15 Best Exercises for A Stronger Back

15 Best Exercises for A Stronger Back

When it comes to building a bigger, wider and all around stronger back, the variety of exercises at your disposal couldn’t be more endless. In this list we provide specific details on what they do, what muscle groups they target and why, as well as easy instructions on how to do them.

That said, regardless of whatever your goals may be, building a bigger back is totally possible using these exercises. Better yet, it’s even a huge positive to incorporate new exercises into your fitness routine often so you can target different muscles and keep your body confused.

If you don’t already know, muscle confusion is a mainstream term for basically introducing new techniques into your regimen. This is important because the human body is mindbogglingly efficient at adapting to the same environment over a given period of time, like weight lifting.

So, in order to prevent your body from ‘plateauing’ and becoming used to the same movements, weights, and repetitions and making it impossible for yourself to improve, you’ll have to mix things up a bit. In a sense, you’re fighting your own body, but trust us- it’s totally worth it. So, without any further ado, let’s get into the 15 best back exercises you can do at your local gym.

1. Lateral Pull-downs

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Compound | Gear: Wide Bar, Pull Down Machine | Target: Back, sides

Lateral Pull-Downs are just about on par with deadlifts when it comes to exercise popularity. This compound movement recruits a wide range of assistive muscles to help target your lower, center, and sides of your back. It’s as versatile as it is effective for building a stronger back.

Lateral Pull-downs: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Lateral Pull-down Directions

The first step in performing a lateral pull-down is ensuring you have the correct form. Start by attaching a wide bar to a pull-down machine and then sit on the bench. Place your feet flat on the floor and adjust the height of the knee padding until your legs are resting firmly against it.

Next, adjust the weight stack’s resistance to a relatively comfortable setting. Now grab the bar above with a pronated grip (facing away) and set your hands a little past shoulder width. This is your starting position. With your back arched and legs locked, exhale and slowly lower the bar.

Press your chest out and curve your torso back slightly with the lowering motion until it touches your clavicle. Once it’s reached your pecs, hold its position for a second and squeeze your back. Then exhale and reverse the movement, slowly returning the bar back to its starting position.

Pro Tip: Remember to focus on engaging your back muscles to pull the bar down. This helps maintain proper form and target your back more effectively instead of naturally using forearms.

2. Wide-Grip Pull-Up

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Compound | Gear: High Bar | Target: Upper and lower back, arms

In most countries, Pull-Up exercises are used as a blanket standard to evaluate and determine one’s level of physical fitness and athleticism. From the military to the schoolyard, this simple movement is entrenched in history- and with good reason. You don’t wanna skimp on these…

Wide-Grip Pull-Up: 3 Sets of 8-10 Reps

Wide-Grip Pull Up Directions

If you’ve ever used your arms to pull your body over a ledge, fence, or wall, then you’ve done a pull-up. This exercise is very quick and simple to perform, however, it isn’t without its difficulty.

Begin by finding an elevated bar and grab onto it with a pronated wide-hand grip (hands facing in front of you past shoulder width). Your body should enter a dead-hang where your arms are fully extended a little past shoulder width. This is your starting position.

Next, exhale and pull yourself up until your chin crosses above the bar, without swinging around or using momentum. When you’ve reached this point, hold it for a second and really focus on squeezing your back. Then inhale and slowly reverse the movement and repeat as necessary.

Pro Tip: If at first you’re unable to lift your body-weight (like me), find and make use of an assisted pull-up machine. It can be a life saver if you aren’t yet strong enough or are fatigued.

3. Hyper-extension Back Raises

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Raise, Isolate | Gear: Hyper-EX Bench | Target: Back

Back extensions, or known by most as ‘back raises’, are one of the best warm-ups or ending back exercises. This is because it can better activate your mind-muscle connection prior to an intensive exercise like deadlifts to help prevent potential injuries. Did we say it’s really simple?

Back Raises: 3 Sets of 12-18 Reps

Hyper-extension Back Raise Directions

This exercise is as straight-forward (pun intended) as they get. Find a hyperextension bench or ‘Roman chair’ and lay on it with your face and chest forward. Anchor your ankles firmly in place and adjust the front thigh padding that it doesn’t obstruct your waist when you lean forward.

Now, with your body angled straight with the bench and securely in place, you can either put your hands behind your head or cross them in the shape of an “X” to your shoulders in front of you. You can now inhale and slowly lower your torso while keeping a straight back.

Continue lowering your torso until you feel tension in your legs without rounding out your back. It’s very important to keep your back flat and straight. This includes on the way back up. Once you’ve reached the bottom of, inhale and slowly reverse to where you initially began.

Pro Tip: If bodyweight isn’t enough of a challenge, grab a plate (start light) and cross your arms over it. Grasp it and continue the exercise with added resistance. Remember to stay straight.

4. Single Arm Dumbbell Rows

Difficulty: Intermediate | Force: Pull, Compound| Gear: Flat Bench | Target: Sides, middle back

This fan-favorite exercise is an athletic staple when it comes to training your back. In addition to working the center of your back, it recruits your biceps, traps, and shoulders to help assist. Incorporate this exercise into your regimen to help sculpt a more well-rounded back physique.

Single Arm Dumbbell Rows: 3 Sets of 6-8 Reps

Single Arm Dumbbell Row Directions

Before we can begin, we must first go over its proper form. Start by placing a dumbbell on both sides of a flat bench. Next, lift and rest your left knee on the bench and lean your body forward until it’s parallel to the ground. Then, press your left arm into the bench for better stability.

While keeping your back straight, back forward and left side planted firmly into the bench, pick up the dumbbell on the right side of the bench using your right arm so that the palms of your hands face toward your chest. Your right arm should be extended and elbow near the torso.

Once your form is ready, exhale and start the movement by pulling the dumbbell straight up to your right side until your elbow is parallel to your body with the floor. The rest of your body should remain stationary- only your arm should move. Pause at the top and squeeze your sides.

Now, exhale and slowly lower the dumbbell back down to the point where your first brought it up. Repeat this movement for as many reps as you need and switch sides (right to left, etc).

Pro Tip: It’s important to focus on engaging your back muscles as you pull. Your arms should only be used to hold and stabilize the dumbbell- not lift it. Don’t bend your back with the weight.

5. Wide-Grip Seated Cable Rows

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Compound | Gear: Wide-Bar, Row Machine | Target: Lots of back

Seated rows are one of the best all-encompassing pull exercises you can perform- especially if a wide bar grip is being used. This is because it hits a wide range of different muscles including your lats, delts, biceps, traps (middle and lower) as well as both your teres major and minor.

Wide-Grip Seated Cable Rows: 3 Sets of 6-8 Reps

Wide-Grip Seated Cable Row Directions

Attach a wide-bar to a seated cable row machine and adjust the stack to a comfortable weight setting. Sit down and plant your feet into the footpads in front of you. Next, with your back straight and chest out, lean forward and grasp the bar slightly past shoulder width.

Once your form is set, start exhaling and focus on engaging your back to slowly pull the bar toward your chest until it touches your chest. Your shoulders should be back and chest out. You shouldn’t pull with your arms. Hold it at your stomach for a second and squeeze your back.

Now, begin inhaling and slowly return the bar to its natural resting position (reverse the movement you just did). Don’t use the weights momentum or swing your back- keep the movement controlled and steady. It’s normal (ok) for your torso to lean forward on the return.

Pro Tip: The most common mistake we see with this exercise is when people over-arch their back or move around. Keep your body symmetrical, elbows close to your side and back arched.

6. V-Handle Seated Cable Rows

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Compound | Gear: Wide-Bar, Row machine | Target: Sides, back

Like #5, this exercise utilizes the same low pulley row machine except instead of a wide-grip bar it uses a V-Handle. The V-Handles isolates your sides and center back very effectively. Because of this isolation, lower weight is typically used due to fewer muscle groups assisting.

Seated V-Handle Cable Rows: 3 Sets of 6-8 Reps

V-Handle Seated Cable Rows Directions

Start by finding a low pulley machine, adjust the weight to a moderately comfortable setting and attach a V-handle grip. Sit down and your plant your feet onto the footrests. With your chest out and back straight, lean forward and grasp the V-handle. This is your starting position.

With your arms out, palms facing each other and knees slightly bent, exhale and pull the v-bar until it touches your abs. Remember to move your torso with the exercise and to focus on using your lats to pull- not your arms. Hold the grip at your core for a moment and squeeze your back.

Next, breathe in and slowly reverse the movement until the bar is back at its original starting position. Keep your chest out and back slightly arched as you do this movement.

Pro Tip: For this exercise, maintaining proper form is absolutely critical. Remember to take it slow, light and easy the first few times- particularly if it’s new to you or if it’s just been a while.

7. Standing T-Bar Row

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Row, | Gear: T-Bar Row Machine | Target: Back, sides, shoulder

There are two main motions you can use to build your back: pulling and pushing. Standing t-bar rows are one of our favorites because of their simplicity (one step) and effectivity.

Standing T-Bar Row: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Standing T-Bar Row Directions

Add your desired amount of weight to a t-bar row machine. Stand straight and step up onto the foot platform. Bend your knees slightly and lean forward into the grips at about a 45-degree angle and grasp the handles at arm’s length using a pronated (facing in) grip.

This is your starting position. Keeping your arms straight, exhale and retract your shoulder blades and engage your back to pull the handles up to your waist. As you row, extend your knees and chest slightly to keep the rest of your body fluid with the motion.

When you feel a good amount of tension, pause for a moment and squeeze your back. Now slowly reverse the rowing movement you just did and return the handles to the ground, inhaling as you do. Repeat this motion for the desired number of reps!

Pro Tip: Your torso, legs, and back should be fluid at all times during this exercise. Try to limit any potential ‘swing’ by starting with a light weight and taking the movement slow.

8. Reverse Grip Bent Over Smith Machine Row

Difficulty: Intermediate | Force: Row, Compound | Gear: Smith Machine | Target: Back, sides

The smith machine, or ‘granny’ machine is one of our most favorites. The sheer number of different movements and exercises that can be performed on this mechanical wonder is nothing short of amazing. One of it’s best abilities, though, is helping you row yourself a back.

Smith Machine Reverse Grip Rows: 3 Sets of 6-8 Reps

Reverse Grip Bent Over Smith Machine Row Directions

Start by setting the smith machine’s bar to the lowest setting and then add your desired number of weight. Then, standing with your legs at shoulder-width, bend over and grab the bar with the palms of your hands facing up toward you at a distance slightly past shoulder-width (wide-grip).

Next, stand up straight (taking the weight with you). This will be your starting position. Once your form is properly realized, exhale, lean forward and row the barbell toward your body until it nearly makes contact. Hold at the top of this movement and squeeze your back for a second.

Now slowly reverse the exercise and return to your first starting position. And that’s a rep.

Pro Tip: Remember to keep your torso stationary and knees slightly bent. There shouldn’t be any swing. If there is, lower the weight until you can properly correct your form.

9. Seated Machine Row

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Row, Compound | Gear: Machine Row | Target: Back, sides

The seated machine row is an effective exercise that helps safely balance out weight and target a wide range of different back muscles. This is because of its particular movement making it great for recruiting assistive muscles from your arm and chest to help sculpt out a physique.

Seated Machine Rows: 3 Sets of 8-10 Reps

Seated Machine Row Directions

Begin by sitting into a seated machine row and plant your feet firmly into the rests. Add weights and adjust the chest pad until your arms feel a mild stretch when holding onto the bars in front of you. The palms of your hands should be facing each other. This will be your starting position.

Start exhaling and pull the bars toward your chest using your sides and back. Your elbows shouldn’t extend past your sides. Keep your chest out and shoulders back as you perform this. Once the bars are almost parallel to your sides, pause for a second and squeeze your back.

After you’ve engaged your back, breath in and slowly return the bar to its rest position.

Pro Tip: It’s critical to always make sure your back is arched and your chest is out. Your arms shouldn’t feel ‘pulled’ but rather a mild stretch. Don’t flare your elbows and keep stable feet.

10. Standing Landmine Bar Row

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Row, Compound | Gear: T-Bar | Target: Back, Shoulders

Standing landmine rows are one of the simplest yet most effective back movements you can do. In addition to targeting a wide range of different muscle groups across the entire back, it’s also great for causing confusion when your muscles are accustomed to your routine.

Landmine Bar Row: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Standing Landmine Row Directions

First, grab a V-Handle (Double-D) and place it around the bar next to the collar towards the top of the T-Bar. Now add your desired amount of weight in the form of plates to the end of the bar. Stand over the bar, lean your chest forward, and grab the handle. This is your starting position.

Next, using both your legs and hips, stand up at shoulder-width. Exhale and slowly raise the bar to your chest by retracting your shoulder blades. Once the plate has almost touched your abdomen, hold it there for a second and focus on squeezing your back muscles.

Slowly reverse the movement and return the bar to the original starting position.

Pro Tip: Form is the most difficult part when it comes to standing landmine bar rows. Keep your legs slightly bent at shoulder width and your chest forward. Remember this and you’ll do great.

11. Classic Barbell Deadlift

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Lift, Isolate| Gear: Barbell | Target: Spine, glutes (butt), some upper legs

Perhaps one of if not the most well known back exercise is the legendary dead-lift. A vital piece of the legendary trio (Deadlift, Squat, Bench Press), this exercise is best known among athletes and pro bodybuilders alike for helping effectively build an unmistakenly powerful back.

Classic Barbell Deadlift: 3 Sets of 6-8 Reps

Classic Barbell Dead Directions

Add weighted plates to both collars on a barbell. With the bar centered over your feet, keep your legs about hip-width apart. Bend forward at the hip (knees lowering toward the barbell) and grab the bar with your hands at about shoulder-width. Your palms should be facing inward.

This is your starting position. Once you’ve properly realized the correct form, exhale and, using your back and glutes, slowly raise your back until it’s standing up straight. Your goal isn’t necessarily to lift the bar, but rather raise your back with the bar acting as weighted resistance.

Once your back’s straight and arms are fully extended, hold this position for a moment and squeeze your muscles before slowly returning it back to its original starting position.

Pro Tip: Don’t flare out your elbows. Keep them close to your sides. Your back should also be straight at all times, even as you bend forward. The legs won’t move either aside from the bend.

12. Bent Over Barbell Deadlift

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Free Row, Isolate| Gear: Bar | Target: Upper, center, and sides

While similar in practice to #11, this variation of the dead lift isolates more of the back and doesn’t recruit nearly as many other muscles to help assist. We like to use this as the first exercise after a warm-up routine (like body-weight back raises) when we’re targeting the back.

Bent-Over Barbell Deadlift: 3 Sets of 6-8 Reps

Bent Over Barbell Deadlift Directions

Find a barbell on the floor and stack a moderately comfortable amount of weight onto each side. Standing with your feet at the center of the bar, bend your knees and lean your chest forward by bending at the hips. Grip the bar and keep both your head up and back straight. Your hands should be slightly past shoulder-width and your palms pronated (facing in at your body).

This will be your starting position. Begin exhaling and focus on using your back to lift the bar to your chest. As you pull the bar to your chest, don’t let your elbows flare out or use your arms to pull the bar. Your back shouldn’t move at all as you lift or lower the bar. Once you’ve reached the top of the movement, hold this position for a second and squeeze your entire back.

Finally, reverse the movement and slowly lower the bar back to its original position in the same way you brought it up. Remember to inhale on the way down and repeat as necessary.

Pro Tip: Maintaining proper form (basically staying still) will certainly reward you with a sore back in the morning. Remember: Legs at hip-width, arms slightly past shoulder-width, head up and back straight. As long as you keep your chest stationary, well, you’re golden.

13. TRX Rotational Inverted Row

Difficulty: Intermediate | Force: Pull, Isolation| Gear: TRX Trainer | Target: Back, core, balance

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a TRX suspension trainer, then we strongly suggest taking advantage of it. Born in the US Navy SEALs, this type of exercise develops not only your back but also your flexibility, core stability, and balance by leveraging gravity against your body.

Suspended Rotational Inverted Rows: 3 Sets of 10-12 Reps

Suspended Rotational Inverted Rows Directions

Start by grasping the TRX handles using a pronated (palms facing away) grip. Lie back until your heel is the only point of contact between your body and the floor with your arms fully extended in front of you. Your torso and legs should look like one straight, symmetrical line.

This will be your starting position. Begin the movement by retracting your shoulder blades and raising your body until your torso is a few inches away from the handles. Remember to keep your head up, chest out and back straight at all times. When you’ve reached the top of the movement and feel constant tension, take a second and concentrate on squeezing your back.

Next, inhale and slowly reverse the movement to return to your original starting position.

Pro Tip: The most challenging part about this exercise is maintaining correct form. Remember to move slowly and to adjust as necessary. The farther away your feet are from your body the more difficult it will be to raise yourself, so move them closer if you need lower weight.

14. Decline Bench Dumbbell Pull Over

Difficulty: X | Force: X, X | Gear: X | Target: X

Widely considered to be one of bodybuilding’s most controversial exercises, dumbbell pullovers are still of hot debate to this today. It was first popularized after WW2 when barrel bodies were ‘in‘. Science says no but many gym legends, like Arnold, credit their backs to them. That said there’s nothing to be afraid of as long as you keep good form and don’t go past your limits.

Decline Bench Dumbbell Pullovers: 3 Sets of 6-8 Reps

Decline Bench Dumbbell Pull Over Directions

First, place a dumbbell on the floor behind the headrest of a decline bench. Lie down with your back on the said bench and lock your feet into position under the rests. With your back slightly arched, take your arms and grab the dumbbell behind your head with your palms each other.

Carefully raise the dumbbell over your head until your arms are at shoulder width and fully extended above your head. This will be your starting position.

Once your form has been properly realized, start inhaling and lower the dumbbell to the floor in the same way it was raised except stop when your hands are parallel to it (the floor). When you’ve reached this position, pause for a second and focus on squeezing your back muscles.

Finally, inhale and reverse the movement to return to your original starting position. Your torso, legs, and waist should remain stationary besides your shoulder joint.

Pro Tip: Because there’s a heavy dumbbell hanging directly above your face for most of this exercise, we have to emphasize increased caution in maintaining and keeping control of the weight and proper form. Start with a low weight you’re comfortable using and take it slow. Also, if you have shoulder issues, we’d suggest staying on the safe side of things and not do this.

15. Renegade Rows

Difficulty: Intermediate | Force: Pull, Compound | Gear: 2 Dumbbells | Target: Back, core, triceps

From our experience, training back with renegade rows is typically best suited as either a final or warm-up exercise. In practice, it’s quite simple and undoubtedly effective, so the only factor you really need to pay attention to is your form. This is particularly true if it’s your first time.

Dumbbell Renegade Rows: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Dumbbell Renegade Row Directions

After selecting the two dumbbells of choice, the first step in performing renegade rows is to assume the correct form. Place both dumbbells on the ground and get into a push-up position with them. Your arms will be fully extended with the dumbbells underneath your shoulders while your back’s straight (not arched) and aligned with your hips. This will be your starting position.

To begin, exhale and perform a full push-up with your hands still holding onto the dumbbells (they won’t let go at any point during this exercise). Once you’ve done a full push-up, row the left-hand dumbbell up to your hip without rotating your spine and keeping the elbow tucked.

Then, once you’ve finished the row, repeat the exact same movement except with the other side and breathe on the way up. Remember to row slow and to start with a low amount of weight to gauge where you’re at physically. Even pro athletes can be owned by moderate renegade rows.

Pro Tip: When you go to row after each full push-up, dig your non-rowing arm into the stationary dumbbell and firmly keep your feet on the ground. This helps stability as well as reduce spinal and hip rotation. Remember to keep your body straight and tuck those elbows.