An imposing body is not complete without well-developed and broad back muscles. And yet many do not succeed in getting a broad back. When looking at the anatomy of the back, the dorsal muscles can be divided into four different groups. These are the lats, rhomboideus, trapezius and lower back.
We have listed the most efficient back exercises, which together target all the different muscle groups and fibers within the back. It is important to use a good mix of back exercises in your training plan. By neglecting these, you run the risk that certain muscle groups in the back do not receive sufficient attention, which can lead to muscle imbalances.
The barbell deadlift is the absolute king when it comes to compound exercises. It is a full-body exercise that uses muscles throughout the body to lift the weight off the floor. The deadlift is the most suitable exercise to strengthen the muscle fibers in the lower back. In addition, you place tension on all muscles in the upper back. Because all the muscles in the back are involved in performing the deadlift, it is the absolute number 1 exercise in any back workout.
The barbell deadlift is an exercise that generally requires a lot of energy. We definitely recommend that you place the exercise as far at the beginning of your workout as possible, so that your energy level is as high as possible when doing the exercise.
- Place your hands on the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, beginning the exercise with your arms fully extended.
- Place your hands on the bar at about shoulder width.
- Pull your body weight up and bring your chest toward the bar, trying to get your chin over the bar.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together when you reach the highest point, then slowly lower your body until you are in the starting position.
Lat Pull Down
The lat pull-down is a very effective exercise to train the lat muscles. We often also see variants where the bar is pulled behind the neck. You’re better off bringing the bar up to the top of the chest. When you do a behind-the-neck variant, you run a risk of shoulder injuries.
It can be very effective to perform the exercise with different hand positions. For example, you can use an overhand grip, as we explain in this example, but also a neutral or underhand grip. Often a gym has different types of accessories that can be used with lat pulldown and offer the possibility to place your hands in different positions. Take advantage of this!
- Sit directly under the pull-down bar and place your hands on the bar at shoulder width. Use an overhand grip.
- Your arms are fully extended in the starting position. Lean your body back slightly and push your chest forward.
- Bring the bar up to your chest and focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together. Slowly return the bar to the starting position.
Barbell Bent-Over Row
The barbell bent-over row is the most suitable exercise to load the back muscles with as heavy a weight as possible. Because it is a compound exercise, muscles in the entire lower back and upper back are loaded. The bent-over row can be a tricky exercise to master completely, but when you do it can be one of the most effective exercises for building serious muscle mass in the entire back.
- Use an overhand grip and place hands slightly wider than shoulder-width on the bar
- Keep your knees slightly bent while keeping your entire spine in a completely straight line.
- Your upper body, from the lower back to neck, is parallel to the floor.
- Pull the weight from your elbows toward your belly button. Consciously tense the muscles in your back as the bar reaches your navel.
Cable Seated Row
The cable seated row is also a suitable exercise to effectively train muscle groups in the entire back. If you want to focus on the lats, use a bar with a narrow grip (hands close together). If you want to focus on the rhomboid, use a lat pull-down bar where you can use a wide grip.
Just like with the lat pulldown, you can use all the muscle fibers in the back with the seated cable row. Use different accessories so that you can use different hand positions so that you can shift the focus to different muscle groups in the back.
- In the starting position, your arms are fully extended and your back is in a completely straight position.
- You pull the weight back, pushing the elbows back and squeezing the shoulder blades together.
- Slowly lower the weight until your arms are fully extended and your body is back in the starting position.
The dumbbell row is another very effective exercise for training the lats. The dumbbell row resembles the bent-over row in many ways. However, while doing the dumbbell row, you can rest your body on a bench. This means you don’t have to focus as much on keeping balance and your lower back is much less stressed.
You can perform the dumbbell row with one arm at a time. So it is a unilateral exercise. It is good to use these types of exercises, this prevents imbalances in your muscles. Start with your weaker side and repeat the same number of reps with your stronger side.
- Place your hand on the pillow of a flat bench and place your knee on the same side on the bench as well.
- On the other side, place your foot firmly on the floor and grasp the dumbbell with your free hand. Keep the arm in a fully extended position.
- Row the dumbbell up and back while moving your elbow close to your side.
- Squeeze your shoulder blade and lower the dumbbell back in a controlled manner to the starting position.
When you execute these exercises entirety in your training schedule, you absolutely have complete coverage of all the different muscle groups in the back. Now it is not the case that we recommend that you do all these exercises on the same day. Ideally, you train each muscle group twice a week.
Dedicating two training days to the back muscles – in combination with a smaller muscle group such as the biceps – gives you ample opportunity to implement all these exercises in your training to really test your back.