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Best Back Exercise To Build Muscle

By Marc Perry / August 20, 2018

The muscles in our back cover one of the largest areas of the body, so it’s ironic that they are often overlooked when it comes to strength training. Working this muscle group not only helps stabilize your core, but because these muscles are connected to your vertebral column, can help improve your posture and breathing, which in turn means that you will be more effective in all other areas of movement.

There are a number of great ways to train your back muscles;
our experts have multiple favorites to help you find some new exercises to really build muscle and gain strength.

Best Back Exercise To Build Muscle #1 – Pull Ups

Pull-ups. This exercise activates every muscle in your back and there are a number of grip variations to keep it interesting. There are modified versions if you’re not strong enough to do a body-weight pull-up yet, or you can use a super band to help you build the strength to do pull-ups alone.

Kristin Rooke

Best Back Exercise To Build Muscle #2 – Weighted Pull Ups

Pull ups are my favorite back exercise and weighted pull ups are incredibly effective. You can hold a dumbbell with your feet, use a weighted vest, or a weight belt. Once you can get to around 10-12 pull-ups, you can start adding some weight. In fact, I think it’s a great way to increase the number of bodyweight pullups you can do. There are many different pull up variations as well (chin ups, cliff hangers etc.), which make pull ups a very dynamic exercise (See: 10 Pullup Variations Video) Honorable mentions include T-Bar Rows, Single Arm DB Rows, & Single Arm Lat Pull-Downs.

As I’ve said before, exercises that can help build muscle can certainly help increase calorie expenditure and help you lose fat as well. So these back exercises for building muscle are simply my favorite back exercises period. Keep in mind your back is not going to get bigger doing these exercise if you don’t eat enough calories and are only doing a few sets. Building muscle is very hard for most guys and especially women.

Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT

Best Back Exercise To Build Muscle #3 – Chin Ups

For beginners or those who are not able to do 10 chin-ups, the best would be to work on chin-ups and do them as often as possible (at least two times per week). After that, it would be weighted chin-ups followed by an isolation movement for the lats.

Beyond that, Bent-over rows and Single-Armed Rows are great. Personally, I enjoy supersets on back, where the second exercise spares the hands a bit, as grip will tend to limit the amount of work you can do on the back muscles which tend to limit size. For example, a chin-up with a straight-arm pressdown movement. That combination hammers the “V-shape” a bit more than either movement by itself.

John Leyva

Best Back Exercise To Build Muscle #4 – Deadlift

The conventional deadlift is hands down the best exercise to develop your back and increase overall strength. When properly executed, deadlifts need a powerful contraction of your body’s posterior chain muscles such as your hamstrings, calves, glutes and of course your back. Not only does it require 100% activation from all the muscles in your legs but it also requires full body dynamic stabilization.

Basically, you are working every muscle in your body especially the pulling muscles in your back. When it comes to strength you are only as strong as your weakest link so the best way to get strong is to hammer the full body exercises!

Stephen Bergeron

Best Back Exercise To Build Muscle #5 – High Rep 1 Arm Rows

High Rep One Arm Rows: This one is my personal favorite! Chalking up, grabbing a heavy dumbbell, and rowing my heart out is a pastime of mine.Make sure to support your body as well, whether it is holding onto the side of a bench or the rest of the dumbbell rack. This exercise can get very tough around the 15-20 mark, as it combines qualities of strength, hypertrophy, and even cardio. Imagine how your heart will feel after performing a 100lb row 20 times!

Miguel Aragoncillo


  • Dan Jimenez says:

    Hey Marc!

    Just wanted to say that your blog posts are excellent!!! I'm always finding useful information and I love that you are also very attentive with the people who reply to your blog! Thanks for the great info and keep up the good work.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Thanks Dan for your kind words!

  • Ashhish says:

    I'm a 20 year old male, 5'11" tall. I've got a very weak and obese body, weighing about 78kg. I recently sustained a disc injury, hence haven't done any sort of exercise for about 6 months. Now, however, I feel that my back muscles are very weak and I might collapse any moment. I'm only a beginner, so are there any back strengthening exercises I could do at home?

    • Ray says:

      If you're 5'11" and 78kg, then you have a BMI of 24. One is usually considered obese only if their BMI > 30; you're not even "overweight" (BMI > 25).

  • Paul says:

    Hello Marc

    I am 58 years old and have been weight training for 8 months. I used to be a runner. I can do 3 unassisted pull-ups and then I use assistance bands. I want to do more but my left elbow area gets sore. Any ideas on how to improve my pull ups?



    • Miguel A. says:


      There could be a combination of factors to take into account when aiming to improve your pull-up count: technique, tissue quality, varying grips and overall strength are just a few of them.

      When I talk about pull-up technique, I'd like to see our arms about shoulder width apart, gripping the bar (preferably palms facing away), and with a pulling motion, the cue I use is to imagine putting your shoulder blades in your back pocket. This does two things for us: allows us to retract our scapulas down and back, and ensure that we aren't overusing our biceps tendon and aggravating the anterior portion of our glenohumeral joint. And on top of that, it is difficult to speak about technique without first seeing your form in person, so that must be taken into account as well.

      Tissue quality is in regards to your forearms, and your latissimus dorsi area, as foam rolling can be quite conducive to a "quieting" of often tight and overactive muscle groups. Utilize foam rollers that may be available at your local gym, and if you have access to it, use some type of stick or PVC pipe to iron out any kinks in your triceps and forearm area. This will help to break down and move fresh blood into your somewhat overactive muscle groups. This will also help increase the amount of pull-ups by allowing your muscles to have a better range of motion, and thus utilizing more muscle to build upon the ones used for a pull-up.

      Varying grips could be used to some success to improve your pull-ups, by again, avoiding the use of overactive muscles by performing the same movement over and over. By varying the grip from say, a "palms facing away" pull-up, to a "palms-facing-inward" pull-up, we can then utilize a different movement pattern to help elicit different gains.

      Overall strength is in regards to the back musculature strength - what is the relative strength of our lats, rhomboids, and various trap muscles? At the end of the day, we could just need to get simply stronger.

      Again, you or other individuals will react differently to any and or all of the above advice. The best thing to do (besides consulting a fitness professional), is to see what works for you (out of all the advice given!). :)

      -Miguel Aragoncillo

      • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

        Thanks for providing such a thorough explanation, Miguel. We should probably make this whole concept into a post.