Some pairings just make sense. For bodybuilders — aspiring or professional alike — it’s stuff like whey protein and whole milk. Biceps and board shorts at the beach. Ab work and cardio. Certain things just fit nicely next to one another, including which muscles you train in the same session.
This unorthodox pairing can shave wasted time off your workouts, beef up your trunk, and help you become a more well-rounded trainee all at once. Put them together and you’ve got a first-class ticket aboard the muscle shuttle.
Your destination? Gains. Try one of these workouts and see for yourself.
Best Bodybuilding Chest & Back Workouts
- Chest & Back Bodybuilding Workout — Beginner
- Chest & Back Bodybuilding Workout — Intermediate
- Chest & Back Bodybuilding Workout — Advanced
If you’re a new lifter, “torso training” is right up your alley. Since beginners don’t typically require as much detailed, specific training as more mature bodybuilders need to add mass, you can pack on pounds for “free” by simply relying on compound exercises that hit multiple muscles at once.
The key here is to get comfortable with your rows and presses. There are plenty of variations of each under the sun, but when you’re starting out there’s no need to overcomplicate things. Standard-issue barbell rows and bench pressing will carry you far.
- Barbell Row: 3×6
- Barbell Bench Press: 3×6
- Barbell Upright Row: 3×8
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 3×8
How to Progress
In four movements, you’ve covered many of the major biomechanical functions of the pecs and upper back. You’ve also guaranteed that nearly every muscle of your upper body is stimulated to some degree.
To make progress here, lean on progressive overload as your path forward. Add five or 10 pounds to at least one movement per workout.
You can perform this workout twice per week — you’ll be surprised at how much strength and size you add in a short period of time, as long as you’re eating enough to grow.
Once you’re comfortable with the rigors of resistance training, it’s time to lean into maximizing your chest and back sessions. This will come in the form of ensuring each exercise complements the next, as well as some tactical intensity techniques to ante-up your muscle gain.
Instead of relying on the barbell (though never a bad idea), as an intermediate physique athlete you’ll need to be prepared to look beyond the squat rack. Cables, machine work, and the dumbbell rack all provide ample opportunities for muscle growth if you’re willing to mix it up a little.
- Straight-Arm Pulldown: 2×15, as a light warm-up.
- Dumbbell Row: 4×6,8,10,12 as a pyramid.
- Face Pull: 3×15-20
- Decline Bench Press: 4×6,8,10,12 as a pyramid.
- Incline Hex Press: 3×12-15
- Cable Flye: 40 reps in as few sets as possible with a moderate weight.
How to Progress
While you should still make an effort to increase your intensity on most movements, you can continue to add mass via other avenues as well. Different equipment and rep ranges offer you the chance to improve your muscular endurance and mind-muscle connection on each lift.
Furthermore, higher reps on the isolation work should allow you to safely push to absolute failure at the middle and end of the workout to ensure you’ve squeezed every last drop out of your chest and back.
Your training needs to change with the times. After many long years in the gym, muscle gains probably don’t flow as freely as they once did. Where some athletes would be disheartened, you can rise to the occasion and see this as a new opportunity to grow by digging deep and working hard.
An advanced workout doesn’t necessarily mean a longer one. You probably need more volume than a beginner to add muscle, but that doesn’t mean you need to labor for three hours or more in the weight room (unless you’re into that sort of thing).
Your chest and back are perfectly suited for high-intensity training via supersets. Make them the backbone of your workout and reap the results that follow.
- Dumbbell Pullover: 2×15, as a warm-up.
- Decline Bench Press: 3×8
- Kroc Row: 3×8
- Dumbbell Seal Row superset Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 3×12/12
- Straight-Arm Pulldown superset Weighted Push-Up: 2×15/15
- Machine Chest Flye superset Resistance Band Pull-Apart: 2×15/15
- Dumbbell Pullover: two sets to failure with a light to moderate weight.
How to Progress
There’s no getting around the fact that you can’t add five pounds to your barbell indefinitely. Unfortunately, that reservoir will run dry. Once you’re out of luck, though, you can push the envelope by increasing your effort and work density.
Beyond that, training to failure with the right movements will ensure beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’ve fatigued every last muscle fiber in your pecs, lats, and upper back.
Anatomy of the Chest & Back (and Why It Matters)
Your anterior and posterior (front and rear) torso musculature are intrinsically linked, but also perform opposing jobs while you’re working out. To make the most of a chest & back-centric workout, you need to know how your body works in the first place.
Lats & Pecs
Make no mistake, both muscles perform more than one function. That said, your pectoralis major pulls your arm forward and inward, while your lattisimus dorsi retracts and abducts the arm.
This is why the barbell row and bench press complement each other — it’s the same motion, just in reverse.
Delts & Traps
The anterior compartment of your deltoid raises the arm out and up. Conversely, your posterior deltoid, supra (and infra) spinatus, and middle trapezius all perform opposing functions.
When you feel a pinch in the front of your shoulder or have a kyphotic (hunched) posture, the prescription is upper back work, and for good reason. Balancing your stimulation helps keep your body healthy and functional.
Biceps & Triceps
They don’t quite “count” as part of your chest and back, but they do bear mentioning. Every press will involve your triceps to extend your arm, while all rows call your biceps into play to flex the elbow.
Since your elbow is a hinge joint, these two muscles will always act in direct opposition to one another — which can be a surprising advantage in the gym if you want to save time and work both at once.
Benefits of Training Chest & Back Together
If you ascribe to traditional bodybuilding dogma, the prospect of pairing two big muscle groups in the same workout may seem sacrilegious. In fairness, it’s not for the faint of heart. But if you can handle it, there are a surprising number of perks.
Time-Saving & Convenience
Your chest-and-back days are only as long as you make them. Neither muscle group really requires an overly-complicated warm-up, meaning you can often jump right into the meat and potatoes of the session.
Furthermore, a lot of your favorite presses and pulls can be performed back-to-back in the same part of the gym. If you’ve claimed the squat rack as your home turf, you can bang out barbell rows and floor presses in the same area in almost no time.
Practically speaking, your chest and back perform contrasting functions. Your pectoral muscles draw the arm forward in space and toward your midline, while your lats retract and abduct the arm and shoulder.
This creates a general feeling of synchronicity to your session. While the active (or “agonist”) muscle contracts, the antagonist stretches. If your chest workouts typically feel stiff or clunky, you might notice a more fluid and “connected” experience if you weave in some rows throughout.
A solid warm-up is crucial for pressing well — any world-record bench presser will tell you as much. To optimally engage your pecs, the musculature of your upper back needs to be brought online and kept in-play to stabilize your shoulder girdle and humerus bone.
By starting off your chest & back day with the latter, you inadvertently prime yourself to better exercise your pecs.
Rows will warm up your lats and help make pausing a barbell on your chest feel more secure. Upper back work engages your scapula and creates a pumped-up and stable “shelf” for you to press from. You should feel the difference immediately.
While chest & back workouts do wonders of their own accord, you should also consider what pairing them up allows you to accomplish in other areas of fitness.
For instance, you may want to pay extra attention to growing your arms. If you typically perform your biceps exercises after a long back day, there’s a good chance you’re pretty worn out by the time you get to your curls and can’t put in as much effort as you’d like.
Taking your pecs, lats, and upper back off the table early opens up new organizational possibilities in your weekly training. You can freely devote an entire day to just arm work, or blast your biceps after a shoulder session. There are plenty of unorthodox options on the table.
How to Add Chest & Back Workouts to Your Bodybuilding Routine
If you’ve been sold on the merits of training your torso on the same day, your next task is figuring out what to do with the rest of your week.
For just about any athlete, hitting a muscle group twice per week is going to be superior to only working it once. (1) With that in mind, fitting two sessions for each area of your body into seven days can be a bit difficult. Here are two different ways to split up your bodybuilding workouts.
Four Workouts Per Week, High-Volume
- Monday: Chest, Back, and Shoulders
- Tuesday: Legs, Arms, and Abs
- Wednesday: rest
- Thursday: Chest, Back, and Shoulders
- Friday: rest
- Saturday: Legs, Arms, and Abs
- Sunday: rest
Six Workouts Per Week, Moderate Volume
- Monday: Chest and Back
- Tuesday: Legs and Shoulders
- Wednesday: Arms and Abs
- Thursday: Chest and Back
- Friday: Legs and Shoulders
- Saturday: Arms and Abs
- Sunday: rest
Note that the first split gives you more days out of the gym to rest and recover, but the workouts themselves are likely to run a bit long. On the other hand, the second split puts you in the weight room six out of seven days.
You won’t need to train for several hours, but you might find that it wears you down over time. Pay close heed to how your body feels and take deloads as needed.
A Chest-and-Back Attack
How you organize your training doesn’t matter in the grand scheme. Your effort, be it from rep to rep or over a period of months, will be what ultimately determines how much muscle you put on or how many pounds you add to your lifts.
However, some bodybuilding workouts are just flat-out better than others. Even though that distinction largely depends on the person, there’s quite the compelling case to be made for pushing and pulling on the same day if you’re pursuing hypertrophy.
Your presses will feel rock-solid, you’ll save time between exercises, and — perhaps most importantly — you’ll stretch out all your t-shirts. After all, that’s what bodybuilding is all about.
1. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 46(11), 1689–1697.
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