The Back And Biceps Workout

Looking for an effective back and biceps workout routine?

Cool, because that’s exactly what you’re going to get here. In this guide, I’ll cover:

  1. The benefits of a back/biceps day.
  2. Different splits and schedules.
  3. How many sets to do.
  4. Which exercises to do.
  5. What order to put everything in.
  6. Four back/biceps workouts.

Ready? Let’s get started…

Why Put Back And Biceps Together?

The back and biceps are the two major muscle groups of the upper body that are involved in “pulling” exercises. (Rear delts would be another.)

In addition, the biceps are involved significantly in most back exercises. This includes various types of rows (e.g. bent over rows, seated cable rows, chest-supported rows, etc.) as well as pull-ups, chin-ups, and lat pull-downs.

This makes training them together on the same day a smart choice, as pairing up related muscle groups is one of the easiest ways to avoid the types of overlap issues that are common with less-intelligent setups.

For example, workout routines that train related muscle groups on separate days (e.g. back/chest on Monday, biceps/triceps on Tuesday, shoulders on Wednesday) come with a higher potential for problems with insufficient recovery and/or overuse injuries.

This is a big part of why many of the most effective training programs out there are built around schedules that group related body parts together. For example…

Speaking of schedules…

How To Schedule A Back And Biceps Workout

There are plenty of different workout splits you can use that involve having a “back and biceps day.” However, they’d all fall into one of two categories:

  1. A body part split.
  2. A push/pull/legs split.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of each and see which one is most ideal for you.

Body Part Split Examples

Here are three examples of common body part splits that have a back/biceps day.

Body Part Split #1:

  • Monday: Chest/Triceps
  • Tuesday: Back/Biceps
  • Wednesday: off
  • Thursday: Shoulders
  • Friday: Legs/Abs
  • Saturday: off
  • Sunday: off

Body Part Split #2:

  • Monday: Chest
  • Tuesday: Legs/Abs
  • Wednesday: off
  • Thursday: Back/Biceps
  • Friday: Shoulders/Triceps
  • Saturday: off
  • Sunday: off

Body Part Split #3:

  • Monday: Back/Biceps
  • Tuesday: Chest/Triceps
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Shoulders
  • Friday: Abs/Forearms
  • Saturday: off
  • Sunday: off

Push/Pull/Legs Split Examples

In a push/pull/legs split, you have three different workouts:

  • Push
    On this day, you train all of the “pushing” muscles of the upper body. This means the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • Pull
    On this day, you train all of the “pulling” muscles of the upper body. This means the back and biceps. (Rear delts are often included here as well).
  • Legs
    On this day, you train all of the muscles of the lower body. This means the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. (Abs are often included here as well.)

In terms of scheduling, there are quite a few options. Here are the three most common:

Push/Pull/Legs Split #1:

  • Monday: Push (Chest/Shoulders/Triceps)
  • Tuesday: off
  • Wednesday: Pull (Back/Biceps)
  • Thursday: off
  • Friday: Legs (Quads/Hams/Glutes/Calves)
  • Saturday: off
  • Sunday: off

Push/Pull/Legs Split #2:

Week 1

  • Monday: Push (Chest/Shoulders/Triceps)
  • Tuesday: Pull (Back/Biceps)
  • Wednesday: off
  • Thursday: Legs (Quads/Hams/Glutes/Calves)
  • Friday: off
  • Saturday: Push (Chest/Shoulders/Triceps)
  • Sunday: Pull (Back/Biceps)

Week 2

  • Monday: off
  • Tuesday: Legs (Quads/Hams/Glutes/Calves)
  • Wednesday: off
  • Thursday: Push (Chest/Shoulders/Triceps)
  • Friday: Pull (Back/Biceps)
  • Saturday: off
  • Sunday: Legs (Quads/Hams/Glutes/Calves)

The workouts would continue the following week while maintaining this order. Meaning, the template is always Push, Pull, off, Legs, off, and then repeat it again.

Push/Pull/Legs Split #3:

Week 1

  • Monday: Push (Chest/Shoulders/Triceps)
  • Tuesday: Pull (Back/Biceps)
  • Wednesday: off
  • Thursday: Legs (Quads/Hams/Glutes/Calves)
  • Friday: Push (Chest/Shoulders/Triceps)
  • Saturday: Pull (Back/Biceps)
  • Sunday: off

Week 2

  • Monday: Legs (Quads/Hams/Glutes/Calves)
  • Tuesday: Push (Chest/Shoulders/Triceps)
  • Wednesday: off
  • Thursday: Pull (Back/Biceps)
  • Friday: Legs (Quads/Hams/Glutes/Calves)
  • Saturday: Push (Chest/Shoulders/Triceps)
  • Sunday: off

And so on.

In this split, you’re always cycling through Push/Pull/Legs (in that order) while using a template of two consecutive workouts… followed by a day off… followed by three consecutive workouts… followed by a day off. And then you repeat it again.

Which Is The Best Back And Biceps Split?

In terms of building muscle and gaining strength, all of these options are capable of working… assuming everything is designed correctly.

However, we don’t care about things just “working.” We care about what’s going to work best.

And for most people, research (sources here and here) and decades of real-world experience all point toward using a split that trains each body part more than once per week.

Looking at all of the “body part split” examples shown above (and most body part splits in general), you can see they all train each body part just once per week (every 7th day). The same goes for push/pull/legs split #1, which also trains everything just once per week.

For this reason, I don’t consider any of those options to be ideal for someone looking to gain muscle or strength.

On the other hand, push/pull/legs split #2 and #3 have a higher frequency. Split #2 trains each body part every 5th day (three times every two weeks), whereas split #3 trains each body part every 4th-5th day (almost exactly twice per week).

So, since it’s more effective to train your back and biceps (or any other muscle group, for that matter) with a frequency higher than once per week, my recommendation would be to use one of the following:

  • Push/Pull/Legs Split #2
  • Push/Pull/Legs Split #3

For additional details on these splits, check out my guide to the push/pull/legs workout.

And for details on a similar-but-slightly-different hybrid option, check out the 5-day upper/lower/push/pull/legs split.

Volume: How Many Sets Should You Do?

Now that we have our ideal split and training frequency in place, the next thing we need to do is figure out how much volume we’re going to be using in the workout itself.

In this context, volume refers to how much work we’re doing for a particular body part. And the simplest way to lay out volume is in terms of sets being done.

So, how many sets should you do for each body part?

Research (especially this meta analysis), plus decades of real-world experience, point toward 10-20 sets per week per muscle group being optimal for most people with the goal of building muscle.

Of course, it’s important to take secondary volume into account here as well.

What I mean is, remember how the biceps are involved in most back exercises? Well, if you do 10-20 sets for the back each week, you won’t also need 10-20 sets for the biceps, because the biceps already got a bunch of secondary volume while training the back.

For this reason, I would adjust this recommendation to be:

  • 10-20 direct sets per week for the back.
  • 5-10 direct sets per week for the biceps.

And since we’re using a schedule that allows us to train each body part twice per week, it means we’ll be aiming for 5-10 sets for the back in each workout, and 2-5 sets for the biceps in each workout.

Now let’s figure out which exercises to do.

Selecting Exercises For The Back

The are primarily two different categories of back exercises:

  1. Horizontal Pulling Exercises
    These would be exercises that involve pulling in towards your torso from out in front of you in a horizontal plane. This would include most types of rows.
  2. Vertical Pulling Exercises
    These would be exercises that involve pulling down towards your torso in a vertical plane. This would include most types of pull-ups/pull-downs.

So what does all of this mean, you ask?

In my experience, it means the most effective approach to designing the “back” aspect of a back/biceps workout is by dividing your 5-10 total sets up using a combination of horizontal pulling and vertical pulling exercises… for a total of 2-3 back exercises per workout.

For example, let’s say you were aiming for 6 total sets:

  1. Bent Over Barbell Rows
    3 sets of 5-8 reps
  2. Lat Pull-Downs
    3 sets of 8-12 reps

Of course, bent over barbell rows could just as easily be bent over dumbbell rows, or seated cable rows, or t-bar rows, or some type of machine row. And lat pull-downs could just as easily be pull-ups or chin-ups.

And you could also perform the vertical pulling exercise first and the horizontal pulling exercise second. And a different amount of sets (and reps) could be done for each exercise to suit each person’s specific needs and preferences.

This is just one random example of how it could be done.

Selecting Exercises For The Biceps

There’s really only one category of biceps exercises: elbow flexion exercises.

Simply put, that means curls. For example, barbell curls, EZ bar curls, dumbbell curls, cable curls, machine curls, hammer curls, and so on.

How many biceps exercises should there be in a back/biceps workout? Well, since we’re aiming for 2-5 total direct sets, 1-2 exercises would usually be ideal.

For example, if you were aiming for 3 sets and preferred using 1 exercise, you could do:

  1. Dumbbell Curls
    3 sets of 10-15 reps

Or, if you were aiming for 4 sets and preferred using 2 exercises:

  1. EZ Bar Curls
    2 sets of 8-10 reps
  2. Rope Hammer Curls
    2 sets of 10-15 reps

Again, these are just random examples of the many different ways it can be done, and the specifics largely come down to your own personal needs and preferences.

Selecting Accessory Exercises

Considering this is a back and biceps workout, we’ve now covered the main exercises that are needed. And for many people, that’s sufficient.

However, there could still be some additional accessory movements added into this workout depending on – say it with me – the needs and preferences of the each person. 😉

Specifically, when training the back and biceps together as part of a “pull” workout in a push/pull/legs split (like I recommended earlier), I often include something for the rear delts (which get some indirect volume while training the back), and something for the upper traps (which also get some indirect volume while training the back as well as during certain lower body exercises, primarily deadlifts).

No, neither is a requirement of a “pull” workout by any means, but they are two types of exercises that I’ve found a lot of people benefit from (or, at the very least, simply enjoy doing).

So, what does this mean exactly? Simple:

  • 1 Optional Rear Delt Exercise
    (e.g. face pulls, reverse pec deck, etc.)
  • 1 Optional Upper Trap Exercise
    (e.g. barbell shrugs, dumbbell shrugs, etc.)

Exercise Order

At this point, we have 2-3 total back exercises (horizontal pulling and vertical pulling), 1-2 biceps exercises, and optionally 1 rear delt exercise and 1 upper trap exercise as well.

The question is… what order should we put it all in?

This is going to be super easy.

Start with the back exercises (in whatever order you prefer), and then put everything else in whatever order you prefer.

Yup, it’s that simple.

Now let’s put it all together.

4 Sample Workouts

Here now are 4 examples of what a back/biceps day could look like using the guidelines and recommendations we just covered.

Back/Biceps Workout #1

  1. Bent Over Barbell Rows
    4 sets of 5-8 reps
  2. Lat Pull-Downs
    3 sets of 8-10 reps
  3. Dumbbell Curls
    3 sets of 10-15 reps
  4. Face Pulls
    3 sets of 10-15 reps
  5. Barbell Shrugs
    3 sets of 8-10 reps

Back/Biceps Workout #2

  1. Pull-Ups
    3 sets of 5-8 reps
  2. Seated Cable Rows
    3 sets of 8-10 reps
  3. EZ Bar Curls
    2 sets of 10-12 reps
  4. Dumbbell Hammer Curls
    2 sets of 12-15 reps
  5. Dumbbell Shrugs
    3 sets of 8-10 reps
  6. Reverse Pec Deck
    3 sets of 10-15 reps

Back/Biceps Workout #3

  1. Lat Pull-Downs
    3 sets of 5-8 reps
  2. Chest Supported Rows
    3 sets of 8-10 reps
  3. Face Pulls
    3 sets of 10-15 reps
  4. Barbell Shrugs
    3 sets of 8-10 reps
  5. Cable Curls
    3 sets of 10-12 reps

Back/Biceps Workout #4

  1. Seated Cable Rows
    3 sets of 5-8 reps
  2. Pull-Ups
    3 sets of 8-10 reps
  3. T-Bar Rows
    2 sets of 10-12 reps
  4. Reverse Pec Deck
    3 sets of 10-15 reps
  5. EZ Bar Curls
    3 sets of 10-12 reps
  6. Barbell Shrugs
    3 sets of 8-10 reps

Note: if you’re looking for a complete push/pull/legs program that puts the “push” and “legs” workouts together as well, feel free to check out my Bodybuilding 2.0 program included in Superior Muscle Growth.

What’s Next?

If you liked this article, you’ll also like:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers, and diet professionals at every level.