Best Back and Shoulders Workout For Faster Muscle Gains

Written by Tihomir Stefanov, M.S.(C), PT

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If you are wondering how to structure your workout in order to do the best training split possible, then you’re in for a good read.

In today’s article, we will break down the possible combinations of the separate muscle groups and discuss which one would be optimal

For starters, let’s explain the possible variations for the separate training days.

Combining muscle groups

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When it comes to structuring a good workout plan, the main goal should be doing it in a manner that would allow optimal performance of each muscle group.

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Sometimes, combining certain muscle groups hinders that.

And so, for example, if you are someone who’s lacking lower body development, you wouldn’t want to do your sprints the day after or the day before your leg day.

Why? Because if you train your legs first, then do your sprints 24 hours later, odds are that the lower body won’t be yet recovered and your sprint performance will be sub-optimal.

The same is true for the opposite situation – Doing an extensive sprint workout in the day prior to your lower body workout in the gym, will result in sub-optimal performance on the resistance exercises.

Possible combinations

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  1. Synergistic muscle groups

Combining muscle groups that work together in synergy is possibly one of the best combinations out there.

And so, with this approach you would be training the following muscle groups in the same workout:

  • Chest, shoulders & triceps – Pushing muscle groups
  • Back, rear delts & biceps – Pulling muscle groups
  • Quadriceps, hamstrings & glutes

2. Opposite muscle groups (Antagonistic)

Another good approach is training antagonistic muscle groups in the same day – Those are muscle groups that are opposite in function and placement.

Such would be:

  • Chest & back
  • Biceps & triceps
  • Quadriceps & hamstrings
  • Abs & lower back

Can you work back and shoulders together?

shoulder exercises

For the most part, personal trainers and professionals recommend training your back along with your rear deltoids (shoulders).

That is mainly because the rear deltoids are synergistic to the back, meaning that they work together with it during pulling movements.

But what about training the side & front delts too, during a back workout?

Well, the truth here is that if you structure your workout split properly, then doing that would not be a problem at all.

It can even be of great benefit, because on some vertical pulling movements like the pull-ups and pulldowns, the shoulders get into an isometric contraction.

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As a matter of fact, hanging scapula retractions for example are a good way to develop shoulder stability and mind-muscle connection to the shoulder musculature.

The thing is…

We must not interfere with the rest of the training split.

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What I mean by this, is that your back and shoulders workout MUST NOT hinder the performance on your pushing movements.

Shoulders play a big role in most pushing movements for the chest, which is exactly why the back & shoulders workout we’re about to give you, mustn’t be placed before your chest workout.

Unless of course, you don’t care about your chest development and performance on the bench press, but we know that is not true for most of you.

And so, here are some good splits, where the back & shoulders workout would fit perfectly:

  • Upper/lower

With this split, we train the whole upper body on the first day, followed by the lower body on the next day & a rest day from training on day 3.

This split is perfect, because you get to train both the synergistic & antagonistic groups in one day.

  • 3-day split

A 3-day split, where your weakest muscle groups are prioritized by putting them first in the training split is also an option.

And so, if your back and shoulders are lacking, you would be training them on day 1. However, on day 2, it is recommended that you follow up with a lower body workout and then on day 3, you do your chest workout.

Another option is placing chest on day 1, then following up with back and shoulders on day 2.

If you’re going to place the back and shoulders workout around your chest day, place it on the day AFTER the chest workout.

We recommend that simply because the chest is not involved in shoulder movements, as much as shoulders are involved in chest movements.

DO NOT place shoulders the day before chest day – That will hinder your chest development.

Back and shoulder workout together

back and shoulders workout

Now that we know what we should do and what we must not do, let’s get to the workout itself.

Note- This workout is perfect for intermediate & advanced trainees.

  • Back

Needless to say, we kickstart the workout with the bigger muscle group, as that will also help us activate and prepare the shoulders for the exercises later on.


  1. Pull-ups – 3 sets of 6-10

Pull-ups are the most fundamental back exercise one can do. As mentioned, they also get the shoulders into an isometric contraction, which is exactly why we place them on the number 1 spot.

If you have difficulty doing pull-ups, use a resistance band as a slingshot to help you on the way up. Eventually, you will gain enough strength to continue without it.

  • Hang on the pull-up bar freely with hands placed wider than shoulder width
  • Keep back straight and legs together
  • Pull yourself up , until your chin reaches the bar
  • If you can, hold the contraction briefly, then return to the initial hanging position.
  • Repeat

2. T-Bar rows – 4 sets of 10 repetitions

This next back exercise targets the mid and lower areas of the back musculature and is perfect for thickness.

  • Load the bar
  • Grab the neutral grip handle from the cable rows machine
  • Place your feet stably at about shoulder width
  • Squat down slightly, just so that the knees are out of lockout
  • Put the bar in the middle of the handle
  • Lift the bar off of the ground and keep your head looking forward
  • With your back straight, row the bar up, contracting the back musculature

Note that the elbows must move as close as possible to the body.

3. Narrow grip lat pulldowns 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions

This is a perfect finisher for the back, as it helps develop both width and thickness.

  • Take the narrow grip from the t-bar rows you just did and place that on the vertical pulldown machine
  • Grab the handle then sit down, tucking your legs under the pads comfortably
  • Keep your body straight, head looking up, then pull down to the lower portion of the chest
  • Contract the back and hold briefly, then release slowly

For the most part, these 11 working sets should be enough for the back, given that your training intensity is on point.

However, if you feel like it is not enough, throw in a couple additional sets, with an exercise of your choice!

  • Shoulders

Once we’re done with the back, we can move on to the shoulder exercises.

Note that rear delt exercises are not included, as we generally get enough rear delt work from the rowing movements.

HOWEVER! Some people seem to lack rear delts, which is exactly why you can throw in a couple sets of rear delt flys by the end of the workout.

  1. Barbell shoulder press – 3 sets of 8-10

This is a classic, compound movement for the shoulders and it is pretty much one of the best choices for building boulder shoulders, as it allows for heavier weights to be used.

  • Place the bar on the rack, at around chin height
  • Un-rack the bar with your elbows pointing forward
  • Lift your head up slightly
  • Keep back straight
  • Stand stably on your feet
  • Push the bar up and over your head
  • Let the bar go down slowly

2. Dumbbell lateral raises – 4 sets of 10

The second exercise targets the side deltoids, which account for that V-Shaped frame.

  • Grab the dumbbells and keep them in front of you (palms facing one another)
  • Stand stably on your feet and keep back straight
  • Keep elbow slightly bent and static in that position- no flexion or extension in the elbow
  • Lift the dumbbells up laterally, contracting the delts
  • Let the dumbbells go down slowly

Note that you should avoid doing inertial movements like torso swings – Instead, pick an adequate weight which you can use to complete all the sets and reps properly.

Back and shoulder superset

back anatomy

For the newbies here – A superset implies doing two exercises in a row with no rest in-between.

Should you do supersets for this specific workout, though?

Well, the answer is- It depends.

Generally, supersets might take away from your strength on the following sets, but they can also be a good weapon for retaining & shaping up the muscle mass you have.

Here are our recommendations

  • If you’re trying to build as much muscle and strength as possible, avoid doing too many supersets
  • If you’re trying to just maintain good levels of muscularity, feel free to implement supersets
  • If you’re trying to retain muscle mass and shape it up during a period of fat loss (cutting), do make sure to include a good number of supersets & lower rest times, as that would be your best bet for that specific goal

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