Feel like your chest and back muscles are lagging?
Here’s a simple, yet very effective “Push – Pull” superset variation routine that I’ve created for adding mass on your chest and back.
The legendary, 7-time Mr Olympia bodybuilding champion, Arnold Schwarzenegger – you’ve probably heard of him – often trained these antagonistic muscle groups together.
It was one of his all-time favourite training combos that he utilized to build one of the greatest physiques the world had ever seen.
It worked well for many lifters in the Arnold-era, it’ll work for you, today.
Though this program is effective for adding muscle mass, it’s slightly unbalanced, meaning there will be more volume, frequency, and focus on the chest and back muscles over other muscle groups on the body.
This type of routine should only be performed in short, intense bursts for no more than 8 weeks, once or twice a year, to avoid muscle imbalances. You don’t want your chest out-growing your shoulders, or your back out-growing your arms, or vice versa.
Therefore, this kind of unbalanced program should only be deployed every now-and-then to bring out lagging body parts.
With this program, you’ll be training all muscle groups on your body – shoulders, biceps, triceps, legs, abs – but the focus is on your back muscles (Teres major, minor, infraspinatus, latissimus, and rhomboid) and chest muscles (pectoralis major – clavicular, sternocostal, and abdominal head muscles) with more volume each week to maximize their development.
Now, let’s get to the important stuff… moving iron.
This is going to be an intense training session that will get progressively hard, so make sure you’re well fuelled up with a good pre-workout meal, and prepared to smash this!
This is an 8-week specialized program with a focus on chest and back muscle groups.
Training days: 4
Duration: 8 weeks
Target Adaptations: chest and back muscular hypertrophy
Suitable for: men and women at any levelDownload Workout PDF
With this routine, on your chest and back days, you’ll perform one pulling exercise followed by one pushing exercise, in a back-to-back superset like fashion. But unlike traditional supersets – where you don’t rest at all between working sets – you’ll be taking very short rests of no more than 1 minute between each working superset.
For example, on Monday, your first set will be flat barbell press. You would perform anywhere from 6 to 12 reps of this exercise, take no more than 1 minute to rest, then switch to bent over rows for your second set. That would be the completion of one superset, because you’ve worked two opposing muscles (chest and back) together.
Superset each chest and back exercise back-to-back, taking 30 seconds to 1 minute to switch between exercises – this is fast paced training.
After doing flat barbell press you’ll switch to bent over barbell rows, and repeat until you’ve completed all 4 set of the superset combinations.
For those that might have gotten a little lost reading this, there’s a step by step guide below.
The program is split over 4 days, allowing you to hit chest and back muscles twice per week with supersets. Arms, legs, and shoulders will be trained once per week with a hypertrophy focused reps / sets / exercises, but you won’t be incorporating any supersets with these muscles.
Use a weight that’s somewhere around 85 – 75% of your one reps max, that means a weight that’s heavy enough for you to reach failure anywhere between 6 and 12 reps.
Chest and Back Workout Schedule
Here’s how the program looks over a week.
- Monday: chest and back superset workout A
- Tuesday: off
- Wednesday: legs workout
- Thursday: chest and back superset workout B
- Friday: off
- Saturday: arms and shoulders workout
- Sunday: off
You can adjust the program days to suite your schedule.
For example, you might prefer to train on weekends, therefore you can structure the training routine like this:
- Monday: off
- Tuesday: arms and shoulders workout
- Wednesday: off
- Thursday: chest and back superset workout A
- Friday: off
- Saturday: legs workout
- Sunday: chest and back superset workout B
It’s the same 4-day split, with an adjustment to where each training days lands.
With me so far?
Good, let’s get into the workouts to see what you’ll be doing on each of those days.
Chest & Back Superset Workout A
Flat Barbell Press – superset with – Bent-Over Barbell Row (2 sets / 6 – 12 reps per set)
Incline Barbell Press – superset with – Machine Lat Pull Downs (2 sets / 6 – 12 reps per set)
Flat Barbell Press – superset with – Bent-Over Barbell Rows (2 sets / 6 – 12 reps per set)
Pec Machine Fly – superset with – Dumbbell Shrugs (2 sets / 6 – 12 reps)
Hack squat (4 sets / 6 – 10 rep range)
Stiff Leg Deadlifts (3 sets / 6 – 10 rep range)
Leg Extensions (3 sets / 8 – 12 rep range)
Back and Chest Superset Workout B
Flat Dumbbell Press – superset with – Dumbbell Row (2 sets / 6 – 10 reps per set)
Incline Dumbbell Press – superset with – Sitting Cable or Machine Rows (2 sets / 6 – 12 reps per set)
Flat Dumbbell Press – superset with – Wide Grip Pull Ups (2 sets / 6 – 12 reps per set)
Dumbbell Pec Fly – superset with – Machine Lat Pull Downs (2 sets / 10 – 12 rep range)
Arms and Shoulders workout
Shoulders: Seated Overhead Press (4 sets / 6 – 10 rep range)
Shoulders: Dumbbell Side lateral Raises (3 sets / 8 – 12 rep range)
Biceps: Dumbbell Curls (3 sets / 8 – 12 rep range)
Biceps: Preacher Curls (3 sets / 8 – 12 rep range)
Triceps: Cable rope press downs (3 sets / 8 – 12 per range)
Triceps: Close Grip Bench Press (3 sets / 8 – 12 reps)
I’m not a huge fan of supersets, it’s not something that should make up a large portion of your training. It’s a good strategy for getting a lot of work out of a session in less time and for really blasting stubborn body part with a lot of volume, intensity, and focus.
They allow you to get a lot of work in, within a short amount of time. If you find yourself getting very out of breath and tired, give yourself some extra time between sets to catch your breath and allow yourself to continue performing quality reps.
You might find yourself flagging towards the end of the workout, if you need 2 – 3 minutes to recover so that you can push out some final quality reps – then do it!
Warm up: Before You Get Started
Before you perform this workout routine you should give yourself a little bit of a warm up and light stretch.
Always start with some light stretching and complete a couple of warm up sets by alternating between the first two main chest and back exercises – or whatever specific muscle group you might be training that day.
For example, do the first set (warm up set) for one of the muscle groups (chest – Flat Bench Dumbbell Press), then switch and do the first set (warm up set) for the other muscle group (Back – Bent-Over Barbell Rows).
The working weight for each set will be in the 85 – 75% range of you one rep max (1RM: the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one repetition). So, if the maximum amount of weight you can bench press for one rep is 240lbs, then for your warm up you will press around 20 – 30% of that weight, then your next warm up set will be around 40 – 60% of your 1RM.
After you’ve completed 2 – 3 warm up sets you can get started with your first working set.
Don’t stress, you don’t need to know your exact one rep max or hit those percentages with 100% accuracy – it’s just a guide to work with. The point is, do a couple of warm up / rehearsal sets using a light / moderately light weight, and your working sets should consist of a moderately heavy weight that allows you to maintain good form, while reaching failure around 8 – 12 reps.
Performing Chest and Back Exercises Properly
Listed below are some of the best pushing and pulling exercises for chest and back muscles, and an overview on how to perform them.
Bent-over Barbell Rows
This exercise is done using a barbell with the appropriate amount of weight attached. Always start with low weight warm up sets.
This is an excellent compound excise that works all the muscles across the back for great gains in mass.
Hold the bar with an overhand (pronated) grip with both hands spaced slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Stand with your back straight and at a 45-degree angle, with the bar somewhere just above the knees or lower thigh.
Bend over with your knees slightly bent and never round your back.
Pull the bar towards your chest, making sure to contract your back muscles. Then slowly lower to the starting position.
Flat Dumbbell Presses
This exercise is done with two dumbbells using a flat / horizontal bench. This exercise is similar to the barbell bench press, but provides greater range of motion, and is one of the best exercises for building the chest muscles.
Start by sitting at the end of a flat bench with dumbbells resting on your thighs, and your palms facing each other. Lay down back first on a flat bench, using your thighs to assist in getting the dumbbells into the starting position.
Your feet should be planted flat on the floor for stability, with a small arch in your lower back when performing this exercise.
Holding the dumbbells around shoulder width apart, palms facing your feet, and your forearms perpendicular with the floor. Press the dumbbells up and away from the chest, keeping the forearms as straight as possible throughout the movement, and stopping before the elbows lock out.
Contract and squeeze the chest muscles, then lower the weight slowly back down to the starting position. You’re looking for a tempo of 1 second up, 2 – 3 seconds on the way back down.
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
For this exercise you will need a pulldown machine.
To achieve the wide grip simply place your hands about four inches wider than your shoulders on each side. Pull the bar down until it reaches to top of your chest, and pause momentarily before slowly raising the bar back up.
Pull-Downs primarily work the Latissimus doris (Lats) and the teres major muscle fibres, giving your back width.
Incline Dumbbell Presses
This exercise is like the flat bench dumbbell presses mentioned above, and works the upper portion of the chest. It’s my all-time personal favourite exercise. I don’t know why, but I just really enjoy doing this exercise.
You’ll need an adjustable bench where you can set an incline, to no more than 60 degrees.
Follow the same steps as the flat press, and always make sure that your forearms is perpendicular to the floor and the movement is smooth and controlled.
Single Arm Dumbbell Rows
Another one of my favourite exercises – the single arms dumbbell row is great for hitting the Rhomboid muscles, and for overall back development.
It’s tricky to explain how to perform this exercise, see this dumbbell row instructions video to see how its done.
Post Workout Cardio
If you are on a cutting phase and would like to maximize your fat loss you can follow up your chest and back workout routine with a short session of cardio.
This can be a slow to moderate walk on a treadmill with an incline, an elliptical with a moderate resistance setting, or a stationary bike with resistance set to low / moderate.
Last Updated: 10/01/2018