Frame Your Back and Biceps

Try this back and biceps program to build strength and size in all the right proportions and ‘pull’ your way to a first-class physique.

Ask any recreational lifter what parts of their physique they wish to improve on and more often than not they will yearn for washboard abs, sleeve-splitting arms, pumped pecs, or awe-inspiring, 3D delts. The fact that most males are fixated on improving these muscle groups is hardly surprising considering we constantly analyse our physiques based on the reflection we see in the mirror. Any muscle that is out of sight can quite easily become out of mind, and too often our back muscles are neglected.

As a result, there seems to be a widespread epidemic of lifters congregating in gyms across the country who resemble prehistoric cavemen with hunched shoulders and a poked chin due to an unhealthy obsession with the bench press. By neglecting your back muscles, you are not only leaving yourself subject to potential injury due to poor posture, but you are also short-changing yourself when it comes to developing a first-class physique.

Possessing low-hanging lats with terrific traps capped by ridiculous rear delts can ensure that your physique remains balanced and proportional.

This program couples back and biceps together as part of a ‘pull session’, which prioritises free-weight compound exercises to build size and strength.

Contrary to popular belief, the notion that you should only train a muscle group once per week out of fear that you may ‘over-train’ is completely unfounded. Increasing the frequency with which you train a muscle group throughout the week will lead to an increase in total volume (volume = sets x reps x weight). Considering volume is the underlying driver when it comes to increasing size, I suggest performing this program twice per week.

However, instead of remaining fixated on one specific rep scheme (that is, 10-12 reps), I recommend that you have one session focused on lifting heavy weights with low reps and one session focused on lifting lighter weights with higher reps to ensure your muscles are forced to constantly adapt. When designing your weekly training split, I would suggest allowing at least two to three days between ‘pull’ sessions.

Back and Biceps Workout

A1 Barbell bent-over row

Set-up: Holding a barbell with a pronated grip (palms facing down), bend your knees slightly and bring your torso forward by bending at the waist and maintaining a straight back.

Action: Breathe out as you lift the barbell toward your midsection. Drive your elbows back and keep them close to the sides of your body. At the top of the contracted position, squeeze the back muscles and hold for a brief pause. Then inhale and slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.

Tip: To perform this exercise safely you must ensure you maintain a neutral spine (or straight back) and keep your core tight at all times.

Bent over row starting position Bent over rows top position

B1 Wide-grip pull-ups

Set-up: Take a wide pronated grip on a pull-up bar and hang freely with your arms extended.

Action: Pull yourself up by flexing the elbows and activating your lats until your chin is higher than your hands. Pause at the top of the movement before lowering yourself to the starting position with a controlled tempo.

Tip: Do not swing or use momentum to complete the movement. If you struggle with lifting your own bodyweight, then you should consider using wide-grip lat pulldowns as an alternative.

Pull ups starting position Pull ups top position

C1 Dumbbell bent-over row

Set-up: Place one leg on top of the end of a flat bench, bend your torso forward from the waist until your upper body is parallel to the floor, and place your right hand on the other end of the bench for support. Use the opposite hand to pick up a dumbbell, and hold the weight while keeping your lower back straight.

Action: Pull the dumbbell straight up to the side of your chest, keeping your upper arm close to your side and keeping the torso stationary. Pause at the top of the movement before lowering the dumbbell back down.

Dumbbell bent over row starting position Dumbbell bent over row top position

D1 Standing barbell biceps curl

Set-up: Hold a barbell with a grip shoulder-width apart. The palm of your hands should be facing forward, with your elbows close to your torso.

Action: While holding your upper arms stationary, curl the weights and contract the biceps as you breathe out. Only your forearms should move as you bring the bar up to shoulder-level. Pause briefly at the top of the rep before slowly lowering the weight.

Tip: Only your forearms should move when curling. Don’t load the bar up with too much weight and swing it up with momentum.

Barbell curls starting position Barbell curls top position

E1 Alternating dumbbell hammer curls

Set-up: Stand with a dumbbell in each hand being held at arm’s length in a neutral position (palms facing each other). The elbows should be close to the torso.

Action: Curl the right weight forward while contracting the biceps as you breathe out. Continue the movement until your biceps are fully contracted and the dumbbells are at shoulder-level. Slowly lower the weight and repeat with the left weight.

Dumbbell curls starting position Dumbbell curls top position

Our top tips

Compounds are key: Multi-muscle/multi-joint movements such as deadlifts, barbell rows, dumbbell rows and pull-ups form the foundation of my back regime and are usually positioned first on my program. Simply put, you get more bang for your buck with these exercises as they recruit more muscle fibres.

Check your ego at the door: While it may be tempting to load up the bar and haul as much weight as possible, unless you are consciously contracting the target muscle and fully stretching the muscle belly out with each rep, there’s a greater likelihood you’re growing your ego, not your muscles. Take the target muscle through a full range-of-motion, control the tempo of each rep, and avoid momentum taking over so that tension is placed on the target muscle at all times.

Change the grips for variation: Pronated, neutral, and supinated grips should all be used. Experiment with wider grips and closer grips. Varying the grips that you employ ensures that you can target your back from different angles.

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