You'll never meet someone who's built like a house without a back that has size and strength. That's because focusing on back exercises does a lot more than create a V-shaped torso — it also builds a more prominent chest, improves posture, and increases shoulder width. Here, the five best movements to get a strong and balanced back.
Deadlifts not only hit the lower and upper back, they create an amazing strength foundation, targeting the rest of the posterior chain (like your glutes and hamstrings) to improve your body's hip extension. Deadlifts are also the only back exercise you'll likely be able to perform with hundreds of pounds, so take advantage of the exercise and get the strength and size benefits of heavy loads.
Use a wider grip for your pull-ups to better hit the lats and teres muscles — both key players in creating upper back width. (A narrow-grip pull-up recruits more power from your biceps instead of your back.) Initiate each rep by pulling your shoulders and scapula back to ensure your lats and teres are engaged.
Performing single-arm dumbbell rows are a smart follow-up to compound exercises like deadlifts and pull-ups, because your now-fatigued back is supported and the upper back gets more isolation. Row patterns can help create back thickness, which is something pull-ups and deadlifts aren't as effective at doing. Using a neutral grip that feels comfortable, draw your elbow up to your side, pulling back as far as possible without twisting your torso.
A common mistake people make in training back muscles is not including the rear deltoids (back of the shoulders). These muscles provide external shoulder rotation and primarily work with your back muscles — think of them as an extension of your back. Use a seated cable machine with a rope grip, and raise the pulley to chest height. With arms extended and a knuckles-in grip, pull the ropes to forehead level. You'll zero in on the rear delts, and improve the range of motion of your upper arm.
Inverted rows are one of the easiest bodyweight exercises to set up: all you need is a bar. Set one up about waist level in the squat cage or Smith machine — you can also use TRX or gymnastics rings — and perform under-the-bar row repetitions with a rigid body and chin-up grip. If you can't do this with your legs extended straight out in front of you, bend your knees to plant your feet, and keep your hips lifted.
Your Stronger Back Workout
Put these five moves together with this routine for the gym:
A. Barbell Deadlifts: 6 sets of 3 reps; go heavy and rest three minutes between sets
B. Pull-ups: 5 sets of max reps, rest two minutes between sets
C. Single arm dumbbell row: 4 sets of 12 reps per arm (Rest 90 seconds between sets, and 15 seconds between arms)
D. Inverted row and face-pull superset: Perform max reps on the inverted row, then immediately do 20 reps for the face-pull. Do four supersets with 90 seconds rest between each round.