Let’s admit it. We’ve all been there: we’ve got a handful of staple movements in our training “toolbox” and every few months we realize we’ve been doing the same stuff over and over again. Repetition and routine are not necessarily the enemy, of course–but when it comes to building better strength, power, and flexibility, it’s effective to mix things up every now and then. But if you’re really trying to get the most out of your muscle-building back exercises, this is what you need to know.

Training your back is no different. Your spine and trunk are involved in pretty much everything you do, and developing a stronger core can have a positive influence on virtually every aspect of your health: better posture, better stability during upper and lower body movements, better breathing, better-looking profile. There are tons of back exercises that add muscle to add to your gym routine, and today we’re sharing a few of our staple favorites.


muscle building back exercisesBACK ANATOMY 101: THE BASICS

Go ahead and pat yourself on the back–you’ve got a ton of muscles there! You also have a lot of other structures (including tendons, spinal joints, and tough connective tissue known as fascia) that work together to create an efficient, flexible, enduring, and strong trunk.

Your back can be divided into three major areas: upper, middle, and lower:

    • The upper back includes important muscles that stabilize and move the shoulders as well as your upper spine (including traps and rhomboids).
    • The middle back also shares many shoulder stabilizing muscles, as well as trunk muscles, that predominantly stabilize the all-important core (especially the big lats).
    • The lower back is the starting point for several superficial and deep muscles that run up the length of your spine, along with muscles and tissues that extend down into your hips (glutes).

A balanced, healthy, and efficient back has strength, flexibility, and endurance in all three major areas.


We’ve picked out a few exercises that help target all the major areas of your back (with all these movements, it’s important to keep your abs tight and your back as neutral as possible to protect your spine). If you aren’t doing these classic movements yet, consider adding them into the mix on your back and tri days:

1) Good Mornings:

  • Stand while holding a barbell on the back of your upper shoulders.
  • Keeping your spine neutral and your knees slightly bent, hinge forward at your hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the ground.
  • Hold for a count, then return to the starting position.
  • An alternate way to perform this movement is a weighted back extension, done by securing your lower legs in a back extension machine, and hinging forward at your hips while holding a plate or dumbbell.

2) Bent-Over Barbell Rows:

  • Stand while holding a loaded barbell with an overhand grip (the bar should be hanging in front of your hips).
  • Keeping your arms straight and your knees slightly bent, bend forward until the barbell is hanging below you (about perpendicular to the ground. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor).
  • Then, pull the barbell up to your upper abs/lower chest area.
  • Hold for a count, then lower.

muscle building back exercises3) Pull-Ups:

There are tons of variations, but the main idea is to start hanging from the bar with your elbows fully locked out, and finish with your chin above the bar at the top. Try overhand grip for emphasis on your lats, and an underhand grip for emphasis on your biceps.

4) Deadlifts.

The mother of all posterior-chain building exercises, the deadlift is definitely a must-do.

  • Start with a loaded bar on the floor with your feet about hip-width apart, mid-foot under the bar.
  • Reach down and hold the bar with your hands just outside your legs, with a slight bend in your knees.
  • Keeping your chest up and your back flat, lift the bar until you are standing with hips extended at the top.
  • To lower, begin the movement by sticking your butt out slightly and lowering the bar down your legs.

Have any favorite muscle-building back exercises to add to the list? Share in the comments below.