I was inspired to write this back and bicep’s workout off of “Johnny Two Plates,” Blog where he has some good workouts, along with an often very humorous delivery.
I’ve never been one to neglect my biceps (this isn’t completely bragging, keep reading).
It’s always the first thing most people notice when looking at an athlete, or talking about how strong someone is, and I was not different, plus it’s also usually noticeably engaged during a sports specific movement; think Bo Jackson carrying a football, or Kirby Puckett swinging a baseball bat; or Bo Jackson breaking a baseball bat.
This bicep favoritism goes back to when first starting to lift weights, after purchasing my first weight set in about 4th grade from Kmart off mowing Oma’s lawn, in the early 90’s, (which you can see pictured below off to the left in the handstand picture,) all the way up until when I first started personal training professionally in 2011, (the social anxiety and disdainful view of training sales, kept me away for about five years after attaining the training diploma from the N.P.T.I.)
This focus on the biceps for many years wasn’t ideal unfortunately, as the tricpes were being neglected in comparison; which wasn’t smart because there are more muscle heads on your triceps (three, hence the word tri, than biceps, which have two, hence the word bi).
It wasn’t until muscle mentor Nick H. (the first personal training manager at the gym I started at,) gently reminded of working the triceps equally (chest/triceps workout coming in the future, stay tuned). I forgot what he said, I think it was, “biceps are for the bros, triceps are for the girls.”
Before then I must have assumed that by working my biceps twice as hard, my triceps would get bigger by osmosis. Nick H. by the way is seen in the video below for a partner workout that we did together our first year training together, (he’s the one with the larger muscles). Though I did the filming and editing, it should be added that a lot of the exercises were the other Nick’s creation (he’s really creative when it comes to freshening up the workouts).
Gradually I started working the triceps equally, then slightly more so even, which is good because balance is important for everything, especially when having a good resistance training program.
Enough about the triceps though, the focus today is on the biceps, and my go to bicep workout, which also combines the back, which is commonly done as both back and biceps involve pulling movements, so they work synergistically.
Some work back and biceps together as they are both exercises that are pulling (usually the way I’ve done biceps) some devote a day just to focus on arms, which I’ve done only recently in the past few years. I find that both work equally well, though the arms get the biggest in the moment you’re lifting and a few minutes after when doing bi’s and tri’s together on the same day (wish the “pump” would stay longer, but as long as the strength is there, who cares).
I don’t think one way’s any better than the other, it’s all about the exercises you choose and the intensity you put into them.
One advantage of working the biceps and back together though is that you can potentially spend one less day working out, but have similar gains, thus potentially maximizing workout time if time’s a concern.
Speaking of maximizing workout time, if that’s something you’re interested in, definitely check out the post I wrote a few weeks ago; “5 Best Exercises to Maximize Workout Time.”
To keep it simple, as I’m prone to blathering on these posts, I’ll give an example of my typical back/biceps workout. I’ve switched it up over time, and still do (as variety is the spice of workout life,) but this is the one I usually go back to for the maximum pump!
It’s always best, (no matter the workout) to work your bigger muscles first, then your smallest, as the bigger muscles require more energy and are also typically more challenging, thus the back is focused on first for this workout, even though the biceps are involved in, even if to a small degree in any back exercise, though they’re not demanded of as much as they are when focusing on just the biceps.
Here’s the workout protocol:
Everything here for rest between each set is 90-120 seconds, and each set is fully completed before moving onto the next one, unless otherwise noted.
Rep’s are listed for each exercise, but typically fall between 6 and 12 for muscular failure. Muscular failure being defined as the inability to lift another rep without losing proper form.
The workout is simple but effective, it’s all about proper form and intensity, and consistency over time for maximal muscle and strength gain.
I consider proper form to be a number of things, but the most important being; perfect form, full range of motion, not using momentum to lift or lower yourself or the weight, always “fighting gravity,” on the negative portion of any exercise (should take at least 2 seconds to lower the weight, ideally 3-4 seconds if not more). The slower you go when strength training, the safer an exercise is, and the more focus that is put on the muscle the vast majority of the time.
1st Set: Pull Up’s (3 sets supinated grip, maximum reps each set)
I’m all about super slow (at least on the negative portion of the movement,) full range of motion Pull Up’s. NO Crossfit “Pull Up’s” or movements are allowed in this workout.
Every time I see a cross fit Pull Up, I do a prayer for the elbows, and other joints of the person doing them.
Here are some statistics on the chances of sustaining a not so minor injury when practicing Crossfit, and they’re not pretty. Even if you don’t think stats are always 100% accurate, even if they were half accurate that would still be a huge risk over conventional strength training.
Crossfit, IMO, (any many others) involves fast short term gains, in exchange of potentially short and long term. Crossfit Pull Ups are especially offensive to good form.
There is a reason the military, particularly the Marines, makes it’s soldiers do “deadhang” Pull Up’s or doesn’t count them. They’ve been doing more Pull Up’s, and (for a much longer period of time than anyone,) and there is a good reason why. Also the world record books do not give credence to momentum based Pull Up’s.
Seated Row’s (5 sets, neutral grip 10, 8, 8, 6, 5)
Possibly my favorite back exercise, outside of Pull Up’s for building that V shape in the back.
Barbell Row’s (5 sets, supinated grip 10,8,6,5,4)
(45 degrees or parallel to the ground are the options here-I have no preference, and do both. A straight back is of prime importance whichever form is chosen. If you cannot do these with a perfectly straight back or feel back discomfort, you Inverted Rows instead).
Straight Barbell Curls (5 sets, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4)
Note: I don’t mind the curvy curl bars, but I prefer the flat bar.
Very important note. You see people do this all the time, but DO NOT arch your back in an attempt to get more reps, that is a huge no-no. If you can’t lift the bar without maintaining perfect posture, your biceps are getting assisted (in a bad way).
Trust me on this, I’ve done it before, and once threw my back out for a few days on the last set of a workout doing that). Luckily it was a Friday, but walking around hunched over for an entire whole weekend, and the following day in a ton of pain, until I had a weird spasm that sent me writhing to the floor on the fourth day, lasting about 30 seconds isn’t enjoyable. One of the most painful things I’ve experience in fact. Oddly, after that spasm I felt 100% better, and didn’t have a recurring issue again, (nor did I “cheat” the curl again-lesson learned).
Resistance Band Finisher (2 sets 30 reps, 25 reps (60 seconds rest in between).
This is an exercise acquired from J.C. Santana, Instructor for the USA weightlifting team, and Level 1 track and field coach).
It’s a great bicep workout finisher, and really pumps your arms up, (if proper form and intensity is there). In fact all of these vanity pictures in this post were taken right after the band finisher.
Note; Though deadlifts are rightfully called the King of all exercises for inducing maximal strength, not only in the back but all over the body, they are a medium to high risk exercise, and should never be done unless you have the flexibility, and absolutely perfectly straight back form, which is a neccesity for reducing injury.
Even if you have perfect form doing them, I would still consider them to be at least a medium risk exercise, and can cause issues, and should definitely be avoided if you have any back issues, and possibly avoided even if you don’t. It’s up to you, for me the back’s just not worth risking for the strength increase that follows, but everyone’s unique, regarding the risk they take when working out and their back mobility and health.
My goal when working out is maximum strength with minimal risk taking, and I do what appears to some to be some crazy things when it comes to risking the body outside of workouts, including climbing high trees and rock surfaces without safety apparatuses, and ski jumping large distances, all without health insurance, but I’ve worked up to that level of controlled crazy, and it’s not risky to me, though to the spectator it may appear so:
With that in mind sometimes I’ll do deadlifts, but mostly avoid them.
If you do this workout, definitely let me know how worked out for you!
Also, here are some post back and bicep vanity picture from my own workouts: