Top Ten Back Exercises


Top Ten Back Exercises

By: Elemental Fitness strengthtraining, elementalfitness, personaltrainingleeds

Top Ten Back Exercises

Bent over row

Best free weight exercise hands down. It works all the major areas of your upper back through the movement and even your lower back when holding the bent over position. It even works your core muscles too to maintain the bent position and your quads get a look in too as they keep you steady. You can’t go wrong – also if you go for a supinated grip (underhand) there is more focus on the bicep, it’s ‘gainz central’!

Simply bring your weight (can be dumbbell or barbell or even a kettlebell whatever you want really) in line with your knees whilst bending forward at around 45° - this can be changed to target specific areas of the back. Keep the shoulder blades pinched and drive your elbows backwards as you brace your core and quads to keep steady and row the weight into you ribs.


If the bent row is number one for free weighted back exercise, then the pull-ups and chin-ups are the best bodyweight back exercise. Considered a movement that everyone should know how to do if you’re a gym goer, the pull up/chin up shows of a mastery of bodyweight control and immense back strength.

All you need is a solid bar that can take you weight (or do it on a specific pull up bar at the gym) and pull. Keep your body braced as much as possible and when pulling up put the effort and focus into you back pulling together and your elbows driving down – sometimes thinking of pulling the bar to you rather than lifting your body up can help. Another variant is the Australian row. Laying flat on your back and using a rack to pull up on a low placed barbell you can have you knees bent or pivot on your heels. Think of the previously mentioned bent row but upside down – hence then name.

Shrugs/Farmers walk

The trapezius is the group of muscles that link the neck to the spine, help with stable shoulder movement and, if worked for the sole purpose of aesthetics, gives off the ‘ripped’ shoulder and neck look for those that want it.

Dedicated machines and bars (such as the trap bar) can help build these muscles. Alternatively, and perhaps the best route to take, you can use a simple barbell and a very wide grip. The farmers walk is best done with hex/trap bars as it allows you to move freely without bashing your thighs against a bar and I great for building overall stability in the spine.


What can we say that hasn’t already about the deadlift on our site? It is the exercise to do. And with slight variation on bars, grips, placement of feet and many more things you can make this exercise work for you any way you like.

To target the back keep it simple – use a trap bar to have the weight around you as oppose to in front and keep the weight lighter than usual. The reason being most of the effort cannot be placed in the mid to upper back a little easier instead of making the glutes and legs do the hard work. From the bottom end of the deadlift pinch your shoulder blades and brace your lats. Start to pull up slowly putting the effort into keep you core braced and the back holding the weight – simple.

YTI raises

What’s the point of working the back if you can’t move your body the way it needs to? Mobility is key to everything, don’t start to run before you can walk otherwise, you’re going to have a bad time.

Y, T, I, A and W raises are great way to keep your shoulders healthy and prevent injury. Using only bodyweight (dumbbells are fine too, but for the sake of these being just to get the body moving keep to just the weight of your arms) bend over to at least 45° with a slight bend at the knees an bring your arms up in the positions of the letters as if you were looking down on yourself.

Single-arm rows

The worst thing when building muscle either for looks or functional strength is being one sided. The last thing you need when going for that armature bodybuilding comp is being graded down because you work your right arm too much. Single arm work is a great way to avoid looking like you slept on your arm all night.

Using a bench to help you keep the bent over position place your hand and knee down on the bench. With the other leg out straight grab hold of the weight in the other hand, with your body now parallel to the bench row the arm backwards whilst pinching your shoulder blades together and putting the focus to one side.

Back Extensions/superman’s

Movement in the lower body is less than that of the muscles that are around the shoulders and scapulae. R.D.L’s and deadlifts help these areas, but with these exercises the lower backs aim to keep stable rather than go through a range of motion.

Using a bench or G.H.D to let your upper body fall forward towards the floor keep your core braced and lock your legs into a position that prevents them from moving. Drive your body upwards lifting your chest towards the sky. Incorporate a weight to push the lower back more or adapt the exercise completely by laying on the floor on your front, having your hands behind your head and then lifting upwards in the same way

Bicep Curls

If the triceps help push then the biceps help pull – no, not that way… unless your ‘guns’ are the prime way of you looking to attract a mate, hey, it works for some. No, what the biceps do is help pull weights towards you. They flex the arm at the elbow which is needed for the major back movements.

Bicep curls also help with building the arm in general which is very important as, more often than not, you’re going to need to hold a weight to train (not always, and there are some exceptional athletes out there that have suffered injury or born with limbs missing that still lift weights better than most).

Renegade row

Ever thought to yourself that a press up needs to be done on dumbbells and then ended with a single arm row? Yeah, us neither. But the renegade row is all about getting the most out of the exercise.

Starting in a press up position on a pair of dumbbells (we recommend hex otherwise you’re going to be working the shoulder stability more on circular ones) brace your core to prevent loosing form and in the same fashion to the single arm row bring the weight upwards pinging the shoulder blades.

Lat Pull Down

Picture this – you are in a gym for the first time in years, thoughts of looking jacked in a few months are getting you pumped. You heard from a friend that working the back is a great way to start your fitness journey. You look around the gym at the big guys lifting heavy and looking how you envision yourself to be. You stand there, look at the weights and then have a brain freeze. You literally have no clue how to lift free weights without ending up in A&E.

This is where the machine weights come in. now, there not solely for newbies and many experienced lifters use resistance machines regularly to improve their workouts or to perhaps have a de-load week. For the back the lat pull down is where it is at. Sit yourself down on the machine, grab the bar outside of shoulder width keep your core braced and start pulling. And as always, if you ever get stuck on what to do ask those big guys (they might look big and mean but they started like you did and will more than likely help you as someone did them). Or go that extra mile and hire a P.T – if you’re interested we know some great guys, just email [email protected] and book your first session to start working that