Two Chest And Back Workout Routines For More Muscle

Man performing chest press with dumbbells in gym
(Image credit: mladenbalinovac / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

A good chest and back workout is a staple of many gym training plans. This session created by Luiz Silva, head of fitness and wellbeing at Castle Royle of The Club Company, is designed to help build strength and size in your upper body.

Knowing that people don’t always have the same amount of time to train each week, Silva has created a workout that can be approached in a few different ways, depending on your available time.

How To Do This Workout

Silva has offered a few ways to complete the workout. The first is to simply work through 3-4 sets of each exercise with a 90-second to two-minute rest in between sets, as detailed below. 

The second, if you don’t have as much time is to do three sets of each move and take a 45-60 second rest between sets.

The final option, when time is even more limited, is to do supersets, which is a great way to squeeze in an upper-body workout when time is tight. Simply pair one chest move and one back move into a combined set, only resting for 60 seconds when you’ve performed a set of each. Silva suggests doing exercises 1 and 4, 2 and 5, and 3 and 6 together, for 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps.

Silva recommends doing the workout two to three times a week.

How To Choose The Right Weight

“Gauge the weight by using the range of repetitions as a guide,” says Silva. “If you can do more than 12 reps, increase the weight, but if you can’t get at least eight reps in, then decrease the weight. 

“Work with a full range of motion—don’t sacrifice a good-quality rep in order to increase the weight. Try to stretch the muscle work slightly before doing the next rep. So if you're doing a bench press, make sure you feel a small stretch across the chest muscles before pushing the bar back up.”

Chest And Back Workout 

1 Dumbbell bench press

Trainer Luiz Silva demonstrates two positions of the dumbbell bench press

(Image credit: Castle Royle)

Sets 3-4 Reps 8-12 Rest 90-120sec

Lie on a flat bench with both feet on the floor, holding dumbbells by your chest with your elbows bent at 90°. Create a small arch of the lower back—the gap between your back and the bench should be no wider than a flat hand.

Position your elbows just below your shoulder line so there is a small stretch across the chest. Push the weight straight up, but don’t fully extend your elbows. Lower the dumbbells under control back to the start position.

2 Incline dumbbell A-press

Trainer Luiz Silva demonstrates two positions of the incline dumbbell A-press

(Image credit: Castle Royle)

Sets 3-4 Reps 8-12 Rest 90-120sec

Set a bench to a 30° incline. Lie back, holding the dumbbells with your palms facing and keeping a bend in your elbows. Position your elbows just below your shoulder line so there is a stretch across your chest. Push the weights up toward the ceiling until the dumbbells meet at the top. Don’t let your elbows extend fully. Lower the dumbbells back to the start position.

3 Cable flye

Trainer Luiz Silva demonstrates two positions of the cable flye

(Image credit: Castle Royle)

Sets 3-4 Reps 8-12 Rest 90sec-2min

Stand in the middle of a cable machine, holding two D-handles attached to high pulleys. Your arms should be spread wide with elbows slightly bent and you should face away from the towers. Lean your trunk forward 45-60°. Press the handles forward until they meet in front of your chest. Your hands should draw a rainbow shape with the handles. Return to the start position in a slow and controlled manner.

4 One-arm dumbbell row

Trainer Luiz Silva demonstrates two positions of the one-arm dumbbell row

(Image credit: Castle Royle)

Sets 3-4 Reps 8-12 each side Rest 90sec-2min

Hold a dumbbell with your right hand, and place your left hand on a knee-high bench by leaning forward from the hips while keeping your back straight. Your back should be close to horizontal. Pull the dumbbell toward your ribs by lifting your elbow towards the ceiling, making sure to keep it close to your body, and squeeze your right shoulder blade in toward your spine. Lower the weight until your arm is fully extended. Complete the set and then repeat with your left arm.

5 Barbell bent-over row

Trainer Luiz Silva demonstrates two positions of the barbell bent-over row

(Image credit: Castle Royle)

Sets 3-4 Reps 8-12 each side Rest 90sec-2min

Hold a barbell with your grip wider than shoulder-width apart, and bend forward from your hips until your trunk is close to parallel to the floor. Bend your knees slightly to facilitate the hip hinge. Keep your core muscles braced tightly while holding this position. Your arms should be fully extended.

Pull the bar toward your lower ribs by driving your elbows toward the ceiling. Make sure you squeeze your shoulder blades. Avoid rocking your body to move the bar—if this is happening, use a lighter weight. Lower the bar in a controlled manner until you’re back in the start position.

6 Straight-arm cable pull-down

Trainer Luiz Silva demonstrates two positions of the straight-arm cable pull-down

(Image credit: Castle Royle)

Sets 3-4 Reps 8-12 each side Rest 90sec-2min

Attach a straight bar to a high pulley and hold it with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold the bar with your arms straight and lean forward so your trunk is at a 45° angle with your head between your arms. Keep your arms straight as you pull the bar to your thighs, drawing a semi-circle shape. Reverse the move in a controlled manner.

Superset Chest And Back Workout

Man performing bench press in gym

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Push/pull workout splits are a great way of structuring your time in the gym, but another smart way of approaching upper-body workouts is to do antagonistic supersets, a method that pairs exercises which work opposing muscle groups.

That’s the approach taken in this challenging chest and back workout, created by Will Duru, a personal trainer and level 4 strength and conditioning coach.

Duru explains that supersets are a great way to keep muscles under tension for longer. “They also damage more muscle fibres, which later helps to build muscle and increase strength,” he says. “Supersets also burn more calories.”

This gym-based workout is made up of three supersets and a single exercise. You’ll need a barbell, pull-up bar, bench, suspension trainer and a cable machine.

Follow the sets, reps and rest indicated. The reps in the supersets often decrease, so stay focused, and Duru has programmed short rest periods, so be prepared for your muscles to stay fired up.

1A Bench press 

Sets 6 Reps 15, 12, 8, 6, 6, 2 Rest 0sec

Lie on a flat bench underneath a barbell in a rack. Hold the barbell with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Driving your shoulder blades into the bench, lift the bar out of the rack, then slowly lower it to the base of your chest. Push your feet into the floor and your back into the bench as you press the barbell back up.

1B Pull-up

Sets 6 Reps 10, 8, 8, 6, 4, 4 Rest 30sec

Hold a pull-up bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your palms facing forwards. Pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar. Think about driving the bar towards your chest. Lower under control. 

If a pull-up is too difficult, use a long looped resistance band and perform an assisted pull-up.

2A Dumbbell incline bench press

Sets 5 Reps 15, 12, 8, 6, 6 Rest 0sec

Sit on a bench set at an incline with your feet flat on the floor. Hold dumbbells by the top of your chest with your palms facing forwards. Engage your core and keep your back pressed into the bench as you press the dumbbells overhead. Lower under control. 

2B Bent-over row

Sets 5 Reps 20, 15, 8, 8, 8 Rest 30sec

Stand holding a barbell in front of your thighs with your hands just outside of your legs and your palms facing you. Push your hips back and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Stay in this position as you drive your elbows back, pulling the bar up to your rib cage. Pause, squeeze your shoulder blades, then lower the bar under control. 

3A Press-up

Sets 5 Reps 20, 20, 15, 15, 10 Rest 0sec

Get into a high plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, then bend your elbows, keeping them close to your body, to slowly lower your torso to the floor. Push up powerfully to the start.

3B TRX row 

Sets 5 Reps 20, 20, 15, 15, 10 Rest 30sec

Stand holding the handles of the TRX (or other suspension trainer) and lean back so your body is in a straight line and your arms are extended. The closer your feet are to the anchor point the harder the exercise will be. Pull your body to the handles until your hands are by your chest. Pause, squeeze your shoulder blades, then slowly extend your arms to lower.

4 Cable flye

Sets 5 Reps 15 Rest 30sec

Attach D-handles to a cable machine’s high pulleys. Stand in the middle in a split stance with one foot in front of the other, holding the handles at shoulder height. Maintaining a slight bend in your elbows, bring the handles in front of your chest. Pause, then return to the start under control.

Luiz Silva

Luiz Silva is group fitness and wellbeing manager at The Club Company. He has more than 20 years’ experience in the health and fitness industry, having worked in Brazil, Australia and the UK. He has a degree in Physical Education, Certificates III and IV in Fitness Instruction & Personal Training, a Diploma of Fitness and Remedial Massage and a Level 4 Diploma in Nutrition and Weight Management. 

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.