10 Back Exercises That Develop Strength

Strengthen your back with 10 exercises recommended by STACK Expert John Papp.

Everyone loves bench day. It even has a designated day of the week! Every Monday in gyms all across America, you can find people hitting up the bench—incline, flat, barbell, dumbbell, band-resisted, and chain-resisted.

But what about the backside of the equation—literally the backside? Training the chest has its place in almost every program, but it's also important to remember the importance of training the speed-, strength- and power-producing machine known as the posterior chain.

When it comes to sports performance, using a variety of back exercises to build a strong backside is extremely important. Think of a running back as he takes a hit from a linebacker—a strong posterior chain can make the difference between absorbing the hit and suffering an injury.

Taking time to train the back is very important for anyone who sits at a desk all day (as do all student-athletes and most adults in our society). A strong back helps prevent kyphosis and lordosis, or the rounding forward of the thoracic region (mid-back) and the rounding of the lumbar region (lower back), respectively. By preventing lordosis and kyphosis, you can hopefully save yourself potential trouble later in life that comes with back pain that effects millions.

So now you know why you should train your back. But what about how? Below are the back exercises we use with our athletes at Xceleration Sports.

1. Suspension Trainer Two Arm Row

Suspension Trainer Two-Arm Row

  • Grab the handles of the suspension trainer, walk your feet out in front of you, dig your heels in, point your toes up, and point the backs of your hands up.
  • Start the movement by pulling your chest toward the handles and your arms back toward your chest.
  • Rotate your hands as you pull so they end up facing each other when they get to your chest.

Progression: Move your feet out farther from your body. Add weight in the form of a vest or chains.

Regression: Move your feet closer and stand more upright.

2. Pull-Up

Pull-Up

  • Grab the bar with your hands pronated, palms facing away from your body.
  • Starting from a dead hang, pull yourself up until your head is above the bar.
  • Return all the way to the bottom.
  • If you find yourself having to kip up (swing), you may need to use a regression like a Partner Pull-Up.

Progression: Weighted Pull-Ups

Regression: Partner-Assisted Pull-Ups

3. Band Pull-Apart

Band Pull-Apart

  • Grab a light resistance band with an over/under grip.
  • Starting with your arms straight out in front of you at upper chest level, pull the band apart until your arms are straight out to the sides.
  • Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades back together.

Progression: Move your hands closer together. Add a two-second isometric hold at the end of the movement.

Regression: Move your hands farther apart.

RELATED: 8-Exercise Advanced Bodyweight Chest and Back Workout

4. Banded Lat Pulldown

Banded Lat Pulldown

Note: Latisimus dorsi is an internal rotator of the arms. If you have extremely forward-rounded shoulders, focus on strengthening your upper back muscles first.

  • If you don't have a machine, grab a medium resistance band and hook it to a pull-up bar.
  • Take a seat below and grab the band with a wider-than shoulder-width grip.
  • Pull the band down behind your head.
  • Keep your shoulder blades pinched back together the entire time.

Progression: Move your hands up higher on the band.

Regression: Move your hands lower on the band.

5. Barbell Row

Barbell Row

  • Load a barbell. If possible, use rubber-coated bumper plates unless you are strong enough to use 45-pound metal plates.
  • Hinge at the hip, keep your back straight and grab the bar with a pronated grip (overhand).
  • Hinge at the hip just far enough to grab the bar when it's resting on the ground.
  • Row the bar to your chest while keeping your back straight and in the same place the entire time.

Progression: Isometric two-second hold at the top.

Regression: One-Arm Dumbbell Row (see No. 7)

6. Farmer's Walk

Farmer's Walk

  • Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells, hold them at your sides, and walk for a long distance.
  • Stand up tall and keep your back straight.

Progression: One-Arm Dumbbell Farmer's Walk.

Regression: Carry lighter weight.

RELATED: How to Fix Back Rounding When Deadlifting

7. One-Arm Dumbbell Row

One-Arm Dumbbell Row

  • Set up in much the same way as a Barbell Row, but rest one hand on a bench or box.
  • Grab one dumbbell and row it to your chest.
  • Try to retract your shoulder blades instead of just pulling with your arm.
  • Remember: the dumbbell should come to your chest, but your chest should not come down to the dumbbell

Progression: Barbell Row (see No.  5)

Regression: Suspension Trainer Row (see No. 1)

8. Barbell Deadlift

Barbell Deadlift

  • Set a barbell on the ground.
  • Stand with your shins 2 inches from the bar and your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Drop your butt down, keep your back straight, and grab the bar.
  • Pull the weight off the floor.
  • Get your hips into the movement by pushing them forward and squeezing your glutes as hard as possible at the top.

Progression: Deficit Deadlift (only if you have adequate mobility), band resistance, chain resistance.

Regression: Rack Pull, Kettlebell Deadlift

RELATED: Elite Performance with Mike Boyle: How to Fix Back Pain

9. Barbell Romanian Deadlift

Barbell RDL

  • Grab a barbell and use a conventional Deadlift to stand up with it.
  • Keep a slight bend in your knees and hinge at the hip, keeping your back straight the entire time.
  • Lower the bar to mid-shin height and return to the top.
  • How low you go depends on your mobility. The more mobile you are, the lower you can go while keeping a flat back.

10. Suspension Trainer Face Pull

Suspension Trainer Face Pull

  • Grab the handles of the suspension trainer, walk your feet out in front of you, dig your heels in, point your toes up and point the backs of your hands up.
  • Start the movement like the Two-Arm Row, but instead of taking your hands to your chest, pull them to your eyes.
  • Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

Progression: Move your feet farther away from your body. Add weight with a vest or chains.

Regression: Move your feet closer to your body.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: BACK | CHEST | EXERCISE | TRAIN | BENCH | TRAINER | BARBELL | SUSPENSION | HANDLES | SUSPENSION TRAINER