10 Best Back Exercises for Bodybuilding Workouts

Blot out the sun with these brutally-effective back-building exercises

bodybuilding upper body workout

Real bros focus on more than the muscles they see in the mirror. And with these 10 Best Back Exercises for Bodybuilding Workouts you’ll have a jacked back in no time.

You know those dudes that skip leg day? The ones with complete disproportion? They deserve to be ridiculed. But it’s the same for a weak and small back too. If you’re only focusing on muscles you can see when you train, you’re neglecting a large part of your physique.

But now it’s time to change that… with the 10 best back exercises for bodybuilding workouts.

We’re all ’bout mass up in here!

The Brodown: Article Details:

  • Your back is made up of different muscles. These include your lats, traps, rhomboids and rear delts. Each has its own function.
  • As an omni-functional area of the body, you need multiple muscles to target it effectively. There’s no one ‘best’ lift.
  • There are hundreds of exercises you can use to target your upper and middle back. We’ve included the 10 best back exercises for bodybuilding workouts for you, right in this article.

Back Muscles Explained

Your ‘back’ is a collection of muscle groups, not a muscle itself. And as one of the most complex areas of the human body, it needs detailed planning to train effectively.

There are numerous reasons to include back day in your routine. And it’s not just about freakishly jacked mass either.

  • Better symmetry – no more imaginary lat syndrome or weird Neanderthal posture. Back training improves your aesthetic and gives you the full package look.
  • No more back pain – there’s nothing worse than lower back pain. It’s impossible to walk with, let alone train with. But strengthening the muscles that surround and protect your spine will help to keep it safe.
  • Intimidation – well, would you f*ck with a guy with traps right up to his ears? It’s a clear sign of alpha godliness.
  • Sports performance – if you’re involved in any sport, strong lats and traps are key. Whether it’s sprinting, grappling, climbing, throwing or an aggressive ‘bishop takes queen’ move in chess (maybe not that last one).

Key Back Muscles – These are what we’re training today

  • Lats (Latissimus Dorsi) – This muscle is what gives you the full spread width and that sought-after V-taper. It’s a multi-pennate muscle and its fibers run in various directions. This means you can hit it with both horizontal and vertical exercises.
  • Middle Back (Rhomboids and mid-traps) – these are the muscles responsible for pulling your shoulder blades together and are the primary muscles in row-type exercises.
  • Traps (Trapezius) – this intimidating muscle doesn’t only cover your mid-back. Its the one that elevates the scapula and gives you that masculine size of your shoulder girdle too.
  • Rear delts (deltoids) – these small muscles extend your upper arm behind your body and are key in horizontal extension exercises.

Get off the couch, dust off that protein shaker and just this once, avoid the bench press and arm curls. It’s time to order some bigger shirts bro, because you’re about to get involved with the 10 best back exercises for bodybuilding workouts.

10 Best Back Exercises for Bodybuilding Workouts

#1. Bent Over Row

barbell-bent-over-row

This is hands down your number one back-building exercise. Use a barbell, dumbbell, resistance band or kettlebells for this one, it doesn’t matter. It’s a clear favorite and number 1 in our 10 best back exercises for bodybuilding workouts.

Hinge at the hips, get your chest to the floor and pull your shoulder blades together in a smooth and controlled action. Use an overhand grip to target your mid-traps and rhomboids and a neutral or underhand grip to smash your lats.

Don’t move your hips and keep your back solid. This isn’t an audition for the national twerking finals bro.

It’s all about the squeeze at the top of the movement so check your ego and lift for muscle mass, not numbers.

#2. Pull-ups

pull up

The king of back exercises? Possibly. But whether it has a regal title or not, the pull-up is what distances you from the fat-ass dudes that can’t lift their weight and the beta-pussies who don’t have the cojones to pull their whole mass from the floor for reps.

Going wider than shoulder-width will set your upper lats on fire, whereas a narrow, neutral grip will target your mid-lats with a vengeance. Using a reverse narrow grip for ‘chins’ will torch your biceps.

And all of them require a vice-like grip that could crush a guy’s throat.

Pull-ups are a versatile exercise and one that separates the bros from the pretenders.

#3. Inverted Row

Man performing body weight inverted row getting big

This ‘pull-up for your upper back’ exercise uses your own body weight to grow huge back muscle, challenge your core, build your grip and improve shoulder health. It can be progressed when it’s starting to feel easier and works pretty much the whole of your back.

To master this horizontal pull, take a slightly-wider-than-shoulder-width grip and grab the bar like your life depended on it. Brace your core and glutes and get your body into a neutral position, with a line that passes through your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. The only part of your body in contact with the ground is the heel of your foot.

Maintaining this solid posture, pull your upper chest to the bar in a controlled manner. The higher up you go the more you can fire your traps and rhomboids. Lower your self back to the start position and crush a set of good-quality reps.

#4. Lat Pulldown

Using the Lat Pulldown Machine

Next on our list of 10 best back exercises for bodybuilding workouts is the lat pulldown. This old-school favorite is a movement-specific alternative to the pull-up. And while you might think it’s a pussy exercise for those that can’t lift their own body weight, you’d be mistaken.

The pulldown not only lets you lift more than your own body mass, it allows you to control the exact path of the bar too, maximizing lat activation and building a pair of batwings that Lucius Fox would be proud of.

Take a wide grip to really work the lats and focus on pulling your elbows to your lower ribs in a wide arc. Remember, the lats pull your upper arm into your waist, so it all about limb position with this one.

#5. Face Pulls

Cable face pulls

Face pulls are unlike any other exercise on this list. They’re not all about lugging huge loads and they’re not built for power. But what they do well is target your rear delts, rhomboids, and mid-traps to help you build detail and mass in places that other exercises just can’t.

These areas are often frighteningly underdeveloped in most guys.

Attach a rope at chest height and take a neutral or overhand grip. Use a staggered stance to counterbalance the load you’re lifting. As you pull the rope towards you in a row-like motion, focus on retracting your shoulder blades together. As the rope comes towards your face, rotate upwards so that your knuckles face the ceiling.

Pause briefly and then slowly return to the start position.

As a curveball addition to our 10 best back exercises for bodybuilding workouts, the face pull is a clear one to program in.

#6. Single Arm Row

The beauty of single arm work is it allows you to pick up on your strength deficits or imbalances. In other words, if one side is weaker than the other, unilateral exercises work best.

Dumbbell work should always be part of a classic bodybuilding program. Especially for back training as they allow you to subtly change the range of motion to annihilate each muscle.

Go as heavy as a muthaf*cker on this one.

It’s built for strength and power.

The key is to limit momentum though and let the mid traps, lats, and rear delts really do their thing. You can pull the dumbbell towards your ribs to hit more trapezius, or pull in a wider arc towards your hip (the ‘gunslinger’) to ramp up activation of the lats.

#7. Pendlay Row

Pendlay Row

The Pendlay row was made popular by weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay. It’s used to improve brute power, strength, and mass of the lats and mid-traps.

The main difference between this and a traditional bent over row is that the Pendlay row rests on the floor in a ‘dead stop’ position between reps. Why? To force you to be more explosive as you lift. No momentum allowed!

Go slightly wider with your grip than you would with the bent over row, and start with your upper body completely parallel to the floor. Tighten up your core and use your upper back to initiate the rep, not your hips. Pull the bar into a high position at your upper chest, retracting your shoulder blades as you reach the top.

#8. Straight Arm Pulldown

Straight arm pulldown

The straight arm pulldown isolates your lats in a way no other exercise can. It helps you pin your trunk in place, remove all activation of the biceps and hack away at building a huge pair of wings.

Attach a long rope to the top of a cable column and grab with a full grip. Bend your knees just a touch and then push your chest towards the ground until you feel your upper lats switch on.

With just a slight bend in your elbows, pull the rope down and around to your mid-thigh, working the angle as wide as you can. At the end of the movement, pull your should blades together and try and bring your wrists to the outside of your knees for a full range of motion.

Return to the start under control.

#9. Neutral Grip Cable Row

Cable row

Another classic lift makes our 10 best back exercises for bodybuilding workouts. The cable row is all about the upper back. And with the cable feature, you’re assured to keep constant tension on your rhomboids, traps, rear delts, and even lats as you row your way to a bodybuilders back.

Use a cable row ‘ pro-grip’ attachment to go narrow on this one. That way, you can decrease involvement of the lats just enough to let the upper back have its moment in the limelight.

With a slight bend in your knees and a straight back, pull the bar into your mid-chest.

Work hard to pull your shoulder blades together and keep your torso fixed throughout.

After a brief pause, extend your arms out but don’t bend at your waist or back.

#10. Deadlift

arnold schwarzenegger deadlifting

It wouldn’t be back training without the deadlift! This old favorite is a tried and tested back-builder that also ramps up muscle mass in your legs, arms and shoulders.

Whether you fit it into back day or leg day doesn’t matter, the main thing is that the deadlift is a surefire entry on our 10 best back exercises for bodybuilding workouts.

Just grip, rip and grow, bro!

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One Comment

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  1. When I train my back, I include T-bar rows along with Barbell rows, dead lifts, chin-up machine (various
    grips), lat pulldowns, seated cable rows and occasionally reverse grip lat pulldowns.

    Robert Wilson

    Former Personal Trainer

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