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December 16, 2021 9 min read

To achieve the ultimate beach bod, lifters often focus on exercises that hit the glamour muscles they see in the mirror, like the bicep curl and bench press. Although these exercises can produce aesthetic and overall health and performance benefits, it's important that the back muscles not be neglected. Performing back exercises regularly has potential to improve posture, decrease risk of injuries, and allow for heavier lifts.

Back Muscles

Although there are several muscles in the back, 40 to be exact, these are the primary ones activated through your back day workout.

Latissimus Dorsi

The biggest muscle in your upper body runs across the width of your middle and lower back and are known as the lats. That "V" shape that is notorious in bodybuilders can be produced by building this muscle.

The lats are responsible for stabilizing your back, shoulders, neck, and hips and studies suggest, can even assist in breathing. If that's not enough to convince you to exercise this muscle, the lats can create a wider shoulder and smaller waist aesthetic.

Along with the erector spinae, calves, hamstrings, glutes, and rhomboids, the lats help to make up the posterior chain. These muscles are important for overall athletic performance and potential injury prevention in and outside the gym.

Rhomboids

If you've ever squeezed your shoulder blades together, you've used your rhomboids. They are composed of two muscles, the rhomboid major and rhomboid minor. You can find these muscles in your upper back, connecting your spine to your scapula.

Your posture can be affected by weak rhomboids since they are responsible for pulling the shoulder blades together and helping to stabilize the shoulders. Unstable shoulders can increase your risk of injury.

Anytime you throw a ball or lift an object overhead, your shoulders can be at risk, and strong rhomboids can have a hand in injury and back pain prevention.

Trapezius

Starting at the base of your neck, stretching across your shoulders, and extending down your mid back is the trapezius muscle.

Better known as the traps, this muscle gets its name from the trapezoidal-like shape it resembles.

You can thank your traps anytime you tilt or turn your head, shrug your shoulders, or lift your arms, so it may come to no surprise why this muscle is important for daily function.

Studies suggest that strengthening the traps can reduce neck pain, help prevent injuries in the head, neck, and shoulders, and improve posture.

Athletes such as football players and wrestlers often have larger, visible traps. It's important to build muscle in the back and neck, so that these muscles are supported to help reduce risk of injury.

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae musclesconsist of three muscles that run down either side of the spine and down to the sacrum. These muscles are important for maintaining good posture and stabilizing the spine, as well as side-to-side flexion, back extension, and rotation.

Supporting your spine is essential, but that's not all the erector spinae does. When strengthened, these muscles can also help prevent low back pain, contribute to overall athletic performance, and help increase your total body strength.

Exercises like the deadlift and squatreap several full body benefits, and the erector spinae is worked in both of them.

Build a Strong Back

Joined together, these primary muscles can help create a strong back, which translates to better lifts and better quality of life. There are plenty of exercises out there, but doing the right ones properly and safely can help you achieve the back strength you're looking for.

Building strength can come in different forms of exercises, from bodyweight to barbell to dumbbell and more. Check out the best back exercises for building strength below.

1. Deadlift

Known as one of the Kings of all exercise, the deadlift is great for strengthening the posterior chain and producing overall strength. The deadlift is beneficial for strengthening the back as it recruits the lats, traps, rhomboids, and erector spinae. Performing this exercise regularly can help protect your low back since the hip hinging motion mimics everyday movements, such as picking something up or lifting a heavy object.

There are several variations of the deadlift, such as the dumbbell, single-leg, Romanian, sumo, but the most popular variation is the barbell deadlift, which is used in competitive powerlifting.

To begin, load the barbell with an appropriate amount of weight for your fitness level. Check out the chart here if you're unsure of where to start.

2. Bent-Over Row

Several muscle groups in your back, such as the lats, rhomboids, traps, and posterior deltoids, are activated when performing the bent-over row.

You can use dumbbells or a barbell, but using a barbell allows a lifter to pull more weight, producing more strength and muscle. Increased strength in these back muscles help to improve posture and spine stability, as well as assist in other lifts like the deadlift.

For the bent-over row, stand with your feet about hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hips hinged until your back is almost parallel to the ground. Your back should stay flat to avoid dangerous and ineffective reps. You can hold a barbell in an overhand or underhand grip, both of which accrue their own benefits.

Hold the barbell in line with your chest and your arms straight. Think about pulling with your elbows as you drive the weight towards your torso until the bar touches the area around your sternum, or as close you can get it. Slowly return the barbell to its starting position.

3. Pull-Up

One of the best bodyweight exercises you can do is the pull-up because it's a compound exercise that strengthens the back and can improve overall strength. Since little equipment is required, you could do the pull-up almost anywhere that has a stable apparatus. Using your own bodyweight can help improve loaded exercises, and the pull-up in particular is a functional exercise that can translate to everyday life.

To do the pull-up, all you need is your body and a pull-up bar, and maybe extra weight if you need a challenge. Grab the pull-up bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, wrapping your thumbs underneath.

Activate your lats by pulling your shoulders down and away from your ears. Using your arms and back, pull your body straight up towards the bar until your chin is over it. Slowly lower back down to the dead hang position.

4. Lat Pulldown

If you're working on getting your pull-ups down, or up we should say, the lat pulldown is a great alternative as it mimics the movement. However, it's not only an alternative but can be implemented into any lifter's workout to help build back strength.

The lats, traps, rhomboids, and rear delts are all activated when performed properly. Full range of motion is important here since you're using a machine, which can sometimes limit it.

To start, straddle a bench and face the cable machine. With an overhand grip, grab the bar with your hands more than shoulder-width apart. Think about pulling with your armpits to activate your lats and keep your elbows pointed down as you pull the bar just below your chin. Slowly extend your arms again while still keeping your lats engaged.

5. Dumbbell Pullover

To help build back strength and shoulder mobility, grab a bench and a dumbbell for the pullover.

Studies suggest that exercising stretched muscles under load may increase hypertrophy and overall performance. The pullover stretches the lats, which could result in more muscle growth and increased mobility.

More mobility in the lats can help with overhead mobility, making for safer and more efficient lifts.

To perform the pullover, lie on a flat bench with your head supported on it. Choose a moderately heavy dumbbell depending on your strength and experience. Hold the weight in a diamond grip, meaning your hands are shaped like a diamond around the stem and your palms are on the weight plates.

Keep your arms straight and your core engaged as you lower the dumbbell behind you. Avoid bending your elbows in order to target your lats more than your triceps. When you've reached your range of motion without over-extending, pull the dumbbell back to the starting position.

6. Back Extension

The low back muscles are often neglected, but not exercising them could cause back pain and may even affect your core workout. The lower back supports the core in planks, sit-ups, and other ab exercises, so strengthening it could improve other areas of performance. The back extension recruits your erector spinae, which provides stability to the spine. The more support your spine has, the more ability it has to support you in lifts and everyday activities like simply walking.

There are different ways to do the back extension, for example, on a back extension machine, an incline bench, a BOSU ball, or even on the floor. One of the more popular variations is on a back extension machine, so we'll discuss that one.

Lie face down on the back extension machine with your thighs directly on the pads, hips just above the top of the pads, and feet secured by the pads at the bottom. Cross your arms across your chest and lower all the way down. When you return, your spine should not flex to avoid hyperextension.

7. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

Single Arm Dumbell Row

Similar to the bent-over row, the single-arm dumbbell row is a unilateral exercise that helps build back strength on equal sides of the body. Unilateral exercises have the ability to correct muscle and strength imbalances, which can improve your multilateral lifts.

Although you may not use as heavy of a weight as a standard row, this variation can still produce similar benefits.

Typically, you might use a bench for support for this exercise, but you can also perform without one. If you're using a bench, place your right hand and right knee on the bench with a dumbbell in your left hand. Your other leg should extend behind you for support. Keeping your elbow tight and back flat, pull the dumbbell up to your ribcage and slowly lower back down.

8. Inverted Row

Target your lats, traps, rhomboids, and erector spinae with the inverted row. As another row variation, this can be a great progression exercise for pull-ups and is great for beginners. More advanced lifters can benefit from the inverted row too since it challenges grip strength and can be easily made harder by increasing the angle.

Find a stable apparatus, like a barbell, and get underneath it. Grab the bar with an overhand, underhand, or mixed grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Your body should be almost parallel to the ground, depending on the aggression of the angle you choose. Keeping your body in a straight line, pull up towards the bar until your chest reaches it. Slowly extend your arms to start over.

9. Farmer's Carry

True to its name, the farmer's carry requires you to carry weight in both hands and walk a certain distance. They are notorious for building grip strength but are great for lats, traps, and low back activation.

You must keep your posture up as the gravity of the weight tries to pull you down, ultimately recruiting your back muscles.

To start, hold weights on each side of your body. These can be dumbbells, kettlebells, or even jugs of water if that's all you have. Keep tension in your body by squeezing your core and keeping your chest tall. Take small, quick steps across the floor until you reach the destination.

10. Good Morning

It's not just a friendly salutation; the good morning is a beneficial exercise for strengthening the posterior chain. Similar to the movement of the Romanian deadlift, this exercise requires a flat back and a hip hinge.

The good morning could be used as a warm-up or as part of your workout to strengthen your upper and lower back, which can help endurance in squats and deadlifts.

Place a barbell on your shoulders, making sure it is evenly placed and stable. Keep your core tight and bend your knees slightly when you start to hinge over at your hips. Maintain a neutral spine the whole time for safe and effective movements. When your back is almost parallel to the ground, stand back up.

Conclusion

Strength training is important for building a strong back to improve your lifts and quality of life. Of course, the benefits of a safer and more effective workout are probably enticing enough, but it must help to know you can look as good in the back as you do in the front.

A combination of these 10 exercises can help hit your entire back for your next upper body day. Whether you have access to fancy equipment at the gym or not, most of these exercises can be modified to fit your lifestyle and fitness level, so there's really no excuse to not start building back strength now.