Let’s admit it, the most favorite muscle groups to train are the chest and the back.
They are bulky muscle groups that make the upper body scream of alpha dominance, when well-developed.
When they get pumped, the feeling is out of this world.
The interesting thing about the chest & back is that they are antagonistic muscle groups.
Antagonistic muscle groups
These are pairs of muscle groups that are opposite, in terms of position and function.
In this case, we have the chest, which is one of the pushing muscle groups, and we have the back, which is the antagonist of the chest and is responsible for pulling movements.
Something more about antagonistic muscle groups is that they are intertwined on a neuro-muscular level.
While the working muscle group (the agonist) receives contraction signals, its antagonistic muscle group receives relaxation signals and stretches.
This is also referred to as ‘Active rest’ and is a principle that the superset method is based on, but we’ll talk about supersets in a bit.
For now, it is enough to know that contrary to popular belief, doing a combined chest and back workout will give you immense pumps and will actually result in good growth.
Chest and back workout for beginners
Usually, we advise beginners to go for full-body workouts for the first couple of months.
The full-body workouts are based on the antagonistic principle and the structure is as follows-
On here, we’ll give you a nice little full-body workout, which starts with chest & then moves on to the back.
Generally, for starters, we’re looking for about 3-4 working sets per muscle group, done at 70%+ intensity.
Let’s see the exercises!
- Chest – Incline barbell bench press
Usually, the upper part of the chest is lacking for most people, which is exactly why we’ll prioritize it and throw an incline press to start off the workout
- Setup the barbell and the bench comfortably
- Lie down on the bench and grab the bar wider than shoulder width
- Un-rack the bar without locking out your elbows
- Slowly let the bar down to the upper part of your chest
- Once the bar slightly touches your chest, push up explosively, without locking out the elbows
Note- Don’t lift your head off the bench.
2. Back – Wide grip pull-ups
When it comes to optimal development in terms of width, thickness and details, pull-ups are your best friend.
Odds are, if you are a beginner, you can’t do that many – If that’s the case, instead of focusing on weights, get stronger with your own weight.
- Grab the pull-up bar wider than shoulder width and hang freely
- Keep legs straight and feet together
- Look up and keep back straight
- Contract the scapula and pull yourself up until the chin is at bar level
- Return to the initial hanging position slowly
3. Shoulders- Barbell shoulder press
If you are a beginner, your main focus should be developing basic levels of strength, strength endurance, cardio endurance and last but not least, learn all the compound exercises.
The barbell shoulder press is one of the best compound movements you can do for shoulders.
- Set up the bar on the rack or stands at chin level
- Grab the bar at about shoulder width or slightly wider
- With your elbows pointing forward, unrack the bar and elevate it to the level of your chin
- Push the bar up and above your head
- Slowly let the bar down to the initial position
4. Biceps – Seated Dumbbell curls
Now moving on to the second antagonistic group – The biceps and the triceps. Starting with a classical standing db curl.
- Choose an appropriate weight
- Grab the dumbbells and sit down on the bench
- Keep the dumbbells by your sides with your palms facing your body
- Slightly bend the elbow
- Curl the weight up, rotating (supinating) your wrist
- Let the dumbbell down slowly and proceed to the opposite arm
5. Triceps- Bench tricep dips
- Sit on the side of a bench and place your arms by your sides , at about shoulder width
- Elevate your legs on another bench and lift yourself up, only supporting your weight on your arms
- Look up and slowly let your body go down
- Push up explosively
- Carefully contract the triceps with an elbow lockout up top
6. Quadriceps – Jump squats
We know this is a chest and back workout, but just doing the chest and back as a beginner will yield sub-optimal results.
This is why we give you beginners a solid, full-body circuit.
- Stand with your feet at shoulder width
- Have the toes pointing out slightly
- Bend knees slightly – No lockout
- Keep back straight
- Place arms wherever comfortable, preferably elevate them
- Look forward and squat down with your butt
- When legs are parallel, squat up explosively and jump
- Land on your toes and repeat
7. Hamstrings – Lying leg curls
Hamstrings are the biceps of the legs (yes, they are literally called biceps).
- Lie down on the machine and place your legs under the pad
- Grab the handles and curl with your legs
- Contract the hamstrings up top and hold for a split second
- Let the weight down slowly
Note- Don’t let the weight sit at the bottom, keep constant tension
8. Calves – Standing calf raises
If you want to develop the bulk of your calves, then straight-legged calf raises are your best friend.
- Stand on the edge of the machine with your toes, tucking your shoulders under the pads comfortably
- Keep your body straight and knees very slightly bent
- Look forward, then let your heels go down below the edge
- Push up explosively through your toes, until full calf contraction is achieved
- Hold up top briefly, then let down slowly to stretch the calves
Can I superset chest and back?
If your main goal is optimal muscle growth, then allowing for good rest in-between the separate sets and exercises is more than a good idea.
That is simply because more rest allows you to train at a higher intensity during the separate sets, which ultimately means more tension and hence, more growth and adaptation.
However, supersets, that imply doing 2 exercises one after the other with no rest whatsoever, are a wonderful way to tone up the musculature, during the summer for example.
As a matter of fact, supersets are a perfect method to use for a period of time during which you are cutting fats.
Even more to it, if you are a beginner, who’s skinny fat and losing that fat gradually, implementing supersets in the full-body workout we just gave you, is one of the best ideas ever.
The immense pump you get, combined with the principle of active rest we talked about in the beginning, will simply help you tone and shape up the muscles you have.
You can apply supersets not just for the chest and back, but also for the biceps & triceps, as well as hamstrings & quads.
When you advance more
Full-body workouts are nice, however, at one point, they are simply not enough.
If you get to the point where you are advanced to an extent that requires a splitting of the separate muscle groups, and you want to combine chest and back, then this is a good idea of a split:
Day 1 – Chest and back
Day 2 – Legs
Day 3 – Biceps, triceps, shoulders
This 3 day split will allow you to train your muscle groups twice a week, which allows for optimal recovery in-between the separate training sessions.
Furthermore, we need to understand that the chest is made up of different parts, and we need to focus on as many working angles as possible, during the workouts.
That means that as you split the workouts and open room for more exercises, sets and volume as a whole, you have to include exercises, such as:
- Incline presses
- Pec deck, etc.
Number of sets and exercises
As we move away from the full body workouts that only allow for 4-5 working sets, we can bump the number of working sets by 100%, depending on the size of the muscle group.
Generally, anywhere from 8 to 10 QUALITY working sets per muscle group, under different angles, will be sufficient.
By quality, I mean sets that are at the required level of intensity – 70 to 85% of your maximum strength capabilities.
Once the workout gets to the point where the effort is sacrificed for the sake of more work volume, it gets sub-optimal.
Start off with a baseline number of sets, see how the body reacts and move up from there!
Ultimately, if the goal is mass, focus on lifting at the 6+ rep range, with rests between sets and exercises of 60-90 seconds.
If the goal is maintaining mass while cutting fat, keep it at 8 repetitions and above, with 30-50 second rests.
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