In this article, I will be discussing the importance of working out your back and the best exercises to include in your back workout in the gym.
Keeping your back healthy is crucial for living a pain-free life.
If you have issues with chronic pain or muscle tightness in your neck, lower back, or upper back then it’s time to learn about the best exercises for back strength.
There are many benefits of learning how to strengthen the back muscles!
Before we get into the benefits of back training, we should discuss the targeted back muscles in a workout.
Back Muscles of the Body
The back is divided into three major muscle groups: the trapezius (upper, middle, and lower), latissimus dorsi (inner and outer), and the erector spinae muscles.
All these muscle groups extend from either the base of your skull to your pelvis on either side of your spinal column, providing support for the head, neck, and trunk.
The trapezius consists of three parts: the upper trapezius, which is a diamond-shaped muscle located on top of your neck; the middle trapezius, which is smaller in size and lies in between your shoulder blades; and lastly the lower trapezius muscles that you can feel under your shoulder blades.
Of all the back muscle names, the lats are the most recognized. The latissimus dorsi muscles are the most externally visible, due to their location on either side of your mid and lower back (below your teres major).
These are commonly known as “V-shaped muscles” that create the hourglass figure in women as well as men.
The erector spinae muscles are a group of three large muscles that extend down the length of your spine, two on either side.
The main muscle called the iliocostalis lumborum is what gives shape to your lower back and carries through to your pelvis. Next, there are the longissimus thoracic muscles, which run up and down the center of your spine.
The final muscle is called the spinalis thoracis, which runs up and down your upper back.
The Benefits of Good Back Exercises
Back exercises like rows fix your posture
Having a strong back will help you to stand and sit up straight. You can easily identify someone who spends little time hunched over their smartphone or computer, but it’s all in the back.
When your back muscles become relaxed and weak, your spine naturally rounds forward which leads to bad habits like slouching/sitting with your butt out and rounding your shoulders.
Good dumbbell exercises for back fix imbalances
Having a well-balanced proportion of back muscles can help counter the forward flexion placed on your spine from daily activities like sitting, driving, texting, and more.
This will help you to improve your posture by doing exercises that pull your shoulders back. This will create a natural alignment with proper balance throughout your core muscles which will, in turn, take the pressure off your spine.
Back workouts increase full-body strength
Training your back is not only great for improving posture, but it can also help to strengthen the rest of your body! The best back lifts will increase the overall strength in muscles like your biceps, triceps, chest, and even quads.
Think about it this way… if you have stronger back muscles then you can easily transfer that strength to your chest and arms when doing push-ups.
Strengthen lower back muscles to keep healthy discs
Avoid low back pain, which can be a result of having a weak core.
Our back is designed to carry heavy weight, but not forever. If you do heavy lifting regularly like deadlifts or squats then it’s important to take 1-2 days off to allow your spine and discs to heal.
We can prevent this by having a strong back which will help to evenly distribute the weight throughout your body and keep those discs healthy!
Reduce your risk of injury: When you train your back regularly, this will help to strengthen the obliques which act to stabilize your spine.
Having a strong stabilizer for your spine is crucial for preventing injury in other parts of the body (i.e. knees from having weak hamstrings)
Do back workouts for width to develop the desirable V-shaped physique
Do back workouts for width. A big misconception is that to get a good physique, you have to be doing hours of back workouts at the gym.
The truth is, it can be done by performing just 3-4 sets of exercises and focus on getting stronger over time.
Build more confidence: Nobody wants to see a rounded upper back or hunched shoulders which lead to poor posture.
If you create a habit of working your back, then you will gradually notice that you’re standing taller with better posture which will give you an extra boost of confidence.
Reduce lower back pain with the best exercises for lower back strength
A lot of lower back pain is the result of weak deep core. The more you train your back, the stronger these core muscles will become which in turn leads to better stabilization and reduction of lower back pain.
To develop muscle on your back, you should be focusing on doing the best back exercises. When targeting the back, gym workouts should be performed for multiple angles. Back workouts with weights are optimal for muscle development.
It’s also important when developing a routine for a back workout to include the top back exercises you enjoy or you’ll never stick with it!
Best 3 Exercises for Back Muscle
If the goal of your back workouts is mass, then look no further than the best 3 exercises for back training.
How to Get a Muscular Back: Conventional Deadlift
This is one of the best lower back exercises you can do if your goal is to gain muscle.
You will increase the overall strength of your entire body by doing this heavy compound lift which requires a lot of core stability and hamstring flexibility.
To perform a deadlift correctly, stand with feet hip-width apart with a slight bend in your knees.
Keep your back flat as you grab the barbell with an overhand grip and pull it straight up until you are standing tall with your shoulders back.
Make sure to control the weight on the way down to engage more muscles fibers!
Make sure you have proper technique as back exercises with a barbell can risk serious injury due to the increased weight lifted! Perform deadlifts at the beginning of your back workout routine if you’re going heavy so that you’re fresh.
Best Back Exercise with No Weights: Pull-Ups
Everyone’s favorite! It’s one of the best exercises to include in good back workouts due to its effectiveness and minimal risk of injury.
There’s nothing wrong with back workouts with body weight, but you can also add some weight with a belt if you’re looking to increase the difficulty of this exercise.
You want to make sure you pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar (not just lifting your body until the elbows are locked out). A wide grip will target your teres major, while closer or neutral grips will allow for a greater stretch and target your lats more.
To perform a pull-up properly, grab the bar with an overhand grip (shoulder-width apart) slightly bend your knees to create a platform, and lift your feet off the ground.
Engage the core muscles as you pull yourself up while keeping your back straight until your head is above the bar.
Slowly lower yourself down in a controlled manner so that your shoulder blades are not touching the ground, then repeat! Due to their difficulty, you should usually try to do pull-ups towards the beginning of your back workout.
If bodyweight pull-ups are too easy, don’t be afraid to add some weight in the form of a dumbbell or weighted vest!
Focused on Building Back Muscle? Enter Barbell Bent-Over Row
This is one of the best back exercises for strength gain! Rows for back development are important because they target your whole back.
This exercise is a staple of the best back workouts you can do. With an overhand grip, this is a great exercise to strengthen upper back.
An underhand grip variation can be used to target your lats more. You can also try the pendlay row which is a variation that takes the momentum out of the lift as you let the bar come to rest back on the floor in between each rep!
To perform this exercise properly, you will need a loaded barbell on the floor.
Take an overhand grip that’s wider than shoulder-width with both hands and lift it off the ground until your lower back is straight. Lift the barbell until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Do heavy bent-over rows towards the beginning of your workout.
If your focus is a thick back, exercises such as barbell row will help you achieve that goal.
More Great Exercises for a Muscular Back
Best Dumbbell Exercise for Upper Back: Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
Any back workout with dumbbells needs to include these! This exercise targets multiple muscle groups but is especially great for strengthening your lats.
It’s one of the best upper back exercises because it’s a unilateral exercise meaning each side works independently. This allows for a greater range of motion. When you do this exercise, make sure to choose a weight that is challenging for you.
To perform this, stand with feet hip-width apart and bend down at the hips to about a 45-degree angle while keeping your back flat.
Grab a dumbbell in one hand which should be hanging naturally and pull it up towards your ribs in a controlled manner until the upper part of your arm makes a 90-degree angle with your torso. Lower it to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side!
This exercise can be targeted towards the middle or end of the workout.
One of the Best Back Strengthening Exercises: T-Bar Row
This is a great alternative to the barbell bent-over row! You can do more weight with this lift and it’s a little easier on your back. Another advantage is you can target specific parts of the back based on the grip you prefer.
A neutral grip will target your middle back (rhomboids, teres, and traps more. A wider grip will focus more on the lats. Do this exercise closer to the front half of the workout, especially if you’re going heavy.
Best Back Muscle Strengthening Exercise with Cables: Cable Row
Don’t neglect cable workouts for back development. Your lats are one your biggest and most powerful muscle groups, so you MUST hit them hard to achieve maximum results!
This exercise allows for multiple different grips to target your back at different angles which makes it a great addition to back workouts; cables allow for constant tension during the entire movement.
When using this weight machine, make sure to choose a weight that will challenge you but not cause injury!
To perform the cable row properly, start by taking an overhand grip on the bar that’s shoulder-width apart.
Sit down on the bench, let your knees bend, and keep your back straight (chest thrust out) throughout the movement.
Slowly pull in towards your abdomen keeping elbows close to the body until they reach your rib cage.
Hold this position for a second, then lower it to the starting position slowly while maintaining tension the whole time. You can include these towards the end of the workout and usually for higher rep ranges of around 10.
Back Training Alternative to Pull-Up: Lat Pull-Down
This is a great isolation exercise that targets the lats. It’s basically like any other movement where you’re pulling the weight down towards your waist area.
You might think that using a wider grip will target the lats more, but research suggests a neutral grip activates the lats similarly. This allows for a greater range of motion and increased time under tension.
To perform this properly, sit with your torso upright and grasp an overhead bar with either an overhand grip or underhand close grip. Pull the bar down until it touches your upper chest or upper abdominals.
Hold this for a second, then return to the starting position of your torso is upright and your elbows are fully extended. You can do these in the middle or back half of your workout.
Upper Back Focused Lifts: Barbell Shrug
If you’re trying to build your traps (which is the whole top half of your back), then this barbell back exercise will be very important in your workouts!
Building big traps creates an illusion of a smaller waist so back day is the perfect opportunity to work on your traps.
You can also use this movement as an assistance exercise for your deadlift if you’re trying to lift more weight!
When performing this exercise, make sure that your shoulders stay straight and don’t roll in or out when you shrug (should look like a mountain). You can do these closer to the end of the workout.
A Great Pull Exercise for Upper Body Focus: Dumbbell Pull-Overs
Great for targeting your lats. You can use a declined bench to increase time under tension than using a flat bench. Since this is a single-joint exercise, you should do this one closer to the end of the workout as a finishing exercise.
How to Work Out Back Safely: Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
A great dumbbell exercise for the back because you hit it from a different angle! This movement allows for more range of motion than other variations and also puts less stress on your lower back.
It forces strict technique making it more of an accessory to heavier back exercises. Make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top (peak contraction) to target that middle-back area.
You can’t lift as heavy on this as other row variations so do this towards the end of your workout for generally higher rep ranges of about 8 or more.
How to Work the Back Muscles Hard: Single-Arm T-Bar Rows
Great for fixing any muscle imbalances in your back. You won’t be able to go as heavy as other variations, but the lack of stress on your lower back makes it a great alternative.
The lighter load will also help ensure you have better form. If you need some variety and still want to hit those lats hard, this movement could be for you!
Back Workouts for Strength: Farmer’s Walk
This is a tough movement that will make your back work like crazy! It forces you to fight gravity the whole time – making it a great finisher (closest to the end of your workout) or assistance exercise for deadlifts.
Walking around with heavy weight in your hands engages many muscles including your traps, shoulders, and lats.
How to Work the Lower Back: Good Mornings
If you’re looking for lower back lifts for development, look no further! A great exercise for lower back strength that can also help develop a better (thicker) looking waist by developing muscle behind the obliques.
The higher weight you use, the more stress on your core (abs and lower back).
Keep your chest and upper back up throughout this exercise to maintain proper form. If you can’t maintain this, maybe try a lighter load. You should do these closer to the beginning of your workout.
Keep in mind that exercises for lower back in the gym are riskier as improper form on even one rep can result in injury.
A Great Exercise for Lower Back Muscles: Barbell Rack Pull
These are a variation of the deadlift that you can do in a power rack.
They’re also great for strengthening your lower back and grip strength. You’ll see many variations on this movement but we recommend trying to go heavier, around 85% max effort (of deadlift). Use straps so your hands don’t wear out too fast!
Great in Back Workouts for Beginners: Inverted Row
The inverted row is a bodyweight exercise that may help you develop similar back, arm, and grip strength as the pull-up.
It’s usually simpler to do because you’re not pulling your entire body weight. This is an excellent way for novices to improve their choice of back exercises, no weights necessary!
If you’re trying to build your back, then this is a great movement for hitting the middle and upper back. You can use many different angles to change things up and target specific muscle groups. just make sure you try a couple of these out!
One of the Best Back Exercises for Bodybuilding: Cable Pullover
This back exercise with cables mainly targets your lats but also does a great job at increasing the size of your chest and opening up your upper back.
Make sure you keep the weight light on this one! This is a very small range of motion. It might not look like much, but it will feel pretty tough when done with good form.
You can do these at the beginning, middle, or end of your workout. The constant tension creates more resistance for the lats through the range of motion.
How to Choose the Best Back Exercises for Back Day:
Make sure you’re able to focus sufficient amounts of the weight on the target muscle and not the surrounding joints. Work around pre-existing injuries or limitations. Make sure the exercises you select can be completed with the equipment in your gym.
How to Work Out Your Back: Rules to Follow
1. Stability is important! Make sure there’s tension in your upper back before lifting the weight to keep you stabilized during the exercise. Increased stability helps produce more force which leads to improved performance and quality training.
2. Grip is Key. Your grip position will play a huge role in which muscles are being targeted best during any back exercise at the gym. Wider and pronated grips are for more upper back activation but less lat activation. Closer grips, neutral, and supinated target the lats and biceps more.
3. Hit the full range of motion. To benefit from back training, make sure you fully contract the muscle by going to the complete range of motion. You’re leaving gains on the table otherwise!
4. Don’t be afraid to use momentum (sometimes). When you use momentum you’re often avoiding the most significant tension on the muscle which isn’t your goal. However, for the last couple of reps, it’s totally fine to include some cheat reps by using momentum to build strength and power.
5. Back workouts with barbells are optimal for strength gains.
How to Get Better at Back Exercises
How to improve your pull-ups: This is a movement that has been slaughtered in every corner of health and fitness. From half reps to wild swinging motions, it’s rare to see a pull-up that looks like it might work the muscles in your back efficiently.
Improve your pull-ups by doing them correctly! Focus on the stretch and squeeze. Always start from a dead hang and have your arms fully outstretched. Pull your shoulder blades down when you ascend.
Try to keep your torso steady and don’t swing. You can pause at the top to really crush each rep, then slowly descend to the starting position.
How to improve your bent-over rows, the best exercise for back strength:
Bent-over rows are a great upper back strength exercise, but they can be done in all manner of ways. This makes it far too easy to lose focus on what you’re trying to achieve.
Don’t start swinging those arms and throwing your body around! Stop using momentum to swing the weight up.
Instead, think about initiating the movement with your back muscles (specifically the lats). Focus on initiating the movement with a squeeze and then pulling through each rep to feel the contraction.
Make sure you’re keeping your torso steady to avoid using your arms so much. Keep them close to the sides of your body for better leverage. This will allow you more weight without having to use too much energy to swing everything around.
How to improve your deadlifts for lower back longevity:
If you’re familiar with deadlifting, then you know it’s a very technical movement built on precision and control. Many moving parts can be thrown out of whack quite easily. When doing deadlifts, lower back pain can be experienced if they’re performed incorrectly.
Sure, there will always be those who get by just fine but it’s not ideal to try and cut corners by throwing your lower back into the mix when it isn’t supposed to be in the motion.
You can attach a band to the middle of the bar and attach the other end to something heavy two-three feet in front of the bar. This will help increase lat tension when lifting as you struggle to keep the bar from being pulled away.
If after deadlifts, lower back pain ensues, try this lower back exercise with dumbbells or a hex bar. This will help to ensure the weight does not get too far out in front of you thus decreasing the risk of injury.
How to improve your cable rows to make it one of the best exercises for a thick back:
Just like pull-ups, take the movement slowly and grasp with handles with straight legs.
Keep a strong upper body position as your row towards your stomach, and keep your elbows tucked in. Pausing while the handles reach your body ensures control and squeeze hard before reversing back to the start position.
How to improve your dumbbell rows to make it the best lat exercise with dumbbells:
Make sure your torso is kept flat throughout the movement.
Allow the dumbbell to stretch your arm out fully. Lock your shoulder blades and squeeze your back as hard as possible throughout the movement. Pause at the top to ensure control before lowering back to the start position.
The back is a complex group of muscles that can take some time to develop. The good news is the right exercises will make it easier for you, and we’ve got plenty!
Whether you’re looking to improve your pull-ups, bent-over rows, or dumbbell rows, our guide should have what you need. We hope this article has helped educate you about how to work out your back correctly so that injury doesn’t occur.