Back exercises

best back exercises

The best back exercises

‘Our back is our basis; you shouldn’t neglect it when workout. No way! The back is our posture and the lats developed to the highest extent by everybody from the very beginning. That’s why our back as well as legs appears to be our locomotive that drags all other muscle carriages of our body. You won’t be able to get big arms and shoulders without strong and buffed muscles of back; and on the contrary: even if you don’t train your arms at all they will grow anyway in case you train appropriately such big muscle groups as legs and back.

The complexity of back muscles structure makes the task of their development rather difficult; that’s why you need to approach the back workout with all responsibility.
The main training function of our back is to perform rows; that’s why different types of rows take the first place in back workout.

Back muscle exercises should obligatory include the following movements :

  • Compound back exercise – Barbell Rows
  • Exercise for back width – Pull-Ups or Pull-downs.
  • Exercise for back thickness – all Rows (cable, machine, barbell).
  • Exercise for emphasized influence – Bent Over One-Dumbbell Rows
  • Compound exercise for total back mass – Barbell Deadlifts

Rows are the best back exercises they don’t presuppose a huge amount of work: the most important thing here is performance technique. Try to do each back exercise correctly, powerfully and try push yourself to the limit. Rows belong to power exercises; but still, you should not forget about the way of performance because quite often we tend to forget about it trying to master heavier weights. In this case efficiency of back exercises decreases and, what’s even more important, it’s possible to get a serious spine injury. There are two simple rules of back exercise workout:

  • Straight back (only slightly bent) in all rows
  • You perform rows by means of your back but not arms

Try not to strain your biceps muscles and engage them into the process of weight lifting. Imagine that your arms are just cables ended with hooks that have only one function – to hold a bar of a barbell tight. And you should pull only with the help of the lats.

It’s better to start with Barbell Rows and Pull-Ups while in the end of a session it’s better to perform Barbell Deadlifts because if you try to do a row exercise after deadlifts you simply won’t be able to do it. But if you do all rows before deadlifts – it’s fully ok; and in this case a row exercise will serve as a kind of warm-up before a deadlift one. Otherwise, erectors of back being too tired after deadlifts won’t allow you to perform any barbell rows appropriately.

I can often see guys with wide but flat lats and this is a sorry sight. Generally speaking, I can’t stop wondering at people who think that they can make their backs strong only by means of Pulldowns, Cable Rows or Hyperextensions. It’s a delusion! Numerous different rows are required for a strong back; it’s necessary to workout numerous small muscles that are little engaged by ordinary deadlifts; it’s necessary to gain pounds of meat on your bones – only in this case your back becomes strong. Only a strong back is able to survive carrying heavy objects and only a strong back will look impressive. Your back exercises are the center of your strength workout; it’s not possible to get strong shoulders, arms and legs without it.

So, perform more rows (with heavy weights and of different types)!

Back muscle exercises — Anatomy

There are a lot of good back exercises but first of all we have to understand our anatomy. Muscles of back (dorsum) cover the whole back surface of our torso. Quite often these muscles are behind but there is no problem to workout them. These are very big and strong muscle groups and it’s easy to increase their size.

back muscle exercises

Muscles of back are pair ones; they are divided into superficial and deep ones. Let’s examine major muscles of back, their position and main functions.

Superficial muscles constitute the lesser part of muscles of back and, in their turn, are positioned in two layers. Most of all we are interested in the first layer that consists of the Lats and the trapezius muscle that we can train purposefully. The second layer consists of the rhomboid muscle, shoulder blade retractor and serratus muscle.

The Lats (lat. musculus latissimus dorsi) is a relatively thin muscle which form resembles a large-area triangle. Due to this fact the muscles situated under this one take an active part in defining the back outline. This is the muscle group that burst upon the eye when an athlete is standing with his back to us.
Main function: it adducts our arms to the torso, turns them inwards, moves our shoulders, lowers raised arms and pulls our body up (in case of Pull-Ups, climbing, swimming and so on).

Trapezius muscle (lat. musculus trapezius) is a flat muscle shaped as a broad base triangle directed to the back midline; it occupies the upper part of our back and the back part of our neck.
Main function: in case of simultaneous contraction of all parts of the trapezius muscle and a fixed position of the spine our shoulder blade nears the spine.

Shoulder blade retractor (lat. musculus levator skapulae) begins with tendinous fascicles attached to cervical vertebrae; going down the muscle it’s attached to the shoulder blade edge between its spine and angle.
Main function: it raises the shoulder blade and at the same time brings it nearer to the spine.

Small and great rhomboid muscles (lat. musculus rhomboidei minor et major) are often grow together and form a single muscle. It’s attached to cervical and thoracic vertebrae and the shoulder blade edge upper its spine level.
Main function: they bring the shoulder blade closer to the spine and move it upwards at the same time.

Upper and lower serratus muscles are raising and lowering our ribs.
Deep muscles constitute the bigger part of muscles of back and, in their turn, form three layers: superficial, middle and deep ones.
Most of all we are interested in the superficial layer because it is represented by the muscle which main function is to straighten our spine: it is so-called back extensor.

Erector of back (lat. musculus erektor spinae): it’s one of the strongest muscles of this group that is spread along the whole spine (from the sacral bone to the scull base) and is responsible for the spine erection and due to this it guarantees our possibility to walk straight. The halves of this muscle positioned astride the spine are seen especially well in the lumbar area of the spine; they form a hollow situated right on the midline that can be observed most clearly exactly in the lumbar area. This erector appears to be the spine extensor and due to this it’s in opposition to abdomen muscles: together they keep our body upright. One-sided contraction of the erector of back causes flexures and extensions of our torso as well as its turns towards the working muscle part.

Muscles of the superficial layer can achieve the highest level of development; these are strong muscles that perform difficult work. They are spread along the whole back downward. The areas of their attachment occupy wide surfaces and due to this these muscles, when contracting, are able to develop great force and keep our spine upright; and the spine supports our head, ribs, upper- and underparts. According to their size these muscles are inferior only to leg ones; that’s why muscles of back and legs are considered the most important ones in basic training since they are responsible for the bigger part of training loads.



Pull-Ups conceal huge potential and I believe that this good back exercise is one of the main tools for lats development. The importance of Pull-Ups also lies in the fact that being a compound exercise it engages lots of muscles and, at the same time, cannot be considered a difficult one. All what you need to perform it is a chinning or horizontal bar.
good back exercises
Reach up and grab the bar with a firm overhand grip. In order to stretch the lats completely, imagine your palms to be nothing else but hooks by means of which your body is attached to the bar: your arms should be straightened and relaxed. This is the lowest exercise point.

Slowly pull your body up as high as possible to the bar so that you touch the bar either with your chest or with the back of your head.

The idea of Pull-Ups as the best back exercise lies in the following: the broader is your grip the heavier is the load your lats feel; the closer is your grip the more your biceps are loaded. If you perform Pull-Ups by touching the bar with the back of your head the broadest muscles stretch widthway; if you perform Pull-Ups to the front they stretch also thicknessway. In case of a close reverse grip the lower part of the lats situated in the waist area receives an additional load.


This back exercise is a ‘small brother’ of Pull-Ups; still, it allows doing this back exercise mote skillfully.


You need to position your pelvis on the bench so that the bar is situated before your chest (but not above your head). The starting position: your torso and arms are straightened; shoulders are raised up; hips are firmly fixated between the seat and bolsters; feet are pressed against the floor. The movement starts with bringing shoulder blades together; then it engages elbows that are directed backward and sideward; they start moving down strictly parallel to our body sides. Make a pause at the shoulder level and then slowly return the bar to the starting position.

Barbell Row

Though this back exercise cannot make you wider (to do it you need to workout the lats) it trains back thickness of middle and lower parts very effectively.
The best BACK EXERCISES with dumbbells and barbell
The starting position: your torso is parallel to the floor; the lower back is bent downward; you need to hold the bar with hands at shoulder width. In the lowest movement point your arms are completely straightened and the barbell is moved forward a bit. Pull the barbell to your torso arch-wise till it touches the lower part of your belly. Bring your shoulder blades together in the finishing stage of the exercise. The wider your grip is the easier it will be for you to contract the lower parts of your back muscles in the upper point of the exercise amplitude; still, when you widen your grip you sacrifice the amplitude.

The back exercise T-Bar Rows is performed in the following way; the only difference is that in this case you need to use a close grip and this leads to reduction of the exercise amplitude.

What comes to your grip, here two variants are possible: from above (palms are facing away) and from below (palms are facing you). The second variant is directed mostly to the lower lats parts.

One-Arm Dumbbell Row (back exercise with dumbbelles)

Begin with your right foot flat on the floor and your left knee resting on a flat bench. Then lean forward so that you're supporting the weight of your upper body with your left arm on the bench. Your back should be flat and bent a bit in the waist area. Reach down and pick up a dumbbell with your right hand. Your left arm should be locked at the elbow so it will support the weight of your upper body. Take a deep breath and lift the dumbbell straight upward. After you've rowed the dumbbell up as far as you can, try to hold it for several seconds in the upper point and then breath out and slowly lower it to the starting position.

back exercises with dumbbells

Your torso should always be parallel to the floor and back should be slightly bent in the lumbar area. Don’t arch your back because it’s very dangerous.

If you feel that the position of having your knee on the bench is uncomfortable for your back, try to perform this exercise with both your feet standing on the floor.

Try not to strain your biceps and row the dumbbell exclusively with the help of muscles of back and shoulders.

Seated Cable Rows

This is one of the best back exercise. It concentrates the training load mainly on the middle and lower parts of the lats. The most effective variant of its performance presupposes usage of a double handle that allows you to hold your hands parallel to each other. A straight bar in this exercise increases the load on muscles of the middle and upper parts of your back.

good back muscle exercises

Sit down at a low-pulley rowing machine with your feet flat against the footrests and your knees slightly bent. Bending only at the lumbar area, lean forward and grasp the pulley handle in front of you. Your palms should be facing each other and arms should be straightened. Keep your back FLAT and, looking forward, slowly draw the handles back to your stomach while simultaneously leaning back at the waist until your torso is perpendicular to the floor. The handles should reach your stomach just as your upper body reaches the upright position; then slowly return to the starting position.

Try to keep your torso almost motionless when performing rows (drag the cable only with muscles of back and don’t help with other ones).

Cable Pullover

Pullovers are used to shape the back and the lower part of chest muscles. You need to use relatively light weights because heavy ones provoke elbow bending and lead to reduction of load on the back.

Stay with your face to a pull-down machine and grip the bar with your hands at your shoulder widths and step approximately 10-15 inches backward. Your torso should be completely straight; back is slightly bent in the lumbar area. Strain the broadest muscles and, holding your breath, pull the bar with straight arms down to your hips. When it touches your hips strain the lats even more; then slowly return the bar with straight arms to the starting position.

Barbell Deadlifts

This is truly a great and, probably, the best back exercise. Possibly, only Barbell Squats can be named more effective than this one. Both these exercises are the most essential tools of bodybuilding. They are the starting point of strength and muscles growth. So, the exercise Barbell Deadlifts is performed in the following way:

Grip the bar with your hands (palms facing away) at your shoulder width and straighten your back. The starting position: arms are completely straight, the bar is touching your hips; waist muscles are strained; spine is slightly bent forward; chest and shoulders are straightened and your head is situated so that your eyes are looking forward. When performing this exercise, you should never arch your back; otherwise it can lead to serious back injuries.

best back exercises

When bending your knees and at the same time moving the pelvis backwards you need to lean your torso and lower the barbell along your legs. Your arms should be straight; you should keep the lumbar bend. On reaching the lowest movement point you need to strain muscles of your back thigh; then, when raising from the half-squat position, you need to pull the barbell up. The weight lifting phase is performed by means of efforts of leg muscles. When you completely straighten your torso make a small pause and strain muscles of back and legs even more.

When performing Barbell Deadlifts muscles of your back are always strained but they don’t change their length and act mostly as stabilizers fixing your spine in the appropriate position.

Traps exercises

There are a lot of good back exercises which involve Traps in workout. Trapezius muscles can be divided into three independent functional areas: upper middle and lower parts. That’s why it’s necessary to train each separate area dedicatedly. You train the middle part of trapezius muscles by means of Barbell (Dumbbell) Rows; the lower part is trained when you raise weights over your head (for example when performing Shoulder Presses); and the upper part development is achieved by means of Shrugs (there are lots of them: with a barbell or dumbbells, when positioning exercise apparatus in front of your torso, behind or on each side of it). Now we are going to pay our attention exactly to these exercises.

Upright Barbell Row

This back exercise trains both trapezius and deltoid muscles: the emphasis is put on middle deltoids + upper and middle parts of trapezius muscles.
back muscle exercises
Standing upright, grasp a barbell with both your hands (palms are facing away). The wider your grip is the more load falls on your deltoids; the closer the grip is – the more load falls on trapezius muscles. In the starting position your back is straight and slightly bent in the lumbar area; arms are straight and the bar is touching your thighs.

Strain your muscles and pull the barbell straight upright while moving elbows sideward (the movement is ‘leaded’ exactly by your elbows). When performing the movement the bar is sliding along your torso from hips to the chin. In the upper movement point your elbows are to be higher your shoulders. Then lower the barbell slowly to the starting position. The exercise speed is slow and it should be performed without jerks.

The main rule: elbows are always to be directed sideward and raised strictly upright along the torso plane. To do this exercise correctly the barbell weight should be not too heavy in order you can control it.

Barbell Shrugs

It’s a compound back exercise that trains thickness of trapezius muscles.

Set your feet at shoulder width and grip a barbell with both hands (palms are facing away) at shoulder width. Stand straight (chest is straightened, a slight bend in the lumbar area); arms are straight as well. Strain trapezius muscles and move shoulders upwards towards your ears. Imagine that you are just shrugging your shoulders when being asked about something that you don’t know. Your main task is to raise your shoulders upright as high as possible keeping all other body parts immobile. When you raise your shoulders to the maximum upper point, keep this position for a couple of seconds; then slowly return to the starting position.

The best BACK EXERCISES The main target of this exercise is the upper part of trapezius muscles that reacts to loads very actively and grows rather quickly (especially upwards and widthway). Visually it becomes apparent as buffed neck and defined prominent upper back against biffed shoulders; these features emphasize your general athletic development very well.

You shouldn’t make any rotatory movements with either head or shoulders because it’s dangerous and can result in an injury.

Dumbbell Shrugs

This exercise trains the upper and middle parts of trapezius muscles. Dumbbell shrugs allow defining the upper part of trapezius muscles much better than Barbell Shrugs.

Stay straight with your feet at shoulder width. Hold two dumbbells with your arms hanging straight at your body sides. Move the dumbbells forward and shoulders – backward.

Take a breath and raise shoulders up as far as you can by straining trapezius muscles. Raise shoulders exclusively upright and try to do it only with the help of trapezius muscles. Don’t bend elbows. When you raise your shoulders to the maximum upper point, keep this position and strain trapezius muscle for a couple of seconds; then slowly return to the starting position.

The higher you raise your shoulders the stronger the upper part of trapezius muscles and muscles that move shoulder blades contract. It directly leads to muscle mass increase; that’s why you should use heavy weights but, at the same time, you shouldn’t sacrifice the exercise amplitude. And once again: don’t rotate shoulders because it’s dangerous!

About the best back exercises and back muscles,Written by: Dennis Borisov
© June 2009 All rights reserved. Reprint article with link only.