Back Building Exercises

Strong Muscular Male BackThe back is so often neglected. People focus on building biceps, chest and abs, but forget that the back is key to many exercises that help to grow the other target areas. A strong back is essential also to develop a more athletic, functional strength. The back is as important as the core but often neglected.

The back contains a group of muscles that support and link the shoulders and spine. There are three main muscle groups in the back:

  • Trapezius (traps) – which draws the shoulder blades upwards and together.
  • Rhomboids – which aid the traps and pull the shoulder blades backwards.
  • Latissimus dorsi (the lats) – these are the muscles down the side of the back and pull your arms downwards from above.

The Most Important Back Exercises:

The Bent Over Row


The bent over row is the true power developer for the back. Ideally your should be matching bent over row reps with your bench presses to ensure that your maintain a balanced physique. Form is essential, so always go easy. Warm up the back well with several sets using a light bar, then perform your work sets. Instructions on how to perform a bent over row. An alternative to this is the reverse grip bent over row. Simply by turning your hands and holding the bar differently, you work the biceps and lats more.

The Inverted Row

An inverted row can be described as a reverse press up, or even a horizontal pull up. To perform an inverted row, simple place a bar across a squat rack / cage at about hip height, then lay under the bar, take hold, straighten your body, and then row. Keep your body straight and your core engaged, and keep movement slow and steady. On the lift squeeze your shoulder blades together while pulling your chest to the bar.

One Arm Standing Cable Row

This exercise can be performed with free weights, in the form of a one arm dumbbell row, but the standing cable row allows your to hit some different muscles sets to the bent over rows. By using the shoulder height cable your target the upper part of the back (traps and rhomboids) as well as the rear shoulders. When performing this exercise, maintain a solid core to prevent twisting, and keep the knees slightly bent. Bring the elbow back high so that your arm remains parallel to the floor.

The Shoulder Shrug

This is another exercise that is so often overlooked. The aim with the shrug is to go heavy. It is a slow movement, and you should hold the weight for a couple of seconds before lowering. Best done with a pair of dumbbells, simply hold the bells in front of your thighs, then using your shoulders, lift the bells so that your shoulders approach your ears. Keep your arms straight and keep the movement slow and steady.

The Cable Row

The cable row targets the large muscle groups. Do not use your weight or core to pull, just use your arms and back, by retracting your shoulder blades and pulling the cable handles in to your chest.

The One Arm Row

The one arm row is an important exercise. Like the dumbbell curl, it ensures that you do not under work your weakest arm. When performing one arm rows (or curls for the matter) always start with your weakest arm, and then match your reps with the stronger. Avoid the temptation to work your stronger arm more. The idea of this exercise is to balance yourself. Best performed with one knee and hand resting on a bench, while the opposite leg supports the opposite arm as your row. Slow and steady movement, bring the bell to the ribs and lower slowly.

The Lat Pull Down

This exercise targets the latissimus dorsi (also referred to as your wings). A lat pull down machine is required for this exercise, and to lift heavy you will need to be able to anchor your legs down so that you do not lift yourself.

The Upright Row

The upright row works the shoulder and traps together. Start by holding a barbell down in front of your, hands a little closer than shoulder width apart. Lift straight up raising your elbows upwards and outwards.

The Dumbbell Pullover

Pullovers work your lats and chest together, and a a great compound exercise for building a stronger back. Start by laying on a bench and hold a dumbbell in a vertical position, in front of your face. Then, with core muscles engaged, lower the bell behind your head in a slow, steady movement, then return. Keep your back straight, core engaged, do not arch your back or over extend the bell (or risk dropping it!).

The Clean and Press

This classic Olympic weight lifting move ensures that your get all your back and shoulder muscles working in unison. It uses almost all the muscles in the body too. It is a classic athletic and martial artist weight training move, which builds functional strength. Form is essential to avoid injury. Learn more about the clean and press / jerk.

The Pull Up

Considered by some to be the ultimate back builder. This is possibly to biggest test for your upper body strength. It is the squat for the upper body. Simply grab a pull up bar, hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Then pull up until your chin is level with the bar, and lower slowly. If you cannot do a pull up, then aid the lift with a jump / use a bench, and slowly lower. Uses the “negatives” method of training the back to build strength will provide a foundation, which will mean you will eventually be able to do an unassisted pull up. Follow this pull up plan to help you progress.

The are the main exercises for the back. Although you should not perform all of these in one session, theses exercises mean that your can add variety to your back working, and splitting the workout with legs, chest or arms, means that you can develop a split routine to work your whole body effectively over a weekly / fortnightly period.

More like this in the Strength Training section

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