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Yes, Back And Chest Workouts Are Grueling, But They’re Incredibly Effective. Try These 9 Routines

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Julien Raby

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Let’s dive into back and chest workouts.

These intense routines, though tough, promise significant rewards in strength and endurance. In this article, we’re not just discussing the benefits; we’re offering you 9 varied and effective workouts.

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You’ll discover why pairing these muscle groups is a game-changer. Each routine is designed with a specific goal in mind, ensuring you push your boundaries and see tangible results. Stay engaged as we reveal how to make the most of these workouts, no matter your current fitness level.

Can You Train Chest and Back Together?

Absolutely, and here’s why it’s a brilliant idea. Training chest and back together, especially in a superset format, allows you to work on antagonistic muscle groups in one session.

This couplet enhances muscular balance, improves posture, and elevates your workout intensity. When one muscle group works, the other rests, making your gym time efficient without compromising on intensity.

Training Opposing Muscle Groups with Supersets

Supersets involving back and chest exercises can be a game-changer for your workout efficiency and intensity. Here’s how you can incorporate them:

  1. Alternate Between Opposing Muscles: Perform a chest exercise followed immediately by a back exercise. For instance, pair bench presses with bent-over rows. This approach not only saves time but also maintains a high energy expenditure as one muscle group rests while the other works.
  2. Focus on Form and Control: In supersets, fatigue sets in quickly. It’s crucial to maintain form. If your form starts to slip, reduce the weight or the number of reps.
  3. Rest Intervals: While supersets are intense, don’t skimp on rest. Give yourself a minute or two between each superset to catch your breath and prepare for the next round (Source).
  4. Example Superset Routine: Start with a chest exercise like dumbbell flies, aiming for 8-12 reps, then immediately switch to a back exercise like lat pulldowns for another 8-12 reps. This combination hits different aspects of upper body strength and endurance.

Best Exercises for Back and Chest Workouts

Chest Workouts
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  1. Barbell Bench Press: A classic for chest development, this exercise targets your pectoralis major like no other. Aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps. Keep your feet grounded and drive through your chest for a full range of motion.
  2. Pull-Ups: Immediately follow with pull-ups to engage your lats and upper back. If you struggle with bodyweight pull-ups, assisted pull-up machines or resistance bands are excellent alternatives. Again, aim for 3 sets to failure.
  3. Incline Dumbbell Press: Hit the upper chest by setting the bench to a 30-45 degree incline. Perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps, focusing on squeezing at the top of the movement for maximum pectoral engagement.
  4. One-Arm Dumbbell Row: For a balanced back, follow with one-arm dumbbell rows. This exercise not only works your lats but also engages your mid-back. Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps on each side, keeping your back straight and core engaged.
  5. Chest Flyes: Lie on a flat bench and open your arms wide, then squeeze your chest as you bring the weights together. This exercise stretches and contracts the chest muscles, promoting growth. Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps.
  6. Bent Over Rows: Using a barbell or dumbbells, this exercise hits multiple back muscles including your lats, rhomboids, and traps. Keep a slight bend in the knees and a flat back as you row the weight towards your lower ribs. Aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
  7. Cable Crossovers: To finish the chest workout, cable crossovers are excellent for isolating the chest muscles and providing constant tension. Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps, focusing on squeezing your chest muscles throughout the movement.
  8. Lat Pulldowns: Lastly, focus on lat pulldowns to comprehensively target your back, especially the latissimus dorsi. For 3 sets of 10-12 reps, pull the bar down towards your chest, keeping your back straight and core tight.

Chest & Back Workouts, Depending on Your Experience Level

Crafting an effective chest and back workout hinges on understanding progression. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re an experienced lifter, each level demands a different approach to maximize growth and avoid plateaus. Let’s break down the workout progressions for different levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

Beginner Workouts

Focus on Foundations: As a beginner, your goal is to build a solid base. Concentrate on learning the correct form and technique.

  1. Flat Bench Press: Start with 3 sets of 10-12 reps. This foundational exercise builds overall chest strength and muscle mass.
  2. Assisted Pull-ups: Aim for 3 sets of 8-10 reps. They’re excellent for developing back strength and preparing you for unassisted pull-ups.
  3. Dumbbell Rows: Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps on each side. They’re great for targeting the middle and lower back muscles.
  4. Push-ups: Perform 3 sets to failure to build chest and overall upper body strength.

Intermediate Workouts

Increase Intensity and Volume: Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to up the ante.

  1. Incline Bench Press: Move to 4 sets of 8-10 reps. This exercise targets the upper chest.
  2. Wide-Grip Pull-ups: Do 4 sets to failure. This variation emphasizes your lats for a wider back.
  3. Seated Cable Row: 4 sets of 10-12 reps. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together for maximum muscle engagement.
  4. Dumbbell Flyes: Perform 4 sets of 10-12 reps. This exercise stretches and isolates the chest muscles.

Advanced Workouts

Master Complexity and Heavier Weights: Advanced routines involve more complex movements and heavier lifting.

  1. Decline Bench Press: Do 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps for lower chest definition.
  2. Weighted Pull-ups: Add weight for 4 sets of 6-8 reps to intensify your back workout.
  3. T-Bar Row: Perform 4 sets of 8-10 reps. This exercise is excellent for adding thickness to your back.
  4. Chest Dips: Aim for 4 sets to failure, adding weight if necessary.

Superset Variations for All Levels

Combine for Efficiency: Supersets are an efficient way to train your chest and back. Pair a chest exercise with a back exercise, performing them back-to-back with minimal rest.

  • Beginners: Pair flat bench press with assisted pull-ups.
  • Intermediates: Combine incline bench press with wide-grip pull-ups.
  • Advanced: Do supersets of decline bench press and weighted pull-ups.

Various Workouts Based on Objectives or Available Tools

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Chest and Back Supersets

Supersets, a method where you perform two exercises back-to-back with minimal rest, are incredibly efficient for building upper body strength. Here’s a classic chest and back superset routine:

  1. Bench Press and Bent-Over Barbell Rows: Start with the bench press for your chest, aiming for 3 sets of 8-10 reps. Follow it immediately with bent-over barbell rows for your back, matching the sets and reps. This combination not only saves time but also ensures a balanced development of push and pull muscle groups.
  2. Dumbbell Flyes and Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows: Post the heavy lifting, switch to dumbbell flyes, targeting the pectoral muscles’ stretch and contraction. Pair this with single-arm dumbbell rows to isolate and work each side of your back equally. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps for each exercise.
  3. Push-Ups and Pull-Ups: End your superset workout with bodyweight exercises. Do as many push-ups as you can, followed by pull-ups until failure. These exercises are great for muscular endurance and provide a functional edge to your training.

Machine-Based Workout Options

For those who prefer machine-based workouts or are navigating through busy gym hours, here are some effective alternatives:

  1. Chest Press Machine and Seated Cable Row: Begin with the chest press machine, focusing on controlled movements. Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps. Then move to the seated cable row machine, ensuring your back is straight and you’re pulling the weight with your back muscles, not just your arms.
  2. Pec Deck Machine and Lat Pull-down: The pec deck is excellent for isolating the chest muscles without the need for balancing weights. Pair it with the lat pull-down to engage the width of your back. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps on each machine.
  3. Cable Crossover and T-Bar Row Machine: Finish with cable crossovers, which offer a unique tension arc for the chest muscles, paired with T-bar row machine for an intense back workout. Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps, focusing on the muscle squeeze at the end of each movement.

At-Home Workout Option

Transforming your living space into an effective workout zone can be surprisingly simple. Here, we dive into exercises that target your chest and back, requiring minimal equipment. These routines are perfect for those days when making it to the gym isn’t an option.

1. Bodyweight Push-Ups: An all-time classic, push-ups primarily target the chest muscles. For beginners, start with your knees on the ground. Progress to standard push-ups and eventually to more advanced variations like diamond or decline push-ups for added intensity.

2. Inverted Rows: Utilizing a sturdy table or a bar in a doorway, lie beneath it and pull yourself up. This exercise is excellent for targeting your upper back and requires no traditional gym equipment.

3. Dumbbell Floor Press: If you have a pair of dumbbells at home, the floor press is an effective exercise to target your chest. Lie on your back, press the dumbbells up, and bring them down until your elbows gently touch the floor.

4. Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows: Using a dumbbell or any suitable weighted object at home, you can perform this classic back exercise. Bend over at the waist, keep your back straight, and row the weight by pulling your elbow towards your hip.

Bodyweight and Minimal Equipment Options

1. Plyometric Push-Ups: For a more intense chest workout, add a plyometric element to your push-ups. Explode upwards from the ground, clapping your hands together before landing back into the push-up position.

2. Backpack Rows: Fill a backpack with books or other heavy items for an improvised weight. Hold the backpack with both hands and perform rows, pulling towards your waist and squeezing your shoulder blades together.

3. Chair Dips: Using a chair or a bench, you can target your lower chest and triceps. Sit on the edge, place your hands next to your hips, move your feet out, and lower your body by bending your elbows.

4. Superman Pulls: Lie face down on the floor, extend your arms in front of you, lift your chest and legs off the ground, and then pull your elbows down to your waist, squeezing your back muscles.

Time Crunch Workout

For Those Short on Time: This workout is designed to be efficient yet effective, taking about 30 minutes.

  1. Superset 1:
    • Push-Ups: 15 reps.
    • Dumbbell Rows: 15 reps each side.
    • Repeat for 3 sets with minimal rest.
  2. Superset 2:
    • Dumbbell Bench Press: 12 reps.
    • Single-Arm Lat Pulldown: 12 reps each side.
    • Repeat for 3 sets with minimal rest.
  3. Superset 3:
    • Chest Dips: 10 reps.
    • Face Pulls: 15 reps for rear delt and upper back activation.
    • Repeat for 3 sets with minimal rest.

Understanding Chest and Back Muscles

Anatomy of the Chest Muscles

Chest Muscles
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Pectoralis Major: This large muscle spans across the chest, anchored at the sternum, clavicle, and the armpit area (humerus). It’s the muscle that gives the chest its shape and definition. The pectoralis major primarily works to move the arm across the body and rotate it inwards. When you’re performing push-ups or bench presses, it’s the pectoralis major doing the heavy lifting.

Pectoralis Minor: Lying just beneath its bigger brother, the pectoralis minor is a thin, triangular muscle. It starts from the upper ribs and attaches to the scapula. This little-known muscle plays a crucial role in movements such as pulling the shoulder forward and downward. It’s a key player in exercises like dumbbell flies and chest dips, aiding in the stabilization of the shoulder blades.

Anatomy of the Back Muscles

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Latissimus Dorsi: Often referred to as ‘lats’, these are the broadest muscles in the back. Originating from the lower six thoracic vertebrae, lats extend to the humerus and the lower back. This muscle is your go-to powerhouse for pulling motions, such as during pull-ups or rows. It’s responsible for moving the arms down and back, and also aids in internal rotation.

Rhomboid: Nestled between your shoulder blades, the rhomboid muscles work silently but effectively. These muscles, connecting the spine to the inner edge of the shoulder blades, are essential for retracting and elevating the scapula. Think of them as the unsung heroes during rowing movements and exercises focusing on scapular retraction.

Trapezius: The trapezius, or ‘traps’, is a diamond-shaped muscle that spans across your upper back, neck, and shoulders. It has three parts – upper, middle, and lower – each with distinct roles. The upper traps help in elevating the shoulders, the middle traps retract the scapula, and the lower traps assist in its depression. Exercises like shrugs and deadlifts target this versatile muscle.

Teres Major: Often overshadowed by the larger lats, the teres major is a small yet mighty muscle located near the outer edge of the scapula. It works in tandem with the lats for internal rotation and adduction of the humerus. When you’re performing pull-ups or lat pulldowns, the teres major is actively involved in the movement, providing stability and strength.

Key Mistakes and Limiting Growth Factors

Beginner Mistakes

Overlooking Form for Heavy Weights: It’s a classic scene – the eager beginner loading up the barbell to impress. But here’s the truth: lifting beyond your capability often leads to poor form. This not only stunts muscle growth but also invites injuries. Pro Tip: Start with lighter weights. Focus on mastering the form. The muscle engagement in each rep counts more than the weight lifted.

Neglecting Full Range of Motion: Another common pitfall is cutting movements short. Fully extending and contracting muscles during exercises like bench presses or rows is crucial. Shortcuts lead to limited muscle development. Solution: Pay attention to each movement. Ensure you’re stretching and squeezing the muscles fully to maximize growth.

Imbalanced Training: Beginners tend to favor the chest over the back or vice versa, leading to imbalances and poor posture. Balanced Approach: Allocate equal effort and time to both chest and back exercises. This symmetry isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s crucial for overall muscular health and function.

Limiting Growth and How to Overcome It

Hitting a Plateau: Progress often slows down after the initial phase of training. This plateau can demotivate many. Overcoming Strategy: Mix things up. Introduce new exercises, alter the reps and sets, or change the intensity. This variety challenges your muscles anew, reigniting growth.

Underestimating Recovery: Muscle grows when you rest, not when you lift. Ignoring recovery can severely limit muscle growth. Recovery Tactics: Ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Incorporate active recovery days and consider techniques like foam rolling and stretching to aid muscle repair.

Inconsistent Nutrition: Nutrition is the bedrock of muscle growth. Inconsistent or poor dietary habits can significantly hinder progress. Nutritional Alignment: Focus on a balanced diet rich in protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. Consider consulting a nutritionist to tailor a diet plan that complements your workout regimen.


Is it Good to Work Out Chest and Back Together?

Absolutely! Working out chest and back together is not just good, it’s incredibly efficient. This approach falls under the concept of training antagonistic muscle groups – while one muscle contracts, the other stretches. This pairing can lead to improved muscular balance, enhanced recovery, and increased strength. It’s a strategy embraced by many fitness enthusiasts for its ability to maximize time in the gym while still delivering impactful results.

How to Structure a Chest and Back Day?

Warm-Up Properly: Begin with a dynamic warm-up focusing on the upper body. This can include arm circles, shoulder stretches, and light cardio to get the blood flowing.
Alternate Muscle Groups: Start with a chest exercise, then move to a back exercise. This approach allows one muscle group to rest while the other works, optimizing your workout session.
Include a Mix of Compound and Isolation Movements: Compound exercises like bench presses or pull-ups should be the core of your workout. Add isolation exercises like chest flyes or back hyperextensions for targeted muscle work.
Cool Down: Finish with a cool-down phase, including stretching exercises for both the chest and back, to enhance flexibility and reduce post-workout soreness.

Recommended Number of Exercises

Aim for about 3-5 exercises for each muscle group. For most people, this range is effective for stimulating muscle growth without leading to overtraining. Within this framework, you can include a blend of heavy lifts, medium-range sets, and higher-rep burnouts to challenge your muscles in different ways.

Order of Exercises: Chest or Back First?

This largely depends on your individual goals and preferences. If your primary goal is to increase chest strength or size, start with chest exercises when you’re freshest. Conversely, if your back development is a priority, begin with back exercises. Some fitness enthusiasts alternate starting muscle groups between workouts to ensure balanced development. Ultimately, either order can be effective as long as you’re maintaining intensity and proper form throughout the workout.

Comprehensive List of Back Exercises

Face Pull

  • Attach a rope to the high pulley of a cable station.
  • Stand facing the machine, grasp the rope with both hands.
  • Pull the rope towards your forehead while moving your hands apart.
  • Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together.


  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, a barbell over your toes.
  • Bend at your hips and knees, grip the bar with an overhand grip.
  • Lift the bar by straightening your hips and knees.
  • Keep your back straight and core engaged throughout the lift.

Incline Chest-Supported Row

  • Set an incline bench at about 45 degrees.
  • Lie face down on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Pull the weights to your sides while squeezing your shoulder blades.
  • Slowly lower the weights back down.

Bent-Over Row

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
  • Bend forward at the waist, keeping your back straight.
  • Hold a barbell with an overhand grip and row it to your stomach.
  • Lower the barbell back to the starting position.

V-Bar Pull Downs

  • Attach a V-bar to the cable machine.
  • Sit down and grab the bar with a neutral grip.
  • Pull the bar down towards your chest.
  • Slowly release the bar back up with control.

Pull Up & Chin-Up

  • For pull-ups, grip the bar with palms facing away.
  • For chin-ups, grip the bar with palms facing towards you.
  • Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back down.

Chest-Supported Reverse Flys

  • Lie face down on an incline bench.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended.
  • Lift the weights to the sides, keeping arms slightly bent.
  • Lower the weights with control.

Inverted Bodyweight Rows

  • Set a bar in a rack to waist height.
  • Lie underneath the bar and grab it with an overhand grip.
  • Pull your chest up to the bar while keeping your body straight.
  • Lower yourself back down slowly.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

  • Place one hand and knee on a bench for support.
  • With the other hand, lift a dumbbell towards your hip.
  • Keep your back straight and elbow close to your side.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell back down.

Seated Cable Row

  • Sit at a low cable row machine with a V-bar attachment.
  • Keep your back straight and pull the handles towards your waist.
  • Extend your arms back out while maintaining a straight back.

Barbell Shrugs

  • Hold a barbell with an overhand grip, arms extended.
  • Shrug your shoulders up towards your ears.
  • Lower the shoulders back down.

Comprehensive List of Chest Exercises

Barbell Bench Press

  • Lie on a flat bench, grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Lower the bar to your chest, keeping elbows at a 45-degree angle.
  • Push the bar back up to the starting position.


  • Place your hands on the ground, slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the ground.
  • Push yourself back up to the starting position.

Incline Dumbbell Chest Fly

  • Lie on an incline bench, dumbbells in hand, arms extended above you.
  • Lower the dumbbells to the sides, keeping a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Bring the dumbbells back together above your chest.

Cable Standing Fly (Low to High)

  • Set the pulleys on a dual cable machine to the lowest level.
  • Stand in the middle, grab the handles with arms extended.
  • Bring your hands together in an arc motion above your chest.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Pullovers

  • Lie on a flat bench, a dumbbell held above your chest with both hands.
  • Lower the weight behind your head, keeping arms slightly bent.
  • Pull the dumbbell back to the starting position.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

  • Lie on a flat bench, hold a dumbbell in one hand directly above your chest.
  • Lower the dumbbell to the side of your chest.
  • Push it back up to the starting position.




Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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