The 23 Best Back Exercises for Strength and Muscle Gain

A big, strong back can take you far in your athletic endeavors. The back muscles help you to twist your torso, pull your arms in and down from overhead, and, most importantly, stabilize your spine. When you train these essential muscles, you’ll be more efficient at pulling and twisting motions in general. Also, a bigger and stronger back will help you deadlift and bench press more weight more efficiently.

We’re going to layout 16 of the best back exercises you could choose from, and you’ll also learn a lot more about why back training is essential and just how to implement these movements into your exercise regimen. 

Best Back Exercises

  • Deadlift
  • Pull-Up
  • Bent-Over Row
  • Chest Supported Row
  • Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Inverted Row
  • TRX Suspension Row
  • Lat Pulldown
  • Neutral Grip Pulldown
  • Seated Cable Row (for Lats)
  • Seated Cable Row (for Upper Back)
  • Cable Trap Shrug
  • Cable Rope Pullover
  • Landmine Row
  • Farmer’s Carry
  • Towel Chin-Up
  • Straight-Arm Pulldown
  • Kroc Row
  • Pendlay Row
  • Face Pull
  • Seal Row
  • Meadows Row
  • Back Hyperextension
Índice
  1. Best Back Exercises
  • Deadlift
    1. Benefits of the Deadlift
    2. How to Do the Deadlift
  • Pull-Up
    1. Benefits of the Pull-Up
    2. How to Do the Pull-Up
  • Bent-Over Row
    1. Benefits of the Bent-Over Row
    2. How to Do the Bent-Over Row
  • Chest Supported Row
    1. Benefits of the Chest Supported Row
    2. How to Do the Chest Supported Row
  • Single-Arm Row
    1. Benefits of the Single-Arm Row
    2. How to Do the Single-Arm Row
  • Inverted Row
    1. Benefits of the Inverted Row
    2. How to Do the Inverted Row
  • TRX Suspension Row
    1. Benefits of the TRX Suspension Row
    2. How to Do the TRX Suspension Row
  • Lat Pulldown
    1. Benefits of the Lat Pulldown
    2. How to Do the Lat Pulldown
  • Neutral Grip Pulldown
    1. Benefits of the Neutral Grip Pulldown
    2. How to Do the Neutral Grip Pulldown
  • Seated Cable Row (for Lats)
    1. Benefits of the Seated Cable Row (for Lats)
    2. How to Do the Seated Cable Row (for Lats)
  • Seated Cable Row (for Upper Back)
    1. Benefits of the Seated Cable Row (for Upper Back)
    2. How to Do the Seated Cable Row (for Upper Back)
  • Cable Trap Shrug
    1. Benefits of the Cable Trap Shrug
    2. How to Do the Cable Trap Shrug
  • Cable Rope Pullover
    1. Benefits of the Cable Rope Pullover
    2. How to Do the Cable Rope Pullover
  • Landmine Row
    1. Benefits of the Landmine Row
    2. How to Do the Landmine Row
  • Farmer’s Carry
    1. Benefits of the Farmer’s Carry
    2. How to Do the Farmer’s Carry
  • Towel Chin-Up
    1. Benefits of the Towel Chin-Up
    2. How to Do the Towel Chin-Up
  • Straight-Arm Pulldown
    1. Benefits of the Straight-Arm Pulldown
    2. How to Do the Straight-Arm Pulldown
  • Kroc Row
    1. Benefits of the Kroc Row
  • Deadlift

    The deadlift is one of the best compound exercises you can do to add serious amounts of strength and muscle mass to the back (as well as the hips and hamstrings). It can stress the back using moderate to heavy loads and can often be trained in higher volumes and loads, ultimately offering a one-of-a-kind training stimulus.

    Although the back muscles do not contribute directly to the range of motion of the deadlift, their involvement is paramount for keeping the spine safe, and for holding the loads necessary for growth.

    Benefits of the Deadlift

    • It activates your back, but also your hamstrings, glutes, and the muscles in your hips.
    • You can load up the deadlift with a lot of weight (once you’re strong enough) to elicit major strength gains. 
    • It can be done with high loads or training volumes to help produce muscle and strength gains in the upper and lower body.

    How to Do the Deadlift

    Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart, hips back, and back flat. The knees should be bent slightly to allow you to grip the bar tightly slightly wider than shoulder-width. Keeping your back flat and chest up, tighten the back muscles, and straighten the arms as you load the pull. With everything locked, aggressively push your legs into the floor as you simultaneously pull your chest and shoulders upwards, lifting the bar to the hip.

    Pull-Up

    Don’t assume the pull-up is less effective than the other moves on this list because it’s a bodyweight exercise. Pulling your body weight creates a level of instability that recruits your core muscles for stability.

    Also, if you’re on the heavier side, then you’re still pulling on a lot of weight. Lastly, it’s always nice when you need little equipment to get a good workout in

    Benefits of the Pull-Up

    • You only need a pull-up bar to do this move, which you can buy for your home gym or find at a park.
    • Stabilizing your own body weight will also recruit the muscles in your core. 
    • Your muscles will still respond to the relatively heavy load that is your own body.

    How to Do the Pull-Up

    Assume an overhead grip on the bar, slightly wider than shoulder-width. With the arms relaxed and shoulders elevated up to the ears, contract the core and upper back as you initiate the pull-up. Aim to pull your chin to or above the bar level, driving your shoulders away from the ears. 

    Bent-Over Row

    The bent-over row offers a lot of exercise variability. If you have access to kettlebells and dumbbells, you can row those or stick with the traditional barbell variation.

    By hinging at your hips to row the weight to your stomach, you can really engage your entire posterior chain, from the hamstrings to the traps. 

    Benefits of the Bent-Over Row

    • You can effectively perform the bent-over row with various tools such as kettlebells, dumbbells, or even on a cable machine. 
    • You overload your muscles more efficiently as you’re able to move a lot of weight in the bent-over row position. 

    How to Do the Bent-Over Row

    Set up as you would for your deadlift by standing feet shoulder-width apart in front of a loaded barbell. Hinge at the hips until your torso is about parallel to the floor. Grab the barbell with a grip that’s a bit wider than your typical deadlift grip. Lean back, so your weight is on your heels, and row the barbell, leading the pull with your elbow until it touches around your belly button. 

    Chest Supported Row

    The chest support is, obviously, the key element of this row variation. It takes the momentum out of the equation and forces you to rely solely on your muscles to move the weight.

    This variation also takes the strain off of your lower back, since you don’t have to support yourself in a hinge position. 

    Benefits of the Chest Supported Row

    • This move isolates your back muscles so you can activate them to the fullest extent. 
    • Not standing takes the onus off of your lower back to support your torso, relieving low back pressure. 

    How to Do the Chest Supported Row

    Set a workout bench to a 45-degree incline and lay face down on it so your chest and stomach are supported. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and then row them to your sides until your elbows pass your torso. Slowly lower the weight under control.

    Single-Arm Row

    The single-arm dumbbell row is a unilateral row variation that can increase upper back strength, hypertrophy, and correct muscular asymmetries.

    Additionally, it can help to increase arm and grip strength. There are a few variations fo this exercise, but the most popular has you brace the same-side knee and arm on a weight bench while rowing a dumbbell with the free hand.

    Benefits of the Single-Arm Row

    • By working one side of the body at a time, you can more easily address muscular imbalances. 
    • In addition to targeting your back muscles, you’ll also seriously increase your grip strength as you squeeze a heavy dumbbell as hard as possible. 

    How to Do the Single-Arm Row

    Stand next to a bench so that it’s parallel to you. Place the same-side hand and knee on it, and firmly plant your other foot onto the floor. Reach down with your free hand and grab a dumbbell. Keep your back flat and your head in a neutral position. Row the dumbbell to your side until your elbow passes your torso. Complete all of your reps on one side and then switch.

    Inverted Row

    The inverted row is a bodyweight movement that can build similar back, arm, and grip strength as the pull-up.

    However, the inverted row is generally easier to do since you’re not rowing your complete bodyweight. This is a great move for beginners to build up both their back strength and body control.

    Benefits of the Inverted Row

    • You’ll engage your arms, back, and grip in a similar fashion to the pull-up for muscle activation.
    • This is a great novice variation that allows the user to progress to harder inverted row variations and eventually pull-ups.

    How to Do the Inverted Row

    Place a bar in a rack so that it is supported and stable. When you lay down underneath it, your hands should just reach the bar. Adjust the height as needed. Grasp the bar firmly and set the body in a rigid plank position. Pull your chest to the bar, making sure to keep the elbows from flaring out.

    TRX Suspension Row

    The TRX suspension row is another bodyweight movement that can build similar back, arm, and grip strength as the pull-up or inverted row.

    This is a great move for beginners to build up both their back strength and body control, while also allowing for a less restricted arm path.

    Benefits of the TRX Suspension Row

    • You’ll engage your arms, back, and grip in a similar fashion to the pull-up and inverted row.
    • This is another great beginner variation that allows the user to progress to harder row variations and then pull-ups.
    • The suspension trainer allows for a less restrictive arm path, allowing you to better adapt the row to your individual structure.

    How to Do the TRX Suspension Row

    With your feet at shoulder width, grab the handles and lean back into position. Adjust body position as needed to set difficulty level — the more upright your torso, the easier the exercise will be. With the feet on the ground and the body set in the plank position, pull yourself toward the handles, making sure to keep the elbows from flaring out and the shoulders from collapsing forwards.

    Lat Pulldown

    The pulldown has you pull a bar, attached to a cable pulley, to your chest. The cable’s constant tension increases your time under tension for more stimulation and growth. Also, this is a great move for those who can’t yet do a pull-up.

    Other than the fact that you’re sitting down, a pulldown is essentially the same movement as a pull-up, except you don’t have to start with your entire body weight.

    Benefits of the Lat Pulldown

    • The constant tension from the cables creates more muscular activation of the back muscles.
    • This move mimics a pull-up, and so it’s a great exercise to help you work up to your first pull-up.
    • The pronated grip allows you to target muscles of the upper back, biceps, and lats.

    How to Do the Lat Pulldown

    Set yourself up with your legs under the pad and hands grasping the bar attachment slightly wider than shoulder-width with a pronated (palms facing away) grip. With the core tight and the torso upright — or even a little arched — pull the bar down to your chin, thinking to drive your shoulder blades together at the end. Slowly resist the weight as you return to the starting position.

    Neutral Grip Pulldown

    This pulldown variation has you pull a neutral grip (palms facing each other) attachment to your chest. This is another cable-based exercise, allowing you to take advantage of constant resistance. The neutral grip allows you to better bias muscles like the lats, as well as the biceps.

    Benefits of the Neutral Grip Pulldown

    • The constant tension from the cables creates a more even resistance for the back muscles.
    • This move mimics a chin-up, and so it’s a great exercise to help you work up to your first chin-up rep.
    • The neutral grip allows you to target muscles of the lats and biceps.

    How to Do the Neutral Grip Pulldown

    Set yourself up in the cable pulldown, with your legs under the pad and the hands grasping the attachment with a neutral grip. With the core tight and the torso upright, pull the attachment down to your chin. Slowly resist the weight as you return back to the starting position.

    Seated Cable Row (for Lats)

    This rowing variation has you pull a shoulder-width neutral grip cable attachment to your torso.

    While the cable allows you to take advantage of constant resistance, the hand position and arm path allow for your lats to create large amounts of tension.

    Benefits of the Seated Cable Row (for Lats)

    • The constant tension from the cables creates a more even resistance for the back muscles.
    • This seated variation is great for building up overall muscle and strength in the back, which translates across your overall training.
    • The neutral grip allows you to target the lats and biceps effectively.

    How to Do the Seated Cable Row (for Lats)

    Set yourself up in the cable row, with your feet on the foot platform and the hands grasping the attachment with a neutral grip. With the core tight and the torso slightly leaned forward at the hip (do not round the back), pull the attachment toward the top of the abdomen. Slowly resist the weight as you return back to the starting position.

    Seated Cable Row (for Upper Back)

    This rowing variation has you pull an attachment toward your chest. The position of your grip will play a significant role in the muscles being biased during back exercises.

    Your arm path in this variation will be higher than the seated row focusing on lats, which will align the rowing motion with the muscles of the rear delts and upper back (traps, rhomboids, and teres major).

    Benefits of the Seated Cable Row (for Upper Back)

    • The constant tension from the cables creates a more even resistance for the back muscles.
    • This seated variation is great for building up overall muscle and strength in the upper and mid-back, which translates across back training and into everyday life.
    • The higher arm path and semi-pronated grip allows you to target muscles of the rear delts and upper back.

    How to Do the Seated Cable Row (for Upper Back)

    Set yourself up in the cable rowing area, with your feet on the foot platform and the hands grasping the attachment with an overhand grip. With the core tight and the torso upright — or slightly leaned back at the hip — pull the attachment toward the top of the chest, extending the arms back behind you. Slowly resist the weight as you return back to the starting position.

    Cable Trap Shrug

    This cable-based shrug variation is completed by grasping the handles, attached to the cable tower or functional trainer, and shrugging your shoulders upward and inward toward your ears.

    While shrugs are typically performed with a dumbbell or barbell, they can be optimized with the cable pulley because the resistance from the cables matches the fiber alignment of the upper traps.

    Benefits of the Cable Trap Shrug

    • The constant tension from the cables creates a more even resistance for the upper traps.
    • This variation lines up the resistance with the muscle fibers being trained — maximizing the tension produced and minimizes stress around the shoulder.
    • Allows for the lifter to match the cables with their individual structure, limiting joint stress and increasing effectiveness.

    How to Do the Cable Trap Shrug

    Set yourself up in the middle of two cables, with your feet flat on the ground and the hands grasping the handles. With the core tight and the torso upright, shrug the weight up — driving your shoulders up and in toward your ears. Slowly resist the weight as you return back to the starting position.

    Cable Rope Pullover

    This standing variation has you pulling a rope or strap attachment, attached to a cable pulley, from above your head down toward your hips. This exercise is great for placing tension on the lats, and is a great alternative — or replacement — for the dumbbell pullover.

    A longer rope or strap attachment will allow for a more individualized arm path and will create less strain on the shoulders.

    Benefits of the Cable Rope Pullover

    • The constant tension from the cables creates a more even resistance for the lats as they contract through the full range of motion.
    • This variation can be done anywhere you have access to a cable and rope attachment.
    • It provides a better resistance compared to the dumbbell pullover, especially for the lats.

    How to Do the Cable Rope Pullover

    Set yourself up in front of a cable pulley, with your feet flat on the ground and the hands grasping the rope or strap attachment. With a slight lean forward, core tight, and torso rigid, drive the upper arm down as you pull the attachment down and back toward your hips. Slowly resist the weight as you return back to the starting position.

    Landmine Row

    This free-weight variation is performed by grabbing a handle attached to, or around, a barbell. This exercise is great for placing tension on the entire back, and is a great alternative for the chest supported row.

    It challenges core stability, lower back strength, and can be performed in different rep ranges depending on your goals.

    Benefits of the Landmine Row

    • This variation can be done anywhere you have access to a barbell, whether locked in a landmine attachment or wedged into a corner. 
    • It challenges core stability and strength, while also being a great full body exercise and placing large amounts of tension on the back muscles.
    • Can add a variety of resistance patterns with different attachments.

    How to Do the Landmine Row

    Set your barbell up by sliding it in the landmine attachment sleeve, or by wedging it into a corner of the wall. Stand overtop of the barbell with one foot on each side. Fix the attachment to the barbell and grasp the handles. With a slight lean forward, core tight, and the torso rigid, pull the weight up toward your chest. Slowly resist the weight as you return back to the starting position.

    Farmer’s Carry

    The farmer’s carry is a loaded carry variation that can benefit muscles across the upper body and lower body all at once.

    It helps build grip strength, core strength and stability, and improves postural strength and control.

    Benefits of the Farmer’s Carry

    • Can be done anywhere you have access to weight and some free space. 
    • It challenges grip strength, core strength and postural control.

    How to Do the Farmer’s Carry

    Find a section of open space and hold a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells, or even a trap bar, in your hands. Take slow, controlled steps in a straight line, focusing on stability and distance covered. 

    When walking with the weights in hand, the challenge is maintaining a steady, upright position and not allowing the weight to move laterally or favor one side over the other. The goal is to maintain a walking path that is straight, narrow, with the load kept close to the body. 

    Towel Chin-Up

    The variation involves wrapping either a longer bath towel or two smaller hand towels around a power rack or chin-up bar. 

    Adding a towel to the conventional chin-up can increase the overall grip demands of the exercise and provide a unique challenge if you’re bored of doing standard pull-ups.

    Benefits of the Towel Chin-Up

    • You only need a towel and a chin-up bar to do this movement, which makes it convenient to include in any program.
    • Stabilizing your own body weight will also recruit the muscles in your core. 
    • The addition of the towel will increase the demand on your grip, leading to an improvement in grip strength.

    How to Do the Towel Chin-Up

    Start by wrapping either a longer bath towel or two smaller hand towels around a power rack or chin-up bar. Assume a neutral grip (palms facing each other), grasping the towels evenly on both sides. With the core and upper back engaged, aim to pull your chin to or above the bar level using the forearms, biceps, and lats.

    Straight-Arm Pulldown

    Because the back is composed of so many muscles, it can be difficult to isolate specific ones. The straight-arm pulldown is as close to an "isolation" as you’re going to get for targeting the lats (the largest of the back muscles).

    An extended range of motion, constant tension from the cable pulley, and a simple learning curve, makes the straight-arm pulldown a prime muscle-building movement. 

    Benefits of the Straight-Arm Pulldown

    • It allows lifters to isolate and therefore better "feel" the lats. If you have trouble engaging your lats with other back movements, give this one a shot. 
    • The cable makes the movement feel harder from start to finish, so there’s more muscle-building tension on the target muscle(s) throughout the set. 
    • Compared to exercises like the lat pulldown and seated cable row, the unique torso angle used during the straight-arm lat pulldown creates a longer range of motion for more time under tension. 

    How to Do the Straight-Arm Pulldown

    Attach a rope handle, straight bar, or EZ-bar to a cable pulley set at the highest setting. (The rope is a popular option.) Take enough steps back so that you can hinge your torso forward 45 degrees and straighten your arms without any slack in the cable. Slightly bend your elbows and then pull the rope to the tops of your thighs. You shouldn’t feel your triceps engage at all. 

    Kroc Row

    The Krok row is the namesake rowing movement of powerlifter and bodybuilder, Janae Marie Kroczaleski — who totaled 1,095 kilograms (2,414 pounds) between the bench press, squat, and deadlift in a powerlifting meet.

    The premise is simple: Choose a dumbbell that’s slightly heavier than what you’re used to rowing with proper form, and then grind out as many reps as possible using a little body of English to get it done. The heavy, high-volume rows will surely strengthen and grow your back

    Benefits of the Kroc Row

    • They’re not conventional, but the

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