Beast Chest & Back Combo Training
Posted by Team Beast on
Team Beast athlete Rob Riches has the lowdown on a killer BEAST Chest & Back Combo Training workout that delivers one heck of a pump.
With this article and accompanying video, I pair several chest and back exercises together, with each pair performed as a superset after each set performed.
The benefit to combining opposing muscle groups is you’re already involving both muscles with the same movement. Antagonist and agonist muscles often occur in pairs, called antagonistic pairs. As one muscle contracts, the other relaxes. An example of an antagonistic pair is the biceps and triceps.
This means that performing a movement such as a chest press, followed immediately by a back exercise such as the lat pulldown, you’ll be able to better engage and contract the muscle in focus, not to mention the pump you’ll get from having all the blood already pooled within that area.
These three following superset pairs have always been a go to for me when it comes to working chest and back together, simply because I feel strong on both, yet leave with a better pump in my upper body than if I were to only train one of these muscle groups at a time. I’ll perform several mobility and dynamic stretch movements first as part of my warm up, and then work my way through 3-4 sets on each exercises (chest then back), aiming for a solid 10-12 reps per exercise before moving on to the next pair of movements.
Chest & Back Combo #1: Incline Chest Press & Lat Pulldown
3-4 sets each. 12-15 repetitions per set.
I prefer the incline bench, and keeping the bar a little higher up my chest (closer to the collarbone), so as to get maximum engagement of the upper region of the pectorals.
In doing so, I also feel that my upper back is brought into the game a little more, which helps me consciously keep my shoulders pulled back and my chest lifted up.
My goal is to be able to push up the weight on each set, getting close to my maximum weight for the final set.
My advice here would be to lift around 80-90% of your usual maximum weight for the same rep range, and focus on actively and consciously squeezing the chest at the top of each rep. This will help force strong muscular contractions, which will pull in blood rich in oxygen and nutrients. Being in control is the name of the game here, not just how much weight you can lift.
The second exercise in this push-pull combo is the lat pulldown. Keep in mind that when performing two exercises back-to-back, especially opposing muscle groups, that it can be all to easy at times to rush the movement without giving it the same focus and commitment as you did with the first one.
Your emphasis should be on maximally engaging the back muscles when performing this movement. Within this style of training, I typically won’t include much variation, if any, within the movements. Instead, I’m looking to perform the exercise with the heaviest weight that I can use while still maintaining relatively good form.
A great tip here that I always remember is to think about something like a pencil, or even two fingers (from a spotter/training partner) pressed vertically into the center of your upper back. It’s right here that you should be squeezing your lats at the end of each movement. Just following this little tip alone can make a big difference to your back workouts in general.
Chest & Back Combo #2: Machine Chest Press & One Arm Dumbbell Rows
3-4 sets each. 12-15 repetitions per set.
You’ll see a common trend within my workouts, and that is that I’ll typically start on free weights when my strength and energy is the highest, and which requires multiple synergistic muscles to help support the balance and lifting of the free weight. Then I’ll move to machines, where the usual fixed-range motion allows me to fully flex the muscle without needing to balance and stabilize. Finally, I move to cables and then body weight exercises. The cables provide constant tension on the muscle throughout the entire range of motion, which is something free weights, and most machines typically don't do. This allows me to keep intensity high even when my energy levels and strength are on a decline by the end of the workout.
This routine is no different. Each muscle group (chest and back), will perform a movement using free-weights, machines, and cables and body weight. I’ve set the workout up in this manner, but the back exercises can be moved around, so that you may want to perform the incline chest press followed immediately by chin ups or dumbbell rows, and the lat pulldown later on in the workout.
The machine press, especially if it offers unilateral/single-arm work to be performed, allows for a very focused contraction in the chest. Don’t add so much weight that you’re unable to fully contract the muscle and really squeeze it hard at the end of each rep. I find this particular pairing; single arm machine chest presses, followed by single arm dumbbell rows, to be really effective because you can start on the right arm for chest press, followed by the left, and then for the dumbbell rows, start again on your right arm as this has had the most time to recover.
If you’ve been favoring machine or cable rows over the classic dumbbell row, it’s time to get these back into your routine. They’re one of the best exercises that allows you to fully stretch out the lat muscle, and get a full range of motion with a deep contraction at the top of the rep.
I’ll keep lifting straps close by, and often use them towards the final set or two, but besides that , I want to focus on grip strength (which can help improve forearm development) as much as the back itself.
One tip here to remember is that after allowing the lat to be fully stretched out (without letting the dumbbell make contact with the floor), pull the scapula back before driving the elbow upwards, bringing the weight up by your side. This is why it’s important to really be in tune with your mind-muscle connection so that you’re not just moving a weight up and down, but rather actively engaging a particular muscle to perform that task.
Chest & Back Combo #3: Cable Flys & Chin Ups
3-4 sets each. 12-15 repetitions per set.
With two pressing movements for the chest having been performed, we now move on to the final movement in this trilogy, which is a fly movement. I personally prefer cables for this exercise as the stretch in the chest when opening my arms back along with the resistance from the weight and cables is like no other. I will alternate this from time to time with dumbbell flys, although this tends to place a higher amount of stress on the elbows.
I like to keep my elbows in a fixed bent position, which helps to minimize bicep and tricep involvement, requiring the most from the pecs. Stand tall with your chest lifted proud, and keep one leg back (heel raised up), to help better stabilize and support you when performing each rep.
If you find yourself rushing these reps, with momentum required to finish the final few reps, I recommend you lower the weight and concentrate more on the activation and engagement of the chest more so than how much weight your moving up and down.
There are a number of great back exercises I could have finished with (and feel free to move these around, and add your own preferred exercises in), but there’s just something about finishing a workout on chin-ups where you reach your limit in being able to pull your own body weight upwards.
Just like with the first exercise for back, the emphasis should be on squeezing the center of the back together at the top of the rep. If you’re feeling too fatigued, you can also add in some support by using a resistance band looped over the top bar and place one knee through the other end, as well as using an assisted dip/chin machine.
The goal here is actually to reach muscle failure, signaling to your body a need for change in order for it to be able to perform this same task with greater ease, and I find body weighted exercises at the end of a workout being great for this as you’re not risking pushing heavy weights with the least amount of energy and strength left. You can even include some push ups immediately after to really test your muscular endurance and finish off the routine with a shirt-busting pump in both your chest and back.