5 Calisthenics Exercises to Grow Back and Biceps

Hi! I am the author and founder of Old School Calisthenic

July 7, 2018

In the calisthenics realm, pull-ups are the best exercises to grow back and biceps muscles! They develop an iron forged upper body, be it in the application of new calisthenics like Street Workout or old calisthenics, meaning basic high rep training. Both of these styles require you to work with pullups religiously if growing impressive back and biceps is what you seek.

Honestly speaking, I have changed my physique and strength levels remarkably with pull-ups. However, one thing has remained the same and that is my workout structure. I have always kept my routines very simple and centered on the basics.

Even now, after years of consistent work, I still do the same pull-ups I did a couple of years ago. The most significant difference is regarding the mastery of pull-ups, meaning execution, form, volume, speed, and the fact that I got a lot more muscular. But before jumping into the pull-up exercises required for building biceps and back muscles, here is something at least as important: 

Progression

For me, there were no progression steps in terms of learning new exercises. This comes in the field of progressive calisthenics and maybe new-school calisthenics. I kept everything basic and occasionally I tested myself with harder variations and maybe added weights as well. However, all of my pulling strength comes from doing bodyweight pull-ups:

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The mighty One-Arm Pull-Up unquestionably stands amongst the hardest strength exercises . I never explicitly trained to achieve this magnificent strength feat and yet unlocked it as a byproduct of my basic bodyweight training. Boosting only one repetition required years of consistent training . I am thrilled with the result. It's proof that my training program works even though gaining a colossal level of strength isn't my general focus. Health and general athleticism is my primary goal, and ever will. I care more about complexity and variety rather than mastering impressive feats . I will continue to work the one-arm pull-ups indirectly, till it becomes smooth and easy . . . . . . . . #onearmpullup #onearmchinup #onearmchinups #onearmchinuptraining #onearmpulluptraining #onearmpullupprogression #strengthtraining #strengthandconditioning #strongman #strong #pullups #heavypull #strengthfeat #calisthenics #streetworkout #pullupsprogression

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One year of continuous training was enough to test myself with external weights and realize after how strong I had gotten. By doing compound movements you become stronger regardless of the type of resistance used. It can be bodyweight pull-ups or weighted pull-ups. 

My only progression was in terms of volume. I increased the number of pull-up sessions done every week, my sets and slowly, my reps too. This is far more important than focusing on growing biceps. Increasing performance is connected to hypertrophy and volume helps you burn the muscles to failure and cause a hypertrophy response. 

You can progress following this strategy:

  1. Gradually increase a rep here and there
  2. Increase the number of total sets done in a workout
  3. Integrate the second pull-up routine. Strength is a skill and it needs to be trained often for it to grow faster
  4. Slowly reduce the pause between sets down to 1 minute
  5. Challenge yourself to do 50 or 100 pull-ups faster than usual.

This was the way I used to make progress and it worked big time. I built a lot of muscle and strength. Now let’s move to the exercises required:

1. Wide Grip Pull-Ups

Wide Grip Pull-Ups for Back and Biceps

This is one of the toughest basic variations. It will engage your whole upper body. I usually put it at the beginning of my training and then I gradually move to an easier pull-up exercise. At the start, this variation might be very hard or almost impossible. In this case, use a rubber band and help yourself a little. By decreasing the tension, it will allow you to train your strength for that particular pattern and grip. 

Assisted calisthenics wide pull-ups

In terms of volume, you can do sets of 4 and use a maximum amount of repetitions. In general, I don’t do more than 10 reps per set unless I intend to keep my set range low.

2. Close Grip Chinups

I particularly love this grip for how effective it targets the biceps. I good idea is to add close chinups along with wide or regular pull-ups. Doing sets of 4-5 and with a rep range of over 4 is sufficient to attach those biceps really hard.

Close Grip Chinups

3. Regular Pull-Ups

Pull-ups refer to the standard grip. and it is the most frequently used variation. This exercise covers absolutely everything. In fact, all the vertical pull-ups contract the same muscle groups, but on a different scale of intensity and ratios. For instance, a wide grip engages your lats at a higher degree whereas chinups do so for the biceps. They complete each other very elegantly.

The volume you shall do depends on what else you target in the same routine. If you also do pushups and dips then it isn’t necessary to add all the most important pull-up exercises. In that case, I add 5-10 sets of the same regular grip. And if I do a classic bodybuilding pull-up workout, then I work with sets of 4-5 and reps of 7-10. 

Regular Pull-Ups to Grow Biceps and Back Muscles

4. Chinups

From all the exercises I mentioned, regular chinups might be the easiest. Beginners often say they can do a few chinups but none of pull-ups. It is at least interesting, but if that’s your case, then continue work with chinups until you get strong enough to add pull-ups too. 

Bodyweight Chinups

You can also utilize rubber bands or have a training partner push on your upper-back a little for assistance. As you get stronger, begin your training with the toughest pull-up variations and let chinups at the end of your routine. If you train based on my latest beginner program, then you have such routines there already.

If you are strong enough, don’t skip on chinups and integrate them as frequently as possible. Do sets of at least 4-5 and reps of over 5 to enhance your results.

5. Horizontal Pull-Ups/Body Rows

Horizontal Pull-Ups or Body Rows

Go underneath a bar, or use gymnastic rings and if not, straps as you see in my picture. Because of the horizontal positioning, it attacks the muscles a little differently than vertical pull-ups. I like how body rows pump and burn my biceps especially, but I also noticed that lats and rear delts get plenty of work too. 

It feels a little easier than any vertical pull-up variation and can fit perfectly into any beginner’s arsenal. Most advanced athletes can use it to burn the biceps at a higher degree. The athletes focused on skill training may utilize body rows to prepare themselves for the front lever.

A Classic BodyBuilding Pull-Up Routine

This method of doing pull-ups doesn’t cover all it’s needed in terms of variety. You may need circuit training, pyramids or ladders too. But training in a bodybuilding-style definitely works well for muscle growth. 

Also, these five exercises I offered are sufficient to achieve some great results. But feel free to add any other basic variation too, you got nothing to lose.

  1. Wide Pull-Ups: 4 sets x 5-10 reps
  2. Close Chinups: 4 sets x 5-10 reps
  3. Pull-Ups: 4-5 sets x 5-7 reps
  4. Chinups: 4-5 sets x max reps
  5. Horizontal Pull-Ups: 4-10 sets x max reps

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