Back, Rear Delts, Biceps Workout

How I currently train!


Okay, here it is! My favourite back, rear delts and biceps workout. I'll notate the workout first and then discuss it afterwards.

Back

Wide grip chins x 1 set to failure + negatives (jump and lower yourself down)
Wide grip pulldowns supersetted with stiff arm pulldowns x 3 sets
Incline bent-over dumbell raises x 3 sets x 15 - 20 reps + 1 or 2 sets supersetted with standing bent over raises
Barbell rows x 3 sets x 15 - 20 reps or
One arm dumbell rows x 2 sets x 15 - 20 reps
Optional:
Close-grip pulldowns x 3 sets x 10 - 20 reps

Biceps

Standing alternate dumbell curls x 2/3 sets x 15 reps
One arm concentration curls x 2 sets x 10 - 15 reps
Preacher dumbell curls x 2 sets to failure with forced reps and negatives on last set

I always train using the push-pull system - group all the pulling muscles together (back, rear delts and biceps) and all the pushing muscles together in a separate workout (chest, front and side delts, triceps). Legs are trained on their own in my 3rd workout.

The reason for this is that it helps prevent overtraining by maximising rest for each muscle group (in that they aren't trained again until the next workout). Other workout plans where you train chest one day and then triceps or front delts on a separate day means that your triceps are worked on those other days (all pressing movements involve the triceps), resulting in your triceps having very little time to recover and hey presto overtraining city and no growth.

First off I do some wide grip (well, just wider than shoulder width) chins. As I weigh 18 stone I have to do these first or there's no chance of getting many reps. In my hey-day I could do 25 chins with a 20kg plate strapped to my waist at nearly 18 stone. For me, chins are the single best exercise for lats. If you struggle to get a rep with chins then by all means stick with pull-downs until you get stronger but include chins as soon as you can get three or four reps, they're really worth it.

I do negatives on my set of chin-ups. If the bar is too high to reach from the ground put a box or something underneath the bar so you can stand whilst gripping the bar. After you fail on your last rep use the box to jump up and get to the top of the rep before resisting as much as you can on the negative, lowering part of the rep. Really try and pause if you can, though if you went to proper failure then you shouldn't really be able to pause for that long! Do a few negatives if you can.

After that set you should be feeling it! I can't manage another set of chins but you might so if you feel up to it and get get more than just a rep or two then by all means go for it and do another set of chins instead of a set of pull downs.

I superset each set of wide grip chins with stiff arm pulldowns on the same machine - i.e. I'll select 20kg on the machine and standing in front of it with a narrowish grip I'll perform as many strict reps as I can - generally more than 20 - to pre-exhaust the lats. I'll then select a much heavier weight that I can get about 15 - 20 reps on the wide grip pulldowns and perform the set straight away. I.e. I'll finish the last rep of stiff-arms, select a heavier weight, take a wide grip and immediately start the set.

The benefit of doing this is that my lats will fail before my biceps give out. This is paramount as I'm trying to train my back, not my biceps! Sadly for most people they'll use their biceps more than they realise and it'll mean that the set of pulldowns / rows / any compound back exercise reaches failure when their biceps give out and not their backs. This is the chief reason why a lot of bodybuilders find it very difficult to get big backs. I was well known for my lats and I put this down to both chins and pre-exhaust techniques. I can't recommend both highly enough.

One thing to be aware of with stiff-arm pulldowns is that they work your triceps quite hard - your triceps have to work to keep your arms straight during the rep. If you go too heavy or train these too hard you might risk overtraining your triceps. For this reason I try to go as light as I can and really squeeze the lats, lessening the requirements for heavier weights.

Next up is next pre-exhaust exercise, incline bent-over dumbell raises. These are not done in superset style as I prefer to actually superset the last set or two by going to failure performing the raises on an incline bench (lying on it chest forward) followed by getting off the bench and performing more reps stood up (and bent-over). This really fries the rear delts and middle back.

After these I do my barbell rows or one arm dumbell rows, depending on how my lower back is feeling (barbells if fine, dumbells if a bit fragile). By doing the raises first I'm trying to have it so my back fails before my biceps, just like with the pulldowns. I really am trying to do whatever I can to train my back instead of my biceps (though by the end of the workout my biceps are still pretty fried, making my biceps workout a much shorter and lighter affair).

As always I try to get at least 15 reps each set and preferably 20. With dumbell rows I try to maintain a strict form, pausing at the top of each rep for as much of the set as possible (the last few reps will have looser form as I try and get as close as possible to maximum failure during my max sets).

Finally for back if I am feeling like I have room for a bit more, I'll perform a few sets of close grip (parallel, palms facing) pulldowns. I'll use a medium weight and really try and feel the squeeze in my back as I perform each rep. It's a great finishing exercise but it does work the biceps hard.

Biceps

After a quick breather I'll dive straight into my biceps workout. Some people don't like to train biceps with back but for me the only reason to not train them with back is if you want to massage your ego and train them while they're fresh so you can use heavier weights! Forget it, train them with back - it's much more effective because they get much more recuperation and recovery time between each back and biceps workout and thus you've got a much better chance of not overtraining them and actually getting some growth...

You'll notice a couple of things about my biceps workout:

1. No barbells. I learnt over a period of years that barbells curls don't work for my structure - they lock your arms into a certain position and range of movement and I found that I got a lot of muscle and elbow injuries because of this. By doing dumbell only I no longer get as much trouble but if you find barbells fine then by all means use them. Another reason I like using dumbells is that it stops one arm taking over and so you get more even growth, rather than your good arm getting bigger and bigger and more out of proportion.

2. Low sets. I only perform about 6 sets (sometimes less if they're feeling particularly fried!). This is a key benefit of training biceps after back. Always be mindful of over-training, especially if you are natural. The lower amount of sets you perform the less likely you'll overtrain.

I'll use light weights during my biceps workout (often having the pee taken by other bodybuilders in the gym at the time) as my biceps are already tired from training back. This is great from an injury perspective - lighter weights means it is much less likely that you'll get injured. I concentrate on really squeezing the biceps and feeling it. Done right you'll really stimulate the biceps with minimal risk of injury - perfect.

I love finishing with one arm dumbell preacher curls as they are fabulous for doing forced reps and negatives - you have a spare arm to help the working arm! Becuase of this I can really max them out and by the end of the exercise my biceps are completely ruined, nothing left and I can leave the gym a happy man, looking forward to a sore back and biceps the next morning.

Next up, my favourite workout - Chest, Front and Side Delts and Triceps!

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Go to my Legs workout