3 Essential Back Exercises for Serious Strength

These three exercises work all the muscles in your back to add size and strength.

Back workouts are always a great day at the gym. You get to move heavy weight and feel a little wider than you did when you walked in. But to develop complete back strength, you need to do a bit more than a few Rows here and there before calling it quits.

Your back is covered with several large muscle groups; each needs to be worked to develop a back that's strong, functions properly and looks good. Specifically, you need to target the:

  • Erector spinae - long muscles that run alongside your spine
  • Rhomboids - muscles between your shoulder blades
  • Latissimus Dorsi - large muscles on the sides of your back that start under your armpits.

The following exercises work these three muscles and hit other muscles in your back. Add them to your workout and you'll be on your way to a bigger and stronger back.



The Deadlift is the single most important exercise for adding size and strength to the back. It should be a staple in your workout routine since it covers so many areas of the body, including the core, back and legs. It requires an incredible amount of stability and explosiveness.

There are many ways to train for Deadlifts. For example, you can perform a conventional Deadlift—i.e., pulling the bar with your hands on the outside of your legs. There is also the Sumo Deadlift where your hands are inside your legs. You also have the option to pull from a deficit, meaning lifting the bar while standing on a low platform, giving yourself a deeper starting point. Finally, you can perform Rack Pulls to help the top of your Deadlift.

No matter which variation you choose, you will be working your erector spinae and activating your lats and core. Performing hypertrophy rep ranges can be difficult, so choose a weight that allows you to achieve 8-10 reps and gives you a challenge on the last 2 reps.

RELATED: Fix the 10 Most Common Deadlift Technique Mistakes

Lat Pulldowns

Lat Pulldown

The Lat Pulldown is a great exercise for adding size to the latissimus dorsi. It involves holding a bar with a wide grip above your head and pulling it down to your chest. It directly targets the lats with the biceps helping out.

A big mistake most people make when performing this exercise is that as they pull down, they lean their body back to move the weight faster. This technique is incorrect and will eventually lead to injury. Another misconception about this exercise is that people think if you pull the weight behind your head, it targets different muscles. Going behind the head puts the shoulders in an unnatural position and is likely to cause injury.

The most effective way to do this exercise is to pull the weight in a controlled manner during both the concentric and eccentric phases while keeping your core tight. This gives you the best chance of preventing an injury and putting on size. You should almost always perform hypertrophy rep ranges since this isn't a primary lift. However, you should always try to progress the weight each cycle.

RELATED: Fix Your Lat Pulldown Form to Build a Strong Back

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

The Single-Arm Dumbbell Row is especially important when training the back because it is a unilateral exercise, meaning it only targets one side of the body at a time. A pair of dumbbells are all you need for a great workout.

The Single-Arm Dumbbell Row has a few different setups, depending on your preference. The first is on a flat bench. One knee and arm are on the bench while the arm holding the weight hangs off and the other leg stays on the floor for support. From there, you row the weight to your chest and come back down slowly in a controlled manner.

The other setup is similar. You can use a box, a bench or the dumbbell rack for support. Basically you place one hand on the support while the other hand hangs with the weight. Both legs remain on the ground while you bend at the hip, keeping your back flat.

The Row is the same for both setups; however, make sure you don't pull your shoulder back as if you were trying to start a lawnmower. If you do this, you are most likely going too heavy. Another mistake people make is that they round their back. As with the other exercises on this list, you need to keep a tight core and stabilize your muscles to get the most out of the exercise. For best results, do 10 reps on each arm with a weight that you can control all the way through.

RELATED: Lee Boyce's Tips for Perfecting the Dumbbell Single-Arm Row