The Five Best Back Exercises for Bodybuilding

A famous saying in bodybuilding goes along the line of, "Bodybuilding shows are won from the back." This in many ways is true, because the back region tends to be the most difficult to develop, as well as condition and rid of excess water. A big chunk of the back includes, well, the back. Sure your arms, shoulders, back legs, calves, etc. are being displayed when you perform back poses. However, nothing stands out more than the actual back muscles. And thus, as a bodybuilder, you cannot afford to have a weak back when stepping up onstage. The exercises listed below are the best of the best in terms of building a complete back. You should certainly include them in as part of your workout routine to build the mass of all the major back muscles.

Note that the following five exercises are not listed in order of effectiveness.

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The rear lat spread. Photo courtesy: Ladislav Ferenci via Wikimedia Commons

Pull-ups and pull-downs are very similar exercises. The former is best suited for more advanced trainees, who have developed a sufficient level of strength to complete full sets of the exercise. Pull-downs, however, can be performed by any level of trainee because you're able to control how much weight your pulling. If you're really advanced and much stronger than the average trainee, then pull-ups may become too easy to perform. You can wear a belt with weights attached to make the movement more difficult, but that tends to make the exercise uncomfortable. For such cases, it is best to revert to pull-downs and increasing the resistance of the motion accordingly. But, whether you are doing pull-ups or pull-downs, you will be mainly working the latissimus dorsi part of your back. This is the largest muscle of your upper body and, when sufficiently developed, gives your back a sort of wing-shape when fully flexed.

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Barbell Rows

This exercise is also great for building the lats, the abbreviated name of the latissimus dorsi muscle. However, it is equally great for two other major back muscles: middle trapezius and lower trapezius. These muscles are located at the center of your middle back region and they are appear trapezoidal in shape, hence the name trapezius. So, doing barbell rows allows you to effectively work several of the main back muscles to a large degree. Always keep your knees slightly bent during this exercise to avoid overstretching your hamstrings, the group of muscles in your rear thighs.

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Dumbbell Rows (Single-Arm)

Using dumbbells is beneficial for ensuring each side of your body is being worked equally when exercising. This certainly applies to back training. Another benefit of dumbbells is you have a greater range of motion, which makes the exercises less restrictive and thus more comfortable to perform. It is best to use a bench or a weight rack for support when doing dumbbells rows. Otherwise, you may lose balance.

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Bent-Over Dumbbell Scapular Retraction

This is the best exercise to work the middle and lower trapezius and rhomboid muscles of the back almost exclusively. This is because the only major motion you go through during the movement is scapular retraction and that is the main action these muscles produce. To perform this exercise, hold a dumbbell in each hand, position you back parallel to the ground and bend your knees a bit. Hold each dumbbell below your torso with your arms straight. Raise the dumbbells by bringing your shoulder blades together, hold the contraction for a second or two, then bring your shoulder blades forward to the start.

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Spinal Extensions

The deepest muscles of your back are attached to your spine. And, as you may have guessed, they pull on your spine to create spinal motion. That motion is called spinal extension. This movement can be turned into an effective exercise for the erector spinae muscles of your back. It is simple to perform, but can be dangerous if performed incorrectly. Grasp a weight plate in front of your chest, bend forward at the waist until your back is parallel to the ground and then slightly bend your knees. Start with your spine in a forward rounded position. Then, extend your spine until your back is curved.