I could barely open my car door after this one.
I have been STRUGGLING to find a good back/pull day routine that leaves me weak. I always found that working biceps to complete exhaustion is tough, since its such a small muscle I find it fatigues really quickly. But not because you’ve worked it to failure, but just because its been moving weight. It’s a weird concept to try and explain, but I guess a simple way of putting it is that the mind-muscle connection just isn’t there. Similarly with my back, I don’t know if this is a common experience but it took me a long time before I started feeling real good muscle activation in my back.
The workout I provide you DOES NOT guarantee a shredded back and girthy biceps, I hate to admit. A massive part of how you perform these lifts is super dependent on form and moving with intention, because that’s how you really engage those muscles. I can give you the exercises, but I can’t make you do them right. I offer form cues and tips, but practice makes progress.
So dive in! It’s a long one.
Exercise #1: Eccentric Pull-ups (AMRAP)
Pull-ups aren’t always the most doable exercise, it took me a long time before I was able to do just one. Even now, I struggle to get through a full set of pull-ups. But eccentrics are definitely doable, and just as effective. I’ve never felt better back activation in an exercise, and rocking the wide-grip really engages your lats. I find the best form cue is to hold your weight on the descent as if you’re trying to lat spread – thinking about this will help with that muscle engagement.
Exercise #2: Bent Over Barbell Rows (3×8-10)
Not much to say here, this is a pretty standard back exercise. I try not to grip the bar too hard so not to tire out my forearms. THUMB OVER THE BAR!! ALWAYS!! Ignore the image above. The muscles engaged that run from your hands, to forearms, to upper arm into your back is directly affected by your thumb placement, and having thumb under the bar will recruit your biceps. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, your arms are likely going to tire out before your back, which may not be your goal. The thumb under grip isn’t incorrect, but you’ll get better lat engagement from thumb over.
Exercise #3: Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns (3×10)
THUMB OVER THE BAR! This is a general rule of thumb for back exercises… hardy har… rule of thumb… quite literally…
It took me a hot minute to start feeling muscle activation in my back in lat pulldowns. My best form tip would be to avoid shrugging your shoulders, and hold the weight at the top of the rep rather than letting it go. Keep your lats engaged throughout the entire movement. You can even try thinking about driving your elbows down, rather than pulling the bar down.
Exercise #4: Face Pulls (3×10)
By far one of my absolute favourite exercises of all time. EXCELLENT for your posture, and really targets the upper back while mostly engaging your rear delts. Once again avoid shrugging your shoulders. When pulling, the ropes should reach eyebrow level, not mouth level. This keeps the focus in your upper back.
Exercise #5: Rear Delt-Flyes + Extension Hold (3×10)
You could argue that this is a shoulder exercise as well, and I recommend implementing it into your shoulder days as well since you’re likely not hitting this muscle group as much as you need to be. There’s a million ways to do this exercise, as it can be performed with a machine, cables or dumbells (like most exercises), and each have their own benefits. For each of these, the biggest tip is to avoid throwing the weight. This is kind of common sense with all your exercises, as you should always control the movement, but especially with this one. It’s better to go light weight, with really slow and controlled reps. Time under tension is key. I even like to hold for a second or so at the end of the extension.
On the final rep of each set, hold the extension position for as long as you can until failure.
Exercise #6: Cable Hammer Curls (3×10)
Using cables for bicep exercises can arguably be better than free weights, as the tension remains constant throughout the motion. I won’t get into the physics of it, but cables can be extremely beneficial for many exercises, especially biceps.
Make sure with these that you’re getting a fullest range of motion, and your elbows stay locked/pinned in place. Try taking a step back or placing a platform beneath you so the weights don’t slam.
Exercise #7: Heavy curls SS Incline curls (3×8-10/10)
This superset is monstrous! BUT it will give you a gnarly pump and some arms that feel like noodles. For the incline curls, drop about half the weight you were doing with heavy curls. Make sure when you’re doing the incline curls, you actually use the incline. Let your arms fully extend at the bottom of each rep. Don’t use momentum to move the weight, but that should be a given. Don’t be like the ego-lifting old men at the gym who are gonna throw their back out because they have no idea how muscles work.
Exercise #8: Cross Body Curls (4×10)
Bicep curls on a diagonal! Slow and steady! Exercising the muscle from different angles will help to target each head of the bicep, leading to greater muscle hypertrophy and killer aesthetics.
Exercise #8.5: Devour a protein shake or protein-rich meal (or both)
EAT BIG, GET BIG, EAT BIG, GET BIG, EAT BIG, GET BIG