In some ways, back workouts are the straw that stirs the drink in your workout program.
A strong back is essential for safely and effectively performing all of the most effective compound exercises, like the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press, which are what will deliver the majority of your muscle and strength gains.
In other words, a strong, muscular back is like a ballast for your performance. No matter what you throw at your body—squatting, pulling, pressing, or even running, skiing, or throwing—your movements depend on a sturdy, dependable back.
Sadly, many weightlifters neglect training their back because, unlike the chest, shoulders, biceps, and quads, you can’t easily see it in the mirror. Maybe they do a few perfunctory sets of lat pulldowns and dumbbell rows, but they don’t give their back the same attention and energy that goes into their “mirror muscles.”
This is a mistake, and the back exercises and workouts in this article are the solution.
If you want to learn how to get a bigger back, how to do the best back workouts for mass, and what a good back workout routine looks like, keep reading.
This mighty pull is far more than a back exercise. It hits the entire posterior chain, from your calves to your upper traps, but it's also a time-tested standout for overall backside development.
And no, it's not just for powerlifters! Technique is uber-important, but once you nail it, you can progress to lifting monster weights that recruit maximum muscle, release muscle-building hormones, and help you get big.
Position your feet so they’re slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly out. Move a loaded barbell over your midfoot so it’s about an inch from your shins. Take a deep breath into your belly, then move down toward the bar by pushing your hips back. Place your hands on the bar just outside your shins and keep your head in a neutral position.
Drive your body upward and slightly back by pushing through your heels. As the bar rises above your knees, push your hips into the bar. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
2. Barbell Row
This is a total back-builder: upper back, lower back, lats, traps, spinal erectors—the whole deal. And the science backs it up. It's a staple of the best back workouts for men, but make no mistake, it's great for back workouts for women, as well.
Position your feet under a loaded barbell about shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward. Bend over and grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip and with your palms facing toward you. Straighten your back and raise your hips until your back is roughly parallel to the floor.
Initiate the movement by driving through your legs, then, using the momentum generated by your lower body, pull the barbell to your upper body, touching it anywhere between your lower chest and belly button. Once the bar touches your body, reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
3. Pull Up
It's always a good idea to have an overhead pulling movement in your back routine, and the pull-up is one of the best. Each variation has its own advantages: Wide-grip variations are great for the upper lats, while close-grip chins or neutral-grip pull-ups have a greater stretch and overall range of motion. Mix it up!
Grip a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from you and slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, then lift up your feet so that you’re hanging with your arms straight. Without swinging your feet or your knees, pull your body upward until your chin rises above your hands. After your chin rises above the bar, lower yourself to the starting position. Keep lowering yourself until your arms are completely straight and you feel a deep stretch in your lats.
4. Lat Pulldown
Your first impulse may be to reach for the wide-grip bar, but use of a close neutral grip activates the lats similarly to a regular grip. This grip also allows for a longer range of motion and increased time under tension for the lats, which is great for building muscle.
Adjust the thigh pad of a lat pulldown machine so that it locks your lower body in place. Stand up and grab the bar. While keeping your grip on the bar and your arms straight, sit down, allowing your body weight to pull the bar down with you. Nudge your thighs under the thigh pads and plant your feet flat on the floor.
Pull the bar toward your chest. Once the bar is underneath your chin (or touches your chest, if you want to make the exercise harder), reverse the movement and return to the starting position. (Tip: a helpful cue for this exercise is to imagine pulling your elbows into the floor).
5. Seated Row
Unlike every free-weight variation here, the classic seated row maintains constant tension throughout every inch of the movement. Plus, many gyms have a wide range of handles that you can clip onto a seated cable row with a carabiner, giving you all manner of wide and narrow grips and different hand positions.
Sit on the pad and place your feet on the foot rest while maintaining a small bend in your knees. Lean forward and grab the handle (you can use whichever handle attachment you want, but I like the close-grip “V” handle), then lean back with your arms stretched in front of you. Straighten your back and pull the cable toward your stomach. Once your hands touch your torso, reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
6. Dumbbell Row
This is a classic unilateral exercise—meaning each side works independently. It's also one that allows you to move a lot of weight, particularly if you use straps. You'll get a greater range of motion when training unilaterally, and you'll be better able to support your lower back by placing one hand on a bench.
Hold a dumbbell in your right hand. Bend over and put your left hand and left knee on a bench, chair, windowsill, etc. that’s about knee height off the ground. Keep your right foot planted on the floor and let your right arm (the one holding the dumbbell) extend toward the floor. Keeping your back straight, pull the dumbbell upward until it touches your torso. Return the dumbbell to the starting position. Once you’ve completed the desired number of reps, repeat the process with your left arm.
7. T-bar Row Machine
The T-bar row may seem at first glance like another variation of the bent-over row, but serious lifters know there's a big difference. For one, you can pile on more weight!
You also typically have a choice of hand positions and width. A wider grip will put more emphasis on the lats, while a neutral grip will better target the middle back (rhomboids, teres, and traps).
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.
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