Build a Stronger Back With The Best Back Exercises

Building a strong, defined back is hard. It's a huge muscle group that is comprised of smaller (and stubborn) muscles. But aesthetic reasons aside, a stronger back is beneficial outside and inside of the gym! A strong back will stabilize your spine and improve your posture, help you twist your torso, and pull your arms in and down from overhead. This will help make everyday activities easier, and even better, it will help you lift more weight efficiently which in turn will help you build better overall muscle and strength!

It may be difficult and take time to build muscle on your back, but on the upside, consistently doing the best back strengthening exercises will help get you on the right track! That said, we have a list of the best back exercises that target your upper, middle, and lower back so you can get on the right track.

Deadlift

Despite popular belief, the classic barbell deadlift is not only an excellent exercise for your leg days, but it also works your back muscles! Aside from working your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, it also works your upper and lower back muscles.

This is an advanced move, so beginners should work their way up to it by building back and lower body strength.

How to do it:

  1. Place a loaded barbell on the floor in front of you and stand with your mid-foot under the barbell.
  2. Bend over and grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip.
  3. Begin to bend your knees until your shins touch the bar, lift your chest up and straighten your lower back. Make sure to look a few feet ahead of you.
  4. Inhale deeply and begin to stand up pulling the barbell up with you. You should be standing tall with your chest open, spine neutral, and everything still engaged and tight.
  5. Bring the bar back down by unlocking your hips so they slowly move backward. Maintain the bar close to your thighs and continue hinging at the hips until the bar is past your knees. Then Bend your knees to fully lower the bar down to the ground.

Bent over row

If there's one exercise you should prioritize on back day, it's this one! Bent-over rows work nearly your entire back, specifically the lats, middle and lower trapezius, the rhomboid, and the posterior deltoids. To get the most out of this exercise we suggest using a barbell, but beginners can still reap the muscle-building exercises by using a pair of dumbbells!

How to do it:

  1. Place a barbell in front of you on the floor and load it with the appropriate weight for your fitness level.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and bend over the bar with your back straight. Grasp bar with a wide overhand grip.
  3. Begin by engaging your core and lifting the weight up and towards your body, near your belly button. Pull your elbows back while moving the barbell in a controlled manner.
  4. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pause for a couple of seconds. Then lower the weight.

Seated cable row

You're going to see many rowing exercises on this list and that's because they're simply the best at working your back! Although most prefer to use free weights, the cable machine helps work your back differently by providing tension throughout the entire movement. This is something free weights can't offer! This specific exercise targets your lats, biceps, and triceps, but using a different handle or a wider grip can help change up what muscles are targeted. We'll be focusing on the classic seated row to target the lats.

How to do it:

  1. Sit down on the machine and place your feet on the front of the platform. Keep your knees slightly bent.
  2. Lean over to grab the V-bar handles and with your arms extended, pull back until your torso is at a 90-degree angle from your legs.
  3. Keeping your torso stationary, begin to pull the handles back towards your torso while keeping the arms close to your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades as you hold the handle close to your torso.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position.

Lat pulldown

Pull-ups aren't on this list, but everyone knows that it is a killer back exercise! However, they're hard to master... one way to get on the right track to doing a pull-up is by incorporating lat pulldowns in your workout routine! The movement is similar to a pull-up except its reversed and focuses on you pulling the weight towards you instead of pulling your weight up.

This exercise is known for targeting the lats, but it also hits other muscles on your back, including the posterior deltoids, rhomboid, and trapezius.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on a lat pulldown machine and place your knees under the provided pads. Position the pads so that your thighs are not able to raise up off the bench.
  2. Grasp the lat bar with a wider than a shoulder-width grip. This is the starting position. 
  3. Begin by pulling the bar down to your upper chest. Focus on using your lats to pull the bar down and not your arms. Squeeze your upper back muscles hard.
  4. Slowly reverse the movement back to starting position.

Inverted row

This is another great training exercise that will help you achieve a pull-up! Once you've mastered lat pulldowns and gained some back strength try this bodyweight exercise that mimics chin-ups. Except it requires you to lift your weight at an angle to help make it a little bit easier. Inverted rows work your lats, traps, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, and erector spinae

How to do it:

  1. Find a rack and place a bar on the lower level so that it’s near the ground. Lay under it, making sure that the bar is low enough so that you can grab it with your arms extended without reaching too far up but low enough so that you don’t have to bend your elbows.
  2. Place your hands on the bar with an underhand grip wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping the rest of your body in a straight line, make sure that your feet are close together for balance.
  3. Begin the movement by flexing your elbows and pulling your body weight up and toward the bar. Be careful not to arch your back or let your hips sink to the ground.
  4. When your chest reaches the bar, hold the position for a moment, then slowly lower yourself and repeat.

Straight arm pulldown

This is a great variation of the classic lat pulldown that works the lats, but also the posterior deltoids and rhomboids!

How to do it:

  1. Stand in front of the lat pulldown machine and grasp the bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keeping arms straight, abs tight, and elbows locked, slowly pull the bar towards you until it reaches just below your waist.
  3. Pause for a moment and slowly lower the weight to the starting position, not letting the weight touch the weight stack. 

Face pull

This is another excellent cable back exercise that works your upper back and shoulders, including your traps, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, and rotator cuffs.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a rope with a handle to the cable machine so it is slightly above eye level.
  2. Stand straight in front of the machine with your feet shoulder-width apart, and grab the handle with both hands.
  3. Start slowly pulling the rope towards your face, drawing your elbows back and out to your sides.
  4. When you’re face to face with the rope, pause for a moment and then go back to the starting position and repeat.

Dumbbell pullover

This is a great free weight back exercise that helps target your lats, but also your pecs! To help target your back more, use an incline bench as opposed to a flat one.

How to do it:

  1. Grab a dumbbell with both hands under the inner plate of the dumbbell. Lie on your back on an incline bench, your head should be towards the floor. Flex hips slightly. 
  2. Position the dumbbell over the chest with elbows slightly bent. 
  3. Keeping elbows bent slightly throughout the movement, lower the dumbbell over and past your head until your upper arms are in line with the torso. Move slow and controlled to feel the lats do the work.
  4. Exhale and pull the dumbbell up and over the chest.

Meadows row

This is a unilateral exercise that helps target your middle back, including your lats, traps, and rear deltoids. This is a great exercise for advanced lifters because it helps target your back one side at a time.

How to do it:

  1. Load the end of a barbell and lock the opposite end against a squat rack or a corner, making sure it’s secured so it doesn’t slip (or use a landmine set up at the gym).
  2. Stand next to the landmine so that the bar is facing completely to your right side, pointing at you, and grab the and with your right hand with an overhand grip.
  3. Take a staggered stance, with your left leg slightly in front of you, and hinge at the hips and knees so that your torso is at about 45 degrees. You can rest your left hand or forearm on your left thigh for stability.
  4. Begin the movement by engaging your core and row the bar up and toward you until it’s near your chest and your right arm is almost parallel to the floor.
  5. At the top of the movement, make sure to squeeze your arm and back muscles, then slowly lower the bar and repeat. Finish your reps and switch to the other side.

Back extensions

This is a great back strengthening exercise that only requires your body and a back extension machine! It helps target your lower back muscles, specifically the erector spinae muscles, but it also engages your pecs, shoulders, glutes, and hamstrings.

How to do it:

  1. Set the pad of the machine so that when you lie on it, the pad supports your lower body on the upper part of your thighs.
  2. Get on the machine and secure your feet behind the ankle pads while folding your arms as if you were hugging yourself.
  3. Begin by bending forward at the waist and lowering your torso until your upper body is at 90 degrees.
  4. Pause for a moment, then go back up and straighten your body, stretching your back. Be careful not to hyperextend, and repeat.

Train your back two times a week using the above exercises and do 3-5 sets for 6-15 reps (depending on the weight) to start building strength in your back. Plus, there are even more back exercises that are variations of these that you can try to switch things up! Oh and don't forget to take a scoop of 373 Lab Whey or Vegan Protein after your workout for optimal recovery 😉

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best back exercises