete your training session, go for it.

How Do I Fit the Back and Biceps Workout Routine into My Training Split?

The back and biceps workout fits right into most strength-training programming. It’s one of the most popular muscle group combinations for a reason.

If you follow a push/pull/legs split, slot this workout between push day and leg day:

  • Day one: chest, shoulders, and triceps
  • Day two: back and biceps
  • Day three: legs

This is an example of a four-day split:

  • Day one: chest and triceps
  • Day two: back and biceps
  • Day three: legs
  • Day four: shoulders and abs

I’m sure you can think of many other bodybuilding splits where the back and biceps workout would be right at home.

Track the Back and Biceps Workout Routine in the StrengthLog App

There you go! Give this workout a chance, and you’ll kick-start your back and biceps development for sure.

Want to give the Back and Biceps Workout Routine a go?

It’s available exclusively in our workout app StrengthLog.

While this workout requires a premium subscription, StrengthLog itself is entirely free. You can download it and use it as a workout tracker and general strength training app – and all basic functionality is free forever.

It even has a bunch of free programs and workouts. However, the more advanced ones (such as this workout) are for premium users only.

Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.

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References

  1. Eur J Sport Sci. 2021 Feb;21(2):149-157. What influence does resistance exercise order have on muscular strength gains and muscle hypertrophy? A systematic review and meta-analysis.
  2. J Hum Kinet. 2022 Jan; 81: 199–210. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy.
  3. Sports Medicine Volume 48, Pages 137–151 (2018). Effects of Rest Interval Duration in Resistance Training on Measures of Muscular Strength: A Systematic Review.
  4. Eur J Sport Sci. 2017 Sep;17(8):983-993. The effects of short versus long inter-set rest intervals in resistance training on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review.
  5. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: April 2014 – Volume 28 – Issue 4 – p 1135-1142. Effects of Grip Width on Muscle Strength and Activation in the Lat Pull-Down.
  6. Japanese journal of physical fitness and sports medicine. April 2005, 54(2):159-168. Comparative electromyographical investigation of the biceps brachii, latissimus dorsi, and trapezius muscles during five pull exercises.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas has over 30 years of training experience and is a highly appreciated writer and educator on exercise, fitness, and nutrition. Few people stay more up to date and have a better grasp of the field of exercise science than Andreas.