Do you want a jacked back? What about better posture and less back pain? If either (or all) of those appeal to you, you ought to make it a priority to include some more back exercises in your workout.
Not sure which back exercises you should be doing? Don’t worry, I’ve got you!
Listed below are my five favorite back exercises, along with an explanation of why they’re my favorites.
Why Bother with Back Exercises?
Some folks might be hesitant about adding more (or any) back exercises into their routine. I think this is especially common among women who are worried about getting “bulky” or looking “manly” (can we let this myth die already — for real, I’d love to get bulky, but it’s really hard to do unless you’re eating a f*ck ton and/or getting some pharmaceutical-grade help).
Regardless of whether you care about your back looking jacked or not, though, there are a ton of benefits that come with strengthening your back muscles, including the following:
- Improved Posture: We spend so much time these days with our shoulders rounded forward — back exercises help to strengthen the muscles needed to pull our shoulders back so we can sit and stand up straight
- Less Pain: By strengthening our back muscles so that we stand up straighter, we can alleviate and prevent a lot of back pain
- Create the Illusion of a Smaller Waist: If the idea of better posture and less pain doesn’t appeal to you, maybe this will — strengthening and growing the muscles of the back helps to create the illusion of a smaller waist and allows you to develop more of an hourglass shape
Whether you’re focused on aesthetics, functionality, or both, there are plenty of reasons to make back training a priority.
Top 5 Back Exercises
Ok, you get it, it’s good to work on your back. What kind of back exercises should you be doing, though?
These five are some of my personal favorites. I think they give you the most bang for your buck and will help you build a better looking, stronger back faster than other exercises.
This list definitely isn’t exhaustive, of course, but these are just some of my favorite exercises that I wanted to share:
1. Barbell Deadlift
I talk about deadlifts a lot, and there’s a reason they ranked in my article about the top five types of exercises everyone ought to be doing — because they’re a freaking powerhouse exercise!
Most people think of them as a lower body exercise, and it’s true that they do target the hamstrings, glutes, and calves. That’s not all, though.
They’re great for all the muscles that make up the posterior chain (back of the body). This includes the lats (short for latissimus dorsi), the rhomboids, and all the other major muscles of the back.
Some people are hesitant to do barbell deadlifts because they hurt their lower backs. If this is the case for you, I have a few recommendations.
First, lower the weight and really focus on your form. It’s better to lift light and correctly than heavy with form that increases your injury risk.
Second, think less about pulling the bar up and more about pushing down into the floor. This will help you engage your lower body and take some of the stress off your lower back.
Third, think about “packing your lats” before you lift the bar. Push your shoulder blades down and back and squeeze your lats to make sure they’re helping you through the exercise.
2. Barbell Row
Another great barbell exercise to add into your routine for a better back is the barbell row. Barbell rows help to strengthen the lats and rhomboids, and they’re a great “pulling” exercise to help you work on your posture.
When I’m doing barbell rows, I like to go a little lighter and really focus on protracting and retracting my shoulder blades.
I think this helps more with posture and strengthening the rhomboids and lower trapezius muscles (these muscles tend to be weak in people who spend a lot of time hunching over a computer, looking at their phones, driving in their car, etc.).
This definitely isn’t the only way to do barbell rows, of course, it’s just my preference.
It’s easy to assume that pull-ups are an arm exercise, and it’s true that they do require arm strength to do properly. However, if you rely only on your arms to pull you up, you’re probably going to have a hard time squeezing out more than one or two pull-ups.
If you use your lats and other back muscles to initiate the movement, it’ll be much easier for you to pull yourself up.
I recommend doing these with a band first to get used to the movement and get a sense of how it feels to use your back muscles while getting some assistance on the way up.
You can also do negative pull-ups (starting at the top with the help of a chair or a good jump and then slowly lowering yourself down) to get the same effect.
I think pullovers are a super underrated back exercise. I even wrote a post all about them a while ago.
Pullovers are great for the lats and are a good activation exercise to do before going into other compound exercises. If you have trouble feeling your lats working when you do pull-ups, for example, you might want to try doing pullovers first with a light dumbbell or resistance band.
Doing pullovers first will help to activate your lats and strengthen your mind-muscle connection. This, in turn, can help to turn them “on” when you go to do pull-ups (or rows or deadlifts or any other back exercise).
5. Single-Arm Rows
Last, but not least, I want to show some love to single-arm rows.
Some people might argue with me about this and say that you don’t need to do single-arm rows if you’re doing barbell rows. I disagree, though.
I think single-arm rows are great for correcting muscle imbalances so we can lift more weight when we go to do two-arm exercises (such as barbell rows).
Single-arm rows, when done with light weights, can also be a good activation exercise, similar to pullovers.
Try These Exercises Today!
Are you ready to start working on your back muscles? Try adding one (or more) of these five back exercises into your next workout. If you do them on a consistent basis, you’ll start seeing changes before you know it, especially if back-specific training is new to you!
What’s your favorite back exercise? Comment below and let me know!