For many people trying to get in shape, back workouts are one of the most fun and rewarding days of training. Back exercises not only feel amazing, but they produce great results. Strong back muscles can help to create an aesthetic-looking V-taper, a body shape achieved by sculpting large traps, shoulder and lats, and maintaining a slim waist. The back workouts described below range from basic to advanced and are excellent for strengthen muscles of the upper and lower back, including the lumbar muscle, trapezius, erector spinae muscles and the latissimus dorsi. You’ll learn how to get amazing back workouts whether you’re doing them at home or in a gym, and you’ll also find that both men and women can get great size and definition in the back with compounds lifts, dumbbells, isolation exercises, or without using weight at all.
Simple Back Workouts
There’s a saying in athletic performance training – “The front is for show, but the back makes it go.” What do we mean by that? Many body builders focus on the aesthetics of the human body, building up chest and arm muscles and great abs, but neglecting other large muscle groups that are important for physical function. Back muscles are involved most heavily in three primal movements: pulling, twisting and bending. Biceps are also strongly associated with pulling movements, but training your back muscles will allow you to pull much more weight than you ever could with your biceps alone. This is because your back is a much larger muscle group and can exert far more force than your biceps when leveraged correctly.
Getting a V-taper is one of the great aesthetic benefits of training your back. A V-taper means that your upper body is wide and muscular and tapers off as you move down towards your waist. Lifters with the best V-tapers have wide Latissimus Dorsi muscles, round shoulders and great trapezius muscles as well.
It’s also important to balance your back and front for injury prevention. Training chest too much and not training Back enough can lead to postural problems because chest hypertrophy pushes the shoulders back and the Lats haven’t grown enough to compensate for the enlarged chest. Making Back Day an important part of your routine is great for your posture and for overall gains.
There are several main muscle groups that come into play when training Back. First are the trapezius muscles which sit atop your shoulders by the neck. Second are the erector spinae muscles, which stretch up and down your spine. Third are Latissimus Dorsi muscles, the largest muscles in your back, which are located under your shoulder blades and stretch out to your sides. The last muscle you’ll be focusing on is called the Lumbar. Your Lumbar is technically part of your care and is found on the lower back on either side of the spinal column. These muscles stabilize your core from the rear similarly to how your abs stabilizes it from the front. Here’s an in-depth look at how each muscle group functions:
Trapezius Muscles: Help to give muscular appearance to your upper body and complement well-developed shoulder muscles exceptionally well. Strong traps connect to tendons in the neck and help to mitigate neck pain by supporting the head. These muscles are used in many exercises, and are especially worked by shoulder shrugs and deadlifts.
Erector Spinae: The Erector Spinae muscles run up and down the spine and influence both lower back and upper back strength. There are many exercises that work the muscle directly, including lat pull-downs and seated rows. The Erector Spinae is especially important for desk jockeys who spend much of the day sitting down – training it will improve your posture and help to mitigate back pain.
Latissimus Dorsi: This is the main muscle recruited when doing pulling exercises like bent-over rows, seated rows and dead-lifts. All of these exercises will help you develop strong and wide lats and you’ll be able to pull more strongly and lift heavier.
Lumbar: The lumbar can be worked on Back day or as part of your core workout. It’s critical for exercises like planks, T-bar rows and weighted back extensions, and these are the exercises that target it most directly. A strong lumbar will give you great posture and stability, improve your balance and help you to avoid back injuries or back pain in the long term.
Before getting into back workouts, it’s always recommended that you start with a warm up and a stretch. Warming up the back can be difficult – lifters say it’s one of the most difficult muscles to target efficiently. This is because many lifts also target the biceps, and improper loading technique can mean that instead of getting a great back workout, you’re really getting an inefficient bicep workout.
Warming up on a cardio machine to elevate your heart-rate is always recommended. As a warm-up for your back muscles, start with a few sets of chin-ups to exhaustion. If you can’t do chin-ups yet, pull-ups are a great alternative for activating your back muscles. A little bit of bicep fatigue will also force you to load your lats more effectively during your workout to compensate for your tired arms. If you still aren’t doing pull-ups, try seeing if your gym has an assisted pull-up machine where you can get started without supporting your full body weight.
Stretching the back before you start lifting heavy is also a great idea for avoiding injury. Yoga poses such as Cobra, Cat/Cow alternations and Dancer’s Stretch will stretch out your erector spinae muscles, lats, traps and lumbar very effectively in just five minutes before your workout starts. Now that you have an idea of how to warm up effectively, check out these great workouts that will help you tone up your back and get an awesome V-taper.
Back Workouts for Men
Men who do back workouts are typically trying to add a combination of size and strength. Don’t be afraid to go for lots of volume when doing back. Your back muscles are a bit harder to activate than your chest and will need a bit more volume work to get the same results you would get from a comparatively shorter chest workout. Trying this quick but intense workout for killer back muscles:
10min Fast Walk on Treadmill
3x? Chinups/Pullups to Failure
10×10 Overhead Pulldown/Lat Pulldown
3×8 Seated Rows
3×8 Bent-Over Flies
3×21 Pyramid Barbell Curls
This workout will absolutely shred your back in just under an hour. The fast walk and chin-ups are really just your warm-up and you can feel free to add in some stretching if you’re feeling tight that day as well. The overhead pulldowns are where the real work begins – 10×10 means that your working weight will be relatively low but cranking out the volume will give you a slow burn that’s amazing for hypertrophy. Once you’ve cranked out the pull-downs, the seated rows and flies will be very challenging. You can super-set them together with 1 minutes of rest in between for added challenge. The final exercise is great for getting a bicep pump – although your biceps will already be exhausted. Grab a Barbell and do 7 bottom-half curls, 7 top-half curls and 7 full bicep curls. Repeat a total of three times with 1 minute rest in between for an insane pump.
Lower Back Workouts
Lower back workouts are amazing for improving your posture and very easy to do. It’s not normal to build a very large lower back – you’re looking to strengthen your supporting muscles and add to a strong core while improving your posture and reducing injury risk for other exercises. Try out this great workout for lower back:
10min Treadmill at a Fast Walk
5min Cat/Cow Stretches and Cobra Stretch
3×10 T-Bar Rows
3×10 Back Extensions
2x? Plank to Failure
Deadlifts are a great compound exercise that works several muscle groups including the hamstrings, gluteus and lumbar. You’ll burn loads of calories starting off with them after a standard warm-up. It’s important to do these first because the risk of injury is the greatest for this exercise when your lower back is tired. Remember to ensure that your form is good before you add more weight than you’re comfortable with. T-bar Rows and Back Extensions are great isolated exercises that will work your biceps but are also great for your erector spinae muscles and lumbar as well. Finish by exhausting your lumbar and core with a couple of planks, going to failure each time. Remember to take ample rest between sets when going to failure.
Back Workouts for Women
Back Workouts for woman are similar to back workouts for men, except the goal is usually to tone and tighten as opposed to gaining lots of size. As a result, it’s recommended that ladies who want toned and shapely back muscles focus on more repetitions and slightly less weight than male counterparts. The following workout will help ladies develop toned and strong back muscles:
Warm-up: 10min seated row machine
Cat/cow and Cobra stretch
4×12 Seated Rows
4×12 Bent-Over Dumbbell Flies
4×12 One-Arm Dumbbell Row
This great little workout is great for toning back muscles in the gym. The seated row machine is great for a warm-up as it provides great muscle activation when done correctly and elevates heart rate as well. Doing four sets of twelve in each of the other exercises means the working rate is a bit lower and the emphasis is on toning and tightening. Seated rows target the erector spinae primarily, and the bent-over flies and one-arm rows will help to tone the latissimus dorsi muscles.
Upper Back Workouts
Workouts that focus on the upper back have to include the trapezius muscles and rear deltoids as well. These muscles are prominent when flexing the upper back or biceps and give a great image of size and strength when well-developed.
Warm-up: 8min seated row machine
3x? Chin-ups/pull-ups to failure
4×8 Bent-over Rows
4×8 Shoulder Shrugs
4×8 One-arm Dumbbell Rows
4×8 Face Pulls
This workout is no small task and could take up to 90 minutes to get through. That being said, the combination of exercises will absolutely shred your upper back. The perfectly targeted warm-up here is the seated rows and chin-ups, fatiguing your back muscles right from the beginning. Bent-over rows are the major working exercises here and since it’s 4×8, you’ll want to use big weight and get a great lat pump. Shoulder shrugs target the trapezius and can be combined with a forearm curl to help improve your grip strength. Finally, the last two exercises are targeting the rear deltoid muscles – giving a great aesthetic to your lat spread and the general look of your back muscles. Warning: Soreness after this workout may prevent you from taking your own shirt off once you’re finished.
Back Workouts with Dumbbells
If you’re looking to get a great back workout done, you may think that you need access to big machines that you could only find in a gym, things like a lat pulldown machine or a rowing machine. Thankfully, there are great ways to target the back muscles using just dumbbells that you may have at home or that are easier to find than specialized equipment. Check out this simple workout that uses only dumbbells to work the back:
Warm-up: 10min Treadmill at a Fast Walk
3×10 Bent-over Dumbbell Rows
3×8 One-Arm Dumbbell Rows
3×8 Bent-over Dumbbell Flies
3×12 Back Extensions/Hyper-extension
3x:30 Super-man Planks
This workout requires minimal equipment and will hit all parts of the back from top to bottom, including the rear deltoid. Assuming you aren’t using a row machine, the best warm-up is treadmill. Planks and Super-man planks are great work for the lumbar and improving your posture. The bent-over and one-arm rows hit the lats and hyperextensions will hit your erector spinae as well. You may want to add in some shoulder shrugs with dumbbells to get a better burn in your trapezius muscles as well.
Back Workouts at Home
Working out at home is a challenge, both in finding the right equipment that gives the results you want and getting enough resistance to see strength or size gains in your home gym. Working out at home does give the maximum flexibility for your workout however, and with a couple of dumbbells or no equipment at all, you can get a great pump in the privacy of your home. Here’s how:
Warm-up: 8min up and down stairs and moderate pace
3×20 Russian Twists
3×12 Roll Downs
3×10 Physio Ball Back Extensions
3x:30 Prone Cobra
This workout focuses mainly on strengthening the erector spinae and lumbar muscles to improve posture and mitigate injury. Russian twists engage the entire core and will also help with abs and oblique muscle conditioning. If you have a physio ball, try back extensions in 3 sets to engage your lumbar again and finish with planks for at least one minute each time and prone cobra. Ladies who work from home can benefit from this great routine as it will alleviate pain from sitting at a desk all day.
Lower Back Workouts for Men
Men looking to build robust lower back muscles have several great options for adding weight to traditional exercises and turning conditioning movements into power movements. Strengthening the lower back can especially help to improve dead-lifts and decrease the occurrence of stress injuries when training on other exercises. Check out the program below:
Warm-up: 10min Rowing Machine
3×8 T-Bar Row
3×8 Weighted Back Extensions
3×1:30 Weighted Planks
3×15 Russian Twist with Medicine Ball
These exercises combine to give a great, strengthening back workout. Deadlifts are obviously critical for strengthening the lower back and form the main working exercises in this program. T-Bar Rows and weighted back extensions are similar in that they target the lower back and erector spinae. For the extensions, grab a 45lb plate and hold it to your chest to increase the resistance. For weighted planks, have a partner place a 25lb weight or more on your back just above your butt for added challenge. A 12lb medicine ball held between your hands for Russian twists will force your back to work harder to stabilize you during the exercise.
Back Workouts without Weights
Back workouts without weights are easy to accomplish with the necessary know-how. These movements require minimal equipment and emphasize the use of natural movements and body weight to provide resistance on exercises. A workout like this is best for toning and conditioning, especially if you’re interested in either building resilience to injury or toning as opposed to adding size.
Warm-up: 10min light jog
Cat/cow stretch, dancer’s stretch and prone cobra
3×20 Russian Twists
3×8 Dolphin Kick
These exercises strengthen the lower back primarily by relying on the lumbar and erector spinae muscle group to provide support through the core. Russian twists are excellent for developing core muscles, planks are great for building lower back strength and endurance which helps against injury as well. Hyperextensions, Bridges and Dolphin kicks are also great leverage exercises that hit the back in different ways. These back workouts can be done quickly at some point during the day or progressively throughout and is great for telecommuters or stay-at-home moms!