Forget pull-ups — build a stronger back and biceps with this 6-move dumbbell workout

a woman's back muscle
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

While pull-ups are a classic exercise for challenging your back and biceps, they aren't the holy grail for a solid upper body pump. If you can get your hands on some dumbbells and have a spare 30 minutes then we think you'll like the effects of this upper body session.

We tend to opt for a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells when working through a workout like this one from fitness trainer Dani.Fitas it means you can switch resistance levels for a variety of exercises. But a pair of standard dumbbells will also work well, just opt for a weight that you can lift confidently for each move.

Fancy a peek at what the workout involves? Find all the details you'll need to try this upper body session out yourself below.

What is the back and biceps workout?

You only need to set aside 30 minutes for this routine, so this efficient upper body workout is ideal if you're tight on time. To complete the routine you will work on all six exercises for 45 seconds each, allow for 20 seconds rest in-between each and strive to work through four rounds in total.

Below you'll find video demonstrations of each exercise and this is worthwhile paying attention  to as it'll help you nail the form of each exercise in your own training. You may notice the first two moves are done with a barbell but this isn't essential. You can achieve the same effect with a pair of dumbbells.

Here's a list of all the exercises:

  • Supinated row
  • High row
  • Single arm row
  • Incline row
  • Close grip hammer curls
  • Isolated hold hammer curls

The trainer has applied the typical structure of a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout to shape this back and biceps routine. This will help you to build muscular endurance and strength in the upper body through a combination of dynamic and isometric exercises.

Plus, the high intensity of the workout will benefit your cardio fitness. The combination of various rowing exercises and curls ensures that all important muscles in and surrounding the back and biceps are activated and challenged. 

Additionally, the 45-second work intervals are designed to maximize time under tension for the muscles being worked in each exercise, which is crucial for muscle hypertrophy. Meanwhile, the 20-second rest periods allow for recovery, which will help you sustain performance through to the end of the workout. 

A stronger back contributes to stabilizing the spine and enhances overall upper body strength, making everyday tasks easier and reduces the risk of injuries. Strong biceps, on the other hand, enhance the ability to lift and carry objects, and support the performance of other upper body exercises.

Together, a well-developed back and biceps improve functional fitness, which is vital for both exercise performance and carrying out tasks in your every day such as holding a door open or carrying heavier items.

The exercises in this routine can also help to improve posture. Many of the moves, particularly the rows, engage the muscles responsible for maintaining an upright posture. Strengthening the back muscles helps counteract the effects of prolonged sitting and poor posture habits, which many of us fall victim to.

To integrate this HIIT workout into a well-rounded strength training routine, it's essential to balance it with workouts that target other muscle groups. Combining this back and biceps-focused routine with sessions targeting your chest, shoulders, legs, and core will ensure you are strengthening muscle all over. 

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.