15 Back Exercises Ranked Best to Worst

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Check out these back exercises ranked best to worst from Jeff Cavaliere at Athlean X.

Back Exercises Ranked Best to Worst

“With so many back exercises, it might be hard to rank and decide where you should be focusing your efforts to build bigger lats while also increasing your strength. In this video, I’m going to show you the most popular back exercises ranked from worst to best to help you decide which ones you should be doing and the ones that belong in the “stop doing” category.”

“That being said, I am going to lay out the criteria for back the selections of back exercises. In order to be top ranking, it has to provide the opportunity for overload as well as being a solid choice for hypertrophy. If an exercise doesn’t meet this criteria, it will not rank as high as other selections for exercises for the back that do both.”

Source: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

“So, lets start building the list and work from the bottom up, from the worst back exercises to the best back exercises.”


1. 1-Arm DB Row

2. Behind the New Pulldowns

“The 1-Arm DB Row sits at the bottom of the list due to it’s ability to cause injury in the form of a hernia. I myself have experienced two hernias for performing this exercise alone. This comes from asymmetrical loading in the lower portion of the body. Due to the lack of safety of the exercise, I am putting it at the bottom of this list.”

“The Behind the Neck Pulldown also belongs in the worst back exercise category, due to the safety of the exercise; taking the shoulders out of the scapular plane where the shoulders are in their most optimal (in terms of shoulder health) position.”


3. Renegade Row

4. Deadlifts

5. Pendlay Row

“The Renegade Row is, to me, is not only a more metabolic driven movement, but it is a back exercise that has two major limitations. The first limitation is the need for core strength and stability, meaning lighter weights are required and makes it harder to overload. The second limitation is the lack of stretch on the lats.”

“While the deadlift is considered by some the king of all exercises, I would argue that it is not the best back exercise for building bigger lats. The lack of pure hypertrophy for the lats is what puts this exercise in the better category.”

“The Pendlay Row, while able to provide overload and simple access to a barbell, doesn’t sit higher on this list for exercises for bigger lats due to the safety factor that is built into the exercise. Without proper mobility and form, rounding of the low back easily occurs.”


6. Tripod Row

7. Straight Arm Pushdowns

8. DB Pullover / Human Pullover

9. Seated Cable Row

“The Tripod Row sits in this category because it overcomes the safety limitations of the 1-Arm DB Row. By keeping symmetrical loading of the lower body, you are avoiding strain on the inguinal canal – preventing hernias from occurring.”

“The Straight Arm Pushdown is a great lat driven exercise as not only doest the lat driven portion of the exercise help to build bigger lats themselves, it also helps to build something called straight arm scapular strength which will carry over to more compound movements.”

“The DB Pullover is an awesome exercise that allows you to drive the the weight using nothing but your lats. The only issue here is shoulder mobility preventing some from performing the exercises to an optimal benefit of the exercise for building big lats.”

“The Human Pullover is the calisthenics version of the DB Pullover that allows you to perform a similar movement without the use of equipment utilizing relative motion.”

“When it comes to the Seated Cable Row; to achieve a greater stretch on the the lats while also being able to load the exercise thanks to the use of momentum. Just make sure to keep good posture when performing the exercise.”


10. Meadows Row

11. 1-Arm High Cable Row

12. Lat Pulldowns / Rocking Pulldowns

13. Dead Rows

“These 4 exercises are at the top of the list when it comes to building a big back. Make sure to watch the video to see the specific reasons as to why.”


14. Barbell Rows / Chest Supported Rows

15. Weighted Pullups

“The Barbell Row allows you to overload the exercise while also keeping the lower back in a safe position. If the low back is an issue, you can always perform the Chest Supported Row.”

“The Weighted Pullup allows for overload due to the use of weight and is also one of the best vertical pulling exercises, overcoming the potential equipment limitations of a Lat Pulldown.”

Video – Back Exercises Ranked Best to Worst

Learn More – Back Exercises Ranked Best to Worst

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