The right back exercises will build an amazing back. Many people forget about the back because you usually don't see it in the mirror. It's a huge muscle, though, and a very important one.
I like for people to do a few back exercises in each weight training workout because of the size and function of your back.
It's very hard to work your entire back with only one weightlifting exercise per workout so I typically include a couple in each workout I design.
If you're here because you want to strengthen your lower back with specific lower back exercises, nothing is better for that than the exercises listed on this page.
If you're looking for back strengthening exercises, you've hit the jackpot here.
Only The Best Back Exercises Need to Be Done
I only include the best exercises here on this page. Deadlifts will strengthen your lower back like nothing else.
I love working the back because it is such an impressive muscle that will greatly improve your overall strength and appearance.
I am going to go over back exercises that provide depth and make you look thicker from the side BUT only on the higher section of your upper body. But that's not all we'll work on with your back.
Back width exercises will build your back width and make you look wider from the front and the back. A wide back will also make your waist look smaller.
Your appearance is greatly improved by building a thicker and wider upper back. Your waist looks much smaller from this which gives you more of that X-Factor that you want.
My experience with Barbell Deadlifts
This exercise is for back depth and no weight lifting exercise is better for back depth (thickness) than this one. This exercise also works the entire body at once, but you will feel your back working the hardest.
If your goal is to put slabs of muscle onto your back, then this exercise is for you. This exercise is the king of all back exercises.
You must get your form correct on this exercise before you start adding much weight to the bar.
Spending some time getting your form right is well worth it!
The WLC System is designed to start out with light weights and increase over the weeks, so the WLC System is perfect for taking your time and learning the exercises.
This exercise will build a great looking back for many years to come so spend some time getting it right.
You will most likely be able to lift the heaviest weight with this back exercise than any other exercise (besides the trap bar deadlift). This exercise does something special to your body because of all the weight you can lift with it.
I have noticed that when my squat and deadlift weights get bigger, my body gets bigger when I'm eating to get bigger. This means I am adding lean muscle to my body in all the right spots.
I like to use wrist straps on the Barbell Deadlift after I reach heavy weights. Many people like to work their grip so they don't ever use wrist straps.
Lifting heavy weight and not worrying about my grip giving out is more important to me, so I use the wrist straps when needed. I should also mention that I always use an overhand grip on all my deadlift exercises.
It just doesn't feel right to me holding the bar with a mixed grip. And when something just doesn't feel right, I've learned that it will most likely lead to injury.
A mixed grip might feel good to you, so use whichever grip is most comfortable for you.
For safety reasons though, I would use an overhand grip. Using an underhand grip puts a lot of stress and force on the biceps. You don't want to tear a biceps muscle. That will put you out of weight lifting for a while until your biceps fully heal.
Video of Barbell Deadlifts
The guy in the video below is Mark Rippetoe, the author of Starting Strength. I highly recommend Mark's books on teaching proper form and technique on many different weight lifting exercises.
When starting this exercise, you need to have the barbell at the correct starting height which happens to be the height of a 45-pound weight plate. When using an Olympic barbell and two 45-pound weight plates, the total weight comes to 135 pounds. If this is too heavy for you, I highly recommend spacer plates or bumper plates.
Remember to always start out light and learn proper form and weight lifting technique for the barbell deadlift. Slowly increase as you complete all of your target sets and reps with a given weight.
Trap Bar Deadlifts
My Experience With Trap Bar Deadlifts
I really like this exercise for back depth. I usually use this exercise as my back depth exercise when I want to improve my legs at the same time. This version of the deadlift works your legs very well along with your back. So, if you're legs are lagging behind and you want to work on your back depth too, you will definitely want to give this exercise a try.
You will need to find you a trap bar without raised handles so you can get an increased range of motion on this exercise. I had some trouble finding a trap bar without raised handles, but you should be able to find one. Raised handles will put less stress on your legs because of the decreased range of motion.
I recently noticed that you can simply turn the bar upside down so that the raised handles are on the other side! I guess I should have figured that one out, but I missed this one. Oh well.
You should be able to lift very heavy weight with this exercise also. I have lifted the most amount of weight with the trap bar deadlift, but everyone is different.
I do like to use wrist straps with this exercise so I don't worry about having a strong enough grip to hold the weight throughout my sets. I would rather focus on my form than worry about my grip giving out. Choose this as one of your back exercises and you won't be disappointed.
Video of Trap Bar Deadlifts
You should set the bar all the way down between each re when doing multiple reps of the trap bar deadlift or ANY deadlift. The back exercise is called a dead lift for a reason. The weight should be dead on the floor for each and every rep.
I absolutely love the trap bar deadlift and use it often in my own weight lifting workouts. Gaining strength on this exercise will make you very strong overall.
My experience with Rack Deadlifts
In order to perform this exercise, you will need a power rack or adjustable stands to hold the weight in a higher starting position than the floor.
This will be the only exercise in which you'll be able to lift more weight than the floor deadlift or trap bar deadlift. This is why I like this exercise so much. You won't get as much stress on your legs as with other deadlift variations because they will not have to go through a full range of motion to complete the lift.
If you really want to work on your back depth and want some good traps work, then these are perfect for you. The amount of weight you will be able to use make this one of the toughest back exercises.
I have prayed more during these sets than any. I needed help to get through some of these sets! This is a tough exercise.
You can do these rack deadlifts from different heights. You can try below the knee, knee level, or above the knee. The higher the level you try, the more weight you should be able to lift and the less stress on your lower back. But, remember, you have a decreased range of motion as you go higher so your body has to do less work to complete the rep.
I use wrist straps on the exercise so I can focus on my form and not my grip.
You're going to want to get your form right on this exercise and make sure that you are using your legs to assist you in the lift. You don't want to use only your lower back to lift the weight. Keep your lower back tight and your head looking forward the entire time. Practice your form and perfect it before moving on to heavier weights.
Video of Rack Deadlifts
Don't try to bounce the weight off the rack. Get your form down and start adding weight to the bar! I do not recommend an underhand grip on this exercise. Save your biceps.
Remember that you can set your power rack at different heights and do this exercise at different levels. If you really need to work your traps up around your neck, you might want to set the rack height at a higher level. Lower if you need work in the lower part of the deadlift.
My Experience With Barbell Rows
Barbell Rows were never a favorite exercise of mine in regards to performing them until I read about doing them explosively and setting the weigh down completely on each rep.
I love doing them with an explosive positive, a controlled negative, setting the weight on the floor, and then exploding on the positive again.
I also keep my back parallel to the floor, so this is a little extra forward lean than most people do with barbell rows. Just like most of the others on this page, this is one of the best overall back exercises out there.
I always use an overhand grip on these and never use straps because my grip is fine for working with the amount of weight I do on barbell rows.
I like to use a slightly wider than shoulder width grip most of the time and vary my grip width every once in a while. I never use an underhand grip like some people like to do because I think there is an increased chance of injury doing them that way.
I take no chances with injury just to get some extra work on the biceps. Most people want to do them underhand so they can work on their biceps at the same time. Not me. I would rather not tear a bicep and work on my biceps with safer exercises.
I classify Barbell Rows as a back depth exercise, but they will give you some width too. This exercise torches your lats so back width will come with this exercise. I really like to have barbell rows as my depth exercise because my rear shoulder muscles are a little behind and rows hit them very hard.
I like to have a version of the deadlift as my hamstring exercise sometimes just so I am getting some deadlift work in. I believe Barbell Rows are one of the best overall back exercises for both depth and width. Eventually, you will be able to lift heavy weights with this exercise.
Video of Barbell Rows
The video below shows the style of Barbell Rows that I prefer. I like to set the weight down between every rep. I love doing them this way! This version of the Barbell Row is sometimes referred to as the Pendlay Row. Great exercise for the back!
Notice the guy in the video is using weight lifting wrist straps for the exercise. He also uses a weight belt. Also notice how he allows the weight to go dead on the floor between each rep as he resets his form.
T Bar Rows
My Experience With T Bar Rows
I really enjoy doing T Bar rows. The only way that I have ever done them is by taking a barbell and placing it in one of the corners of my basement. I load the end of the barbell opposite the corner with my working weight and use a parallel handle grip to place under the bar and use as my handle.
I like to lean back and put the weight on my heels and do my reps. The most weight I ever got to was 255 for 10 reps and that was in one weight lifting cycle only when I was doing 10 reps each time for that exercise. I haven't really concentrated on them much since then, but I did really enjoy doing them. I put my focus back into barbell rows after that.
I actually cracked the corner of the concrete in my basement, and that's another reason I stopped doing them.
If you have access to a T Bar Row setup or want to set one up like I did, you should give them a try.
If you are are at a tough point with your barbell rows or want to give barbell rows a rest, these are the perfect exercise to try. You don't have to balance the weight as much as you do with barbell rows and you can focus on lifting the weight more instead of worrying so much about form with barbell rows. T Bar rows are one of the good back exercises out there for depth and some back width.
Video of T Bar Rows
The video below shows you can set a bar in the corner and use it to do T Bar Rows. The form is good in the video below, but I don't want you to hold the weight in the contracted position as she does. This really limits the amount of weight you can use, and we don't want to limit the amount of weight.
I don't recommend doing exercises with form that is so strict that you can't move anything else but the target muscle groups. This is ridiculous. Your entire body was made to work as a unit so get in there and lift the weight. Don't worry about not moving another hair on your body while lifting weights.
My Experience With Cable Rows
One of the only reasons I like cable rows for a back depth exercise is the exaggerated stretch you can get on this exercise.
I can feel my back stretching so much on this exercise when I purposely mean to exaggerate the stretch portion of the exercise. Most people do not perform them the way I do, and I would rather those people be doing barbell rows or T Bar rows.
Try exaggerating the stretch next time you do cable rows and you will see how great the stretch is. I actually use the cable row to do my back depth stretch and use barbell rows most of the time as my back depth exercise just so I can get the incredible stretch that cable rows give.
If you want to take some stress off your lower back, you can choose cable rows as one of your back exercises. Preferably, your back depth exercise.
All you need to do is concentrate more on the stretch and focus on progressing in weight over your WLC program cycle. I have used cable rows in a few cycles when I was doing more exercises that stressed my lower back. They worked just fine and helped me keep the stress off my lower back, which helped me last throughout the cycle.
You always have to be careful and not choose too many exercises that stress your lower back because this can bring your progress to a complete stop for an extended period of time.
Video of Cable Rows
Please don't pay any attention to the sets and reps recommendations. I hate when people give those out because there is no plan for progression when they give that type of info out! Stay with the WLC Program. Besides that, the form in this video is exactly how I want you to do these cable rows! I couldn't explain it myself any better. Perfect form.
I like the video above because they stress the need for the stretch. Many videos will tell you to stay perfectly straight and again that is ridiculous.
My Experience With Dumbbell Rows
I only like 1-Arm dumbbell rows and have never bothered with the 2 arm style since seeing how they felt. 1-Arm dumbbell rows do take longer to perform, but I think they are worth it if you don't like any of the other back depth exercises I have listed.
1-Arm Rows are actually one of my personal favorite exercises.
If you have an unbalanced back or imbalance in your arms, this exercise will even you right out after a few cycles. I like to pretty much only use it for that reason. My left arm used to be a half inch smaller than my right, but after doing these for a few cycles they were very close to the same size. Amazing.
I love the feel of 1-Arm Dumbbell Rows and I love the stretch and exaggerated range of motion that you can use with these. You can really get a good stretch and a good contraction with this exercise.
Give them a try and feel free to use them as one of your back exercises. These are good for both depth and width.
You will need some large dumbbells eventually. I got to a point where I liked using wrist straps because the exaggerated range of motion I like to use extended my set for a longer than normal period of time.
Video of Dumbbell Rows
I love the video below! Very strong guy there. I've only gotten up to 130 pounds or so for around 10 reps when I've focused on these, but I'm getting there.
There's nothing wrong with the form the guy has in the video below. He is using everything he has to get the weight up, which is absolutely fine once you know how to lift weights. Get your form down first and then start increasing the weight.
Use your entire body to lift weights. I consider this great form. In real life situations, you will use your entire body. You might as well be more functional, lift heavier weight, and get much stronger overall by using your entire body to lift weights.
Chin Ups or Pull Ups
My Experience With Chin Ups and Pull Ups
For back width, chin ups are one of the best back exercises out there.
The only problem there is with chin ups is that many people have trouble doing very many of them. The reason why is that chin ups have you starting out with a very heavy weight, which is your body weight.
Imagine starting out with squats or bench press as a beginner and having to use your body weight on the barbell. Another problem with chin ups is that it is very hard to progress in weight because you're already using a heavy weight even when you are only doing your body weight.
For example, with squats you can start out with 135 pounds at the beginning of a WLC cycle and end with 315 pounds. That's 180 pounds in weight progression.
With Chin Ups, you can start out at body weight and finish at 90 pounds or so if you are strong. That's only 90 pounds and that's for someone who is very strong. But that is most likely a weight lifter with at least a few years of experience. Most beginners won't be able to get even close to target rep ranges in some of the weight lifting workouts.
12 reps is tough for beginners and is probably very tough even for some advanced weight lifters.
I have a method of increasing the number of chin ups or pull ups you can do and along with the back stretch I have you do, you will be performing more reps in no time and you'll be using your body weight quickly. Simply use resistance bands and wrap one around your lower thigh while doing pull ups to reduce your body weight. Get different size resistance bands and decrease the amount of help from the bands as you get stronger.
You can do chin ups with many different grips and changing these give you different back exercises you can use throughout the years. You can do them with your palms facing away, neutral, or facing towards you.
You can do them with a wide grip, medium grip, close grip, or very close grip.
There are also tons of variations of pull ups, but I like the normal grips and normal version best. If you want to work solely on your back width, try palms facing away and a slightly wider than shoulder width grip. I DO NOT like to perform Pull Ups with a very wide grip. I think they are dangerous that way or at least they feel dangerous to me and hurt.
If you want some extra bicep work, try them with a closer grip and your palms facing you. Talk about a great bicep and back exercise combined into one!
Video of Chin Ups and Pull Ups
This is a video of strong man Jesse Marunde doing Pull Ups. He weighs over 300 pounds and does 20 plus Pull Ups! Great video to watch. Enjoy.
I guarantee that if your work hard on getting stronger while using the WLC System, that you'll soon be able to do many pull ups. You'll even be able to add weight with a hip belt soon.
Rack Chin Ups or Pull Ups
My Experience With Rack Chin Ups
This is an extreme back exercise. When I say extreme, I mean that this is like the holy grail of back width exercises.
If you want width, choose this as one of your back exercises. For some of the reasons I mentioned in the Chin Ups section above, I like Rack Chins and believe them to be one of the best back exercises for back width just because they are easier to progress in weight. It's not easy to hold the weight in your lap, but it's easier to make progress than normal chin ups. You'll see.
Even beginners should be able to do these for reps. If not, you will need to work on increasing your chin ups as explained in the chin ups section above.
To perform these, you will need to have a bar placed in the power rack at around just above waist level. Then set you up an adjustable bench with the head end closest to the bar in the power rack. You'll want the bench to be at an incline and may need to experiment with the incline to get it just right. I usually have mine at around a 45 degree incline.
Then sit down under the bar and push the bench back as far as you need so that your heels will rest right on the edge of the bench. Use a wide grip on these.
Next perform a chin up. Your hips should be lower than your feet even at the top of the rep. If not, you will need to raise the incline. At the bottom, you need to exaggerate the stretch and really feel your lats stretching. Then explode back up to the top. That's it.
This is one of the best back exercises you will ever do. You can add weight by either putting plates, dumbbells, and/or a loaded barbell in your lap. You may want a partner for these. Be careful performing these by yourself when using heavy weights.
Video of Rack Chin Ups
The video below is a great video showing you how rack chin ups should be done. Perfect form and execution.
Again, give these a shot if you're looking for increased back width. I would focus on regular chin ups first before moving to these, though.
My Experience with Lat Pulldowns
Lat pulldowns are worthless in my book compared to the other back exercises I listed above. Lat Pulldowns will never help you get better at Chin Ups. If you want to get better at Chin Ups, use the method I explained above for your weight lifting workouts.
Choose one of the better back exercises.
If you really like Lat Pulldowns and get good results from them, then go ahead. Beginners should choose other back exercises. Really work on your chin ups, deadlifts, and rows before this inferior exercise.
They will build you a great back… much better than any lat pulldown could!
Video of Lat Pulldowns
Remember, I don't recommend lat pulldowns or the set and rep recommendations in the video below. I am including this as a back exercise just in case you need to use it as one of your back exercises.
Again, lat pulldowns are not a recommended exercise unless you have no other options. There are many better exercises for your back.
Summary of Back Exercises
These are all the back exercises you should ever need to build the amazing back muscles you have.
Build a strong back and you'll be rewarded as you live your life.
No more back pain.
Just a strong and powerful back that will carry the load for you throughout your life.