July 19, 2021 10 min read
Just about every lifter's dream is to get that perfect, V-shaped back. And, the way to achieve that is to build a bigger upper back by doing the best upper back strengthening exercises.
With that said, we have a list of the ten best upper back exercises for a bigger and stronger back. Not only will these help you grow bigger and stronger, but they'll also help:
For an overall better back, get these ten exercises into your back workout routine right away!
There are three large primary mover muscles in your upper back, including the:
First off, the trapezius is a pair of triangle-shaped muscles that form a diamond shape in your upper back. The diamond extends across your shoulders and up the length of your mid-spine into the neck. Its job is to stabilize and move the scapula. The scapula is also known as your shoulder blades.
Second, the latissimus dorsi, also known as the lats, is the largest muscle in your back and is split into two halves. Each half is a triangle-shaped muscle that lays flat on the mid-back and stretches around the sides of the body. It has three jobs, all involving moving the arms from the shoulders, including:
Third and lastly, the rhomboids are two rhombus-shaped muscles on each half of the upper back, underneath the trapezius. Their primary function is to pinch and lift the shoulder blades to initiate pulling movements. Additionally, their secondary job is to provide support to the shoulder blades.
In addition to the three primary mover muscles, there are a few more muscles that straddle your upper back region and provide support, including the:
These muscles are not necessarily in your upper back, but they support the upper back muscles during exercises that target the primary movers.
Now that you know more about upper back anatomy, here are the ten best exercises that strengthen and increase the size of your upper back muscles!
The first and perhaps most famous of all the upper back exercises is the reverse fly. It’s one of the best exercises for reaching the deep rhomboids. Here's how to do reverse flys with proper form:
Lat pulldowns are another classic back exercise. They target your lats as well as the biceps and triceps. Strengthening the lats is so important because strong lats significantly help improve posture and spinal stability. Not many people realize the importance of good posture.
Considering that back pain is the world's leading cause of disability and proper posture is one of the best ways to prevent it, you should pay extra attention to strengthening the lats! Before doing lat pulldowns, you need to set up the pulldown machine.
Sit on the machine's seat and reach up to grab the pulldown bar. If you can grab it with a small elbow bend, then you're good. If the bar is too high or too low, then adjust the height of the bar. Then, adjust the pressure of the knee pad so that your quads stay touching the seat.
Now that your set-up is ready, here's how to do lat pulldowns with perfect form:
The key is to keep your back straight during the exercise. Leaning backward or arching your back will take some of the work off of your lats and incorrectly redistribute it to other muscles.
And now, the king of all exercises: the deadlift. A perfect example of a full-body exercise, deadlifts work just about every muscle in your posterior chain, including the:
Not only do deadlifts help build strength in each of these muscle groups, but they also improve:
Whoever you are, if you aren't already doing deadlifts, then you need to add them to your workout routine! Check out our complete guide to deadlifts to get started today!
If you want a single exercise that targets all three of your primary upper back muscles, then look no further than seated cable rows. They also target several middle back and lower back muscles, including the erector spinae.
Like lat pulldowns, you need to set up your machine before getting started. Sit on the rowing seat with your knees slightly bent. Reach forward and grab the row handle with both hands, keeping only a slight bend in your elbows. If the handle is too close or too far, then adjust the length of the cable.
Here's how to do seated cable rows with the right form:
One way to cross-train cable rows is to use the rowing machine on your cardio day. You'll get a killer upper back workout and boost your heart rate at the same time!
Barbell bent-over rows are a variation of the original barbell row. While the OG barbell rows are excellent, we like the bent-over version because it channels additional muscles in your upper body, including the rear delts.
The rear (posterior) delts connect the upper back to the shoulders. Their primary job is to abduct the arms. Here's how to do barbell rows:
Pull-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises out there. They work all three of your primary upper back muscles, as well as several muscles in your shoulders and upper arms.
Don't confuse pull-ups with chin-ups, which use an underhand grip and target the biceps and triceps rather than the back. Here's how to do pull-ups with perfect form:
One form tip to remember is to keep your lower body still as you pull yourself up. The movement is a slow and controlled pull, not a swing. Avoid using your legs to create power and pull yourself up.
If you do, it'll reduce the exercises' upper back strengthening benefits. If you want to level up your pull-ups, try one of these challenging modifications:
Next up, supermans are another bodyweight exercise. Because they require no equipment, you can do them anywhere, at any time. Like deadlifts, they target all of the muscles in your posterior chain. Having a strong posterior chain is crucial for several reasons, including:
Here's how to do supermans:
You will know you are doing this exercise right if you look like superman with your limbs hovering above the ground!
Resistance bands are a commonly underestimated piece of exercise equipment. As a simple rubber band, it's easy to think that resistance bands won't help you build bigger and stronger upper back muscles.
However, you would be sadly mistaken to think that resistance band exercises are easy and ineffective. Here's how to do resistance band pull-aparts:
Kettlebells are one of the best pieces of workout equipment. They're incredibly diverse, so you could put together an entire workout out of just different kettlebell exercises.
Kettlebell cleans target your upper back muscles more than most other kettlebell exercises. In addition to working your upper back, cleans have many other benefits, including:
Here's how you can do kettlebell cleans:
With kettlebell exercises, including the clean, they should be both a swing and controlled movement. You want the drive from your hips to generate the swing, but you also want to do a controlled lift to strengthen your back muscles.
If you can combine the swing and the lift aspects, then you are golden! For even more kettlebell exercises, check out our complete guide to kettlebell training!
Last but not least, try single-arm dumbbell rows. Because it targets all of the upper back muscles, and several other muscle groups, it is a great exercise to end on. In addition to the lats, trapezius, and rhomboids, single-arm dumbbell rows work the:
Before getting started, you need to grab a flat bench and one dumbbell. Now, here's how to do the single-arm row with proper form:
It was difficult to limit this list to just ten exercises. While all of the above upper back exercises are fantastic, we put together a short list of additional exercises that are also great, but didn't quite make the top ten.
These exercises didn’t make the cut because they don't use the upper back muscles as their primary mover muscles. Rather, they use the upper back muscles for support and stabilization.Here are the upper back exercises that are great, but didn't make it into the top ten:
If you have extra space in your back day routine, consider throwing in one of these exercises!
Build an enviable upper back with our top ten upper back exercises! Bigger and stronger muscles will help you get that V-shaped look that everyone is after. Upgrade your upper back day routine today!
Bonus tip: While we are passionate about building a bigger upper back, we're equally passionate about not skipping leg day. Check out our top ten exercises for a better lower body!