December 16, 2019 10 min read

If you’re serious about dedication changing your workout to compound exercises rather than just relying on machines that only target isolated muscles and keep you from getting the most out of your upper body workout, you need a solid group of back exercises and bicep moves that will get your body ripped in an efficient way. 

If you haven’t made this change in focus to your workout routine, you may be wondering if there’s really a big difference between the two approaches. The answer is, you bet there is! Compound exercises have many benefits, which include:

  • Burning more calories
  • Elevating your heart rate
  • Improving coordination between muscles
  • Gaining muscle mass

All of these benefits together make your muscles stronger in the long run, grow rapidly in a healthy way, and they help you make the most of your precious time at the gym to get results fast.  

A person working out in a gym.

General Tips for Back and Bicep Exercises

The most important thing to remember is that form is more important than weight. You need to make sure you “feel it” in the right areas. Weight lifting is not just about mindlessly lifting heavy objects. It takes concentration and strategy. It takes focus and mind and body coordination. 

It can be tempting to choose a heavier weight at first, but if the weight is too heavy you use other muscles to assist, or even worse, you use your body weight to help the dumbbell up, but that defeats the purpose and takes the focus away from your back or biceps. Be sure to keep the weight low at first and concentrate on squeezing and contracting the muscle groups you are targeting. 

Schedule Targeted Muscle Groups for Different Days

Some ask the question, is it crucial to do back exercises and a bicep workout in the same session? While it’s not required, it makes sense to exercise the two together. If you’re thinking about combining muscle groups in a strategic way, then you should know that the biceps are a tertiary muscle when it comes to the back muscles. They are a tertiary helper when it comes to doing pull-ups, deadlifts, bent-over rows, and arm pull-downs. This is not the same as using your body weight to help you lift heavy weights but is more along the lines of focusing on specific muscle groups. Muscles work together. If you strengthen the ones that help each other you get the best back possible. 

It’s best to make a schedule for yourself for your weekly routine. If you work out biceps and back on Monday, you should do the chest, shoulders, and triceps on Tuesday. Moving onto legs for Wednesday and Thursday, you can do glutes, hamstrings, and rear deltoids one day and then quads and calves the next. Friday is a great day for cardio. Basically, the point is to think about all the main muscle groups you want to strengthen and then make sure you get all of them by the end of each week. Consistency and thoroughness are key. With intense strength training, you have to keep a balance and make sure you get all muscle groups to keep things even. 

The Upper Back: Anatomy and General Information

You shouldn’t be putting stress on your body without knowing your anatomy facts. By knowing which muscles are doing what, you not only take away the mystery about what is actually happening in the strengthening process but also know how to identify which is which in case of an injury. 

  • Trapezius and Rhomboids, Latissimus Dorsi and Intercostals: These muscles are responsible for upper back stability. The trapezius is a large and dense muscle and is often prone to tension and pain. The rhomboids connect the scapula with the vertebrae of the spinal column. The latissimus dorsi is a triangular-shaped muscle that runs all the way from the shoulder to the hip. It works to extend and adduct the shoulder. The latissimus dorsi and trapezius are often called the “lats and traps.”
  • Teres major and minor: The teres major helps the lats with shoulder extension and adduction. The teres minor does shoulder rotation, transverse abduction, and transverse extension. That means it is responsible for lateral movements and extensions of the arms. Thanks to the teres major and minor, you can hold your arms laterally and then extend them to a higher position, and bring them back down again. 
  • Infraspinatus and Posterior Deltoid: Both of these muscles are involved in the shoulder rotation process, also called “rotator cuff,” and they do things like abductions, extensions, and rotations. 

A women with a strong back in a gym.

Best Upper Back Workout Moves

The options are limitless when it comes to the way to strengthen your back, but since we’re focusing on the most efficient and effective ones, we’re narrowing down for you the best ones. 

  • Lat pulldowns: Many people assume lat pulldowns are only useful if you’re not strong enough to do a pullup yet, and some quit doing it after they graduate to the pullup. The main point is to stimulate your lats (and core, simultaneously), so both moves are effective. To do it, grab the bar with both hands directly above your shoulders. You are in a sitting position with your back straight. Pull the bar down, keeping the pressure in your elbows, not your hands. Pull it down to full position and then release. 
  • Lat pull-ups: Grab the pullup bar and propel your body upwards, using your elbows and pushing your shoulder blades back. Once your chest reaches the bar, you can release and repeat. The slower you move or the longer you hold the full pull position, the more you get out of the exercise. 
  • Neutral grip lat pulldowns and pull-ups: For this variation of the traditional exercise, grab the bar with your palms facing each other. So, one is turned in the opposite direction as the other. Everything else is done the same. 

What is the advantage of this? You can produce better results with muscle variation. Your body needs to constantly experience a change to get the best results in your workout. Sometimes that means increasing the weight, sometimes that means changing up your strengthening routine or number of reps, sometimes it’s as simple as twisting the arms to a different position. You can also improve your grip with a neutral grip. 

  • One-arm dumbbell row: Sit on a flat bench with a dumbbell on each side. Support yourself with your right hand by placing it on the front of the bench in front of you. Bend your torso until your body is parallel with the floor. Pick up the dumbbell with your left, with your palm facing your torso. Pull the resistance straight up to the side of your chest. Make sure you use your back to lift the weight, not your arms. Once the weight has reached your chest, squeeze your back muscles. Then, lower the weight. Exhale when you lift, inhale when you lower. 
  • Bent-over one arm dumbbell row: Do this one standing instead of sitting. Bend over with your torso as close to parallel with the floor as possible, and keep your knees bent. Put your right hand on your knee for stability, then lift the dumbbell with your left arm. Do not swing your torso, use only your back to lift the weight. Again, squeeze your back when the barbell reaches your chest. 

The Lower Back: Anatomy and General Information

The muscles in your lower back all work for the spine, to support and strengthen it, and to keep your torso flexible so it can twist, turn, and bend over. 

  • Extensor muscles: These are a pair of large muscles on either side of the spine and they enable standing and lifting objects. They have some smaller muscles attached which hold up the spine and support your gluteal muscles. You strengthen these with exercises like deadlift. When people say, “Lift with your knees, not your back,” they are actually saying you should bend your knees and hold the majority of the lifting weight in your lower back. 
  • Flexor muscles: Used for actions of flexibility, the flexor muscles allow you to twist and turn your torso, bend down, and arch your lower back. They are located near the front of the spine. If the flexors are tight and over-exerted, they can get seriously injured. This is where a majority of back injuries come from. Beware of these muscles and take care to keep them loose so they don’t cause you problems. You can warm up by lying on your back and bending one knee. Then grab the knee with both of your hands and gently pull it toward your chest, breathing deeply the whole time. 
  • Oblique muscles: The posture muscles. If you have good form or good posture, your oblique muscles are strong and activated. They are attached to the sides of the spine. Bad posture can lead to scoliosis and many other diseases that alter your bone structure. Having a strong lower back is not just for the good looks and Instagram photos, but for preventative health in your future health.  

A person lifting weights.

Best Exercises to Strengthen Your Lower Back 

Many people make the mistake of skipping lower back workouts. They look in the mirror and they choose to work out only the areas they see in the reflection. But as mentioned before, you need to target all major muscle groups in your body so that you can get the most satisfying results and reap the health benefits of being ripped, not just the external ones. If you are lifting with lighter weights just to get the techniques down, you should do several rapid reps of each exercise, making it a superset. If the weights are heavy, three sets each is ideal. 

  • Superman: We all want to work out like superheroes, right? Lie straight on your stomach, facing the floor. Extend your arms and legs in front and behind of you. Hold the weights in either one of your hands. Lift your arms and legs up in the air (like superman). Release back to the starting position. 
  • Stiff Leg Barbell: If you can, use a squat rack for this one. Place the barbell on your shoulders, just below your neck. Step away from the squat rack and stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. Bend over so your torso goes parallel with the floor, then raise it back to an upward position. Keep your back straight this whole time. Make sure your eyes are looking ahead throughout the exercise since looking down could throw off your balance and end up in injury. 
  • Deadlifts: Stand with a barbell in front of you, with your legs shoulder-width apart. Grab the dumbbell with both hands and firm grip. Lower your hips and bend your knees until your shins touch the bar. Drive through the heels while you lift the weight upward. Arch your back and keep your chest out. When the weight is up to your waist or knees (keep your arms straight) move it aggressively back with your shoulders. This movement is meant to be fast. The weight can and should be heavy, once you have practiced as many times as necessary to get the motion right. 

Biceps: All You Need to Know

The biceps brachii (shortened to biceps) are the muscles that involve movement in your elbows and shoulders. There are two heads, or points of origin, in each bicep. Both heads join at the elbow, but the muscles control motion in two different joints: the shoulder and elbow. The biceps are one of the most variable muscles in the body, which is why they are so often the main muscle targeted during exercise. 

The tendons that attach the biceps to the arms are vital to the muscles working the way they should. The tendons that connect the shoulder the arm are called proximal biceps tendons. The tissues that connect to the elbow are called the distal biceps tendon. These tendons have to be stretched and warmed up before lifting heavy objects because they can easily or be pulled. If that happens, you can get seriously injured. 

As you may have guessed or even experienced yourself, biceps are one of the most common places for injury from workouts. The most common injuries are sprains, ruptures, and tendonitis. These all basically happen when the bicep is overused or forced into unnatural positions. Rookie weight lifters often have these problems when they first start because they do not know the right motions for the exercises they are attempting. If you are a beginner yourself and you are not sure of any of the moves we mention here, you might consider getting a trainer or coach to show you the ropes and help you get started. 

Biceps Exercises You Can Crush

  • Spider Curl: Position yourself on a preacher bench that is set to a 45-degree angle, with your torso and stomach pressed against the upward part of the bench. Rest your arms against the downward-facing “pillow” that folds down in front of the upward portion. Grab the barbell or EZ bar with your palms facing up (a supinated position) and lift the weight up toward your chest. Hold the contracted position for a second and squeeze your biceps.
  • One-armed Preacher Curl: This variation of the spider curl is only slightly different. From the same position on the preacher bench, hold one weight in one hand with your feet firmly planted on the floor and your back straight. When you grab the weight, lower it until your arms are fully extended and your bicep is stretched out. Then curl the weight up until it is at shoulder height and your arms are fully extended.
  • Incline Hammer Curl: Sit on an incline bench with your back pressed all the way against it. The further back the incline, the more difficult the exercise. Hold weights with a neutral grip in both your hands, with your arms resting all the way down. Flex your arms at the elbow and pull the dumbbells up toward your chest. This bicep curl is a simple, classic exercise, but sometimes there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Standing Barbell Curl: This exercise can be done right after the deadlift exercise for the lower back since you can use the same barbell for both workouts. Stand with your legs at shoulder-width and hold the barbell in front of you with your arms fully extended. Keep your chin up and raise the barbell and curl it to your shoulders and hold the position for a second. Slowly lower the bar and make sure you have a totally straight arm before starting a new rep of this dumbbell curl. 

A girl working out in a gym.

A routine for the win

If you stick to the back and bicep workout we’ve outlined here, you will establish a solid routine and can repeat the workout weekly. As you get stronger and more familiar with the moves, you can switch out certain moves for something that helps you reach your personal goals better. The most important thing is that you understand your body’s anatomy and know what muscles you need to work on. Start light and then keep it up with the gradually increased weights, quality supplements, and a good warm-up and cool down.


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