5 Best Muscle-Building Back Exercises!

Not sure which exercises to select on back day? Check out our list of the 5 best back builders and get ready to grow!

When you crack your exercise toolkit open each week on back day, you’ve got a seemingly endless array of movements available. Knowing which tools are best suited for building a wide, thick back will help you get the job done faster, which is why we’ve assembled our list of top 5 mass-building back exercises.

While head-to-head exercise comparison research is a bit limited in this area, we selected the following 10 exercises based on factors such as available literature, how difficult each movement is, how much muscle each stimulates, and how unique each exercise is compared to others. This list will also help you figure out where to place each exercise in your workout.

1. Barbell Deadlift

Why it’s on the list: This is technically more than a back exercise—it hits the entire posterior chain from your calves to your upper traps—but it’s the absolute best for overall backside development. Technique is uber-important with the deadlift, but once you nail it, you can progress to lifting monster weights that will recruit maximum muscle, release muscle-building hormones, and help you get big.

There are also numerous deadlift progression programs you can follow to help you reach new personal bests. Physiologists love to prescribe the deadlift when programming for strength and conditioning because the exercise hammers your musculature and is one of the best choices to strengthen your bone structure.

There are also numerous deadlift progression programs you can follow to help you reach new personal bests.

Stick with the conventional deadlift on back day; other variations, like the popular sumo-style, increase the activity of muscle groups other than the back.

In your workout: If you’re going heavy (sets of fewer than about 6 reps), do deadlifts first so you’re fresh. If you’re doing deads for repetitions, you can do them later in your workout.

2. Bent-Over Barbell Deadlift

Why it’s on the list: This is probably the second-best back movement in terms of sheer weight you can lift. EMG research has suggested that hitting bent-over barbell rows will work the larger muscle groups of the upper and lower back equally, making this a great overall back builder. Like the deadlift, this is another technical move that requires excellent form but rewards you with a ton of muscle.

Bent-Over Barbell Deadlift
Bent-Over Barbell Row

In your workout: Do bent-over rows toward the start of your back workout for heavy sets in lower rep ranges, about 6-8 or 8-10. The Smith version is a suitable substitute; it locks you in the vertical plane, but your body has to be in just the right position relative to the bar. The bent-over barbell row has a significantly greater lumbar load than many other back exercises, so it’s best done early in your workout in order to save your lower back. If you’re wrecked from deadlifts, it may behoove you to skip this movement.

3. Wide-Grip Pull-Up

Why it’s on the list: It’s always a good idea to have an overhead pulling movement in your back routine, and the pull-up is one of the best. Wide-grip pull-ups are excellent for putting emphasis on the upper lats. A closer grip may allow for a longer range of motion, but it may be possible to load the wide-grip pull-up to a greater degree because of an optimized starting joint position. The biggest challenge here for most trainers is training to failure in the right rep range for growth, which is 8-12.

If you do pull-ups early in your workout, you might have to add a weighted belt. Of course, if you find them difficult, you can always use an assisted pull-up machine or a good spotter, or switch to the wide-grip pull-down, which is a solid substitute. If your shoulders are healthy, pulling behind the head is okay.

Good form is extremely important here. In the starting position, the scapula should be retracted—pull your shoulder blades down and toward each other—prior to initiating the pull.

Wide-Grip Pull-Up
Wide-Grip Pull-Up

4. Wide-Grip Seated Cable Row

Why it’s on the list: Just about everyone defaults to the close-grip bar on rows. If that sounds like you, you’ll find using a wide grip on a lat bar a nice change of pace because it shifts some of the emphasis to the upper lats. Wide rows mimic some back machines, so don’t do both in your workout unless you make some other kinds of changes, like grip or target rep range. You might even try flipping your grip—and going about shoulder-width apart—which better targets the lower lats as the elbows stay tighter to your sides.

Wide-Grip Seated Cable Row

In your workout: Like machines, cables are best done toward the end of your workout. Choose a weight that enables you to complete no more than about 12 reps.

5. Reverse-Grip Smith Machine Row

Why it’s on the list: Reverse-grip movements mean two things: The biceps play a greater role, and with the elbows now pulling back close to your sides, the target becomes the lower portion of the lats. The Smith machine allows you to concentrate only on pulling as much weight as possible, since you don’t have to worry about balancing it.

Bend over about 45 degrees, staying close to the bar, and expect a little contribution from the hips and knees when you’re pounding out the heavy sets. While some gym rats consider the Smith machine taboo, the fixed plane of the movement and ability to really control a weight (think tempo of four seconds up and four down) can be both a novel and humbling exercise.

In your workout: You don’t need more than a single reverse-grip movement in your routine. Do it about midway through your workout, after your heavy overhand pulls. At any point in your back workout, don’t be afraid to throw on some wrist straps. Your goal is to hammer your back and put it through the wringer, not be constantly limited by your grip strength.

Source bodybuilding.com

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