Top Back Exercises (The 5 best exercises for a strong muscular back)

Are you struggling to add mass to your back and improve the width of your lats?  If so then you must learn and start using these 4 top back exercises now?

4 Top Back Exercises

  1. Deadlifts
  2. Pull-ups
  3. Barbell Bent Over Rows
  4. T-Bar Rows

Within this article, I am going to provide a full list of the top back exercises you can do to build the most amount of muscle in the shortest space of time.  But before I get into this I just want to make one thing clear.  Under no circumstances does the back ever work alone.  It will always work in conjunction with many other muscles and for this reason, you must avoid any isolation exercises for your back.  Especially when they are done using a pointless machine.

For the purpose of training, the back can be mainly split into two sections.  Upper back and lower back.  However, you will find that most back exercises hit both sections.  There are exercises that will typically overload the upper back more than the lower back and vice versa.

Again our goal is to provide the most overload in the shortest space of time and below you will find the top back exercises to do this.

When referring to the upper back, we mainly are talking about the latissimus dorsi, and when referring to the lower back, we mainly are talking about the erector spine.  The back is also made up of a few more minor muscles which include the serratus anterior (located and seen below the armpit from a front view,  infraspinatus, the rhomboids and the teres major and minor.  These can be located around the shoulder blade.

Although I believe this to be important when training most muscle groups, it’s even more so when training back.  To truly overload the back a full range of movement must be completed.  This means the muscles should be fully stretched under tension.  Doing partial reps will really limit your progress.

Related: The Ultimate Pull Up Progression Program (Master The Pull Up Today)



This makes the top of the list because if there were only one exercise you could choose for the rest of your life, it would have to be this one.  Although used primarily as a lower back exercise it will work almost the entire body.  If you want a strong muscular back then this movement will get you there.

Primary muscles involved

Lower back

Secondary muscles involved

upper back, biceps, traps, shoulders, forearms, quads and hamstrings

Most efficient technique

Firstly you need to position yourself in front of the bar.  Stand right up close with your shins nearly touching the bar.  Your feet should be placed just in from a  shoulder-width position.

Now grip the bar with your hands placed in a shoulder width position.  You want one hand to grip over the bar (usually your strongest hand) and one hand under the bar.  Gripping the bar this way will allow you to hold onto the bar much easier, therefore allowing you to lift more weight.

Now sink your bum down and sit back on your heels as if you were in the low portion of a squat.

Squeeze your shoulder blades back, push your chest up high and pull your belly button in and up towards your spine.  Make sure you are looking forward and slightly up.  By doing all of this it will ensure your back is in the strongest position possible.  DO NOT lift the bar if your back is rounded.

Now drive up through your heels until you are at the very top of the movement.  Lower the bar at a moderate speed ensuring all the above is followed still.


overhand pull up

The best exercise you can do for hitting the lats.  It is the one back exercises that use your body weight to create the resistance.  Some may struggle to even do one rep others may find they can bang out way more then the BFG recommenced rep range of 4 to 6.  If this is the case then you can add resistance by using a chain belt and hanging extra weight plates from it.

Primary muscles involved

latissimus dorsi

Secondary muscles involved

Biceps, Forearms, shoulders.  The lower back will also be engaged.

Most efficient technique

To get the best out of pull-ups and create the most overload through the back that you can, it is really important to get your starting position correct.  This all starts from the hands.  You want to aim for around 5 to 6 inches wider than shoulder-width.  Use an overhand grip, however, it is also an effective exercise with an inverted grip (both palms facing towards each other)

When raising yourself up and bringing your chin in line with the bar, if your forearms are angled either outwards on inwards, it means your grip is either to narrow or too wide.  Your forearms should create a straight vertical line at this point of the movement.

Once in the correct start position, bring your feet fully off the floor and bend your knees to 90 degrees.  You will now be in a fully stretched position.

Push your chest up high looking forward and slightly up, now pull yourself up so your chin comes inline or slightly over the bar.  Make sure you lower yourself down at a moderate speed and go back into the fully stretched position.

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Bent-Over Barbell Rows

bent over row

This is a tough exercise to get the technique right.  One of the main reasons is due to how demanding it can be on the body.  I see many people attempt this great exercise, but very rarely do I see it executed correctly, in order to fulfil its full potential.

More often then not, people pile the wait on far to heavy to quickly and end up standing in an upright position, doing more of a shrug than a row.

Perform the exercise correctly and it will really develop your lats and lower back.

This is also the only exercise I would ever use lifting straps for.  This is due to you having to undertake an overhand grip, and due to the weight, you can have on the bar most peoples grip lets them down way before their back does.

Primary muscles involved

latissimus dorsi

Secondary muscles involved

Biceps, Forearms, shoulders, lower back, hamstrings and quads

Most efficient technique

Grip the bar with an overhand grip at roughly shoulder-width apart.  Once you have moved into position, you want to squeeze your shoulder blade back, push your chest up high and then lower yourself down so that your back is either parallel to the floor or slightly up from this.

Your lower back at this point should be slightly arched and not rounded.  If you back is rounded it means the weight is too heavy.

Now keeping your elbows in tight to your side, you want to drive the weight up into your body, bring the bar just above your belly button.

Lower the bar down at a moderate speed ensuring you go into a fully stretched position.

T Bar Rows

t-bar row

My personal favourite and like barbell rows if done correctly, it will be one of the most effective exercises you can do for lat development.  If you do this with a narrower grip then normal (both palms facing in) this will then really help develop thickness through your back.

There are a huge variety of T bar row machines.  Most are really good but the odd one can put you in a really awkward position.  If this happens then don’t use it.  I personally like the t bar row attachment you can use to put an Olympic weighted barbell in.  This will allow you to get into a very similar position to bent-over rows, and not only work your back but your quads and hamstrings as well.

Primary muscles involved

latissimus dorsi

Secondary muscles involved

Biceps, Forearms, shoulders, lower back, hamstrings and quads

Most efficient technique

My favourite handle attachment for this movement is a V-shaped close grip handle.  To start with, grip the handles and deadlift the weight upwards until you are in a fully standing position.  Now all you need to do is follow the exact instructions above written out for the bent-over barbell row.

Lat Pull Downs

Lat pull down diagram

Lat Pull Downs is basically like doing a machine version of a pull-up.  The beauty to these is, they allow you to easily adjust the weight/resistance you are lifting,  This makes it easy to progressively overload the muscles you are working.

A lat pulldown can also really benefit your pull up.  This is because it allows you to lift a weight that is much heavier then you weigh yourself, whilst keeping you in a secure position.

Primary muscles involved

latissimus dorsi

Secondary muscles involved

Biceps, Forearms, shoulders, lower back, a small amount of chest

Most efficient technique

Once you can master a pull-up, doing the correct technique for lat pulldowns will come easy to you.  One advantage lat pulldowns have over pull-ups is it makes it much easier to change the angle in which you can pull the weights.  A pull puts you in a much more restricted movement pattern.

Make sure the pull-down is done by pulling the bar in front of your face and not behind.

When pulling the weight down you need to make sure you lean back slightly to an angle of around 45 degrees to the floor.  If you are to rigid and upright during this exercise it will really limit the weight you can move and therefore the overload that’s put through the lats.

Not only that it will really reduce the chance of you injuring your shoulders.

For someone reason, everyone’s idea of good form is staying rigid.  Not just with the lat pull down but with many other movements.  This couldn’t be more wrong and will create so many disadvantages.

You must work with your bodies natural mechanical movements and not fight against them.

Follow the pull-up technique above, the difference being you want to pull the bar down so that it nearly touches the top part of your chest.  During the pulling movement, you want to go through the leaning back motion in a controlled manner.

If you are finding you have to lean back more then 45 degrees to enable the bar to touch your chest, then it means the weight is probably too heavy.  Reduce slightly and work on form.

Slowly reverse the movement until you are in a fully upright and stretched position.

Repeat again for the following reps.

Top Back Exercises Final Words

There are many other variations to these 4 exercises that are also extremely effective.  The main ones being,  seated cable rows and single-arm dumbbell rows.

However, the 4 listed above are by far the most effective.  If you would like help with any of the other 3 I haven’t listed, then I will be more then happy to add them on.

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