8 Best Back Exercises

When we think of exercising, the first muscles that come to mind will probably be the arms, chest and stomach. We consider strengthening the biceps, building up the pectorals and flattening the abdominals. However, the back is often entirely forgotten about.

This is a shame, as it is the back that supports us throughout virtually every aspect of our daily lives: standing, sitting, leaning over the laptop and doing the grocery shopping. All of these activities involve the back.

Exercising the back strengthens the muscles and can provide enormous health benefits. What’s more, if you are a bodybuilder or fitness enthusiast, a strong and powerful back creates overall better definition and assists with training.

This best back exercises article will explore how the muscles of the back work and the benefits of exercising them. In addition, we will explain some of the best back exercises you can complete, whatever your targets. Whether building large muscle mass or just wanting improved flexibility.

What Are the Back Muscles?

There are five main muscles in the back, as detailed below:

Latissimus Dorsi

best back exercises - woman lifting weights

These are the muscles that are distinctive on bodybuilders. If you have seen them pose, you may recall a ‘wing’ type effect that extends from the back of the ribs to the armpit. They are the latissimus dorsi or ‘lats’.

Their function is to allow the movement of reaching upwards, pulling, stretching forwards and strengthening posture.

Trapezius

best back exercises - trapezius

The trapezius is large muscle that starts from the middle of your back, and then extends upwards in a ‘fan’ shape to the shoulders and neck. Again, if you imagine a bodybuilder, these are the muscles that provide a sloping effect from high on the neck to the shoulders.

Quite often they are simply known as ‘traps’. They are responsible for shoulder movement, neck strength and supporting the head.

Erector Spinae

best back exercises - do yoga excercise

Sometimes known as ‘spinal erectors’, this group of muscles is located on either side of your spine, stretching from the pelvis up to the base of the skull. These muscles allow the spine to have a full range of movement in any given direction.

Rhomboid

best back exercises - rhomboid

Found underneath the trapezius, the rhomboids allow you to pull your shoulders back and towards each other

Teres Major

best back exercises - body lifting

This muscle connects the scapula (shoulder blade) to the humerus (upper arm). The teres major, sometimes called the ‘little tat’, works in conjunction with the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder to allow the arm to move.

Benefits of Exercising the Back Muscles

best back exercises - girl on workout

Exercising the back muscles has physique, health and flexibility benefits.

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Provides Support

The muscles in the back surround the ligaments, joints and vertebrae discs. They both support and reinforce these essential parts of the anatomy. Strengthening the back muscles through exercise leads to less chance of injury or strains.

Reduces Stiffness

As we age, ligaments, our tendons and muscles are not as flexible as they once were. Exercising the back improves flexibility and mobility. Firstly, this has the benefit of making everyday household chores, or any physical work, much easier. Secondly, it again reduces the likelihood of tears or strains.

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Improves Disc Health

Studies have shown that exercising the back provides the vertebrae discs with nutrition to keep them healthy – essentially glucose and oxygen. Nutrients gather in the center of the disc. As the back is exercised, they are ‘squeezed’ out and spread across the entirety of the disc itself.

Enhances Posture

Exercising and strengthening the back muscles has the effect of pulling the shoulders and sides backwards, thereby improving posture. Trials have shown that, following a back exercise regime, posture is improved, pain is alleviated and the chances of further back issues are reduced.

Improves Physique

If you are someone who is working towards a toned or even enhanced muscular body, back exercises are essential. Firstly, they create an overall balanced appearance and posture. Working the front of the body (arms, chest and stomach) will pull your body forward, creating a ‘hunched’ appearance. Exercising the back alleviates this and allows you to stand tall.

Furthermore, many exercises (bench press, deadlifts etc.) place a large strain on the back. Even weight lifting belts cannot prevent all injuries. Ensuring a powerful back means that the chance of incurring damage during exercise is reduced. However, it is worth stressing that using the correct technique is also priceless.

As we have now seen the numerous benefits of exercising the back, it is time to obtain those results. I have listed below the best exercises for the back, with and without equipment.

However, it is important to make something clear. The back is an essential part of the anatomy. If you are suffering from severe or chronic back pain, first consult your physician before completing these exercises.

Best Back Exercises Without Equipment

best back exercises - woman ready to workout

Try to exercise the back at least twice a week, but avoid working out on consecutive days.

Superman - Best Exercise for the Spinal Erectors

Although this exercise works the whole back, it particularly concentrates on the spinal erectors. The ‘superman’ is most comfortably done on an exercise mat if you have one.

  • Lie face downwards on the floor or mat.
  • Keep legs together, toes pointed.
  • Extend arms along the floor above your head. Each palm directly       above the corresponding shoulder. Lock arms.
  • Raise your arms, chest and legs off the floor in one motion, about        three to four inches is optimum.
  • The only part of your body touching the ground should be your lower abdominal area.
  • Hold until fatigue is reached.
  • Rest for three minutes.
  • Complete twice more, with a three minute break in-between.
  • As you complete this exercise, try to pull the shoulders back as much as possible for maximum benefit on the spinal erectors.

    Lifting Bridge with Walk - Best Exercise for Stabilization

    The lifting bridge again works the spinal erectors and in addition strengthens the whole back. By working the smaller stabilizer muscles, it can improve posture. What’s more, this exercise is a good workout for the glutes.

  • Lie flat on the floor, back to the ground.
  • Lay, arms by your sides, palms down.
  • Raise up knees, keeping feet planted on the floor, shoulder-width          apart.
  • This is the starting position.
  • Pushing with your feet, raise buttocks off the floor as high as               possible. Keep arms tightly pressed against the ground.
  • In this position, raise the right foot by four inches.
  • Hold for one second.
  • Lower right foot and raise left foot.
  • Hold for one second.
  • Lower left foot back to floor.
  • That is one repetition.
  • Complete 10-12 repetitions.
  • Rest for three minutes. Complete two more sets, with a three minute    break in between.
  • As you improve in this exercise, increase the number of repetitions.

    Fallen Angels - Best Trapezius Exercise

    This exercise is hard on the trapezius muscles and also gives the rhomboid and teres major a beneficial workout.

  • Lay face-down on the floor, legs together.
  • Toes should be touching the ground.
  • Place arms by your sides, palms face-down.
  • Raise hands and arms about one to two inches off the floor.
  • This is the starting position.
  • At all times, keep arms locked and palms down.
  • Sweep arms upwards above your head until both thumbs touch.
  • You are aiming for a ‘snow-angel’ action (but do not move the legs).
  • Return back to starting position again.
  • Complete 10 repetitions.
  • Rest for three minutes. Complete two more sets, with a three minute    break.
  • As your forehead and nose are touching the floor, an exercise mat or thin cushion under the face will improve comfort.

    Flying Dog - Best All-Round Back Exercise

    The flying dog, sometimes known as the bird dog, exercises all the major muscles in the back.

  • Take up an ‘all-fours’ position.
  • Hands should be palms down, arms locked, directly underneath the     shoulders.
  • Ensure knees are below the hips.
  • At all times keep the back straight.
  • This is the starting position.
  • Raise up right arm and position directly in front of you, arm locked.     Imagine Superman flying.
  • At the same time, raise up left leg and extend behind you, keeping it   straight and as much in line with your back as you can achieve.
  • Hold for one second.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Complete with the left arm and right leg.
  • Return to starting position.
  • That is one repetition.
  • Try for 10 repetitions and then rest for three minutes. Complete twice    more with another three minute break in-between.
  • As you become more competent in this exercise, try to add more repetitions and increase the time of the ‘hold’.

    Best Back Exercises with Equipment

    best back exercises - types of weights

    Weights increase the amount of resistance during exercising. This means that strength and power are increased more than exercising without them can provide. In addition, if you are looking to increase definition and improve physique, they are essential.

    If your target is large muscle gains, use a weight that brings fatigue in the number of repetitions indicated. However, if achieving tone and tightness is the aim, use lighter weights.

    Barbell Row - Best Exercise for the Latissimus Dorsi

    An exercise which gives the ‘lats’ and lower back a great workout.

  • Stand upright holding a barbell, palms facing forwards and arms at     full extension.
  • Feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend knees slightly.
  • Lean forwards by bending at the waist. The ideal position is just a       couple of inches before your back becomes parallel with the floor.
  • Head should be up, facing directly in front of you, not looking at the   ground.
  • This is the starting position.
  • Breathe out and pull the barbell to your waist, by bending the arms.
  • At all times ensure back remains in the starting position.
  • Hold for one second.
  • Lower to the starting position, breathing in.
  • That is one repetition.
  • Complete three sets of 10-12 repetitions, with a three minute break      in-between.
  • If you have any lower back issues, this exercise is best avoided, or at the very least consult with your physician first.

    The Shrug - Best Trapezius Exercise

    Completing the shrug exercise can develop the familiar ‘sloping neck’ appearance, typical to bodybuilders. It singles out the ‘traps’ for a powerful workout.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell below the          waist, with arms fully extended.
  • Palms should be facing towards the thighs.
  • Ensure arms are locked.
  • This is the starting position.
  • Breathe out and raise your shoulders up towards your ears.
  • Hold for one second.
  • Breathe in and lower bar to starting position.
  • That is one repetition.
  • Complete three sets of 10 repetitions, resting for three minutes             before each set.
  • Ensure that, when you raise the barbell, the neck and shoulders are powering the movement, not the biceps. Alternatively, this exercise can be completed with dumbbells.

    Barbell Good Morning - Best Spinal Erector Exercise with Weights

    This is an exercise that needs to be taken seriously. As it places a lot of strain on the lower back, it’s advisable to start with lighter weights.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Barbell should be placed           behind the neck and across the shoulders.
  • Palms should be facing forwards.
  • At all times during this exercise, look directly in front.
  • This is the starting position.
  • Breathe in and bend the hips, lowering your upper-body forwards.
  • Stop when your chest is parallel to the floor.
  • Hold for one second.
  • Breathe out and slowly return to the starting position again.
  • Complete three sets of 10-12 repetitions, always ensuring a three-        minute break between sets.
  • Pull-ups - Best All-Round Exercise with Equipment

    A good warm-up or warm-down exercise that uses the body and gravity for resistance. All you need is a pull-up bar. This exercise works every muscle in the back, although it pushes the latissimus dorsi muscles the most.

  • Grasp the pull-up bar with palms facing forward, slightly more than     shoulder-width apart. Ensure legs are not touching the floor. If you       cannot hang without touching the ground, raise your legs behind you.
  • This is the starting position.
  • Breathe out and raise your chest up until it touches the bar, by         pulling the shoulders back. Try to concentrate on the shoulders and   back muscles for this maneuver, using the forearms as little as     possible.
  • Hold for one second.
  • Breathe in and slowly lower to the starting position.
  • Complete three sets of eight repetitions, resting for three minutes in-    between.
  • As you become competent in this exercise, you can increase difficulty by adding weights to a weight belt before commencing.

    Conclusion

    The back muscles are some of the most important muscles in the body, and are involved in virtually every movement we make. Ensuring that they are in optimum condition can improve health, flexibility and reduce the likelihood of injury.

    Find the right exercise for you above, or a combination, and you will be giving your back the workout it deserves.

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