It’s not just arms, legs, and abs... Having a strong and toned back is something a lot of gym-goers are after and for a good reason! Your back is one of the biggest muscle groups of your body, and strengthening it will help you perform a variety of different exercises and movements effectively in order to make the most out of your workout routine. Having a strong back can also help improve your posture and reduce back pain, as well as reducing your risk of potential injuries when lifting weights or doing complex exercises, so you’ll definitely want to incorporate a few back exercises into your workout routine!
We’ve prepared a list of some of the best back exercises that you can do at home, as well as some exercises that require gym machines so that you’re able to train your back anywhere at any time. We also have a few tips for your back workouts that will help you build a strong back safely and effectively!
Best back exercises at home
Your back is a key element in a great number of exercises, so having a strong back should be a priority for you when working out. The great news is: you don’t need to be at the gym to be able to strengthen your back! Here we have some of the best bodyweight and dumbbell back exercises that you can do at home or anywhere outside of the gym:
Single-arm bent-over row
To perform this killer compound movement you only need a pair of dumbbells. This classic bent-over row will target your upper and lower back, as well as your biceps, shoulders, and hips. Additionally, doing it with a single arm at a time will allow for a greater range of motion and will help you fix any muscle imbalances that you may have.
How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend at the hips, keeping your back straight. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your arm down in front of you with a neutral grip, keeping the opposite arm resting on your leg or a bench for support. Pull the dumbbell up to the side until it makes contact with your ribs, or until the upper arm is just beyond horizontal. Pause for a moment and then return to the starting position with your arm fully extended and your shoulder stretched downward. Repeat and then switch the weight to the left hand.
The superman is a great bodyweight exercise that requires full body activation throughout the movement, and you can do it anywhere! It mainly works your lower back muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and abs, and it’s a great complement for other core exercises.
How to do it: Lie face down on the floor or on an exercise mat while keeping your body straight and your arms fully extended in front of you. Begin by raising your arms, legs, and chest off the floor, as if you were flying. Squeeze your back in the contracted position and press your shoulder blades together. Hold for a moment, then slowly start lowering your body until you reach the starting position again, and repeat.
Similar to the superman exercise, the swimmer will have you laying on the floor and using your body weight to work your muscles against gravity. It targets your upper and lower back, as well as your shoulders, glutes, hamstrings, and abs.
How to do it: Get into the initial position by laying face down on the floor and extending your arms and legs. Begin the movement by raising your right arm and left leg off the floor, squeezing your glutes and lower back while you do it. Pause for a second, then raise your left arm and right leg as you lower the other two. Continue alternating as if you were swimming.
This is a great back exercise that you can do with just a pair of dumbbells. The reverse fly mainly targets your rhomboid muscles on your upper back, as well as your shoulders, helping you tone and strengthen your upper body and improve your posture.
How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and a dumbbell in each hand. Bend forward at 45 degrees so that your arms are hanging down in front of you, palms facing each other. Begin by raising both arms out to your sides until you feel your shoulder blades squeezing together. Hold for a moment, then go back down to the starting position in a controlled manner and repeat.
The bird dog is an excellent back and core strengthening exercise that challenges your balance, stability, and coordination. It targets your lower back, abs, and glutes, and you don’t need any equipment to do it, just your body weight and a comfortable mat.
How to do it: First, get on your hands and knees while keeping your back straight and your neck in a neutral position, looking down. Begin the movement by raising and straightening your right arm and left leg so that they’re parallel to the floor, completely extended. Pause for a moment, then go back to the starting position and repeat with your left arm and right leg. Continue alternating.
Best back exercises at the gym
Using gym machines to perform your movements will allow you to exercise in a more controlled and stabilized manner. You’ll be able to train your coordination and balance because you’ll be working against a constant weight, helping you improve your form in the process and adding more weight as you make progress. Here are a few of the best back exercises that you can do at the gym:
The face pull targets your upper back and shoulder muscles, specifically your trapezius, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, and rotator cuffs. It will help you improve your posture as well as build a stronger upper body so that you can perform other strength training exercises comfortably.
How to do it: First, attach a rope with a handle to the cable machine so it is at eye level. Stand straight in front of the machine with your feet shoulder-width apart, and grab the handle with both hands. Start slowly pulling the rope towards your face, drawing your elbows back and out to your sides. When you’re face to face with the rope, pause for a moment and then go back to the starting position and repeat.
This variation of the bent-over row is great for your back muscles, helping your build a stronger and more defined back. It’s a killer exercise that works your major back muscles, such as the traps, latissimus dorsi (lats), and rear delts, as well as your shoulders and biceps.
How to do it: Start by standing on a T-bar row platform, or attaching a barbell to a squat rack if you don’t have access to a T-bar row machine. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at the hips. Grab the handles with both hands and lift the weight until your torso is between 45 degrees and parallel to the floor, keeping your arms straight. Begin by pulling the handle up to your chest, driving your elbows back, and making sure you’re not arching your back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement, then go back to the starting position and repeat.
Lat pull-downs are a great back exercise for beginners because you’re mimicking the movement of a pull-up without actually using your body weight. Instead, the cable machine will assist you, mainly helping you work your lats, as well as the posterior delts, rhomboids, and traps located in the upper back.
How to do it: Sit on the cable machine while facing the pulley, with your feet on the floor and your knees tucked under the pad for support. Check that the bar is at a comfortable height for your arms to reach it without over or under stretching. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip shoulder-width apart. Begin by slowly pulling down the bar to your chin until it’s almost touching your face. Make sure that your back is straight instead of curved, and that your shoulders are going down and back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the end of the movement, then go back up and repeat.
While this exercise uses gravity instead of weights, you still need a back extension machine to be able to perform it correctly. Back extensions are great for strengthening your lower back muscles, especially the erector spinae muscles, which are responsible for the movement of your spine. This movement also engages your pecs, shoulders, glutes, and hamstrings.
How to do it: First, set the pad of the machine so that when you lie on it, the pad supports your lower body on the upper part of your thighs. Get on the machine and secure your feet behind the ankle pads while folding your arms as if you were hugging yourself. Begin by bending forward at the waist and lowering your torso until your upper body is at 90 degrees. Pause for a moment, then go back up and straighten your body, stretching your back. Be careful not to hyperextend, and repeat.
Seated cable row
When doing a seated cable row, you’re going to be pulling the weight horizontally towards you, engaging your back muscles. It mainly targets your lats, as well as your upper arm muscles such as the biceps and triceps for stability. The best thing about it is that you can attach different handles to the seated cable row machine to try different grips and positions.
How to do it: Sit on the seated cable row machine with your torso pressed against the cushioned support and your feet firm on the floor or the pads. Grasp the handles with both hands, but make sure that you’re able to reach them without arching your back forward. Begin by pulling the handles toward your body in a controlled motion, driving your shoulders down and back. Keep your back straight and squeeze your shoulder blades at the end of the movement. After the squeeze, slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Tips for a more effective back workout
Now that you know some of the best back exercises for your pull days, we have some useful tips for you so that your back workouts are as successful as they can be. The first and probably the most important tip when lifting weights is: don’t lift too heavy. If you’re just starting at the gym, or even if you have already strength trained before, you always need to make sure that the weight isn’t too heavy for your current fitness level, so always check the weight before you start your workout. Make sure that it is heavy enough so that it challenges you without struggling too much, but that it really makes you sweat on that last rep!
Aside from that, here are some other great tips for an effective back workout:
- Warm-up and stretch properly: Your back is composed of big muscle groups that need to be activated before your workouts to prevent any injuries, so you need to make sure to do a good warm-up with some static stretches to improve flexibility, and dynamic stretches that mimic the movements you’ll be performing in your back workout routine.
- Go through the whole range of motion: To make sure that you’re hitting all of the muscles involved in the movement in the most effective way possible, try going through the whole range of motion of every exercise so that you feel the contraction on the top of the movement and the stretch when you go back.
- Work one side at a time: We briefly mentioned this earlier, but working one side at a time will help you correct any muscle imbalances that you may have and work on your balance and coordination. This will help improve your overall strength and prevent any injuries, so give unilateral exercises a try!
- Don’t forget to squeeze: A key part of back exercises is squeezing your back at the top of the movement when your muscles are in the contracted position to feel the burn in your muscles. By squeezing, you’ll make sure that your back is actually doing the hard work instead of other supporting muscles.
- Try different angles and movements: When it comes to back exercises, you need to make sure that you don’t neglect any muscle group - and there are many more other than your lats and traps! By performing exercises that move at a vertical and horizontal plane, you’ll hit every muscle group for a stronger and more toned back.
And there you go! Some of the best at-home and gym back exercises that you can try in your next workout, plus some tips to make the most out of back days. There are tons of different back exercises that you can do, so don’t be afraid to switch things up and try different machines and free weights to keep making progress. And if you need a little bit of help incorporating back exercises into your workouts, check out the Fit With Iulia app! Iulia plans new goal-focused workouts each week to help you get better and more effective results. Try your first workout for free by downloading the Fit With Iulia app, choose a goal, and start your first workout with Iulia – no subscription required!