How to Pair Exercises for a Chest and Back Workout | STACK

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How to Pair Exercises for a Chest and Back Workout

February 18, 2013 | Richard Choueiri

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If you want to build your upper body, you are probably already doing a workout that targets your chest and back. However, performing enough exercises to properly target these two muscle groups can take along time if you don't use supersets.

The chest and back are opposing muscle groups, allowing for exercises to be performed immediately after each other in superset fashion and making for shorter, more intense and more productive training sessions.

To do chest and back exercises in supersets, perform a set of a chest exercise and immediately follow it with a set of a back exercise. Rest for two to three minutes and repeat.


The primary muscle of the chest is the pectoralis major. It is made up of three parts: clavicular (upper), sternocostal (middle) and abdominal (lower). All three parts work to move your humerus, or arm bone, towards the midline of your chest. (Learn 5 Tricks to BuIld a Bigger Bench.)

The best exercises to build your pec major are the Bench Press and the Fly. Varying the angles for each movement allows you to emphasize a specific part of your chest. You engage the upper pecs if you do these exercises on an incline at an angle between 45 and 60 degrees. Doing the movements on a flat bench engages the middle pecs, while a decline hits the lower pecs.

Back and Chest Workout


The main superficial back muscles—those you can see from the outside—are the latissimus dorsi, middle trapezius and lower trapezius. The first allows you to move your arms towards your sides and to the rear. The latter two allow you to bring your shoulder blades close together. (See Build a Strong Back With Pull-Ups.)

To work the lats, perform Pull-Ups, Lat Pulldowns and Straight-Arm Pulldowns. For the middle and lower traps, do Bent-Over Rows and scapular retraction exercises. Bent-Over Rows also work your lats, especially if you use a reverse grip.

Building a Chest and Back Workout

To blast your pecs, lats and traps, perform three to four of the aforementioned chest and back exercises. Complete three sets of eight to 12 reps per exercise. Use the maximum workload possible and go to failure during each set.

It's best to pair Bench Press exercises with rowing/scapular retraction exercises, and to pair Chest Flies with pulldown exercises. For best results, use a variety of exercise equipment, including barbells, dumbbells, resistance machines and cable pulleys.

Chest-Back Superset Variations

While supersets are typically performed with no rest between exercises, you can alter them to change up the routine every few workouts. Instead of taking no rest between sets, you can rest for 15 to 30 seconds, or even up to a minute, if you need an additional recovery period.

You can also rest for one minute between exercises and between sets. This allows you to perform high-intensity exercises that elevate your heart rate in superset fashion.

Topics: BACK | CHEST
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