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The Best Back and Bicep Workout: Exercises + 3 Training Plans

Identifying the most effective exercises for muscle development.

A back and biceps workout routine, which is often called a back and bi workout, is a popular way to train your upper body when structuring your overall strength training program.

But what are the best back and biceps workouts for strength and hypertrophy? How should you structure a back and biceps workout based on your fitness level and training goals?

In this article, we will discuss what back and bicep workouts entail and how to perform back and bi workouts based on your current fitness level and strength training goals.

We will cover the following: 

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing a chin up.

What Is a Back and Bicep Workout?

Naturally, a back and bicep workout routine targets the biceps as well as the muscles in the back.

The biceps muscle, technically called the biceps brachii, is the muscle found on the front side of your upper arm.

It is a single muscle, but the “bi“ prefix refers to the fact that the biceps is a two-headed muscle. The “heads“ refer to the upper attachment points, known as the origins of the muscle.

The biceps brachialis muscle has a long head and a short head. The muscle fibers from the biceps long head fuse with the muscle fibers from the biceps short head lower down in the muscle belly of the biceps, and then the muscle tapers down to its insertion point at the elbow.

The biceps long head and short head both originate on the scapula, which is your shoulder blade. However, each head of the biceps attaches to a different part of the scapula.

The two heads of the biceps muscle work together to perform all of the functions of the biceps brachii, which are flexion of the elbow1Brown, J. M., Solomon, C., & Paton, M. (1993). Further evidence of functional differentiation within biceps brachii. Electromyography and Clinical Neurophysiology33(5), 301–309. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8404567/(lift your forearm up toward your shoulder) and supinate the forearm (rotate the forearm outward away from the body). 

A woman doing a bicep curl.

Additionally, not only does the biceps muscle permit actions at the elbow, but because both the biceps long head and short head cross the shoulder joint, the biceps also is responsible for controlling several movements at the shoulder.

The biceps help flex the arm at the shoulder, which is the motion of bringing your arm up in front of your body, and they also help abduct and adduct the shoulder, which refers to bringing your arms out to the side like a giant T and then across your body toward the other side.

If you have a low body fat percentage and you do biceps workouts that target the long head, you will be able to see a clear definition between the biceps long head and biceps short head before the two attachment points converge in the biceps muscle belly. 

The precision in this muscle definition can be ideal for bodybuilders or those looking to appear very “cut“ with a defined physique.

The back muscles worked in the back and bicep workout routine primarily include the latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), rhomboids, rear delt (deltoids), erector spinae, and teres major in the rotator cuff.

Renegade rows.

How to Do a Back and Bicep Workout

Many exercises target the back and biceps muscles at the same time since the muscle groups in the back and biceps are both involved in pulling movements.

For this reason, if you are following a push/pull strength training routine, you are likely already doing a back and biceps workout every time you hit your pulling muscles workout.

Even if you are just starting to get a bit more serious weight lifting and are transitioning from total-body strength training workouts to body parts splits.

Making one of your weekly workout days a back and biceps workout is a great way to streamline your training both in terms of time efficiency and functional strength.

The best back and biceps workouts generally combine compound exercises with isolation exercises.

A person doing TRX rows.

Best Back and Biceps Workouts for Beginners

The benefits of doing a back and bi workout for beginners is that it is a good step towards transitioning to a body part split routine to allow a higher training volume per muscle group per week while still getting enough rest between workouts for the same muscle groups.

However, the challenge with beginner back and bicep workouts is that many of the compound exercises that work the back and biceps are challenging and fatiguing from a neuromuscular and strictly muscular standpoint.

How should I set up a back and biceps workout?

For this reason, the best back and biceps workouts for beginners should be structured such that the big, heavy, compound exercises and more technical weightlifting exercises should be tackled first in the workout.

You should complete all of your sets, resting between each set for 1 to 5 minutes, depending on your primary strength training goal.

How many back and bicep exercises should I do?

However, at the beginner level, it is generally best to perform back and biceps workouts, or any strength training workouts, with a rep range of about 8 to 12 reps per exercise, beginning with two sets and working up to three sets.2Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, K., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2018). Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise51(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001764

Use a weight that is roughly 70 to 85% of your 1RM.

This training schema tends to align most closely with hypertrophy training recommendations, but it will also increase back and biceps strength.

A person doing a reverse fly.

After you have completed all of your sets for the demanding back and biceps exercises, you can move on to the smaller isolation biceps or back exercises.

With the isolation back and biceps exercises, you can either complete them in a circuit fashion or maintain the same pattern of completing all of your sets before hitting the next exercise.

One final note is that the best beginner back and biceps workouts take into consideration the fact that beginners should perform fewer exercises per back and bi workout. 

As you experience muscle growth and build strength, you can add more exercises per workout without risking excessive central nervous system fatigue or muscular fatigue.

Doing too much too soon can increase the risk of injury.

Here is one of the best beginner back and biceps workouts:

Beginner Back and Bicep Workout:

  1. Barbell Rows or Trap Bar Rows: 3 sets of 8-10 reps 
  2. Wide-Grip Lat Pulldowns: 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
  3. Chin-Up Holds in the top position: 3 sets of 30-second holds (or as long as possible)
  4. Dumbbell or Cable Reverse Fly: 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
  5. EZ Bar Preacher Curls: 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
A person doing a dumbbell row.

Best Back and Biceps Workouts for Intermediate Athletes

Once you have been performing back and biceps workouts or other strength training workouts for at least six months you will have no doubt been able to build muscle.

At the “intermediate weightlifting level,“ you can progress your back and biceps workouts to include more exercises and more difficult variations.

Additionally, intermediate back and biceps workouts can include a few more compound back and biceps exercises than back and biceps beginner workouts.

Here is one of the best intermediate back and biceps workouts:

Intermediate Back and Biceps Workouts:

  1. Single-Arm Bent Over Row/Cable Row: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps (more sets and fewer reps if your primary training goal is increasing strength, and fewer sets and more reps per set if your primary goal is hypertrophy)
  2. Pull-up: 3 sets, 6-10 reps
  3. Close Grip Lat Pulldowns3Sperandei, S., Barros, M. A. P., Silveira-Júnior, P. C. S., & Oliveira, C. G. (2009). Electromyographic Analysis of Three Different Types of Lat Pull-Down. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research23(7), 2033–2038. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181b8d30a: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps 
  4. Chin-Ups: 3 sets of as many reps as possible or up to 15
  5. Trap Bar Shrugs: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps 
  6. Seated EZ Bar Curls or Seated Dumbbell Curls: 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps 
  7. Resistance Band Reverse Fly: 3-4 sets of 15 reps
A person doing a barbell row.

Best Back and Biceps Workouts for Advanced Athletes

Can I use supersets with the back and biceps workout routine?

The best back and biceps advanced workouts often begin to incorporate strength training techniques such as supersets and drop sets to maximize your strength and hypertrophy gains. 

You can also incorporate more unilateral back and biceps exercises while progressing the loads that you use and the overall training volume per workout. This is sure to give you a great upper back, lower back, and arm workout.

Here is one of the best advanced back and biceps workouts:

Advanced Back and Bicep Workout:

  1. Superset of Barbell Rows: 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps with TRX Bodyweight Suspension Rows or Barbell Suspension Rows in the squat rack: 3-5 sets of up to 15 reps
  2. Superset of Cable Face Pulls and Biceps Cable Hammer Curls: 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps
  3. Superset of Dumbbells Incline Biceps Curls with Dumbbell Seal Rows: 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps
  4. Cable Reverse Fly: 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps
  5. Renegade Rows (rows in push-up position): 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps per side

When performing any of these workouts, remember to focus on yourself and not other lifters. Do an adequate warm up, take your time getting the correct starting position and perform the exercises with proper form through the full range of motion.

If you want more information on your workout plan or training split, consider working with a personal trainer. They’ll be able to personalize a workout for you and your goals, giving you the best exercises from a dumbbell workout to a full body or upper body workout.

To learn more about how to perform the exercises in these back and biceps workouts, and for more exercises to strengthen your back muscles and biceps, read our guides on biceps workouts, cable machine back workouts, and don’t forget your triceps too!

A person doing bicep curls.

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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