10 Best Back Exercises for Building Muscle

For the guys out there with big pecs and killer biceps but no lats or no traps: You're all 'show' and no 'go.'

The best visual marker of raw power and strength is your back.

There, I said it! After centuries of bodybuilders and athletes focusing on their "beach muscles" and trying to take everyone to the gun show with their huge biceps, I pose a different idea.

Instead of focusing on the muscles that you can see in the mirror, start focusing on the muscles you don't see. Most modern humans are anteriorly dominant, meaning they use the muscles on the front of their body more than they should, yet the ones on the back less than they should. Without a strong and powerful back, your posture and performance will suffer. There's no way you're moving substantial weight with good form if you've got a weak back. So for the guys out there with big pecs and a killer biceps peak but no lats or no traps, you're all "show" and no "go."

Read More >>

The best visual marker of raw power and strength is your back.

There, I said it! After centuries of bodybuilders and athletes focusing on their "beach muscles" and trying to take everyone to the gun show with their huge biceps, I pose a different idea.

Instead of focusing on the muscles that you can see in the mirror, start focusing on the muscles you don't see. Most modern humans are anteriorly dominant, meaning they use the muscles on the front of their body more than they should, yet the ones on the back less than they should. Without a strong and powerful back, your posture and performance will suffer. There's no way you're moving substantial weight with good form if you've got a weak back. So for the guys out there with big pecs and a killer biceps peak but no lats or no traps, you're all "show" and no "go."

Just take a look at the backs of some of the world's strongest athletes. Here's Derek Poundstone, three-time America's Strongest Man winner and a World's Strong Man runner-up:

And Lu Xiaojun, an Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion weightlifter:

Photo via Macklem Photography

It's pretty safe to say that the competitors in these sports look the part and have the performance to back it up.

A strong back is required to pick up a heavy deadlift, support hundreds of pounds on your back during a squat, and to knock out weighted chin ups on cue. There are a million ways to train your back, but if you're going for straight size then you have to hit it from all angles.

Big lifts like Cleans, Squats and Deadlifts will help your cause, but odds are you already include these in your routine. In my opinion, rowing or pulling motions are the best way to add muscle to your back. With that in mind, here are 10 rowing variations to hit your back from different angles and help you pack on serious size.

1. TRX Rows

A simple but effective exercise to develop size and strength in your back. The best part about these is that you can bring a TRX with you anywhere in the world and find a spot to hit some rows. This is also a great exercise for beginners, because you can adjust the difficulty simply by changing the angle of the body. Another great feature of using the TRX for Rows is that you can adjust your arm angle and grip on the fly, allowing you to hit all different areas of your back within one set.

2. TRX 1-Arm Row

This adds a new dynamic to the traditional TRX Row. Using one arm instead of two will force you to keep your core firing on all cylinders to stay straight throughout this movement. By using one arm, you will also be forced to use the stabilizers in your upper back to keep your shoulder blades retracted throughout the full range of motion. At the bottom position, it's especially important not to relax and allow your shoulders to round forward.

3. TRX High Row (Face Pull)

This is one my favorite exercises for developing the rear deltoids, teres and rhomboid muscle groups. You execute this exercise just like you would perform a face pull exercise using a band or a cable machine. The focus should be on driving your elbows backwards and squeezing your shoulder blades together allowing your fists to pass next to your ears. This movement is more about "feeling" and using the right muscles so don't start off laying down too low and using your full body weight.

4. Dumbbell Row

This classic exercise is a perfect way to add some size and strength to your back. You can load this up pretty heavy and really overload your lats to spark new growth. Throughout the full range of motion of the Row you want keep your shoulders back not round at your lower back. If you need to round your back or shoulders to move the weight then it's too heavy for you.

5. Dumbbell Chest-Supported Row

The supported version of a Dumbbell Row allows you to simultaneously row with both arms and really focus on hitting the middle of your back. Just like the classic Dumbbell Row, you want to keep your shoulders retracted throughout the movement to maximize the use of your back muscles. The thought of "reaching" on your Dumbbell Rows can help you squeeze more out of this movement. Read more on that cue here.

6. Barbell Rows

The meat and potatoes of back exercises is the Barbell Row. You're guaranteed to use just about every muscle in your body during Barbell Rows, so be ready to work. Like the Dumbbell Row, you will be able to load this exercise pretty heavy, but be sure to maintain form throughout the whole movement.

7. Banded Barbell Row

Take your Barbell Rows up a notch by adding a band to the bar for an accommodating resistance effect. This means that as you pull the bar into your body, the resistance will gradually increase, allowing you to get the most out of every phase of the movement. This is also a great way to get a training effect while using lighter weights or working on form and maintaining tension. With the band on the bar there will always be tension, which forces you to stay tight at all times.

8. Band Row

A super basic exercise that is great for beginners or advanced lifters. The beauty of using bands is the effect of accommodating resistance. As noted in the Banded Barbell Row, the more that the band is stretched the greater the resistance will be. I love to add these at the end of a workout to get in some high-rep, high-pump work.

9. Inverted Rows

Another great "do anywhere" exercise that you can execute as long as you have a bar to hang from and hands to hold on. Similar to the TRX Row you can adjust the difficulty of this exercise by how low you place the bar and how horizontal you are to the ground. The more horizontal you go the more difficult the exercise will become. You can also switch your grips to hit different areas of your back and strengthen your grip at the same time.

10. Landmine Rows

The landmine is a versatile tool that can be used for a variety of exercises but one of my favorites is the Bent-Over Row. Setting up this movement using the landmine allows you to have more control over bar and path because it moves on a single pivot point rather than free-fully hanging from just your hands. The other benefit of the landmine row is that you're able to quickly adjust the angle of your row to target specific muscles more or less.

Photo Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

READ MORE:


Topics: BACK | BARBELL EXERCISES | DUMBBELL EXERCISES | TRX EXERCISES | BACK EXERCISE | ROW