9 Exercises for Your Best Back Workout

9 Exercises for Your Best Back Workout

Many people focus on building their “mirror muscles” (think: chest, shoulders, arms, and abs). But to create a well-rounded physique, you don’t want to skimp on back exercises to sculpt the other side of your body, too.

Whether you’re wearing a bathing suit, a tank top, or a backless dress, a well-built back shows the world you’ve got it where it counts. Physically and aesthetically, there’s no substitute for a strong, muscular back, which is why you should include back workouts into your regularly scheduled routine. To help you get started, here are some of the best back exercises we know.

1. Renegade Row

renegade row exercise

Benefits: Challenge your upper back and lats while you also work your core and shoulder stabilizers.

  • Assume a push-up position with your hands just outside shoulder-width, gripping two light dumbbells. Your feet should be in line with your hands.
  • Lift the dumbbell in your right hand off the floor, bringing your hand to the outside of your ribs while keeping your right elbow close to your side. Resist rotation of the body.
  • Lower the right dumbbell to the floor and repeat with your left arm, alternating sides.

2. Wide Bent-Over Row

wide bent-over row upper back workouts

Benefits: The wide bent-over row is an excellent way to target your lats, while also hitting your delts and core.

  • Holding a set of dumbbells, stand with your feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in your knees.
  • Bend at the hips and lean your chest forward until it’s parallel with the ground, keeping your back straight and your core engaged. Let your arms hang down with your palms facing your shins.
  • Drive your elbows up and out, forming a goal post with your arms and squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull back.
  • Release your arms down and repeat.

3. Dumbbell Pullover

dumbbell pullover upper back workouts

Benefits: This move is a great way to work your lats, while also strengthening your shoulders and core.

  • Holding a set of dumbbells, lay with your back flat on a bench or stability ball.
  • With your feet planted on the ground and your core engaged, extend your arms to the sky, holding the dumbbells together above your chest.
  • With a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower your arms overhead until your biceps reach your ears.
  • Slowly bring your arms back to above your chest and repeat.

4. EZ Bar Row

Benefits: This move challenges the large muscles of the upper back to move a heavy load, while the lower back stabilizes and protects the spine.

  • Stand upright, feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, holding an EZ bar in front of your body with a wide grip, palms facing forward.
  • Keeping your lower back in its natural arch and your shoulder blades pulled back, hinge forward at the hips until your upper body forms about a 45-degree angle to the floor, and the bar is near your knees.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows, pulling the bar up until it contacts your lower abdomen.
  • Reverse the move and repeat.

5. Chin-Up

chin up exercise man

Benefits: This classic move is a great to way to widen and shape your lats, creating that wide V-shape in your upper back.

  • Take an underhand grip on a pull-up bar.
  • Pull yourself upward until your chin clears the bar, keeping your back straight and core tight as you pull yourself up.
  • Lower yourself until your arms straighten, and repeat.
  • Too tough? Use a chin-up assist band to make it easier.

6. Dumbbell Reverse Grip Row

Benefits: This move can help improve posture by challenging the upper and lower back simultaneously.

  • Stand upright, feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, holding two medium to heavy dumbbells in front of your body, palms facing forward.
  • With your shoulder blades pulled back, hinge forward at the hips until your upper body forms about a 45-degree angle to the floor.
  • Keeping your palms turned forward, squeeze your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows, pulling the weights up toward your rib cage.
  • Reverse the move and repeat.

7. Superman Lat Pull

superman lat pull | best back exercises

Benefits: Using a resistance band, this move strengthens your entire back, from your waistline to the back of your neck.

  • Holding a light resistance band, lie on your stomach with your arms extended overhead, chest and arms lifted off the floor, and palms facing down. This is your starting position.
  • Keeping both arms straight, trace a half-circle with your right arm, extending it directly out to the side and down toward your right thigh. Your left arm should remain straight overhead.
  • Reverse the move, slowly returning to the starting position.
  • Repeat with your left arm, and do equal reps on both sides.

8. Resistance Rows

Benefits: Resistance rows are simple but effective, working your entire upper back and deltoids.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart on the center of a resistance band. Wrap one end around each foot and cross the handles.
  • Bend your knees slightly and lean your chest forward slightly, keeping your back straight.
  • Keep your core engaged and your back straight as you pull your hands up to your rib cage, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top.
  • Release your arms and repeat.

9. Arm Balance Row

arm balance row upper back workouts

Benefits: This move emphasizes the muscles of the upper back, as well as your shoulders and core.

  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, start in a high plank position with your wrists under your shoulders and your head, hips, and heels in a straight line.
  • Pull your right hand to your ribcage then fully extend it to the sky as you twist to the right side. Make sure your arm extends directly over your shoulder and not behind you.
  • Return to the high plank position then repeat on the other side.
  • Continue alternating, doing equal reps on both sides.

Back Muscles Anatomy

Across the rugged topography of your back are over a dozen different muscles. Some of them — like the trees minor — stabilize movement at your shoulder girdle; others — including the erector spine — extend your spine, helping to keep you upright.

But the primary focus of back exercises is usually the two largest muscle groups in your back: the trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles.

back anatomy | latissimus dorsi | trapezius | back exercises

Trapezius anatomy

This is a kite-shaped muscle which extends from the back of your neck to your shoulder blades and down to your mid-back. Your traps are responsible for moving your shoulder blades upward (as in a shrugging movement) and inward (as in a rowing movement). When they’re well-developed, the traps keep your posture in check and give your mid-back depth and detail.

Many people, guys especially, focus exclusively on the upper portion of this muscle — the bands of muscle that give gymnasts and football players that thick-necked look. But that can be a mistake, says Openfit fitness specialist Cody Braun. “When improperly trained, the traps can round your shoulders, which causes a postural dysfunction and a higher likelihood of injury.” Solve the problem by focusing on mid- and lower-trap exercises instead, using movements that emphasize retracting the shoulder blades.

Latissimus dorsi anatomy

Often shortened to “lats,” this fan-shaped muscle originates at your mid- and lower back and attaches to your upper arms. It pulls your arms downward and behind your body (as in a pull-up movement) and directly backward (as in a rowing movement). The lats are your primary “pulling” muscles, and when they’re developed, they give your back that unmistakeable “V” shape.

The lats, Braun explains, are often underdeveloped and tight. Strengthening and stretching the muscle is key for good posture and full mobility — particularly in the shoulder joint, he says.

Andrew Heffernan CSCS, GCFP

About

Andrew Heffernan, CSCS, GCFP is a fitness coach, Feldenkrais practitioner, and an award-winning health and fitness writer. His work appears regularly in Men's Health and Experience Life. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. Learn more at andrewheffernan.com

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