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15 Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth (and How to Use them)

Upgrade your upper body training.

Use these best back exercises for muscle growth if you want to stimulate hypertrophy.

They have been compiled and explained by Jeremy Ethier.

15 Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth

“If you want to build a bigger, wider, thicker, and more balanced back, then there are 4 main regions your back exercises need to target. I’ll show you the best back exercises for each of these regions and then show you how to implement them during your next back workout (at the gym or even at home) for the best results. By the end, you’ll have a personalized back workout routine that you can start right away for maximum mass.”

Common Mistakes

“Let’s talk about the most common mistakes people make when trying to build a bigger back. First mistake. Most people think of the “back” as one muscle, and will aimlessly put together a back workout without giving much thought as to what each exercise targets. The second mistake people make is neglecting the “hidden” muscles that play an important role in keeping your shoulders healthy and posture upright. The last mistake has to do with your workout programming, where you often fail to develop the back in a well-rounded manner.”

Deadlift Benefits with Pat Vellner These 5 exercises for a strong lower back will help you to protect your body and prevent injury. Lat Push Down Best Exercises for a Round Butt Best Back Exercises for Muscle GrowthSource: Photo Courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Solving the Problems

“We’re going to solve each problem by equipping you with the best back exercises and then show you how to properly use them. Let’s start with the upper back, which is best worked where the elbows pull at roughly a 45 to 60 degree angle away from the torso.”

Rows

“First up of the upper back exercises, the barbell row. Second, seated rows. The next exercise, the Meadow’s Row, is a great way to help prevent imbalances by working one side of the back at a time. This next exercise, the chest-supported dumbbell rows, is one of my personal favourites because it takes the need for stability out of the equation.”

woman rests between sets of back squats Slow Reps vs Fast Reps for Muscle Growth

“Set your bench at a lower angle to about 30 degrees. Now we’ll get into vertical pulling movements like the pull-up. You’ll want to keep your elbows angled out to the sides by using an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width. The last exercise, the lat pulldown, will biomechanically favor the upper back muscles more than it will the lats.”

Lats and the Back

“The lats are responsible for adding more width to the back. The lats are best targeted during exercises where the elbows can pull as close to the torso as possible. The next 5 exercises are your best bet for growing a wider back during your workout at the gym. The first is the lat-focused barbell row. Next up, we have the lats-focused seated row. Then, back to one of my personal favorites, the chest-supported row. Fourth exercise: similar to the meadows row for the upper back, to prevent imbalances from developing we can do single dumbbell lat rows. Our last exercise will be a pulldown (the one-arm lat pulldown), but one that actually targets the lats.”

The Lower Portion

“Alright so we’ve covered the big muscles and their respective exercises you should do during your back workout for mass (both thickness and width). Now we need to balance this out by working the lower traps by matching our arm angle to a 90 to 120 degree angle. First, the prone Y raise. Another great exercise is the standing cable Y-raise to provide constant tension throughout each rep.”

Pat-Vellner-Back

“And now, the last area, the lower back. These muscles are already highly activated whenever we do compound lifts like rows, squats, and deadlifts. Still, isolation work for the lower back can be beneficial if you don’t do many of these lifts or if your lower back seems to be a weak link limiting your strength in these compound lifts. Back extensions will be our isolation move of choice.”

Putting Everything Together

“Now is the most important part; putting together everything you’ve learned into a balanced back routine that works for you. Here’s what I’d recommend: pick two exercises from the upper back category, two from the lats category, and 1 exercise from the lower traps category. Depending on your existing lower back training volume, you can choose to add in some back extensions as well.”

Sample Gym Routine:

Upper Back:

Exercise 1: Upper Back Focused Barbell Rows

Exercise 2: Lat Pulldowns

Lats:

Exercise 1: Chest Supported Dumbbell Lat Rows

Exercise 2: One-arm Cable Lat Pulldown

Lower Traps:

Exercise 1: Standing Cable Y-raise

Sample Dumbbells Routine:

Upper back

Exercise 1: Chest-Supported Dumbbell Upper Back Rows

Exercise 2: Overhand Grip Pull ups

Lats

Exercise 1: Single Arm Dumbbell Lat Rows

Exercise 2: Chest Supported Dumbbell Lat Rows

Lower Traps:

Exercise 1: Prone Y-raise

Hopefully, you were able to see that there’s a lot of thought that goes into picking the right exercises, plus putting them together properly.

Video – Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth

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Muscles of the Back

The muscles of the back are an important group of muscles that enable movement of the upper body. The trapezius muscle is a large triangular muscle that covers most of the shoulder blade and extends down as far as the mid back. The infraspinatus, teres minor, teres major and rhomboid major all attach to the scapula (shoulder blade) and work together to help rotate your arm outward at 90 degrees from your torso.

The latissimus dorsi attaches to both sides of the lower back ribs and works with other muscles to flex or bend forward at 90 degrees from your torso.

Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth – Trapezius

The trapezius is a large muscle that begins at the base of the skull and runs down the back to insert into the upper arm. This muscle helps to lift your shoulder blade up and around to your back, as well as rotate it inward. It also works with many other muscles in the neck, shoulder, and chest to provide stability for these areas.

When you lift weights or do pushups, this muscle is responsible for stabilizing your scapulae (shoulder blades) so they don’t move out of place when you’re lifting things down low or performing activities involving overhead motions such as throwing a ball or swinging a racket.

Because so many different movements rely on good functioning of this area—from getting dressed in front of a mirror in the morning to moving heavy objects around—it’s important not only for athletes but anyone who needs some help with daily activities such as lifting groceries out of their car trunk or carrying laundry baskets upstairs.

Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth – Infraspinatus

  • Location: The infraspinatus is located on the back of your shoulder, and it’s part of the rotator cuff muscle group.
  • Function: This muscle plays an important role in rotating your arm outward from your body. It’s also part of a group called scapular stabilizers, which help maintain the natural curve of your upper back as you move through different activities.
  • Anatomy: The infraspinatus acts with other muscles to rotate your arm outwards when you do things like push-ups or pull-ups. Together with two other muscles (supraspinatus and teres minor), it forms part of an arch-like structure that travels over your head when you lift up heavy objects overhead.

Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth – Teres minor

The teres minor muscle is a small, triangular-shaped muscle that lies posterior to the infraspinatus and is covered by it. It originates on the lateral border of the scapula and inserts into the medial border of its upper arm bone (humerus).

The teres minor muscle acts as an antagonist to pectoralis major and serratus anterior muscles in shoulder abduction, or moving your arms away from your body. It also helps rotate your humerus externally when you move your arms back behind you.

This action is called “abduction” because it moves an object out of place—in this case, moving an object away from your body rather than toward it.

The teres minor muscle is innervated by branches of dorsal scapular nerve (C5), which enters through a space between two tendons in front of neck between fifth rib and first thoracic vertebrae.

Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth – Teres major

The teres major is a muscle of the back that originates on the outer edge of the shoulder blade, called foramen triosseum and attaches to the upper arm bone (humerus).

Teres major is involved in many movements of your upper limb. You use this muscle when you:

  • rotate your arm inward or outward
  • lift an object above your head

Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth – Rhomboid major

The rhomboid major originates from the spinous processes of the seventh cervical vertebra and first thoracic vertebra, and inserts into the ligamentum nuchae. The rhomboid major is responsible for a variety of movements within the back, including flexion, adduction and internal rotation of the scapula (shoulder blade).

Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth – Rhomboid minor

Rhomboid minor is a small, triangular shaped muscle that attaches to the upper portion of your spine of the scapula and at its other end, attaches to the bottom of your scapula. This muscle helps rotate your shoulder blade.

Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth – Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi is a broad, flat muscle that extends from the lower back to the upper arm. It’s located on the side of your body, underneath your armpit. This muscle can:

  • Extend your arm behind your back and across your chest
  • Pull you toward a fixed point (such as when doing pull-ups)
  • Lift arms upward or rotate them inward and outward

Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth – Levator scapulæ

The levator scapulæ is a muscle of the upper back that elevates (or lifts) the shoulder blade. It is also involved in rotating your shoulders.

Location: Located on either side of your neck, just above where your collarbone meets your spine.

Origin: Medial border (front edge) of each scapula and the thoracolumbar fascia, along with the medial part of each upper thoracic spine (spine).

Insertion: Acromion process and lesser tubercle at the base of your shoulder blade (scapula).

Action: Helps move and rotate your shoulders, as well as flex them upward when you’re reaching for something high above you or pressing weight overhead.

Innervation: Accessory nerve (CN XI), cervical plexus – C1-C5 roots

Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth – Splenius capitis

  • Location: The splenius capitis is located in the posterior neck, between the first and second thoracic vertebrae.
  • Origin and insertion: The splenius capitis originates from two points on each side of the spine. It inserts into several bones in the upper back, including the spinous processes of C1-C4 and T1-T6.
  • Action: The muscle functions as a spinal extensor and rotator of your head. It also assists with lateral flexion of your neck as well as extension of your upper back, shoulders and arms (when performing arm movements such as pushups).
  • Tendons involved in this muscle’s action: There are two tendons for each origin—one for extension and one for rotation (the tendon that extends your head is smaller than its partner).

Best Back Exercises for Muscle Growth – Splenius cervicis

The splenius cervicis is a muscle located on the upper back. It can be found between the trapezius and spinous processes of the first two cervical vertebrae, which is where it gets its name.

The splenius cervicis works to rotate your head and neck to either side. This muscle also helps to tilt your head forward or backward, as well as side-to-side when you’re looking at something in front of you with both eyes open.

This muscle works in conjunction with other muscles in order to do its job properly:

  • Levator scapulae – helps move your shoulder blades up and down
  • Rhomboid major – pulls your scapula toward the spine (which allows for movement)

These muscles enable movement of the upper body.

These muscles enable movement of the upper body. They help with rotation and extension of the neck, flexion and extension of the shoulders, abduction and adduction of the shoulders, flexion and extension of the spine.

Conclusion

You’re now ready to get to know your back muscles and understand their role in movement. You should also be able to identify each muscle by its name and location, as well as understand when it may be injured. Keep in mind that some of these muscles are more important than others (for example, the latissimus dorsi is critical for throwing a ball), but all of them work together to help you move.

Try these back exercises if you want to optimise your training.

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