Working your back is critical for maintaining strong posture, muscular balance, and a compact core. Overworked, dominant pecs, abs, and front delts (the front part of your shoulders) cause the body to hunch forward, which often produces slouched, “gorilla” posture.
You don’t want that to happen. Consistently thrashing your back muscles is essential in order to keep the body aligned in optimal position.
Plus, back strength is functional. The next time you’re rowing a kayak, climbing an oak tree, picking up your grandma’s couch, or dangling from a fire escape, well, you’ll thank me. Powerful pecs aren’t quite as useful.
A quick anatomy lesson: the “back” isn’t actually a muscle itself; it’s the composite of various muscles, each of which varies in size and prominence. Here are few of the biggies —
- The lats and trapezius (aka traps) span the largest area, running from the base of the neck all the way down to the hips. They make up the bulk of the back’s muscle mass and generate the most force. The traps aren’t just the humps on top of your shoulders — they also dominate the inner part of the upper back.
- The rhomboids, infraspinatus, and teres are smaller muscles that run diagonally across the width of the upper back. Aesthetically, they add major definition and distinct cuts behind the scapula (your shoulder blades). They’re typically hit while working the lats and traps (via rows, pull-ups, etc.).
- The erector spinae runs vertically in columns along the vertebrae and makes up most of the muscle in the lower back. It’s a critical element in all-around core strength.
Smart training effectively smashes all regions of the back in balance.
Throw 4-6 of your favorites into each back workout .
Back Exercise 1: Deadlifts
Primary Muscles: Back (All)
- 1. For each rep start in a low squat position and grab the bar with an overhand grip (A).
- 2. Sit back in your hips, push through your heels, ascend upward, and raise your torso until you’re in a full stand (B) — maintain a tight core and straight back throughout the motion.
- 3. Slowly lower under control by dropping your torso and hips down until the bar touches the floor (A).
Primary Muscles: Back (All)
- 1. Hold a barbell in front of your body with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width.
- 2. Tighten your core, straighten your back, and drop your torso down to 60º.
- 3. Powerfully contract your back and biceps, and pull the barbell upwards into the top of your core. Hold for 1s and return down to a full extension. Repeat.
Primary Muscles: Back (All), Obliques, Lats
- 1. Place your left knee and left hand firmly anchored on a flat bench. Your left hand should serve as support for your body.
- 2. Maintain a tight core and flat back, contract your lats and biceps, and slowly row the dumbbell upwards until it’s above your torso.
- 3. Hold 1s and slowly lower the dumbbell to a full extension — you should feel a stretch throughout your upper backout. Repeat.
Back Exercise 4: Renegade Dumbbell Rows
Primary Muscles: Back (All), Core, Lats,
- 1. Assume push up position with two dumbbells (neutral grip) (A).
- 2. While keeping your core tight and back flat, powerfully row your right arm up until it’s slightly above your torso (B). Don’t rotate your body.
- 3. Hold the contraction for 1s, return to the bottom (A), and repeat for the opposite arm.
Back Exercise 5: Pull-Ups & Lat Pull-Downs
Primary Muscles: Back (All), Lats,
1. Hang from a pull-up bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width — wider grips target the lats & teres; narrower grips hit more of the rhomboids and traps.
2. Contract your lats, tighten your core, and and pull your body up until the top of your chest is at bar height.
3. Slowly release down to the bottom until you’re at a full hang. Repeat.
4. If pull-ups are too difficult at first, work your way up with lat pull-downs.
Back Exercise 6: Chin-Ups
Primary Muscles: Back (All), Biceps, Lats, Teres
1. Hang from a pull up bar with an underhand grip (palms facing up) shoulder width apart.
2. Contract your biceps and powerfully pull your chest up to the bar.
3. Lower down to full a extension. Repeat.
Back Exercise 7: T Bar Rows
Primary Muscles: Back (All), Rhomboids, Biceps
1. Place a loaded barbell in between your legs. You can either use a narrow-grip cable attachment and place it under the bar, or directly hold the bar with a stagnated grip.
2. Drop your torso down to 45°, tighten your core, and maintain strong posture — keep your lower back stiff and don’t let it arch (1).
3. Contract your lats and traps and pull the bar up into your chest (2). Hold the contraction for 1s and slowly release the bar back down to the ground (1). Repeat.
Back Exercise 8: Incline Dumbbell Rows
Primary Muscles: Back (All), Lats, Rhomboids
1. Set a bench to a 45º incline and lie face down (A).
2. Grab two dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms inward), contract your biceps and lats, and powerfully row the weights upwards (B). Keep your core tight and chest pressed against the bench throughout; squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top for 1s.
3. Lower to full extension (A). Repeat.
Back Exercise 9: Narrow Grip Seated Cable Rows
Primary Muscles: Back, Biceps, Rhomboids, Trapezius
1. Sit at a cable station with a narrow-grip attachment. Lean back slightly with bent knees (A).
2. Maintain a flat back and tight core, contract your biceps, and pull the cable into your chest (B). Don’t swing or use momentum.
3. Hold 1s, return to full extension (A), and repeat.
Back Exercise 10: Inverted Bodyweight Rows
Primary Muscles: Back (All)
1. Place an unloaded barbell on a rack.
2. Lie underneath the bar and hold it slightly wider than shoulder width.
3. Raise your hips off the floor, straighten your body, and form a 45º angle with the floor — that’s your starting position.
4. Contract your back and pull your chest up to the bar. Hold for 1s and release down slowly to starting position.
Back Exercise 11: Dumbbell Pullovers
Target Muscles: Lats
1. Lie flat on a bench with a dumbbell raised straight up over your chest (1) — hold it so that your palms are pressing up on the top disc.
2. Keep your core tight and lower the dumbbell behind your head, slightly below the height of the bench (2).
3. With your arms straight, contract your lats and pull the the weight up back to start(1). Repeat. You can also do pullovers on a stability ball, or perpendicular do a bench with your hips raised (it’s more difficult and engages the core more).
Back Exercise 12: Lying Supermans
Target Muscles: Lower Back
1. Lie flat on the ground with your arms extended in front of your face (1).
2. Raise your legs, chest, and arms off the ground and squeeze your lower back (2).
3. Hold the squeeze for 1s and lower back down to start (1).