Top 5 Back Exercises
While many guys have well-built chest and arm muscles, a sculpted back can take a physique from good to excellent. Unfortunately, many trainees tend to neglect their back, limiting their lifting potential and destroying the symmetry of their build. In the simplest terms, it can be said that a great back is built with rows and deadlifts. If you haven’t checked out my article on deadlifting (perhaps the single most important exercise for your entire body), you can do so here. In this article, however, I hope to be more specific and highlight the top 5 most effective back exercises. With these exercises in your arsenal, you can then take fill out your physique in no time at all!
5. Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
To kick the list off we start with a staple for working the lats, the dumbbell bent-over row (also called a one-arm db row). This movement works the latissimus dorsi particularly well, but it also can develop the entire back quite effectively.
To Perform: Kneel over side of bench by placing knee and hand of supporting arm on bench. Pull dumbbell to up to side until it makes contact with ribs or until upper arm is just beyond horizontal. Return until arm is extended and shoulder is stretched forward. Repeat and continue with opposite arm.
4. Chest Supported Row
The chest supported row is a unique back exercise in that it can really allow one to isolate the lats and upper back muscles without stressing the lower back or putting significant stress on the spine. Of all the exercises in this list, the chest supported row works the upper back the best, specifically the mid and lower traps muscle.
To perform: Lie face down on a bench set up at a bit less than a 45 degree angle (see picture). This will seem awkward, but this position is key to the exercise. Then, using dumbbells, pull your elbows back in line with your upper back. Retract the scapula until the upper arm is approximately level with torso.
3. Yates Row
The Yates row is a unique variation of the classic barbell row that was made famous by six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates. I prefer this variation over the standard barbell row because it targets the lats more effectively and, perhaps more importantly, puts less stress on the lower back.
To perform: Start by grabbing a barbell underhand with your grip a bit more than shoulder-width apart. Keep your feet hip-width apart and your knees bent at about a 25 degree angle to keep stress off the lower back. Bend forward at the waist at about 20 degrees and keep your back straight and your chest out. Then, pull the bar up toward your waist, keeping it low along your thighs and coming up to below your belly button (Note: in the video above, the person has good position and pulls to a good height, but they could try to keep the bar closer to their thighs).
Caution: Using the underhand grip in this exercise helps to target the lats more effectively, but it does come at a risk. This grip puts more strain on the biceps, and if you accidentally pull with your biceps or use too much weight you could tear your biceps. Be cautious with this exercise.
2. Rack Pull (Partial Deadlift)
I have already mentioned that deadlifts should be an integral component of your back workout, but here is a unique variation that can really take the legs out of the exercise and help you focus solely on using your back to lift the weight. Rack pulls should be done with heavy weight for low reps, so load that bar up. Just make sure that you push through your heels and contract the glutes in order to avoid lifting the weight with your lower back, which is BAD.
To perform: Start with the bar at knee level instead of on the floor. Get the correct height using the safety pins of your Squat Rack, or by starting with the weight on blocks. Then, push through your heels to initiate the lift. Then you should contract your glutes to push your hips forward. The exercise ends when the hip is locked out, no need for hyperextension.
And now for the classic back builder: pull-ups. People tend to underestimate this exercise, but performed correctly, it can develop the entire back like no other exercise. On top of that, it can be performed anywhere, making it the king of convenient exercises. Arnold Schwarzeneggar even suggested that people lacking back development should start off every single back workout by doing 50 pull-ups no matter how many sets it takes. One set of 50 or ten sets of 5, just get it done.
To perform: Grab the bar OVERHAND (palms away). Start each rep from a dead hang with straight elbows. Clear the bar with your chin on every rep. Lead with your chest up while driving your elbows to the floor. This ensures that the proper muscles are worked. You should also bend your legs at the knee and cross your feet. A rep ends when your arms are straight and you are hanging; no partial/half-assed sh*t here.