There are many muscles in your back. To build a muscular and strong back, learn the best back exercises you need to be doing.
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Table of contents
Dedicating a day of the week to focus on your back muscles will ensure you become strong and well-balanced. While it can be tempting to only focus on your chest or arms, back day is crucial.
Related: The 12 best bicep exercises
A stronger back is beneficial for more than just looks. It helps you have better posture and any pulling movements you do will become easier.
Your back is made up of many muscles and the following exercises will target each one.
By doing the best back exercises, you’ll build a strong back. Plus, it’ll give you the V-taper look.
Main muscles in your back
The main muscles in your back are as follows:
- Trapezius: The triangular muscles in the back of your neck and upper back. Responsible for stabilizing and moving your scapula.
- Rhomboids: It’s the muscle under the trapezius and in between your shoulder blades. They help with upper limb movements.
- Posterior deltoids: The back of your shoulders is involved in back exercises. They’re known as the posterior or rear deltoids.
- Latissimus dorsi: They’re the largest muscle in your upper body. It’s a large, flat muscle on your back that’s on the sides of your back.
- Erector spinae: They’re the three muscles that run alongside your spine.
Deadlifts are a compound exercise that’s popular for strength training. It’s also excellent for building your back muscles because it works every muscle in your back.
It requires pulling, stabilization, and good posture, which involves your back muscles.
Deadlifts benefit other muscles because your entire body is involved. It also benefits your abs, legs, and arms.
They’re most commonly done by using a barbell. However, you may use dumbbells or a trap bar as an alternative.
When you’re doing deadlifts, good form is crucial. It’s better to use a lighter weight with perfect form because it prevents injuries.
To do deadlifts, find a barbell and load it up with weight plates. Use a weight that you’re comfortable pulling off the ground.
Once you’re ready, step up to the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down to grab the bar with your hands right outside of your shins.
With your back straight and weight shifted to your heels, pull the bar up. While you’re pulling it up, make sure the bar is touching your body at all times and that your back is straight with your chest up.
If the bar comes off of your body, it means that you’re leaning forward too far.
At the top of the movement, the bar will be against your thighs, and you’ll be standing up. Pause for a second and slowly lower the bar back down, gliding down your body.
Pull-ups are an effective bodyweight exercise. They involve your entire back and are excellent for building your back muscles.
There are also several variations that you can do, such as chin-ups, wide-grip pull-ups, and hammer-grip pull-ups. You can also add weight or use an assistance machine, depending on your current strength level.
To do pull-ups, you’ll need an overhead bar. Then, grab the bar a bit wider than shoulder-width, tighten your core, and pull yourself up.
Pause for a second and slowly go back down until your arms are fully extended.
When you’re doing pull-ups, maximize the exercise by doing the full range of motion. It’s also important to control the entire movement and squeeze your back muscles at the top.
3. Bent-over row
Bent-over rows are another exercise that’ll work your entire back. The stabilization aspect involves your lower back, and the rowing movement targets your middle and upper back.
You can do bent-over rows with dumbbells or barbells. The versatility and ability to work your entire back make it a must-do back exercise.
When you’re doing bent-over rows, focus on keeping your back straight. Avoid slouching and using momentum to row the weight.
The proper way to do it is to stand shoulder-width apart and hold the barbell or dumbbell with an overhand grip. Your hands should be right outside of your shoulders.
Then, bend over until your body is almost at a 90-degree angle with your knees slightly bent.
Allow your arms to hang down aligned with your chest. Then, row the barbell or dumbbell up to the lower part of your chest.
Focus on pulling with your back muscles instead of your arms. Pause for a second at the top of the movement and slowly lower the weight back down until your arms are fully extended.
4. Single-arm dumbbell row
The single-arm dumbbell row allows you to train each side independently. If you have any strength imbalances, it’ll fix it.
Aside from your back muscles, it also works your biceps and forearms. You’ll notice that your grip will get stronger by doing it, as well.
To do the single-arm dumbbell row, grab a dumbbell and find a bench. Stand next to the bench and put one knee and the same-side hand on the bench.
For example, to row with your left hand, your right knee and hand will be on the bench.
Then, reach down and grab the dumbbell. Make sure your back is flat and you’re in a comfortable position.
Tighten your core and row the dumbbell to the side of your stomach, right above your hip.
Squeeze for one second and slowly lower the weight until your arm is hanging.
You can also do single-arm dumbbell rows by leaning your hand against a dumbbell rack if there aren’t any benches available.
5. Seated cable row
The seated cable row is a versatile exercise because you can use several different handles.
Wide-grip bars will target more of your lats, while narrow grips will target your rhomboids and trapezius.
Aside from versatility, it also provides resistance throughout the entire movement. By requiring stability and rowing, your back muscles will be on fire.
To do the seated cable row, pick a handle or bar to attach. Then, select a weight and push yourself back until your knees are slightly bent.
Make sure your back is straight and that your body is at a 90-degree angle. Then, pull the cable towards your belly button.
Pause for one second and squeeze your back muscles. Then, slowly extend your arms back to the starting position.
With the seated cable row, make sure you aren’t pulling your body back as you row. Keep yourself as stable as possible and pull with your back, not your arms.
6. Lat pulldown
Lat pulldowns target the same muscles as pull-ups. However, you don’t have to worry about your weight. Instead, you’ll use a cable and select any weight that you’d like.
With the lat pulldown, the wide grip bar is the most common, but you can also swap it out for a narrow grip handle similar to the seated cable row.
Most gyms have a lat pulldown machine. When you’re doing the exercise, slow down your tempo.
Throughout the entire movement, focus on your lats and squeeze your back muscles at the bottom.
When you bring the bar or handle back up, do it slowly and go all the way up to get a full stretch.
You may see people pulling the bar down behind their necks. Don’t do it because you can injure your shoulder.
7. T-bar row
T-bar rows are one of the best exercises that you can do to build muscle in the middle of your back. It targets your rhomboids and trapezius.
To do T-bar rows, you’ll need a barbell, close-grip handle, and a corner to stabilize the bar.
You’ll add weight plates to one end of the barbell with the other end in a corner. Typically, the corner of a squat rack is perfect.
Then, stand near the front of the barbell where the weights are with the bar in between your legs.
Put the close-grip handle underneath and grab it with both hands. Then, Straighten your back, slightly bend your legs, and row towards your belly button.
Like other back exercises, squeeze at the top and slowly lower the weight until your arms are fully extended.
With the T-bar row, you can go heavy. Go as heavy as you can for six to eight reps while maintaining excellent form.
When it comes to building your trapezius, shrugs are the best exercise to do. Plus, it’ll grow your forearms and strengthen your grip.
To do shrugs, grab a barbell or set of dumbbells. Hold the weight and stand shoulder-width apart.
Then, shrug your shoulders up, squeeze, and slowly lower your shoulders back down.
While shrugs may seem like an easy exercise, your form matters. Focus on looking forward and keeping your back and neck straight. It ensures that you don’t strain your neck.
9. Reverse fly
The reverse fly exercise targets your rhomboid and posterior deltoids. You can do it with dumbbells or on the machine, which is available in most gyms.
It’s an excellent way to strengthen your back and shoulders. Plus, it helps you improve your posture.
To do the reverse fly with dumbbells, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. You can also do it by bending over while sitting on a bench.
Then, slightly bend your knees and bend over until your back is close to a 90-degree angle.
Hold the dumbbells in front of you with your palms facing each other. Pull the dumbbells back with a slight bend in your elbows.
Imagine a string pulling your elbows up and squeeze your back at the top. Then, slowly lower the weight back down.
As you’re doing the reverse fly, keep your back straight and avoid swinging the dumbbells.
By doing the proper form, you’ll have a more effective workout and avoid injuries.
10. Inverted row
The inverted row is a bodyweight exercise in between a pull-up and a bent-over row. It’s also known as the supine row or bodyweight row.
While the inverted row is easier than pull-ups because you’re not rowing your entire body weight, it’s still an excellent exercise for your back.
To do inverted rows, you’ll need a Smith machine or power rack. Then, adjust the height of the bar to be at the same height as your waist or lower.
The lower the bar, the harder the movement. After you position the bar, get under the bar and grasp it slightly wider than shoulder-width.
Then, keep your body straight and pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar.
Pause for a second, and slowly lower yourself back down until your arms are fully extended.
The Superman exercise is a bodyweight movement that targets your lower back.
It’s beneficial for strengthening your lower back, which helps reduce back pain and gives you a stronger core.
To do the Superman exercise, lay face down on a mat with your legs and arms stretched out.
Then, raise your arms and legs as high as you can go. Pause for three seconds and lower them back down.
Be sure to keep your head in a neutral position to prevent injuries.
Example back workout
The following is an example back workout for strength and size:
- Deadlift: 3 sets of 5 reps.
- Bent-over row: 3 sets of 8 reps.
- Single-arm dumbbell row: 3 sets of 8 reps.
- Pull-ups or lat pulldown: 3 sets of 12 reps.
- Shrugs: 3 sets of 15 reps.
- Supermans: 3 sets of 10 reps.
In between each set, rest for 45 seconds.
Back exercises are straightforward and versatile. Most of them target the entire back, which is efficient.
You can maximize your back workouts to build muscle by focusing on your form, slowing down the tempo, squeezing each rep, and using a full range of motion.
Featured image courtesy of Canva.
About David Em
David Em is the founder of Next Level Gents, the ultimate destination for tips and advice about style, grooming, fitness, and success.