Never underestimate a good bicep and back workout! Incorporating these exercises into your workout routine is key to building a stronger upper body, but also they help make your daily life easier. Your back and biceps are responsible for many important everyday movements like opening doors and even standing upright. Not only that, but they allow you to lift heavier during important compound moves, like deadlifts, which in turn will help you build better full-body strength! So, making sure that you’re training these muscle groups consistently will help you get far on your fitness journey and can even improve your everyday life!
With that being said, we want to help you get a good back and bicep workout anywhere - Whether you train at home or at the gym! We put together a list of our favorite back and bicep exercises that way you can create an effective pull workout at home or at the gym! Yes, having heavy equipment like barbells and cable machines are ideal, but you can get just as good as a workout with a pair of dumbbells and a resistance band, plus you can try some of these exercises when all the cable machines are taken 😉Let’s get started!
Why you should train your back and biceps together
When training your back muscles, you usually indirectly train your biceps too! That is because these two upper-body muscle groups are involved in pulling exercises. Your biceps are significantly involved in back workouts, acting as secondary and tertiary movers, and giving support and stability to your back when performing several of these exercises, like rows, pull-ups, and pull-downs. Since you indirectly train your biceps together with your back, training back and biceps on different days could put too much pressure on your biceps and you could risk overworking them.
So instead of performing isolated bicep exercises one day and back exercises on another, the smart way to go is performing compound exercises that involve the back and the biceps more directly so that you train them together on the same day. We’ll give you more details on how to properly structure your pull workouts, but first, let’s go through the best back and biceps exercises!
The best back exercises
When training your back, you’re hitting several important muscles, like the lats (or latissimus dorsi), the rhomboids, and the trapezius. These are some of the best exercises for your at-home workouts that you can try to really work out and develop the strength of your lower back and upper back muscles:
Resistance band shoulder rotations
This one is a great warm-up exercise for your back. To perform it, stand straight while holding the resistance band at each end with your hands, keeping your upper arms tucked to your sides and your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, hands pointing to the front. Begin the movement by stretching the resistance band with your hands, bringing them to your sides away from the body while keeping your elbows in place, externally rotating your shoulder. Hold for a moment, then go back to the starting position and repeat.
First, lie face down on the floor or an exercise mat while keeping your body straight and your arms fully extended in front of you. Begin by raising your arms, legs, and chest off the floor, as if you were flying, squeezing your back in the contracted position, and pressing your shoulder blades together. Hold for a moment, then slowly start lowering your body until you reach the starting position again, and repeat.
You can also perform this movement with a resistance band by grabbing it with your hands at each end and stretching it in front of your body when you raise your arms in the flying position!
Single-arm bent-over row with dumbbell
Start by bending at the hips, keeping your back straight. Hold a dumbbell in one hand with your arm down in front of you with a neutral grip, keeping the opposite arm resting on your leg for support. Pull the dumbbell up to the side until it makes contact with your ribs, or until the upper arm is just beyond horizontal. Hold for a second, and return to the starting position with your arm fully extended and your shoulder stretched downward. Repeat and then switch to the opposite arm.
You can try this with a resistance band, but instead of using one arm at a time, you can simply use both. Here’s how to do it: Loop the band under your feet, stand with both feet on the resistance band hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at the hips. Make sure to keep your back flat and hands under your shoulders. Grab the band, palms facing in toward each other. Pull the band toward your chest, keeping elbows close to your body. Hold for a few seconds to feel the contraction on your back. Slowly straighten your arms and lower your hands back to the starting position.
Reverse-grip dumbbell row
The reverse-grip dumbbell row is very similar to the regular bent-over dumbbell row. Start by bending your hips while you keep your back straight. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an underhand grip, and your arms down in front of you. Pull the dumbbells up to the sides until they make contact with your ribs, or until the upper arms are just beyond horizontal. Hold for a second, and return to the starting position with your arms fully extended and your shoulders stretched downward, and then repeat. You can also perform this movement with one arm, completing the reps and then switching to the other.
Start by assuming a plank position, with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. If you can’t maintain a full plank, start on your knees and work your way up. Grab the dumbbell on both hands with a neutral grip so that your hands are elevated off the floor. Begin by pulling one dumbbell up to the side of your ribs, squeezing your biceps and your elbow pointing up, and hold for a second. Then slowly go back, place the dumbbell on the floor in the starting position, and repeat with the opposite arm, alternating throughout the exercise.
Bent-over dumbbell flyes
Start by bending at the hips until your body is almost parallel to the floor. Your arms should be hanging straight down from the shoulders, grabbing the dumbbells in each hand with a neutral grip. Begin the movement by pulling the dumbbells towards the ceiling, lifting your arms to the sides with a slight bend on the elbows. Hold, then slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat.
The best bicep exercises
The biceps muscle group may be small, but they’re very important if you actually want to get far in your fitness journey, so here are some bicep strength training exercises that you can add to your at-home workouts:
Resistance band bicep curls
Begin your biceps workout with this warm-up exercise. First, loop the resistance band under your feet, standing with both feet on the resistance band shoulder-width apart. Grab the band with your hands and hold it with your palms facing forwards. Lift your arms toward your shoulders until you feel your biceps contracting, hold for a few seconds and then slowly go back to the starting position and repeat.
First, sit on a bench or a chair. Grab a dumbbell with one hand and let your arm fall straight between your legs, with the back of the upper arm touching the inside of your thigh and your torso leaning towards your leg. Rest your opposite arm on the opposite leg. To begin, raise the dumbbell to the front of your shoulder, hold for a second, and then go back to the starting position. Repeat, and then switch to the other arm.
This exercise can also be performed with a long resistance band, wrapped around your hand. Here’s how to do it: Loop one end of your resistance band under your left foot and hold the other end in your right hand, leaning forward to rest your right elbow on your right thigh. If the band is too long, wrap it around your hand so it's tight enough that you feel the tension. Rest your left hand at your side or place it on your thigh. Keeping your back straight and your core engaged, pull your right hand toward your right shoulder. Focus on engaging your bicep, and hold for a moment at the top of the movement. Then slowly go back to the starting position, repeat, and then switch sides.
For this dumbbell curl, stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, and one dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip. Keeping your elbows to the sides, raise both dumbbells until your forearms are vertical and almost touching your shoulders, and your palms facing inwards. Hold for a moment, then lower the weights and repeat.
You can try this movement with a long resistance band! Place the band under your feet and grab the other end with both hands while keeping them at your sides just like with the dumbbells. Perform the movement by stretching the band up and down.
Zottman curls to reverse
Start by standing with a dumbbell in each hand and your feet shoulder-width apart. Your hands should be facing forward in an underhand grip. Begin the movement by curling the weights as you turn your wrists so that your palms face away from you at the top in an overhand grip. Reverse the movement, lowering your arms and turning your wrists back to the starting position, and repeat.
Alternate cross-body hammer curls
For this dumbbell workout, stand straight with a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip (hands facing your body), and your hands down at your sides. Keeping your upper arm in place, curl one arm towards your opposite shoulder so that the dumbbell is almost touching your chest. Slowly lower the weight to the starting position and repeat the movement with the other arm, alternating throughout the exercise.
How should you structure your workout?
Although back and biceps usually work together, the back muscles can take a lot more training and more frequently than the biceps, since they’re the big muscles in charge of keeping your upper body straight and supporting your upper weight. Another thing to keep in mind is that, while the biceps are smaller muscles and they can recover faster, training them involves moving and putting a lot of tension on your elbow and shoulder joints, and you really don’t want to overwork and wear them out. So the ideal way to train your back and biceps is with a two-to-one ratio, with around 4-5 back exercises and 2-3 isolated bicep exercises on the same day. Like we mentioned earlier, you’ll want to start with compound movements that involve both muscle groups because they usually require the most effort and energy, and you probably won’t be able to perform them if you’re already tired. Starting with isolated bicep exercises, for example, isn’t a good idea because your arms will get tired and they won’t be able to assist and support your back when you’re doing back exercises later. So keep that in mind! In terms of how many sets and reps, it really depends on your fitness level and the weight you’re using! If you’re just starting out with strength training, start with 3 sets and around 10-15 reps, again the reps will depend on the weight used. Once you feel comfortable doing 3 sets of 12-15 reps on any given exercise, you can increase it to 4-5 sets. But you know your body best, so just a challenging set/rep range, but not too challenging that your form is thrown off.
Something that you can do to obtain better results is having training splits. It’s a great way of structuring your workouts because you basically divide them so that you focus on different muscle groups each day. As you now know, back and bicep exercises pair perfectly together because one supports the other and they’re both pulling group muscles. So this could be day one of your upper body workouts routine, on day two you could work out your chest, triceps, and shoulders, which are your pushing muscles, and then do the same with your lower body. This is an excellent way of tackling muscle groups that support each other while allowing them enough time to rest in between workouts to avoid any unwanted injuries.
So there you have it! Some great back and bicep exercises to really work your upper body. Just remember to structure your workouts in a way that they don’t put your muscles and joints under too much stress, this way you’ll get results much faster and you’ll reach your fitness goals in no time without having to worry about taking extra days to recover from a bad workout. If you need a little bit of help structuring your workouts with proper training splits or you just want someone else to do it for you, then try the Fit With Iulia app! This app is like having a personal trainer at the tip of your fingers, with weekly goal-focused workouts planned by Iulia (@Fit.With.Iulia on IG). It even includes an option for home workouts, and the best thing about it is that the first workout of every goal is available for free to everyone, with no subscription required. Download the app and try your first workout today!