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The 25 Best Back Exercises for Strength and Muscle Gain

If you wish to build the ultimate aesthetic and functional back, then you need to study all the back exercises and implement them accordingly. You must explore all options and choose the best options for you, to explore all the best options to build your back then keep reading.

These are the best Back Exercises to Improve Strength, Athleticism and Muscle Definition

A functional back is also needed with an aesthetic back and you can trust these movements to build a solid foundation for back gains. 

Best Back Exercises

Choose from these 25 exercises. See what suits you better and gives you the best result. 

Deadlift

The deadlift is the most functional exercises about there and stimulates most muscles from the calves and hamstrings to the nape of your neck. The most engaging compound lift is the deadlift

How to do it

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Deadlift
  • First load up the barbell to your suitable strength level and stand in front of the bar
  • Bend down and hold the bar at shoulder width while maintaining  an arch in your back 
  • Pinch your shoulders back to tense your upper back 
  • This is your starting position
  • Take a deep breath and pull the bar up while maintaining an arch in your back, basically you just stand up with your legs focusing on your hamstring as if you are doing a leg press
  • Once at the maximum contraction grab on to the bar, take a deep breath and slowly lower down the bar to return to starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps

Pull up

The most standard back building exercise which has been in existence even before free weights were a thing. A pull up is the most engaging workout you can do for your upper body. 

How to do it

Pull up
Pull Up
  • Stand in front of a stable bar and grab on to it. 
  • Grip the bar a little bit wider than your shoulder width. Try with a pronated grip first if not possible then try neutral grip. 
  • Hang with your back arched and your chest out. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Not try to pull yourself up but to do this efficiently think of bending the bar rather than pulling yourself up. 
  • Once you've reached the chint to the bar you can slowly lower yourself down to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Bent Over Row

A perfect back always has width to show off a perfect aesthetics. To build the width of the back, old school bodybuilders have always relied on the Bent over row. 

How to do it

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Bent Over Row
  • Stack up a barbell with adequate weight and stand in front of it. 
  • Pick up the bar as if you're doing deadlift motion. You can use a pronated or supinated grip as per your choice. 
  • Now bend the knees, lean slightly forward, brace the core and keep your back arched and stiff. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now take a deep breath and pull the bar towards your waistline. 
  • Once reached peak contraction, slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Chest Supported Row

If you are someone who faces back issues when doing compound lifts like deadlifts, rows and pull ups then Chest supported row is the best option for you, you can also do chest supported row for a greater isolation of the back muscles. 

How to do it

chest supported row
Chest Supported Row
  • Adjust the machine's seat height to your liking and pin the stack with a comfortable weight which you can manage to lift. 
  • Grab the handles firmly, arch your back and stiffen your scapula. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Take a deep breath and pull the handles back. 
  • Once reached maximum contraction lower down the weight slowly to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Single Arm Row

The single arm Dumbbell row is the best back stretching exercises you can do without  straining your muscles too much. You can even do these on machines if you feel uncomfortable doing it with free weights. 

How to do it

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Single Arm Row
  • Grab a dumbbell with enough weight which you can manage confidently. 
  • Set up a bench to a 180° setting and lay down one hand or one leg on it for leverage. 
  • Pick the dumbbell on the other hand and arch your back. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now take a deep breath and pull the dumbbell to your waist region while maintaining an arched back. 
  • Take only a little support from the leverage and try to put pressure on the lats. 
  • Once reached maximum contraction you can slowly lower the weight. 
  • Repeat for reps and then change the hand and repeat the same amount of reps for symmetrical growth. 

Inverted Row

The inverted row, also known as the Australian pull ups are a great way to learn pull ups and build scapular strength and rear delts. This is a calisthenics movement which teaches the body how to work together in a compound movement. Apart from that it is also a great back builder. 

How to do it

inverted row 768x474 1
Inverted Row
  • Take a parallel bar and adjust the height of the bar to your waistline. 
  • Get underneath the bar and assume a push up stance but upside down holding the bar. 
  • Hold the bar with a pronated grip and engage your scapula. 
  • This Is your starting position. 
  • Now Pull yourself towards the bar till your chest touches the bar. 
  • Now slowly lower yourself to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 
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Renegade Row

If you wish to build core strength that compliments the back and help develop functional muscle then renegade row is a must have routine in your workout 

How to do it

Renegade Row
Renegade Row
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells with suitable weight and place them on the floor. 
  • Get on the floor with a push up stance and grab both the dumbbells. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now holding one dumbbell, pull the other dumbbells to your waistline while staying erect and brace your core. 
  • Repeat equally on both arms 

Lat PullDown

The topic of growth of latissimus dorsi muscles is incomplete without the lat pull down . This exercise has always been the number one choice as a machine exercise to grow and develop lats. The stimulus on this machine is very different from a regular pull up but results are not that different.

How to do it

Lat Pull down
Lat Pull down
  • First adjust the height of the seat on the machine and pin the weight stack with appropriate weight. 
  • Then grab the handle bar with a pronated grip. 
  • Sit down with your thighs locked in with the seat. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now arch your back, pull out your chest, stiffen your scapula and take a deep breath and pull the bar towards your upper chest. 
  • Once reached the maximum contraction slowly lower down the weight. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Neutral Grip Pulldown

A neutral grip pull down is similar to that of a lat pull down in many ways but the engagement of mid back and erector spinae is better on neutral grip pull down. The only attachment necessary to perform this exercise properly is the v-bar attachment. 

How to do it

Neutral Grip Pulldown 1
Neutral Grip Pull down
  • First adjust the seat height and pin the weight stack with weight you can lift with perfect form. 
  • Attach the V-Bar grip to theachine and grab the bar with a neutral grip. 
  • Take a seat and lock your legs in the machine. 
  • This is your starting position
  • Now arch your back, pull your chest out take a deep breath and pull the bar to your upper chest area. 
  • Once the bar touches your upper chest you can slowly lower the bar back to starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Seated Cable Row

The seated cable row is a novice lifting exercise. If you have gained enough experience doing back workout with barbells, plates and dumbbells then for a greater time under tension you should go for seated cable rows. 

How to do it

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Seated Cable Row
  • First pin the weight stack with enough weight for you to do the exercise in full range of motion. 
  • Take a seat and place your legs on the leverage for proper support. 
  • Then grab the handles with a pronated grip and pull the bar with your back arched, hands extended and chest pulled out. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now pull the handle bar to your waist region. 
  • Once reached maximum contraction then slowly lower the weight by extending your arms forward and reach the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Wide Grip Cable Row

The Wide Grip Cable Row is almost similar to the seated cable row except for the grip part. Most bodybuilders and strength athletes do this exercise to hit their rear delts properly and with heavy weight resistance.

How to do it

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Wide Grip Cable Row
  • First pin the weight stack with appropriate weight and attach a wide grip handle bar I stead of the regular one. 
  • Then take a seat and place your legs on the leverage. 
  • Grab the handle bar and arch your back. Extend your arms and pull out your chest. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now take a deep breath and pull the handle bar to your chest. 
  • Once reached maximum contraction then slowly lower the weight down to return to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Dumbbell Shrugs

The best workout to build your upper back specifically the Trapezius muscles is the Dumbbell Shrugs. The superior arm flexion to the side makes them better than a barbell shrug or deadlift. 

How to do it

Dumbbell Shrugs
Dumbbell Shrugs
  • First grab a pair of Dumbbells with enough weight to do the exercise with good form. 
  • Now lean forward slightly and bend your knees a little bit so your arms come forward and dumbbells don't hit or rest on your thighs. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now take a deep breath and pull your shoulders back and up so your upper back gets a contraction. 
  • Once you've peaked your contraction then slowly lower the weight to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Cable Rope Pullover

The Cable Rope Pull over is an excellent replacement for dumbbell pull over as it provides constant tension and a good path to target the latissimus dorsi muscles. The Cable Rope Pullover is considered by many lifters as an excellent lat isolation exercise. 

How to do it

cable rope pullover
Cable Rope Pullover
  • First fix a rope attachment to the cable machine and adjust the height of the attachment to your liking. 
  • Then pin the weight stack with enough weight so you don't lose your form while performing the exercise. 
  • Now hold the rope attachment, lean back so your arms and your torso are parallel to the floor and step back a few steps so the weight stack is in tension. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now take a deep breath and pull the rope to your hips without bending your arms and moving your body. 
  • Once reached maximum contraction then slowly lower the weight by bringing the rope forward and assuming the starting position again. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Landmine Row

The LandMine Row is an advanced variation for someone who is proficient in doing Dumbbell single arm row. This exercise provides better muscle isolation but it recruits more balancing muscles since we don't use a bench for leverage. 

How to do it

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Landmine Row
  • First load up the T-Bar with appropriate weight that will not disrupt your form. 
  • Then stand besides the T-Bar row where the plates are behind you. 
  • Now bend and grab the T-bar with one hand and lift it up slightly. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now brace and pull the var to your waist region. 
  • Once reached maximum contraction then slowly lower down the weight to the starting position. 
  • Do it evenly on both arms and repeat for reps. 

Farmer’s Carry

The Farmer's Carry is a conditioning exercise which trains our body to maintain a frame and structure. The functional carry over of farmers carry is seen in deadlift and other back workouts too. 

How to do it

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Farmer's Carry
  • Pick up two dumbbells with appropriate weight which you can hold for a long time.
  • Pull your chest out and arch your back and get an overall erect posture of the entire body. 
  • Mark this as your starting point. 
  • Now walk or do standing March for a minute and reach back to your starting position and lower the dumbbells. 
  • Do this for at least 2-3 sets. 
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Y-Raise

The raise exercises are always correlated  with shoulder growth, but the Y-Raise is an exception, it targets the upper back erector spinae and rear delts, so a proper upper back exercise. 

How to do it

y raise
Y Raise
  • First set up a bench with an angle between 45°- 60°. If you go any lower or higher it might not be optimal for back growth. 
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells with enough weight to do this exercise with good form. 
  • Lay on the bench on your stomach and maintain a slant angle with good foot placement. Let your hands down holding the dumbbells. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Brace your core and maintain an arch in your back and raise the dumbbells up to your head making a Y shape. 
  • Once reached the top, slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Straight Arm Pulldown

The Straight Arm Pulldown is an alternative to the lat Pulldown but the single arm variation gives a greater stretch to the lats. It also provides a better isolation curve with a greater range of motion for training back. It is somewhat similar to the cable rope pullover but in this exercise we specifically use a straight bar. 

How to do it

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Straight Arm Pull down
  • First attach a straight bar to the cable machine and adjust it to your height. 
  • Pin the weight stack with an appropriate weight. 
  • Stand in front of the machine, grab the bar and pull it down to your lower waist line while maintaining an erect posture. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now take a deep breath and slowly let the bar go up. 
  • Once at maximum stretch pull it back to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Kroc Row

The little advanced variation of the single arm dumbbell row is the Kroc Row. This exercise follows the same mechanics as the single arm dumbbell row but does not involve leg leverage. 

How to do it

Kroc Row
Kroc Row
  • Pick up a dumbbell with which you can do the exercise with proper form. 
  • Find a sturdy leverage for your hand placement and adjust it to your diaphragm region. 
  • Bend over and place one hand on the leverage and pick up the dumbbell on the other hand, keep the leg opposite of the dumbbell arm in front for stability purposes. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now take a deep breath and pull the dumbbell to your waist region. 
  • Once reached maximum contraction, slowly lower the dumbbell to reach the starting position. 
  • Repeat for both arms with equal reps. 

Pendlay Row

The Pendlay Row is for someone who is more than proficient in doing deadlifts and barbell rows. The Pendlay Row demands a higher stability in your lower back and is used as a heavy weight exercise. 

How to do it

Pendlay Row
Pendlay Row
  • First load up a barbell with enough weight to do the exercise with a proper form. 
  • Stand in front of the barbell and bend down so your torso is parallel to the floor. 
  • Grab the barbell with a pronated grip and arch your back. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now take a deep breath, brace your core and pull the barbell to your waist region. 
  • Once reached peak range of motion, slowly lower down the barbell. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Face Pulls

The Face Pull is a rear delt dominant exercise. You need to engage your core appropriately for the rear delt to get proper stimulation. This exercise is always preferred by bodybuilders and powerlifters alike. 

How to do it

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Face Pulls
  • First affix a rope attachment to the cable machine and adjust the height of the attachment to your head level. 
  • Now pin the weight stack with enough weight to perform the exercise without breaking form
  • Grab the rope, extend your arms and take a few steps back so there is tension in the rope and brace your core. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now pull the rope towards your eye level and pull your arms as if you are hitting a double biceps pose.
  • Once reached the peak, slowly lower the weight to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps

Seal Row

The Seal Row is a low weight high intensity exercise which works your back without any risk to your lower back and spine. The seal row will help you work your back in your several injuries and also help you progress your back gains. 

How to do it

Seal Row
Seal Row
  • First set up a bench at 180°.
  • Then grab a pair of dumbbells with enough weight so you don't break your form while performing the exercise. 
  • Now lay down on the bench with your stomach on the bench and grab the dumbbells. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now take a deep breath, arch your back and pull the dumbbells to your naval region. 
  • Once at the top you can slowly lower the dumbbells to reach your starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

Meadows Row

The landmine row works your lats primarily and to change that the Meadows Row was invented. The movement and setup of Meadows Row is similar to that of a Landmine Row except for the way you hold the bar and position yourself in front of the bar. 

How to do it

Meadow Rows
Meadows Row
  • First set up a bar in a corner or use a T-bar row and load it with just enough weight for you to perform without breaking form. 
  • Now stand in front of the bar in a manner that you can hold the bar's edge with a pronated grip. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now take a deep breath and pull the bar to your lower chest area. 
  • Once at the top, lower the bar slowly to the starting position. 
  • Repeat the same on the other arm as well and repeat for reps. 

Back Hypertension 

The Back Hypertension is a perfect exercise to stretch and strengthen your lower back. The lower back protection is the biggest priority while performing and back exercise and also while doing squats. A healthy and strong lower back will not only help prevent injury, it will help you lift better too. 

How to do it

back extension machine
Back Hypertension
  • First affix your legs properly on the hypertension bench and assume the angled position. 
  • Now arch your back and fold your hands in a cross manner touching your shoulders. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now lower yourself just hinging at your hips and forming an upside down V shape. 
  • Once reached maximum stretch you can lift yourself back up to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 

High Pull

The High Pull is an exercise which in simple words combines both a deadlift and a barbell raise. This exercise develops explosive strength and trains you properly for a clean and jerk exercise. 

How to do it

High Pull
High Pull
  • First load up a bar with sufficient weight for you to do the exercise without breaking form. 
  • Now stand in front of the bar and bend down and grab the bar with a pronated grip. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Take a deep breath and lift the bar to your lower chest. 
  • Once the bar reaches your lower chest height, slowly lower it down to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for reps. 
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Power Clean

The mid way from High pull to a clean and jerk is the Power Clean exercise. The Power clean is only different from the high pull because you need to lift the bar all the way up to rest on the shoulders. This exercise builds functional muscle fibers that will help you develop a solid back. 

How to do it

power clean
Power clean
  • First you load up the barbell with sufficient weight so you don't break the form while performing the exercise. 
  • Now stand in front of the bar, bend down and lift the bar with a pronated grip. 
  • This is your starting position. 
  • Now lift the bar all the way up so the bar can rest easily on your front shoulders. 
  • Lower down the bar and repeat for reps. 

Back Warm Up

A perfect workout is incomplete without a perfect warm up. A perfect warm up routine for the back includes a proper stretch of the entire back, hamstrings and forearms. 

Sample Back Warm up

  • Doing a bar stretch for about 2 minutes will open up your back. 
  • A set of 90-90s opens up your lower back. 
  • Cross body stretches for engaging hamstrings. 
  • Dead hanging for 10 seconds also increases the blood flow in the back. 

How to Train Your Back

To train your back properly you need more than just good form and full range of motion you need to be mindful of what exercise you choose, for how many reps and also in what order. 

Sets and Reps

A proper rep range to induce hypertrophy is 10- 12 for back exercise and the amount of sets you need to do depends on your experience in lifting. 

A beginner can easily go up to four to five sets with light weight. A novice lifter is expected to go at least three sets per exercise and an advanced lifter should aim for two to three sets to failure on each exercise. 

Exercise Selection

The most common mistake any new lifter does is doing more than needed on back day. To induce back hypertrophy you don't need more than four exercises to hit your entire back. First you must choose a variant that works your upper and mid back, then you can do a lat dominant exercise and lastly end with a rear delt and trap dominant exercise. Remember, your aim is not to find the best exercise, your aim is to find the best exercise for you

Exercise Order

To hit the back perfectly you must warm up properly. 

The first exercise you must do is a heavy compound movement that taxes the nervous system heavily like a Deadlift or a Heavy Row. 

Next you should work on your isolation movements for lats and traps. 

Add on additional work for your lagging muscles like rear delts and traps and lower back. 

If you feel like a part of your back is lagging you can do that in the beginning of the workout. 

Back Training Tips

No matter how much you work and read online the professional athletes will always have an edge over regular lifters because of the knowledge and techniques they learn, following are the best tips from professionals to help you gain muscles while staying injury free. 

Stabilize

Learning stability is supposed to be the first thing on every beginner's journey. A stable foundation not only leads to an injury free lift but also avoids any power leaks. A good stable back workout always has an arched back, chest pulled out and proper braced core. These three exercise ques alone will lead to a better stability in every back exercise. 

Your Grip Matters

The muscles you work changes dramatically with the grip you use even if you are doing the same exercise. To train the lats and erector spinae you should opt for a supinated or neutral grip. To train your upper back, rear delts and traps you should opt for a pronated grip. 

The thumbless grip helps you disengage the bicep involvement and helps you put pressure on your back. 

Train the Full Range

Most people do not know the proper range to which they should extend and stretch for a deep tissue burn. To avoid low range of motion you should go for exercises which do not need a v bar grip or a barbell. Using dumbbells, cables and machines you can give your back a deep stretch. 

Use Momentum (sometimes)

While working out your back it is okay to inculcate a little bit of momentum for instance if you are trying to break your personal record or you are trying to reach a deeper stretch you can do that with a little bit of momentum. Unlike other exercises, back workouts mostly have an unstable element and chances are your forearms will fatigue before your back does. So using momentum to reach failure is sometimes okay while doing back workouts. 

Benefits of Training Your Back

Along with a stronger lift and aesthetics a well developed back has other benefits too. 

Improved Sports Performance

There isn't an athlete on this planet who doesn't workout his back. From every sports division every athlete is doing one other other form of back workout. A stable and strong back will help you excel in your respective sport. 

Carryover to Other Lifts

A strong back will help you do other exercises with ease. Like a strong rear delt will help you stabilize your bench press, a strong upper back will help you sit the barbell comfortably on your back while you do squats. The added benefit of training your forearm indirectly will make sure you don't need to add another forearm exercise in your routine. Training your body without a stronger back is almost impossible. 

Better Posture

A stronger back is also a correctly postured back. Your constant arching and pulling your chest out while doing back workout will leave you with a better posture which will help you stay away from any unnecessary injuries like sciatica and disk displacement. A good posture will also help you avoid any leakage of power while you lift or do daily chores. 

What Muscles Make Up the Back

The back muscles are made up of many fractions including both big and smaller muscle groups and understanding the back muscle anatomy will help you lift and target them better. 

Latissimus Dorsi

The Latissimus Dorsi are a group of muscles running down from your scapula to your lower back and are responsible for the movement of the arm and extending it. 

Teres Major

An interior muscle which leads along the scapula and joins the shoulder socket is Twres Major. This muscle helps in pulling and hugging a large object with wide circumference. Teres major is important to stabilize your pull ups also. 

Rhomboids

The bulk of the upper body strength comes from the rhomboids as they connect the scapula to the spine. The power transfer from arms to the back is handled by the rhomboids with ease. 

Rear Delts

The Rear Delts are part of the shoulder muscles which help stabilize the arm extended in any direction. The Rear delts are important to bench press as glutes are while doing squats. They provide greater stability in all upper body lifts. 

Erector Spinae

When we think of core muscles abs and obliques come to mind but the major strength of the core comes from the Erector spinae. Running from the nape of the neck to all the way up to lower back the erector spinae helps you brace properly and provide core strength. 

More Back Training Tips

The aim of this article is to help you choose a better exercise for your back workout and not confuse you with multiple options. If you ever find yourself struggling with an exercise, hit a plateau, manage an injury or plain simply don't like the exercise, just remember your workout doesn't need to be similar to that of the elites. You can choose your own path to success. Your workout, your sets and your style totally depends on what you like. Don't let others dictate what is best for you, just try out different options and see what fits you, after all working out should be fun and not a chore. 

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sandesh Khade
sandesh Khade

Hi I'm Sandesh khade and I am an electronics and telecommunications engineer, I have taught math to engineering, diploma and 10+2 students. I am also an avid fitness enthusiast and workout regularly. I love to analyze and write. I try to write about almost any event or make one up just for the sake of practicing writing.