The best back workout exercises focus on building the back muscle’s strength and endurance. Back workout routines and programs involve pushing and pulling motions because they work several muscles, including the latissimus dorsi (lats) and trapezius (traps) muscles. Back workout exercises can also increase bone mass.
Incorporating the best back workout exercises is beneficial for overall joint health, increasing spine strength, and improving posture. The main benefit of a proper back workout routine is teaching the weightlifter to work with bodyweight while improving fundamental muscles like the rhomboids and posterior deltoid muscles.
Back workout exercises can be challenging to perform correctly. To overcome back exercise challenges, the weightlifter may seek back workout hacks, but using proper form and improving overall body strength are the best solutions when it comes to getting a big back workout for bulking.
Home and gym back workout routines incorporate a series of back exercises to ensure the weightlifter addresses all back muscles. The best workout for back muscles incorporates different maneuvers and equipment to achieve optimal results. However, the question remains: how to gain back muscle and which are good back workouts at the gym?
All back exercises have benefits, but here are the 8 best back workout exercises.
- Most Beneficial: Deadlift
- Best for Definition: Bent-Over Row
- Best for Building Muscle Density: T-Bar Row
- Beginner-Friendly: Seated Row
- Best for Strength Building: Single-Arm Machine Row
- To Improve Posture: Lat Pull-Down
- To Refine the Core: Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Best for Men: Chest-Supported Row
Nothing beats the deadlift as one of the best 3 back exercises for weight lifting back workouts. The deadlift is a back muscle exercise that improves posture, strength, and aesthetic appearance. It’s the best workout for big back muscles because it works all the muscles of the upper and lower back, plus the tendons and ligaments supporting the spine.
This classic strongman movement also works the shoulders, abs, legs, and arms to improve overall body strength and develop a back workout for definition. Since it is a compound exercise, the deadlift even improves the heart rate and burns fat.
Performing a proper deadlift requires a barbell, plates, and two bar collars. Choose plates that are the correct weight for strength and experience levels for a safe back lift workout.
The deadlift motion breaks into three stages. Start by gripping the bar, then lift the bar using power from the body while keeping the spine straight. Using a controlled motion, lower the bar back to the original position.
Common deadlift mistakes include not stretching properly before attempting the exercise, improper form, and failing to breathe throughout the exercise. Making these mistakes will ensure you don’t get good back workouts.
There are five primary variations: barbell deadlift, barbell rack pull, Romanian deadlift, snatch-grip deadlift, and the trip-bar deadlift. Use one of these versions of a deadlift into a regular back routine 1 to 3 times per week.
Deadlifts can lead to a whole-body transformation for men and women because it’s adding weight and repetition to a natural movement. The addition of weight creates resistance and encourages muscles, tendons, and ligaments to work harder and strengthen. Since the deadlift is a natural bodily motion, even children can perform it.
Combined with calisthenics, deadlifts create a powerful program for athletes. Bodybuilders, swimmers, and runners gain definition, mass, and strength.
Beginners should start at 4 sets of 6 reps, while experienced weightlifters might do as many as 5 sets of 5 or 6 reps. The selected weight should provide a moderate challenge while allowing the weightlifter to maintain proper form as part of a mass building back routine.
Deadlift Variations for Back Muscles
Deadlift variations involve altering the stances, equipment, weight, and even motions to work different back muscles in unique ways. Though each variation uses the same general concept, they have slightly different focuses on the body.
Deadlift variations focus on specific muscle groups and developing flexibility like the Romanian deadlift works the lower back muscles and improves hip mobility.
The regular deadlift is the most popular variation for back training because it builds muscle fast by working the upper and lower back muscles while supporting spinal alignment and increasing overall strength and mass.
All variations of a deadlift can be seen below.
- Barbell Deadlift
- Barbell Rack Pull
- Romanian Deadlift
- Snatch-Grip Deadlift
- Trip-Bar Deadlift
1. Barbell Deadlift
The Barbell Deadlift is the regular or conventional deadlift variation. This variation works the upper and lower back but also addresses the core and leg muscles. The regular deadlift is better than the other variations because it is a comprehensive back exercise that doesn’t require a lot of equipment to build strength and mass.
To correctly perform a barbell deadlift, step up to the bar with feet halfway under the bar. Keep feet far enough apart to maintain balance through a squat. Keeping knees inside the arms, grab the bar. Using a secure overhand grip, push the chest out to straighten the spine and lift.
Keeping the back straight, drag the bar up the shins to the tops of the thighs and stand up. Lower the bar with a controlled motion.
Common mistakes with this motion include spreading the feet too far apart and rounding the back. Keep feet hip to shoulder-width apart for better balance and focus on keeping the spine neutral to prevent injury.
Many weightlifters rely on the barbell deadlift as a staple of a killer back day lifts because it works for so many muscle groups and has an impact on the entire body. It’s also easy enough for a child to perform (with appropriate weight).
Determining the set, frequency, and weight for a deadlift depends on the goal. For skill-building, focus on form with lighter weight and more reps 1 to 2 days per week with 1 day of strength-building using moderate weight and reps.
For strength building, perform the barbell deadlift 1 day with moderate weight and fewer reps, 1 day with moderate weight and reps, and 1 day with a deadlift variation.
2. Barbell Rack Pull
The rack pull is a variation that shortens movements and uses heavier weight to strengthen back muscles faster and improve overall deadlift form. Weightlifters incorporate the rack pull into their back day routine to bulk up back muscles because it targets the lower back while still working the legs, core, and upper back.
To perform a barbell rack pull, set the height of the rack slightly below the knee, a little above the knee, or part way up the thigh. The lower the setting, the more it works the legs. With feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, grasp the bar and lift, then with a controlled motion, return the bar to the rack.
Common mistakes with the rack pull include lifting too much weight and incorrect posture. While the back exercise uses more weight than other variations, it should be a manageable weight. Maintaining proper posture throughout the exercise prevents injury.
Rack pulls remain popular for bodybuilders and powerlifters, but it’s gaining popularity as a general fitness exercise. Incorporate rack pulls 1 to 2 times per week, allowing up to 72 hours of recovery time between sessions to maximize results. Choose a manageable weight for 5 to 8 repetitions and 3 to 5 sets per exercise session.
3. Romanian Deadlift
Want great back exercises for mass? The Romanian Deadlift works the lower back but engages the hamstrings, forearms, and glutes more than other variations. This variation increases muscle mass, especially the hamstrings while improving hip mechanics and endurance.
Performing a Romanian deadlift starts in a standing position with feet in line with the hips. Keep shins vertical, knees straight, and bar close to the body. Hinge at the hips to move the bar down the thighs and below the knees. Stretch the hamstrings as far as possible, then pull the weight back up in a controlled motion.
The most common mistake when performing a Romanian deadlift is rounding the back. This issue usually results from a lack of control over the body and weight or taking the bar too low. Another common issue is the bar moving too far from the body when it should be kept close to avoid injury.
The Romanian Deadlift is one of the best back exercises for beginners because it’s easy to learn and master, but it’s also popular among experienced weightlifters for increasing strength and muscle mass in the thighs and glutes. It works best with 8 to 12 reps per set at 3 to 5 sets per workout. Keep weight manageable without putting too much strain on the lower back.
4. Snatch-Grip Deadlift
The snatch grip deadlift builds back strength and muscle mass while increasing grip strength. It works the upper and lower back, especially the traps. It’s one of the best back exercises for working on positional power and control.
To perform a snatch grip deadlift, use the same approach as a traditional deadlift but with a wider grip on the bar. Keep feet in line with the hips and toes pointed slightly outward. Using controlled motions, move the bar up out of the squat position and then lower it back down.
The most common mistake with the snatch grip deadlift is attempting it without sufficient strength, proper form, or both. It’s an advanced exercise that requires mastery of the conventional deadlift and a personal trainer or spotter.
The snatch grip deadlift is most popular among Olympic and competitive weightlifters because it builds muscle mass and refines the overall athleticism necessary for many lifting maneuvers. For best results, perform 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps using light to moderate weight. Incorporate the exercise in a back workout routine 1 to 3 days per week.
5. Trap Bar Deadlift
The trap bar deadlift, also known as the hex or diamond bar, increases muscle mass and power in the upper and lower back muscles and glutes. It also engages the quads and hamstrings, though not as much as the conventional barbell deadlift.
Performing a trap bar deadlift requires a special bar with unique grips that allow the weightlifter to keep arms at their sides. The lifter still squats to begin the exercise and moves to a standing position, then lowers the bar back to the ground.
The most common mistakes with performing a trap bar deadlift include poor form, insufficient strength, and using excessive weight. Proper form requires a flat back and engaging the leg and core muscles to support the lift. Insufficient strength and using too much weight can cause the form to falter, resulting in pain or an injury.
It’s most popular among experienced weightlifters because it’s possible to work with heavier weights and make gains in lower body strength. Adding the trap bar deadlift into a gym back workout routine can help refine weightlifting movements, increase pulling strength, and reduce stress on the lower back. Try 2 to 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps with moderate to heavyweight.
2. Bent-Over Row
Bent-over rows are one of the top back workouts and build strength and muscle mass in the upper and lower back muscles, especially the traps, rhomboids, and lats. This back workout for getting ripped engages the hamstrings, glutes, biceps, and shoulders, strengthens the ligaments and joints, and supports good posture.
As a back gain workout, the bent-over row isolates specific muscles in the back at different points during the exercise to increase strength and stability. It’s an excellent addition to any workout routine because it helps with injury prevention, burns fat, and helps reduce heart rate.
To perform the bent-over row, stand with feet even with shoulders and a slight bend at the knee. Grip the barbell, overhand and with hands just a bit wider than the shoulders. Keeping the back straight, bend at the waist to a 45° angle. Pull the bar toward the chest, pause, then lower it back to the starting position.
The most common mistake is using poor form. Rounding the shoulders or back instead of keeping it straight or bending the wrists when they should remain stationary are the most common issues.
Variations of the bent-over row include the overhand grip, underhand grip, Pendlay, bent-over dumbbells, and kettlebell rows. Use a combination of these variations 1 to 3 times per week.
Men find benefit in using the bent-over row to offset the work done during a chest workout routine. Women can gain strength in their back muscles to support the spine and improve posture and stability. Some children and teens may perform some variations of the bent-over row with lighter weights to build strength without impeding their growth.
Bent-over rows primarily target the back, but they work for many other muscle groups. Athletes in any sport use the bent-over row to improve pulling strength and fluidity for many motions that rely on the spine and core. Incorporating multiple variations allows bodybuilders to target the muscles in unique ways and enhance definition.
Add bent-over rows to a back workout routine 1 to 3 times per week. It’s ideal to use a lighter weight for 4 to 6 sets of 20 to 30 reps to build endurance. For strength building, try a heavy load for 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps each.
Bent-Over Row Variations for Back Workout Routines
Want one of the top back exercises bodybuilding experts suggest? The different types of bent-over row variations involve using different stances, equipment, and motions to work the back muscles in unique ways. Though they all use the same general motion, minor alterations, like grip on the bar, can activate muscles differently.
Though the traditional bent-over row remains the most popular variation, swapping the bar for dumbbells is an increasingly common variation for back-day gym routines. With dumbbells, weightlifters can alter the feel of the exercise and work with different angles or one arm at a time. The variations allow lifters to isolate specific muscles in unique ways.
Traditional bent-over rows with a barbell remain the best variation for building strength and muscle mass. It’s also the easiest to learn and perform with proper technique.
Bent-over row variations of this back exercise include the following.
- Overhand-Grip Bent-Over Rows
- Underhand-Grip Bent-Over Rows
- Pendlay Rows
- Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows
- Kettlebell Rows
1. Overhand-Grip Bent-Over Rows
The overhand grip bent-over row is the traditional method. It works the upper, mid, and lower back muscles to improve strength, definition, and stability. As a bonus, the overhand grip bent-over row works the arms and shoulders.
To perform an overhand grip bent-over row, stand with feet even with shoulders and knees slightly bent. Keeping the back straight, bend forward at the waist. Grip the bar with palms facing down and hands just a bit wider than shoulders. Engage the core and lift the bar toward the chest, then lower it again.
Common mistakes with an overhand grip bent-over row include using too much weight and doing the reps too quickly. Choosing a proper weight and using slow, controlled movements deliver the best results.
The traditional bent-over row is a staple of back day workouts and remains the most popular variation because it engages so much of the body. It also supports better posture and mechanics for other athletic functions.
Overhand grip bent-over rows are easy to learn and carry out with limited weight, making them an excellent choice for beginners. However, since it’s possible to add significant weight to the bar, advanced weightlifters can make serious gains.
There are a few ways to approach overhand grip bent-over rows. For overall endurance, strength, and toning, do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps with a moderate weight, take a break, then increase the weight for 3 sets of 6 to 12 reps. Alternatively, do 12 to 15 sets of 5 to 8 reps and adjust the weight for each set.
2. Underhand-Grip Bent-Over Rows
Sticking with the barbell but alternating the grip to an underhand grasp is an excellent way to focus on the lats. By swapping the grip, weightlifters find it easier to keep their elbows in check and reduce the amount of work through the shoulders. Additionally, the underhand grip works the biceps to build muscle and create better definition.
To perform an underhand grip bent-over row, grasp the bar with an underhand grip. Start in the standing position and carefully bend forward at the waist, keeping the back straight and elbows near the body. Using controlled motions, lower the bar to straighten the arms and pull up.
The most common mistake with this exercise is letting the bar get away from the body. To work the lats properly, it’s crucial to keep elbows tight and the bar close, almost rolling over the quads.
This variation is one of the most popular for home and gym back exercises because it’s one of the most natural movements to make. Since it’s a natural movement, even beginners learn quickly, but bodybuilders and advanced weightlifters use it frequently to get that impressive definition in the biceps and lats.
For best results, try 4 to 5 sets of 10 to 20 reps with a 60 to 90-second break between sets. Select a weight that is easy to control and maintain for slow, steady movements throughout all sets.
3. Pendlay Rows
Pendlay rows involve lowering the bar to the floor to complete each rep. The additional movement works the lats but also puts more on the other back muscles. Taking the bar back to the floor engages more muscles longer and builds mass faster.
To perform the Pendlay variation of the bent-over row, bend at the hip and keep the back straight. Use an overhand grip with hands just outside the shoulders. Engage the core and lift the bar toward the belly button, then return the bar to the floor.
The most common mistakes with performing the Pendlay row involve form. Either the weightlifter doesn’t bend enough at the waist, rounds the back, or relies too much on the arms. It’s crucial to keep the back straight and parallel to the ground while using the arms, core, and back to complete the motions.
The Pendlay row is a popular free weight back workout for advanced weightlifters seeking a challenge that delivers noticeable gains. It’s an advanced exercise that requires exceptional control and strength to maintain the form for multiple reps. Experienced athletes appreciate the Pendlay row because it forces them to focus on form and specific muscles.
There are a few ways to approach Pendlay rows. For strength, use a light to moderate weight for 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 10 reps. Building muscle mass would involve moderate weight for 3 or 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps. To increase muscle endurance, try 2 to 3 reps of 20 reps using a lighter weight.
4. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
The bent-over dumbbell row works the upper, middle, and lower back muscles. It also engages the core and tones the shoulders and arms. As a moderate-intensity exercise, this variation also burns a lot of calories and improves spinal stability.
To perform the bent-over dumbbell row, select dumbbells at a comfortable weight. Stand with legs even with shoulders and bend slightly at the knees. Grip a dumbbell with each hand and pull up toward the chest until the forearms come almost parallel to the shoulders. Lower the dumbbells to starting position.
Common mistakes involve rounding the back, bending the wrists, or lifting too far. The back and wrists should remain straight to avoid injury. If it’s not possible to complete the exercise without bending the wrists or shoulders, try lighter dumbbells. Lifting too far is the other issue, so it’s important to stop lifting before the arms reach shoulder level.
The bent-over dumbbell row is a popular exercise to complete any gym routine for back strength and toning. It targets multiple muscles in the back, chest, and arms, which increases strength and mass.
This variation is best for intermediate and experienced weightlifters who mastered the traditional bent-over row and understand how to maintain proper form. It’s an excellent choice for refining and defining muscles through the arms, chest, and back.
For best results, perform 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 10 reps with a comfortable weight. It’s a good idea to start with the weaker arm, usually the non-dominant hand.
5. Kettlebell Rows
Kettlebell rows build muscle and strength throughout the back muscles, specifically the delts and traps. It’s an intermediate to advanced level exercise that allows weightlifters to focus on individual muscles for better definition and control.
To perform a kettlebell row, select a kettlebell that’s an appropriate weight for single-arm lifting. Bend at the waist to approximately 45° with the back flat. Grip the kettlebell with one hand and pull up toward the hip. Pause for a few seconds and lower the kettlebell to starting position.
The most common mistake with kettlebell rows is pulling up too far. It’s a short motion allowing for the lifter to isolate specific muscles in the back and shoulders, but overdoing it or exaggerating the motion by going beyond the rib cage could hurt.
Kettlebell rows are popular because it’s easy to adapt them to different fitness levels. Everybody, including beginners, can use the standard method. If it is too challenging, weightlifters can hold onto a chair for support.
To use kettlebell rows as part of a ripped back workout for gaining size, do 10 to 12 reps on each side for 4 to 6 sets. Choose a weight that doesn’t strain the back or arm and allows for proper form through all sets.
3. T-Bar Row
T-bar rows focus on the lats to get a wider, more defined back. It’s the ideal back exercise to work the mid-back region, traps, and rear delts. As a side benefit, weightlifters can gain some strength and definition in the arms.
Given the unique arrangement and motions, T-bar rows make it possible to make noticeable gains faster than some other back exercises. It’s one of the most popular bodybuilding exercises because it requires less movement but allows weightlifters to use more weight.
To perform this old-school back exercise, straddle the bar and bend the knees slightly. Lean forward and grasp the T-bar with a neutral grip. Keeping the back straight, pull the weight toward the chest, then lower it back to the starting position.
Common mistakes with T-bar rows include using too much weight, relying on the arms to manage the weight, and keeping the legs locked. It’s necessary to use a comfortable weight to isolate the proper muscles through the back and core. Keeping the legs slightly bent helps keep the back straight to avoid stressing the spine.
To shake up a back session, bodybuilding professionals use T-bar row variations to keep things interesting. Variations include the traditional T-bar row, lying T-bar row, landmine row holding a wide T-handle, and the landmine row holding the bar.
The T-bar row works several muscles in the back, so it should not be done more than 1 to 3 times per week to allow periods of rest in between sessions.
T-bar rows can add significant width and definition for adult bodybuilders. It’s a natural motion that requires balance and control, so it may not be the best option for children and teens who haven’t mastered the basics yet.
Bodybuilders, runners, and swimmers seeking to build their backs and offset the chest workouts might get the most benefit from T-bar rows. Used as part of a rotation, T-bar rows could have positive effects for calisthenics and those focused on toning more than bulking.
Typically, weightlifters of all levels do 3 to 6 sets of 5 to 10 reps. It’s common to start with 11 kg plates and work up to 20 kg plates.
T-Bar Row Variations for Back Exercises
T-bar row variations alter the position to target the back muscles in different ways without placing too much pressure on the spine. Some of the different types of T-bar row variations focus on improving form, like the lying T-bar row, which provides more support for the torso. Others alter the grip and approach, like the landmine row holding a wide t-handle bar.
The traditional T-bar row remains the most popular choice across the board and earned a spot among the top 5 back workouts for mass. Famous bodybuilders often share photos and videos performing this classic back exercise and touting its efficacy at quickly building mass and strength.
Variations of the T-Bar Row include the following.
- T-Bar Row
- Lying T-Bar Row
- Landmine Row Holding a Wide T-Handle
- Landmine Row Holding the Bar
1. T-bar Row
The classic T-bar row primarily works the lats, but it also works the traps and rhomboids, making it the best back workout routine for definition. This traditional back workout exercise targets other muscles as well, including the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core.
It’s possible to use a machine for the T-bar row, or with a quick setup, a basic barbell can do the trick.
Either way, straddle the bar and grasp it with a neutral grip. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Keeping the back straight, somewhere between 45° and parallel to the floor, pull the bar and weight toward the chest, then lower it back to starting position.
Perhaps the most common mistake is using too much weight; it’s better to start lighter and use proper form. Other missteps include standing with straight legs and rounding the back, which can both lead to injury.
The traditional T-bar row remains one of the most popular back exercises among athletes because it delivers results without stressing the spine. It’s also easy enough for beginners, but by increasing weight or reps, a pro can make significant gains and build a broad back.
Beginners should start with no more than 11 kg plates and work up to 20 kg plates. Add 3 to 6 sets of 5 to 10 reps to a back workout routine 1 to 3 times per week with sufficient rest in between.
2. Lying T-Bar Row
The lying T-bar row is a T-Bar variation that requires a machine or bench, so it may not be ideal for full back workout bodybuilding at home. Lying on the bench gives the weightlifter torso support so that they can isolate the upper back muscles and shoulders more easily without stressing the spine.
To perform a lying T-bar row, lay on the bench or machine with the chest supported by the cushion. Grasp the bar and pull it toward the chest, then lower it back to start with controlled motions.
The most common mistakes with lying T-bar rows involve poor form or incomplete movements. Motions should be smooth instead of jerky and force the weightlifter to squeeze the shoulder blades together to work for the proper muscle groups.
The lying T-bar row gained popularity as a variation because of the torso support. It allows the lifter to isolate the lats without stressing the spine, reducing the risk of back injury.
Incorporate lying T-bar rows into back workout routines 1 to 3 times per week. Start with 3 to 6 sets of 4 to 8 reps for strength building or 12 to 20 reps for endurance.
3. Landmine Row Holding a Wide T-handle
Traditional T-bar rows involve holding the barbell in a hand-over-hand grip, while the wide T-handle allows different grips. It may be part of the machine or an attachment to the barbell, but the result is a T-shape that creates handles on either side of the bar. The wider grip works the same muscles as the traditional variation but in slightly different ways.
To perform the landmine row holding a wide T-handle, use the attachment or proper machine. Straddle the bar with knees slightly bent, spine neutral, and core engaged. Grasp the T-handles and pull the weight toward the chest in a smooth, controlled motion, then lower it back down.
The most common misstep for this variation is bending or rolling the neck or back. It’s important to keep the neck and spine in a neutral position to isolate the proper muscles and prevent injury.
This variation is one of the great back workouts for mass, especially among bodybuilders and competitive athletes who prefer the wider grip. Start with a lighter weight, around 11 kg for 3 to 6 sets of 3 to 8 reps.
4. Landmine Row Holding the Bar
If you’re looking for a back workout program bodybuilding experts love, look no further. One of the best back exercises for definition doesn’t require a fancy machine. The landmine row is possible with a barbell if it’s secured at one end. Performing this variation engages the upper, mid, and lower back muscles, especially the lats, with minimal equipment.
To perform this variation, secure a barbell in a corner or with an anchor and set the desired weight at the opposite end.
Straddle the barbell with feet even with the shoulders, and hinge at the hips. Grip the barbell using a hand-over-hand grasp below the plates and pull the bar toward the chest in a controlled motion that squeezes the shoulder blades together, then lowers the weight for effective back exercises.
Common mistakes include not keeping the elbows close to the body and using too much weight. It’s better to stick with lighter weight, especially in the beginning, to maintain proper form and keep those elbows close to engage the lats properly.
This simple and effective back exercise remains extremely popular for athletes at all skill levels because it requires basic equipment but delivers results. Start with just the barbell or add some weight, not to exceed 20 kg, depending on skill and fitness level. Try 3 to 6 sets of 5 to 8 reps for best results. It really is one of the best back bulking workouts you can do.
4. Seated Row
What is the best back workout for mass? Consider the seated row that mimics the act of rowing a boat. It targets the upper back using a natural pulling motion and primarily engages the lats, traps, and rhomboids, but also builds the biceps and improves posture.
Performing the seated row requires a machine. Sit on the bench, knees bent, and feet planted firmly on the machine’s pads or the floor. Engage the core and grasp the handle with a neutral grip. With elbows close to the body, pull back in a controlled movement, pause, then return to starting position.
Common mistakes involve poor form, primarily loose elbows, tense shoulders, or a rounded back. Keep elbows close to the body, shoulders relaxed, and spine neutral to avoid injury. Be careful to use controlled, smooth movements that engage the muscles because fast or jerky movements don’t yield results.
Variations of the seated row include the traditional cable row, single-arm cable row, high-cable standing row, machine seated row, and plate-loaded high row.
To build mass, strength, or definition in the upper back and chest, perform the seated row 1 to 3 times per week as a good back program in the gym.
Seated rows work the upper body, but they also burn calories. It’s an ideal exercise for men and women seeking to define the lats, traps, and biceps. Since it requires the use of a machine, seated rows may not be the best option for children and young teens.
Given the opportunity to build lean muscle and build calories, seated rows work well for calisthenics, bodybuilders, swimmers, and runners, and are some of the best upper back exercises at the gym.
Start with 4 to 6 sets of 10 to 12 reps using half the average weight lifted. Adjust the weight up or down to a comfortable level after the first set for solid back building exercises.
Seated Row Variations for Back Muscle Hypertrophy
The seated row requires a machine, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t seated row variations that shake up a workout routine. Work each arm individually or try a standing position to alter the angle and isolate the lats in different ways.
While the traditional cable row works for multiple muscle groups at one time for a balanced exercise, the single-arm cable row provides more control over each arm to build strength equally on both sides. Other variations, like the high-cable standing row, engage the upper back and shoulders more in the pulling motion.
The seated row is not likely to make a list of the best free weight back exercises, but it’s one of the most popular machine options. The traditional cable row is the most popular option because it’s easy to learn and modify for all fitness levels. It also happens to be the best for building strength and mass since it works for multiple muscle groups.
Variations of the seated row include the following.
- Cable Row
- Single-Arm Cable Row
- High-Cable Standing Row
- Machine Seated Row
- Plate-Loaded High Row
1. Cable Row
The traditional cable row remains one of the best upper back exercises bodybuilding experts love because it encourages smooth movements while engaging multiple muscles throughout the body, especially the lats.
To perform this compound movement, set the appropriate weight on the machine. Sit on the bench with feet on the pads, bar, or floor. Grasp the bar with both hands and pull it toward the abdomen while squeezing the shoulder blades together. Pause for a few seconds, then release the bar to the starting position.
One of the most common mistakes is incorrectly using the elbows, either letting them fly out during the pullback or locking them during the release. Keep the elbows close to the body and slightly bent in the starting position.
This back exercise is a perfect back workout because it’s doable for beginners but can also help pros build and define muscles. Incorporate the seated cable row 2 to 3 times per week for 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps. Athletes should begin with a lighter weight and work up to focus on using proper form.
2. Single-Arm Cable Row
The single-arm cable row works the back muscles, primarily the lats, traps, and rhomboids, but it allows weightlifters to target each side separately. It’s the ideal exercise for athletes who need to balance muscle development and provide more control.
To perform this back workout, pull the cable using one arm instead of both. Sit on the bench and grasp the handle with one hand, usually starting with the non-dominant or weaker side. Pull the handle toward the torso while engaging the back muscles, pause, then return to starting position.
The most common mistakes with this exercise include moving too fast through the motions, holding too much tension in the shoulders, and letting the elbows wing out. Keep the shoulders neutral, and the elbows close while using slow, controlled movements. If it’s not possible to maintain proper form and control, decrease the weight.
The single-arm cable row is more popular with experienced lifters, though it’s not too complicated for beginners. It provides the weightlifter with more control over the target muscle groups and allows them to work both sides properly to balance definition and strength.
Incorporate the single-arm cable row 2 to 3 times per week to build strength and definition. Start with 2 to 3 sets of 4 to 8 reps and work up gradually. Weightlifters should start with a weight that allows them to maintain proper form.
3. High-Cable Standing Row
The high-cable standing row is one of the top 10 back workouts for building the lats. While it engages other muscle groups, this variation works the lats to increase strength and mass. The high-cable standing row is synonymous with the face-pull, making it an effective face-pull variation one can attempt in the gym.
To perform a high-cable standing row, connect a rope or handle to a high pulley. Grip the handle and step back with elbows at shoulder height. Pull the handle toward the chest to engage the back muscles but do not squeeze the shoulder blades together or drop the head back.
The most common mistakes with this variation include using too much weight to maintain proper form and shrugging the shoulders. Keep the shoulders relaxed and use a proper weight that doesn’t require strain, jerking motions, or breaking form.
Bodybuilders and athletes seeking variety in their back workouts like to work this exercise into the mix a few times per week. It engages several muscle groups but specifically adds definition to the lats. Use a proper weight that works the muscles but allows for proper form. Start with 3 to 6 sets of 4 to 8 reps for strength building, then increase the reps for endurance.
4. Machine Seated Row
The machine seated row is part of a back routine bodybuilding experts suggest and uses the same general movements as the other variations, but the machine eliminates some variables. These machines focus more on the middle back, though the motions work other muscles, including the arms.KW: muscle building back workout.
To perform this variation, sit at the seated row machine and set the desired weight. Engage the core and grasp the handles. Pull the handles toward the body, pause, then slowly return to the starting position.
The most common mistakes for this variation are using too much weight or moving too fast through the motions. Though the machine supports the movements, it’s important to use a comfortable weight and engage the proper muscles with slow, controlled motions.
This muscle-building back workout is popular among beginners because the machine guides the motions and makes it easier to maintain form. It’s also helpful for performing more reps to improve endurance. Add this exercise 2 to 3 times per week with 5 to 6 sets of 12 to 18 reps.
5. Plate-Loaded High Row
The plate-loaded high row targets the upper, middle, and lower back muscles by working them from a slightly different angle. It allows the weightlifter to extend and stretch with continued resistance from the machine while providing support for the torso.
To perform this variation, add the appropriate plates to the machine for the desired weight. Sit in the seat with the chest against the pad and grasp the handles. Push the handles out and up in a controlled motion, pause, then return to starting position.
The most common misstep with this variation is using too much weight. To make gains, it’s necessary to use a comfortable weight that provides resistance but allows the lifter to maintain proper form.
The plate loaded high row variation might be one of the best back weight lifting exercises with a machine. It works the entire upper body, and because of the machine, it’s beginner-friendly. Since the weightlifter can adjust the weight, it’s equally beneficial to pros seeking more definition and control.
Start by introducing the exercise to a back routine 1 to 3 times per week. For strength and mass building, do 2 to 3 sets of 4 to 8 reps or build endurance with 12 to 20 reps at a light to moderate weight.
5. Single-Arm Smith Machine Row
Looking for a solid back routine gym goers love? The single-arm Smith Machine Row is a different take on the standard rowing motion that works wonders on the lats but also engages the rear delts, traps, arms, and core. It’s ideal for isolating the back muscles and balancing mass, especially when one side is noticeably larger than the other.
To perform this exercise, set the machine so that the bar is around knee height but slightly lower. Stand beside the bar with a staggered stance; the foot closest to the bar should be at the rear. Hinge at the waist to a 45° angle and grasp the barbell with one hand. Place the opposite hand on the machine for stability.
Lift the bar and extend the elbow to stretch the back muscles, pause and engage the core, then pull the elbow back. Raise the bar to just above the torso, pause, and release to starting position.
The most common mistake with this exercise is rounding the back instead of maintaining a neutral spine. Failure to keep the back flat prevents the lats from contracting, meaning they don’t gain mass.
Variations of this exercise include the bent-over row and inverted row. This back exercise can pack on muscle mass, build strength, and enhance definition when performed 1 to 3 times per week as part of a complete routine.
This variation might be the best back weight training exercise for developing lats and resolving noticeable imbalances in a lifter’s musculature. It’s an intermediate to advanced exercise that serves bodybuilders and competitive athletes seeking to gain and balance muscle mass for aesthetic appeal while building strength.
Start with a comfortable weight for a one-arm lift. Perform 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 16 reps.
Single-Arm Smith Machine Types for Back Muscle Growth
There are two common variations of the single-arm Smith machine. While the traditional bent-over row variation and alternate inverted row option both work the lats, traps and delts, the motions differ to yield unique results. The inverted row variation does more for the forearms than the traditional variation because it engages those muscles more.
For intermediate to advanced weightlifters, the single-arm Smith machine may be the best back workout at the gym. Since the lifter can focus on one arm at a time, it’s easier to find balance and isolate individual muscles with each movement.
The standard bent-over row remains the most popular variation because it can build muscle fast and makes it easy to isolate how the traps and lats work.
There are 2 variations of the single-arm smith machine back exercises.
- Smith Machine Bent-Over Row
- Smith Machine Bodyweight Inverted Row
1. Smith Machine Bent-Over Row
The Smith machine bent-over row engages the lats to build strength and mass quickly, but it also works the rear delts, traps, biceps, and forearms. It’s one of the best exercises for correcting unbalanced muscles in the back.
To perform the single-arm Smith Machine bent-over row, step up to the machine with a staggered stance. The foot closest to the bar should be slightly back from the opposite foot in a comfortable stance. Grip the bar with one hand and place the other on the machine for support. Lift the bar until the elbow passes the torso, pause for a second, then return to starting position.
Common mistakes include using too much weight and rounding the back. Keep the back in a neutral position and use enough weight to engage the muscles without straining them.
Bodybuilders who don’t want to pull back at the gym, but maxed out on the dumbbells often switch to this variation to work their backs. It’s an excellent option for advanced lifters to gain more mass and definition. Select a comfortable lifting weight for one arm and start with 2 to 4 sets of 5 to 7 reps at least 1 time per week as part of a back routine.
2. Smith Machine Bodyweight Inverted Row
The inverted row engages the lats, traps, and rear delts, but it also works the biceps and forearms. Lifters can build healthier joints and a wider back while improving overall bodyweight strength with this variation.
To perform the inverted row, set the bar on the machine around mid-thigh level. Sit on the ground and slide under the bar. Grasp the bar using an overhand grip, keeping hands even with the shoulders and elbows tucked in. Plant the heels, gaze up at the ceiling, and keep the spine neutral. Pull the chest toward the bar until it nearly touches, holds for 1 to 2 seconds, then release and lower back to the starting position.
The biggest mistake with this exercise is not using the muscles properly. It’s designed to work the back muscles, but some lifters put too much into the arms instead of engaging the back, core, and glutes with each rep.
The inverted row is a popular variation for weightlifters looking for more muscle stability and bodyweight strength. As an intermediate to advanced exercise, beginners likely lack the strength to manage it. For best results, incorporate this exercise into a back weight training routine up to 3 times per week. Start with 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
6. Lat Pull-Down
The lat pull-down tones and strengthens to improve joint health, everyday function, and athletic activity. It primarily engages the lats but also works the traps, delts, and arms. In many ways, the lat pull-down is one exercise that works the entire upper body. It’s even possible to isolate specific back muscles without straining the arms to make faster gains.
Lat pull-downs require a machine with a bar attached to a cable pulley system. With arms outstretched, grasp the bar overhead. Pull the bar down to chin-level, pause for 1 to 2 seconds, and slowly return to starting position.
The most common mistake when performing a lat pull-down is poor form. Arching the back, relying too much on the arms or the motion’s momentum can all prevent progress. Keep the spine neutral and make the back muscles do the work to make true gains.
Variations of the lat pull-down include the traditional neutral-grip pull-down, overhand-grip pull-down, underhand-grip pull-down, rope handle pull-down, single-arm pull-down, and half-kneeling pull-down.
Lat pull-downs work well with regular back routines if added 1 to 3 days per week.
Men and women can get a good back workout by adding lat pull-downs to the routine. The workout is easy enough for children and young teens, though some variations might be too advanced.
The lat pull-down is a good back workout for calisthenics, bodybuilders, swimmers, and runners seeking to strengthen and tone the entire upper body. It’s also excellent for building endurance in the upper body muscles.
It’s best to use lighter weights with more reps in most cases. Start with 3 to 6 sets of 8 to 15 reps and lighter weight, around 11 kg. Advanced weightlifters may gain more with heavier weight and fewer reps.
Lat Pull-Down Variations for Back Muscles
By altering the grip and stance, lifters can isolate the muscles in different ways to tone and strengthen while adding variety to their workouts. These variations also allow weightlifters the opportunity to increase the complexity while building strength and mass.
The overhand and underhand grips engage the back and arm muscles in different ways for a more complete workout. Advanced lifters can work harder and isolate specific muscles with the single-arm pull-down or half-kneeling pull-down.
Though the overhand and underhand grip variations are the most popular options, the standard lat pull-down is one of the best back to gym workouts because it’s perfect for beginners, often uses lighter weights, and engages the entire upper body. The single-arm pull-down is the best for isolating specific muscles to increase strength and mass.
Variations of the lat pull-down include the following.
- Neutral-Grip Pull-Down
- Overhand-Grip Pull-Down
- Underhand-Grip Pull-Down
- Rope Handle Pull-Down
- Single-Arm Pull-Down
- Half-Kneeling Pull-Down
1. Neutral-Grip Pull-Down
Neutral-grip pull-downs primarily engage the lats, but it also reaches the traps and arms. Since it’s a vertical motion, the majority of the work goes to the upper back and shoulders when performed correctly.
To perform a neutral-grip pull-down, use a bar with two handles. Grasp the handles with palms facing each other. Begin with arms extended overhead, spine neutral, and core engaged. Pull down on the bar until it reaches the chest, pause for a second, then move the bar back to starting position.
The most common mistake with this exercise is swinging the arms down, causing the back to arch. The spine should remain neutral with limited movement because the muscles do the work.
Neutral-grip pull-downs remain popular for back training at the gym because it’s ideal for lifters of all skill levels. Beginners should start with a third to a little less than half their body weight while advanced weightlifters and pros can often manage to double their body weight. To work the lats without straining them, try 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
2. Overhand-Grip Pull-Down
Overhand-grip pull-downs help lifters get that wide bodybuilder back. As part of a heavy back workout, the overhand grip keeps the hands wide to work the lats differently and ultimately create a wing-like appearance. Though the lats handle most of the work, the biceps put in their fair share and see some toning and strengthening.
To perform the overhand-grip, select a bar that allows for a wide grasp. Sit with the knees under the pads to keep the body in the seat. Start with arms extended, chest out, and back straight.
Pull down, taking the elbows to the sides and pushing the shoulder blades together as the bar comes to the chest. Hold for 1 or 2 seconds, then release slowly back to the starting position.
The most common mistakes for this exercise are pulling the bar away from the body or leaning back too far. Both errors fail to engage the lats properly and rely on the wrong muscles, or momentum, to do the work. Lifting too much weight or sitting too close can cause both issues, making them easy fixes.
Overhead-grip pull-downs are a staple for heavy bodybuilders seeking sculpted lats that stand out. Many people find it’s more effective for working the lower lats, making it slightly more popular than the underhand grip variation.
Weightlifters of any level can perform the exercise with an appropriate weight. It’s best to start lighter and work up than to use too much and end up with bad form. Start with 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps for best results.
3. Underhand-Grip Pull-Down
Underhand-grip pull-downs, commonly known as reverse-grip, also tone and strengthen the lats, but with a different effect. Instead of wing-like lats, the underhand grip creates full lats that can extend down to the waist. Using this exercise also works the arms and core.
To perform this variation, sit at the appropriate machine with the knees locked under the bar. Grip the bar with the hands just inside the shoulders and palms facing the body. Start with arms extended, then pull the bar toward the body until the elbows line up with the torso. Pause for 1 to 2 seconds, then slowly release to the original position.
The most common mistake with this exercise is using momentum and rocking instead of engaging the muscles to do the work. This issue often occurs when using too much weight, so taking it down a notch could help.
This lat pull variation is one of the best back weight exercises, especially when used with the overhand-grip version. It’s popular among men and women wanting to strengthen their lats. Choosing a lighter weight to start is a good idea, especially with 3 or 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps. Advanced lifters hoping to bulk may want to do fewer reps with heavier weight.
4. Rope Handle Pull-Down
The rope handle pull-down targets the lats but also works the traps, and rhomboids, making it a comprehensive back building workout. As a bonus, this variation puts in some work with the arms and chest.
To perform Rope Handle Pull-Down Variation, attach the rope to the cable machine. Sit with knees locked under the pad and reach overhead to grasp the rope with palms facing each other. Holding the elbows in line with the body, pull the rope down until the elbows move behind and squeeze the lats. Hold for 2 seconds, then slowly release back to the starting position.
The most common missteps with this exercise involve poor form. Relying on momentum or the arms to do the work skips over the lats. Use controlled movements and go slow to get maximum results and avoid injury.
The rope handle pull-down is popular for experienced lifters hoping to build mass and overall upper body strength. It’s a good idea to start with a light to moderate weight for 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
5. Single-Arm Pull-Down
Single-arm pull-downs develop the lats and allow lifters to improve the musculature on their non-dominant side. This variation also works the traps, rhomboids, delts, and biceps.
To perform this variation, attach a D-handle to the machine, sit down and lock the knees under the pads. Fully extend the arm to grab the handle with the palm facing inward. Pull the handle down, squeezing the shoulder blades together until the handle reaches the upper chest. Hold for a second then release back to the starting position in a slow controlled motion.
The most common mistake with this variation is jerking or using momentum to complete the rep. Each rep should be smooth and controlled with a focus on isolating and engaging the desired muscles.
Single-arm pull-downs are popular among weightlifters struggling with uneven lats. Using one arm at a time is the best back workout plan to work the smaller or weaker side to get it up to speed. Most people do 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps with lighter weight. To bulk, do fewer reps with more weight.
6. Half-Kneeling (Full-Kneeling Pull-Down)
Half-kneeling pull-downs work wonders with the upper, middle, and lower back. It’s also effective for improving the core and releasing tension through the lower back and hips.
To perform this exercise, use a bar or handles attached to a cable machine. Start on one knee, holding the bar or handles with arms outstretched. Slowly draw the elbows back, squeezing the shoulder blades together until the bar or handles reach the chest. Hold for 1 to 2 seconds, then release back to starting position in a slow controlled motion.
The most common mistake is arching the back and placing too much strain on the spine and lower back muscles. Another mistake is using the arms too much and not engaging the back.
This variation is one of those good back lifts that work well for anybody. It’s extremely popular with all fitness levels because it helps with flexibility and coordination while strengthening the back and core. It’s most effective with a lighter weight, no more than 11 kg to 20 kg, and more reps. Try starting with 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
7. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
The single-arm dumbbell row strengthens, tones, and builds mass. It is a full-back exercise that works the upper and lower muscles, though it has the biggest impact on developing the lats. This exercise also engages the shoulders, upper arms, core, and hips.
To perform this exercise properly, start in the lunge position but lean slightly forward. Engage the core for stability and start with a dumbbell on the floor, arm fully extended. Pull the dumbbell up toward the torso.
Keep the elbow close to the body and squeeze the shoulder blades until the dumbbell is even with the chest. Pause for a second then slowly release to the starting position.
Common mistakes for this exercise include using too much weight or poor form. Inability to perform the exercise properly usually means the dumbbell is too heavy. To make gains and avoid injury, don’t twist or jerk during the motion and keep the back straight the entire time.
Variations of this exercise include using one hand on a bench, one hand and one leg on a bench, the Meadows row, barbell row, and arc row.
The single-arm dumbbell row is an intermediate exercise that works in full-back routines 1 to 3 days per week.
Given the coordination and complexity, this exercise is not recommended for beginners or children. It’s an excellent choice for weightlifters and athletes hoping to refine and strengthen or bulk up depending on the weight used and amount of reps.
This exercise can round out the back workout routine for athletes into calisthenics, bodybuilders, swimmers, and runners.
For endurance and toning, use a lighter dumbbell with more reps, like 2 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps. To bulk up, select a heavier weight for fewer reps in a set. Start with 3 or 4 sets of 4 to 6 reps.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Variations for Back Strength
Since the exercise only uses one arm at a time, it’s possible to alter the stance, motion, and equipment to work the muscles differently and from unique angles. Using multiple variations can improve grip strength and coordination while strengthening and toning the back muscles.
Some variations use a bench while others swap the dumbbell for a barbell, like the Meadows row and barbell row.
The traditional version, with one hand on a bench for support generally remains the most popular option. Bodybuilders seeking a back exercise for mass or strength might prefer the Meadows row.
There are several variations of the single-arm dumbbell row.
- Single-Arm Row with One Hand on a Bench
- Single-Arm Row with One Hand and One Leg on a Bench
- Single-Arm Meadows Row
- Single-Arm Barbell Row
- Single-Arm Arc Row
1. Single-Arm Row with One Hand on a Bench
The traditional variation is one tough back workout that allows the lifter to isolate specific muscles, notably the lats, to build muscle mass. Though it targets the lats, the traps and rhomboids see plenty of work when performed properly.
To perform this variation, start in a lunge position with one hand on the bench for support. Hold the dumbbell in the other hand and pull it toward the chest. Engage the core and back muscles, and squeeze the shoulder blades together until the elbow points toward the ceiling. Pause for 1 to 2 seconds, then slowly lower the dumbbell back toward the floor.
Common mistakes involve twisting the wrist into more of a dumbbell curl or using the arm too much. Keep the wrist straight and move slowly to feel the muscles engaging and releasing.
This wildly popular exercise is one of the key workouts for building a broad, well-defined back. To bulk up, choose a heavier weight with fewer reps, no more than 8, and no more than 4 sets. For strengthening and improving endurance, opt for lighter weight and more reps, up to 15 per set.
2. Single-Arm Row with One Hand and One Leg on a Bench
The single-arm row with one hand and one leg on bench variation is one of the best back workout routines for toning and bulking. It isolates the lats and defines the shoulders when performed properly.
To perform this variation, put one knee and one hand on the bench to support the body and provide balance while the other side works. Start with the arm extended and the dumbbell on the floor. Pull the dumbbell slowly toward the torso until the elbow points up. Pause for a second, then return to the starting position in a smooth, controlled motion.
The most common mistake is relying too much on the bench and the arm. The bench should only provide support and balance while the back muscles do the heavy lifting.
This variation is popular among those just learning the exercise. Putting one knee on the bench provides more support and stability. To build lean muscle or endurance, try lighter weights, as low as a few kilograms for 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps. For bulking, go heavy on the weight for 2 or 3 sets of no more than 8 reps.
3. Single-Arm Meadows Row
The single-arm Meadows row targets the lats and shoulders, but it also engages the lower back, core, and biceps. The compound maneuver helps lifters balance bulk with strength.
To perform this variation, set up a barbell in a corner or with a landmine attachment and an appropriate weight for the fitness level and goal. Stand with feet staggered beside the barbell. Bend at the waist and take the barbell in one hand with an overhand grip. Pull the barbell up toward the hip joint, pause for a few seconds, then slowly lower back to the original position.
Common mistakes include using too much weight and relying on momentum to move the barbell. It’s better to drop the weight down a bit and focus on controlled movements that isolate the target muscles.
The Meadows row is extremely popular among those weight lifting for back definition and mass. Named for John Meadows, the exercise makes single-arm rows easier for beginners but provides pros with plenty of room to push their lats to the limits.
For bulking, perform 2 to 4 sets of 5 to 8 reps with a weight that’s challenging but not overtaxing. To increase endurance and tone muscles, choose a lighter weight with more reps, like 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
4. Single-Arm Barbell Row
Target the mid to lower back with the single-arm barbell row variation. It’s an excellent choice for strength training and adding definition to the mid-back region while working the lats and shoulders.
To perform this variation, secure one end of a barbell and add weight to the other end. Straddle the bar, bend the knees slightly and engage the core. Grasp the bar with one hand and pull it toward the chest in a smooth motion. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly release back to the starting position.
The most common mistakes for this variation involve form, notably standing straight-legged and locking the knees or arching the lower back. Keep the knees slightly bent and don’t move the torso, only the arms.
This variation is a popular full-back workout for bodybuilding, but it’s also useful for athletes to increase strength. Build endurance with 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps at a light to moderate weight or bulk up by adding more weight and dropping the reps down to 8 or fewer.
5. Single-Arm Arc Row
The single-arm arc row builds strength and mass in the upper back, specifically the lats. It also works the shoulders and arms.
To perform the arc row, put one knee and one hand on a bench with the back parallel to the floor. Hold the dumbbell in the other hand with the arm extended toward the floor. Pull the dumbbell back toward the hip in an arc motion. Hold for a second then slowly release to the beginning position.
The most common misstep with this variation is using too much weight to make controlled movements. Use lighter weight and focus on the movements, and the muscles expand and contract.
This exercise is a popular one for serious back-focused workout programs and building strength. It’s best with light to moderate weight because of the unique angle and motion. Start with 2 to 4 sets of 6 to 10 reps.
8. Chest-Supported Row
The chest-supported row works all muscle groups in the back, specifically the upper back muscles and rear shoulders. It supports the core allowing lifters to isolate movement through the back to make real gains in strength and mass. As a side benefit, this exercise also improves posture and can have a significant impact on bench press performance.
Performing this exercise requires an incline bench. Lay on the bench with dumbbells on the floor. Grasp the dumbbells and pull toward the torso until elbows reach just above the back. Hold the position for 2 to 3 seconds, then lower the dumbbells to starting position.
The most common misstep with this exercise is using a bench that’s too long. If the bench covers the face, the lifter has to move the cervical spine into an awkward position, and it throws off the entire exercise, often leading to pain and injury. The bench should support the chest and abdomen but not interfere with the neck or the face.
Variations of the chest-supported row include the traditional version and the seal row.
Like most exercises, add the chest-supported row to workouts 1 to 3 times per week.
Athletes of all ages can perform this exercise if they have a bench that fits. Women and children may struggle to find an appropriate incline bench to use.
The chest-supported row is one of the best back exercises for the upper and middle back. It’s also an option for athletes recovering from shoulder injuries because it works the muscles without stressing them. Athletes focused on calisthenics, bodybuilding, swimming, or running can increase strength and improve posture with this exercise.
Begin with 2 to 4 sets of 5 to 10 reps at a lighter weight and progress to 3 to 5 sets with heavier weight and fewer reps.
Chest-Supported Row Variations for Back Muscles
The chest-supported row variations involve using different benches to provide stability. The traditional version uses an incline bench while the seal row works with a flat bench. Both use dumbbells and the same general motion, but the different benches change how the exercise works the back muscles.
Chest-supported rows on an incline bench engage the entire back while the seal row focuses on the mid and upper back, almost entirely ignoring the lower back.
The chest-supported row using an incline bench is the most popular variation because it’s easier for beginners and those recovering from shoulder injuries. It’s ideal for building strength through the back and shoulders. The seal row is an increasingly popular exercise for men’s bodybuilding because it’s great for building mass.
There are two chest-supported row variations.
- Incline Bench Chest-Supported Row
- Seal Row
1. Incline Bench Chest-Supported Row
The traditional version is one of the best exercises to build back strength without stressing the shoulders. It works everything from the lats to the rear delts and improves posture.
To perform this exercise, set an incline bench between 45° and 60°. Lie down on the bench so that the chin clears the top. Keeping the neck and spine in a neutral position, take a dumbbell in each hand. Pull the dumbbells up, squeezing the shoulder blades together until the elbows reach the sides of the torso. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds, then release back to the beginning position.
The most common mistake is using too much weight. If it’s not possible to maintain proper form with the lightest dumbbells, it might be best to move on to a different exercise, like the chest-supported row.
This variation remains extremely popular for athletes, especially women, who want more upper body strength or have shoulder problems. Many people make it part of their back to gym routine after a shoulder injury.
Start with lighter weights and do 2 to 4 sets of 5 to 10 reps, then progress to more sets and weights with fewer reps.
2. Seal Row
The seal row works the upper back, notably the lats. It’s ideal for bulking because it forces the lifter to focus on the muscles, primarily the lats and rear delts. Further, it’s almost impossible to rely on momentum or strain the lower back because of the position.
To perform a seal row, lie on a flat bench with the head off one end to maintain a neutral spine. With a dumbbell in each hand, pull them up toward the bench. Squeeze the back muscles and pause for 2 seconds before returning to starting position.
The only real missteps that can impair a seal row are using too much weight or a bench that doesn’t fit. It’s crucial that the bench doesn’t interfere with the head or neck to protect the spine.
The seal row is not common in gyms, but it’s gaining popularity among back workouts for men because it provides some variety and results. It’s not likely to show up in gyms because the motion causes lifters’ legs to flop like a seal, something that could be unsightly and embarrassing in public. This makes it one of the most unique back exercises out there and offers excellent strength training for back muscles.
Since the seal row focuses on building mass and strength, try 2 to 4 sets of 4 to 6 reps with heavier weights.
Best Back Workout Exercises for Muscle Growth
From bodybuilder pros to casual lifters to athletes hoping to get back on weightlifting back exercises, these are some of the best back workout exercise routines to see real gains in mass, strength, and endurance. It’s necessary to build in rest days with a standard 72-hour break for the muscles to recover, so only work these programs 1 to 3 days per week.
- Best for Building Strength: Heavy Back Workout Exercise Program
- Best for Multiple Muscle Groups: Back Exercise Routine with Row Movements
- Best for Beginners: Back Exercises with Machines
- Best for Building Mass: Back Building Program for Mass
- Best for Definition: Back Definition Program
1. Build Strength: Heavy Back Workout Exercise Program
The best heavy back exercises should include high weights with fewer reps to ensure proper form throughout the set. This program features some underrated killer back exercises that build strength and mass throughout the upper, middle and lower back muscles.
- Lying T-Bar Row – 5 sets, 6-8 reps
- Pendlay Row – 5 sets, 6-8 reps
- Barbell Deadlift – 5 sets, 6-8 reps
2. Work Multiple Muscle Groups: Back Exercise Routine with Row Movements
Some of the best back workouts for men and women work with other muscle groups. Focusing on row movements helps lifters build strength and define the upper back muscles without neglecting the arms, shoulders, and core. To get a bodybuilder back, try these moves.
- Barbell Bent-Over Row – 3 sets, 12-15 reps
- T-Bar Row – 3 sets, 12-15 reps
- Half-kneeling Row – 3 sets, 12-15 reps
3. Best for Beginners: Back Exercises with Machines
Machines support beginners who may be wary about even the most basic back exercises. This routine strengthens the back while working other muscles, especially the arms and core.
The best back training workout with gym machines is:
- Seated Cable Row – 3 sets, 15 reps
- Neutral-Grip Pull-Down – 3 sets, 15 reps
- Rope Handle Pull-Down – 3 sets, 15 reps
4. Best for Building Mass: Back Building Program for Mass
For the best back workout for mass and strength, aim for low reps and high weight. For a good back workout bodybuilding mass, try combining these back exercises for mass to develop a wide back with well-defined musculature.
- Barbell Deadlift – 5 sets, 6 reps
- Single-arm Dumbbell Row – 5 sets, 6 reps
- T-Bar Row – 5 sets, 6 reps
5. Best for Definition: Back Definition Program
Isolating specific muscles and taking things up a notch can lead to a better definition. Some back workout ideas for a more defined back include:
- Inverted Bodyweight Row – 4 sets, 12-15 reps
- Incline Bench Chest-Supported Row – 4 sets, 12-15 reps
- Smith Machine Bent-Over Row – 4 sets, 12-15 reps
Back Exercise Routines for Different Genders and Ages
Although both men and women can do any of these back workout moves, some programs may benefit different genders and ages more than others, depending on the health goal. For example, men may seek the best back routine for mass while women look for programs to tone and strengthen.
What Is the Best Back Exercise for Men?
Though goals can vary, many men strive for a wide, well-defined back. That said, aesthetic appeal is only part of the equation, and a defined back is only as good as its strength. These are the top back exercises for men’s bodybuilding.
- Best Barbell Exercise: Chest-Supported Row
- Best for the Lower Back: Deadlift
- Best for Symmetrical Lats: Single-Arm Pull-Down
1. Best Barbell Exercise: Chest-Supported Row
One of the best back barbell exercises for men is the chest-supported row. This exercise is great for men who often struggle with traditional bent-over rows due to weaker lower backs and inflexible hamstrings. This exercise isolates the back muscles and allows for serious strength building and muscle growth without risking injury.
2. Best for the Lower Back: Deadlift
Deadlifts are among the best lower back exercises for men because they are a powerhouse compound back workout move that builds strength and muscle mass. They will also tone up other areas of the body, like the legs.
3. Best for Symmetrical Lats: Single-Arm Pull-Down
It’s not uncommon for men to end up with uneven back muscles, notably on the non-dominant side. The single-arm pull-down allows them to offset the discrepancy and build up the lesser side to create an even, symmetrical appearance.
What Is the Best Back Exercise for Women?
Looking for the best back building routine for women? Aside from professional bodybuilders, many women don’t want wide backs but would like definition, strength, and improved posture. Building a back workout with these exercises could help with that:
- Best Free Weight Exercise: Barbell Deadlift
- Best for Building Lean Muscle: Seated Row
- Best for Strength Training: Incline Chest-Supported Row
1. Best Free Weight Exercise: Barbell Deadlift
Barbell deadlifts are an excellent free-weight back exercise for women because the movement strengthens the back’s major muscles while toning the posterior chain. It has incredible benefits for various other lifts and sports and will help sculpt the body.
2. Best for Building Lean Muscle: Seated Row
Many women are concerned with finding a back workout that burns calories and builds lean muscle. Building seated rows into weekly back workouts can impact the whole body, and most gyms can accommodate this cable machine back workout.
3. Best for Strength-Training: Incline Chest-Supported Row
Provided she has the skills, stability, and strength to perform this exercise, even with the lightest dumbbells, a woman can make significant gains. It also supports the midsection without putting pressure on the shoulders or back.
What Is the Best Back Exercise for Children?
Children as young as seven years old can begin lifting weights if they have proper balance and control. A good back workout routine can build strength and help with good posture and joint health as the child grows.
Kids should focus on low weight and more reps to build strength without overstressing the bones, muscles, and joints. Keeping things simple and teaching good form is crucial, making these the top two back exercises for children.
- Best for Beginners: Seated Row
- Best for Teens: Deadlift
- Best for Coordination: Half-Kneeling Pull-Down
1. Best for Beginners: Seated Row
A seated row using a cable machine works for many muscle groups and is easy to learn. Kids can work out alongside their parents, who can encourage proper form.
2. Best for Teens: Deadlift
As kids gain more experience with back exercises and workout routines, it is time to introduce new things. Teaching the deadlift opens the door to more back exercises that allow teens to build muscle mass and strength as they mature.
3. Best for Coordination: Half-Kneeling Pull-Down
Kids developing balance and coordination can benefit from the half-kneeling pull-down because it takes focus and effort. It also targets multiple muscle groups and helps stabilize the hips and core while reducing the risk of some injuries.
Is There a Difference in Back Exercises for Different Athletes?
Having a strong back overall is essential for most athletes. Depending on the sport, back exercises can help train muscles that aid in overall athletic performance; however, a few of them might work better for specific sports. The best back routine for any athlete considers what they need to perform better in their sport.
What Is the Best Back Exercise for Calisthenics?
Athletes who thrive on calisthenics usually have minimal equipment at their disposal. These three exercises are the best options for those individuals who are still looking for the best back workout for strength.
- Inverted Bodyweight Rows
- Bent-Over Rows
- Lat Pull-Downs
1. Inverted Bodyweight Rows
This exercise is among the best back lifts for athletes who do calisthenics but are looking for the best back workouts to build muscle. It allows individuals to strengthen their back using only their body weight and can help them gain mass fast.
2. Bent-Over Rows
It doesn’t take much to swap the dumbbells or kettlebells for a resistance band or a household item. Bent-over rows require limited space but provide results, both strengthening and endurance.
3. Lat Pull-Downs
There are multiple variations of this exercise, including using a resistance band or rings. It’s ideal for toning and strengthening while requiring minimal equipment.
What Is the Best Back Exercise for Swimmers?
Pulling motions, in general, are excellent for swimmers, who use their arms to propel themselves through the water. These are the top three back muscle exercises for swimmers:
- Lat Pull-Downs
- Chest-Supported Row
- Seated Row
1. Lat Pull-Downs
This exercise works the lats and back muscles used in swimming for greater power in the pool. Plus, they reduce the chance of injury.
2. Chest-Supported Row
Both the incline bench and seal row support back and shoulder strengthening with stressing the shoulder joint. Given the limited opportunities for incorrect form and injury, this exercise is a winner for swimmers who need strong backs and shoulders to perform.
3. Seated Row
Since it works multiple muscle groups in the upper body, the seated row can help a swimmer round out their time in the pool. It’s also easy to adjust the weight, sets, and reps to accommodate a swimmer’s needs, whether they are bulking, toning, or maintaining.
What Is the Best Back Exercise for Runners?
Back exercises and weightlifting can help runners maintain good posture, stabilize the spine, and eliminate injuries from running long distances. The top three exercises runners should include in their back workout routine include the following.
- Seated Cable Row
- Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
- Romanian Deadlift
1. Seated Cable Row
One of the best back exercises for runners is the seated cable row, which helps train the upper back muscles and the latissimus dorsi. It also encourages the body to work together, just like running.
2. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row
Bent-over dumbbell rows are easy to perform correctly with any weight, and it works more than just the back muscles. It’s an exercise that also improves spinal stability for runners.
3. Romanian Deadlift
Not only does the Romanian deadlift strengthen the back, but it also works the core and legs. Plus, this exercise can improve the runner’s hip mechanics and overall muscle endurance.
What Are the Best Muscle-Building Exercises for Other Body Parts?
Back day at the gym can be challenging even with the best back exercise equipment, but skipping back heavy workouts won’t deliver that bodybuilder back.
While back-focused workout programs provide several benefits for overall strength and health, working with other muscle groups is necessary. Walking around with a ripped back isn’t worth much if the legs and arms aren’t as sculpted. So, while back day training is important, it’s just as crucial to get a full-body workout.
- Romanian deadlifts work well for leg days and back days.
- Front squats work the legs and glutes.
- Barbell bench press works the arms and chest.