11 Exercises for Your Best Back Workout

11 Exercises for Your Best Back Workout

Many people focus on building their “mirror muscles” (think: chest, shoulders, arms, and abs).

But to create a well-rounded physique, you don’t want to skimp on back workouts to sculpt the other side of your body, too.

Whether you’re wearing a bathing suit, a tank top, or a backless dress, a well-built back shows the world you’ve got it where it counts.

Physically and aesthetically, there’s no substitute for a strong, muscular back, which is why you should include back workouts into your regularly scheduled routine.

To help you get started, here are some of the best back exercises we know.

1. Dumbbell Reverse Grip Row

Appears in: The Master’s Hammer and Chisel – Total Body Chisel

Benefits: This move can help improve posture by challenging the upper and lower back simultaneously.

  • Stand upright, feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, holding two medium to heavy dumbbells in front of your body, palms facing forward.
  • With your shoulder blades pulled back, hinge forward at the hips until your upper body forms about a 45-degree angle to the floor.
  • Keeping your palms turned forward, squeeze your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows, pulling the weights up toward your rib cage.
  • Reverse the move and repeat.

2. Dumbbell Pullover

Benefits: This move is a great way to work your lats, while also strengthening your shoulders and core.

  • Holding a set of dumbbells, lay with your back flat on a bench or stability ball.
  • With your feet planted on the ground and your core engaged, extend your arms to the sky, holding the dumbbells together above your chest.
  • With a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower your arms overhead until your biceps reach your ears.
  • Slowly bring your arms back to above your chest and repeat.

3. Renegade Row

Appears in: SHIFT SHOP – Strength :25

Benefits: Challenge your upper back and lats while you also work your core and shoulder stabilizers.

  • Assume a push-up position with your hands just outside shoulder-width, gripping two light dumbbells. Your feet should be in line with your hands.
  • Lift the dumbbell in your right hand off the floor, bringing your hand to the outside of your ribs while keeping your right elbow close to your side. Resist rotation of the body.
  • Lower the right dumbbell to the floor and repeat with your left arm, alternating sides.

4. Alternating Row and Lunge

Appears in: Autumn’s BOD Exclusives – Kill Cupcake

Benefits: This move works multiple parts of the upper back (lats, traps, and scapular retractors) with light weights, challenging the muscle fibers responsible for endurance.

  • Stand holding two medium to light dumbbells at your sides, palms facing in toward your body.
  • Take a big step forward with your left leg, bending it to assume a deep lunge position, keeping your right leg straight.
  • Bend forward at your hip, attempting to lay your torso on top of your left thigh. Let your arms hang straight down to the sides of your left leg.
  • Bring the dumbbell in your right hand up to the outside of your ribs while keeping your elbow close to your side.
  • Reverse the move and repeat with your left arm, alternating sides.

5. EZ Bar Row

Appears in: Body Beast – Build: Back/Bis

Benefits: This move challenges the large muscles of the upper back to move a heavy load, while the lower back stabilizes and protects the spine.

  • Stand upright, feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, holding an EZ bar in front of your body with a wide grip, palms facing forward.
  • Keeping your lower back in its natural arch and your shoulder blades pulled back, hinge forward at the hips until your upper body forms about a 45-degree angle to the floor, and the bar is near your knees.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows, pulling the bar up until it contacts your lower abdomen.
  • Reverse the move and repeat.

6. Chin-Up

Appears in: The Master’s Hammer and Chisel – Iso Speed Hammer

Benefits: This classic move is a great to way to widen and shape your lats, creating that wide V-shape in your upper back.

  • Take an underhand grip on a pull-up bar.
  • Pull yourself upward until your chin clears the bar, keeping your back straight and core tight as you pull yourself up.
  • Lower yourself until your arms straighten, and repeat.
  • Too tough? Use a chin-up assist band to make it easier.

7. Close-Grip Oblique Twist

Appears in: INSANITY: THE ASYLUM Volume 2 – Back & 6 Pack

Benefits: This move widens and shapes the lats and it adds an isometric challenge for the upper back and a challenge to obliques and core.

  • Take an overhand on a pull-up bar.
  • Pull yourself upward until your chin clears the bar, keeping your back straight and core tight as you pull yourself up.
  • Holding the top position of the pull-up, lift your knees toward your chest as high as possible.
  • Keeping your knees drawn up and squeezed together, contract the obliques on your right side, as if trying to touch the outside of your right hip to your right elbow.
  • Repeat on your left side.
  • Lower your knees, straighten your arms, return to the starting position, and repeat.

8. Lunge Twist Pull

Appears in: 22 Minute Hard Corps – Resistance 2 (as “Punch Pull”)

Benefits: This move works your lats and upper traps in conjunction with your lateral and rear deltoids. The lunge movement also fires up the muscles in your lower body.

  • Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, holding a medium-weight dumbbell in your right hand at shoulder-height.
  • Pivot to the left on the balls of your feet, bend both knees into a lunge, and punch toward your left foot on the floor with your right hand.
  • As you return to the standing position, place your left hand on the dumbbell and forcefully drive your right elbow backward, pivoting and rotating your torso to the right.
  • Repeat on your left side, and do equal reps on both sides.

9. Superman Lat Pull

Appears in: THE 20s – Megan’s Workouts: Pyrashape

Benefits: Using a resistance band, this move strengthens your entire back, from your waistline to the back of your neck.

  • Holding a light resistance band, lie on your stomach with your arms extended overhead, chest and arms lifted off the floor, and palms facing down. This is your starting position.
  • Keeping both arms straight, trace a half-circle with your right arm, extending it directly out to the side and down toward your right thigh. Your left arm should remain straight overhead.
  • Reverse the move, slowly returning to the starting position.
  • Repeat with your left arm, and do equal reps on both sides.

10. Arm Balance Row

arm balance row | Back Workouts

Benefits: This move emphasizes the muscles of the upper back, as well as your shoulders and core.

  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, start in a high plank position with your wrists under your shoulders and your head, hips, and heels in a straight line.
  • Pull your right hand to your ribcage then fully extend it to the sky as you twist to the right side. Make sure your arm extends directly over your shoulder and not behind you.
  • Return to the high plank position then repeat on the other side.
  • Continue alternating, doing equal reps on both sides.

11. Resistance Rows

resistance row | Back Workouts

Benefits: Resistance rows are simple but effective, working your entire upper back and deltoids.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart on the center of a resistance band. Wrap one end around each foot and cross the handles.
  • Bend your knees slightly and lean your chest forward slightly, keeping your back straight.
  • Keep your core engaged and your back straight as you pull your hands up to your rib cage, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top.
  • Release your arms and repeat.

Back Muscle Anatomy

back muscle anatomy | Back Workouts

Across the rugged topography of your back are over a dozen different muscles.

Some of them — like the trees minor — stabilize movement at your shoulder girdle; others — including the erector spine — extend your spine, helping to keep you upright.

But the primary focus of back workouts is usually the two largest muscle groups in your back: the trapezius and latissimus dorsi muscles.

Trapezius Anatomy

This is a kite-shaped muscle which extends from the back of your neck to your shoulder blades and down to your mid-back.

Your traps are responsible for moving your shoulder blades upward (as in a shrugging movement) and inward (as in a rowing movement).

When they’re well-developed, the traps keep your posture in check and give your mid-back depth and detail.

Many people, guys especially, focus exclusively on the upper portion of this muscle — the bands of muscle that give gymnasts and football players that thick-necked look.

But that can be a mistake, says Cody Braun, NASM performance enhancement specialist. “When improperly trained, the traps can round your shoulders, which causes a postural dysfunction and a higher likelihood of injury.”

Solve the problem by focusing on mid- and lower-trap exercises instead, using movements that emphasize retracting the shoulder blades.

Latissimus Dorsi Anatomy

Often shortened to “lats,” this fan-shaped muscle originates at your mid- and lower back and attaches to your upper arms.

It pulls your arms downward and behind your body (as in a pull-up movement) and directly backward (as in a rowing movement).

The lats are your primary “pulling” muscles, and when they’re developed, they give your back that unmistakeable “V” shape.

The lats, Braun explains, are often underdeveloped and tight. Strengthening and stretching the muscle is key for good posture and full mobility — particularly in the shoulder joint, he says.

How Do You Build a Bigger Back?

To ensure that you get the most out of your back workouts, it’s essential to consider not just what you do in the gym but what you do outside of it as well.

That includes stress management, sleep, stretching, and diet.

When you’re doing challenging back workouts (or any strength workouts), you need to keep an eye on your protein and calorie intake, making sure you eat enough to help your muscles grow and repair.

For more information on pre- and post-workout supplements, the Beachbody Performance line is a great place to start.