Let’s talk about back exercises. If you’re a serious weight lifter, you know that having a strong back is absolutely crucial to properly executing just about any lift. And even if you’re just starting out, you’re likely interested in gaining core strength and the upper-body definition that comes from building muscle mass in the back and shoulders. Here, we have put together a short guide to the three back exercises that will target the largest muscle groups and deliver the best workout. Read on to find out more.
Arched Back Pull-Ups
Traditional pull-ups are great for vertical pulls, and rows are great for horizontal movement, but for an optimal upper-body workout, why wouldn’t you want to combine both angles into one exercise? Enter the arched back pull-up. If you’re not familiar with the arched back pull-up, it looks something like this:
To do an arched back pull-up, find a neutral grip seated row handle, and tuck it over your pull-up bar so that its handles are parallel to the bar. Grab on, and do your usual pull-up using the row handle, which will automatically tilt your body backwards and engage your latissimus dorsi (more colloquially known as your lats), as well as countless stabilizing core muscles. On each rep, your chest should touch the handle. This exercise will call more muscle groups to action than pretty much any other lift you can find.
One of the downfalls for weight lifters is a tendency to do a lot of chest and shoulder work that results in a rounded, rather than broad, shoulder appearance. In addition to targeting muscle groups in your back, arms, and shoulders, seated rows will help build muscle mass in your back to rival what you’ve already got elsewhere.
There are a number of ways to do a seated row – with free weights, with resistance bands, and with a cable machine. Regardless of which you choose to use, the exercise is pretty much the same. Gripping the handles of your chosen exercise device with your palms facing each other, lengthen your arms until you start to feel a slight stretch in your back. Then, pull with your back rather than your arms, letting your elbows bend until your hands reach your chest. Make sure you keep an upright posture throughout the whole exercise. Check out an example of proper form in the video below.
Amateur lifters often shy away from deadlifts (just the name is intimidating), but there’s really no better exercise to strengthen and bulk up your back. Deadlifts call on your legs, your arms, your back, and your core muscles, and can even help ease back pain as you strengthen your lower back. An added bonus: this is the same movement you use to pick up a heavy box, so there’s a direct real-world application.
With your feet shoulder width apart just behind your barbell, squat and grab the barbell (use an overhanded grip) with your hands just slightly more than knee-width apart. Engage your core and hamstrings, and lift your upper body until you’re in a standing position. Do not arch your back at any time. At the top of the movement, just barely lean back and squeeze your shoulders together. Return the barbell to the ground by leaning forward and lowering with your knees. Proper form is key to getting the most out of this exercise while doing it safely, so make sure you have an experienced spotter to keep an eye on your form. Check out the video below for an example of a proper deadlift.
Do you find that these exercises give you the most bang for your buck? We’d love to hear your suggestions for other super effective back exercises, so share your experience in the comments section.