The Best Back Exercises

A big strong back says a lot about your weight room work ethic. Easy to neglect the back muscles often times take a back seat to the mirror muscle. What’s more, having a weak back will show elsewhere in the weight room. Whether you’re doing the bench press or the squat without a strong back, you’ll not be reaching your full potential.

There are two major areas of the back I’ll focus on. The first is the upper-back muscles. These include the rear Deltoid, Teres Major, Trapezius, and Rhomboids.
They are responsible for pulling the shoulder blades together and
the arms back on the horizontal plane. These muscles are most notably utilized in exercises such as the Bent-over row or Single-arm Row.

The second area includes the Latissimus Dorsi muscles. To some extent when exercising this muscle you will engage the Teres Major as well. These are responsible for pulling the elbows down when the arms are in the overhead position. These are most notably utilized in the Pullup or Lat Pulldown. It’s common for guys to primarily focus on these muscles because big Lats give you more of the “V” look. It’s important to exercise both evenly as overdeveloped Lats will pull the shoulders inward due to the insertion point located at the front of the humorous or upper arm bone.

Back Exercises:

Upper Back

Invert Row

Bent-Over Row

Rear Lateral Raise

Cable Row

Lats

Chinup/Pullup

Lat Pulldown


Upper Back


Invert-Row

Target muscles: Middle & lower traps, Rhomboid major & minor. To some extent the biceps, upper traps, rear deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles.

This is a fantastic exercise. It is essentially a pushup in reverse. Just like the pushup works the chest this will work the upper back. It will also engage the erector spinae and the glutes to keep your hip stationary throughout the movement.

How to perform the Invert Row:

Grab the bar with an overhand grip and your hands shoulder width apart

With your arms completely straight your body should make a straight line from the top of your head to your ankles.

Begin the movement by engaging the shoulder blades first. As you squeeze your shoulder blades together then begin bending your elbows.

Keep your body stiff and don’t allow your hips to move. Pull your chest to the bar. Pause for one second and lower back down to the starting point.

Pro Tip:

When you are performing the invert-row imagine you are driving your elbows back as opposed to pulling your body up. At the top of the movement squeeze your shoulder blade together to get the most benefit out of the exercise. If you cannot keep your wrists straight it means your upper back and biceps are weak. You should try the Modified Invert Row below.

Modifications:

  • Modified Invert-Row: Bend your knees and place your feet flat on floor
  • Underhand Invert-Row
  • Elevated Feet Invert-Row
  • Stability Ball Invert-Row: With feet elevated on a stability ball
  • Single-Arm Invert-Row: With feet flat on floor pull your body up with one arm
  • Towel-Grip Invert-Row

Do it at home:

To perform the invert-row, you will need a bar at about waist high. You can set up a power rack or smith machine very easily for this exercise. Check out my Power Rack Review for a good option. You can also use a Bench or a Stability Ball for the elevated feet modification.

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Bent-Over Row

Target muscles: Middle & lower traps, rhomboid major & minor. To some extent the biceps, upper traps, rear deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles. Also, the bent-over position engages the hamstrings and glutes.

How to perform the Bent-over Row:

In a bent-over position grasp a barbell with an overhand grip about shoulder width apart. Feet should also be shoulder width apart.

Brace your core and keep your back naturally arched. Slightly bend your knees to keep to take some of the pressure off your lower back.

Just as with the invert-row begin the movement by bringing your shoulder blades together and the drive your elbows back.

bring the bar all the way to your chest, pause for one second and then lower it back to the starting point.

Pro Tip:

To ensure your back is not rounded grab the bar and stand all the way up. Stand tall and with good posture. Pivot at your hips while bracing your core and bending your knees slightly. Once your upper body is nearly parallel to the floor, stop. If done correctly it should be the perfect position for the barbell row.

Modifications:

  • Dumbbell Row
  • Nuetral-Grip Dumbbell Row
  • Reverse-Grip Dumbbell Row
  • Elbows-Out Supported Dumbbell Row: Chest up against an incline bench
  • Kneeling Supported Single-Arm Dumbbell Row: One knee and one hand on a bench

Do it at home:

Equipment required for the barbell row and all the modifications

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Rear Lateral Raise

Target muscles: Rear deltoid, middle & lower traps, rhomboid major & minor. The bent-over position also engages the hamstrings and glutes.

How to perform the Rear Lateral Raise:

Grab a pair of light dumbbells and assume a bent-over position the same as the bent-over row. with palms facing each other and a slight bend in your elbows.

keep you core tight to ensure your torso doesn’t move. Raise the dumbbells till they are even with your body, pause for one second and them lower them back to the starting point.

Pro Tip:

Do not let your body swing or use momentum while performing this exercise. When you reach the top of the movement squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top to get the most benefit from the exercise. Try different hand positions while performing the same set to activate as many muscle fibers as possible.

Modifications:

  • Underhand Grip: Palms facing forward
  • Overhand Grip: Palms facing backward
  • Seated Rear Lateral Raise: Sitting bent-over on a bench
  • Crossover Rear Lateral Raise: Use a crossover machine as opposed to dumbbells

Do it at home:

Equipment to perform this exercise and all of the modifications include:

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Cable Row

Target muscles: Middle & lower traps, rhomboid major & minor. To some extent the biceps, upper traps, rear deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles.

How to perform the Cable Row:

At a cable machine using the low pulley sit on the floor and brace you feet. Grab a straight bar with an overhand grip just slightly wider than shoulder width. Maintain a slight bedn in your knees

Sit up straight and brace your core. Keep your upper body rigid as you squeeze your shoulder blades and drive your elbows back.

Pull the bar all the way to your chest pause for one second and return the bar back to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Before pulling the bar to your chest push your shoulders down and pull them back. Sit up straight and don’t round your back. Lastly, don’t sway back and forth. Your hips should not move as you pull the bar to your chest.

Modifications:

  • Wide-Grip Cable Row
  • Underhand Cable Row: Palms facing up
  • Neutral-Grip Cable Row: Palms facing each other
  • Single-Arm Cable Row

Do it at home:

You will need a Cable Crossover Machine or Station to perform this exercise as will as a few handle accessories to perform the modifications.

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Lats


Chinup/Pullup

Target muscles: Latissimus dorsi, teres major, and biceps. To some extent the core and middle to upper back are also utilized.

How to perform the Chinup:

Grab a chinup/pullup bar with an underhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width. for the pullup use an overhand grip. Hang with arms fully extended. This is the “dead hang” position and is the starting point for each rep.

With your knees bent and feet crossed behind you pull your chest to the bar.

Pause for one second at the top and lower back down to the dead hang position.

Pro Tip:

  • To get full muscle fiber activation try bringing your chest to the bar as opposed to getting your chin over the top.
  • It also helps to imagine driving your elbows down as opposed to pulling your body up.
  • The chinup is great for building up your arms as it relies heavily on not just your lats but you bi’s to complete each rep. This is also why the chinup is a little easier.

Modifications:

  • Close-Grip Chinup
  • Neutral-Grip Chinup
  • Wide-Grip Pullup
  • Alternating Grip Chinup: Hands facing opposite directions
  • Towel-Grip Pullup: Drape two towels over the bar and use them to pull yourself up

Do it at home:

There are a few options when it comes to equipment check out my reviews below:

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Lat Pulldown

Target muscles: Latissimus dorsi, teres major, and biceps. To some extent the upper and middle back.

How to perform the Lat Pulldown:

At a lat pulldown machine adjust the seat height and thigh guards to ensure you aren’t lifted out of the seat while pulling the weight down.

Grab the bar outside of shoulder width. Keep your torso nearly upright if not back slightly.

Begin the movement by bringing your shoulder blades together and squeezing as you drive your elbows down.

Without moving your hips pull the bar down to your chest pause for one second and then slowly return to the staring position.

Pro Tip:

As with most pulling exercises focus on pulling your shoulder blades together first and squeezing them at the top of the movement. This will give you the most bang for your buck. You will also want to exhale on exertion. So with the pulldown as you bring the bar to your chest remember to breath out and breath in as you return to the starting position.

Modifications:

  • Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
  • Underhand Lat Pulldown
  • Close-Grip Lat Pulldown

Do it at home:

Most people don’t want to fork out the cash for a lat pull down machine. To get around this you can buy a Power Rack with a lat pulldown attachment. Check out my review below:

Valor Fitness BD-11 Hard Power Rack

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This is one part of the fitprofree.com’s The Best Exercise Series. To check out the other exercises in the series go to The Best Exercises main page.


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