Build a Bigger, Stronger Back with The Best Back Exercises and Workouts for Men

Build a Bigger, Stronger Back with The Best Back Exercises and Workouts for Men

Why did we put together an extensive article on back exercises and back workouts? We’ll put it this way, there’s a reason we don’t shoot Men’s Health cover stars from behind. It’s because we know that given the choice men want to see abs and arms, chest and boulder shoulders, not back muscles. But when it comes to working out, you should be paying the same attention to back exercises as you do any other muscle group.

There are loads benefits to training your rear, from injury prevention, to helping you pull more weight in all lifts, to developing the coveted V-shape. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that 16 weeks of back workouts was enough to alleviate discomfort felt by 30 men who had suffered from chronic back pain for around two years.

Another more recent study published in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation reported that deadlifts can be used to decrease pain and increase the quality of life for people living with low-back pain.

The benefits of training your back speak for themselves, and that’s why we’ve put together this guide to the best back exercises and back workouts for men. The 20 lifts included are moves that no back workout is complete without. Plus, our list of the best back workouts for men includes everything you’ll need for a well-rounded back-building programme.

 benefits of training your back

The Benefits of Training Your Back

There are myriad reasons to train your traps, lats and beyond. We’ll let Ben West and Jordane Zammit Tabona, co-founders of London gym 360Athletic, talk you through them.

Back Exercises Aid Your Posture

If you spent most of your week – and, at that, your life – slumped over a desk and slapping a keyboard, your posture is likely to have taken a bit of a beating over the weeks, months and years you’ve been at work. According to Zammit Tabona, this can cause ’rounding of the shoulders and upper back,’ and back workouts, handily, will help get rid of the desk-bound ‘hunch’.

Back Exercises Reduce Your Risk of Injury

For the average Joe, life generally looks like long periods of being sedentary – the commute, a desk job, nights on the sofa watching telly – frequently interspersed with high-intensity workouts that take you from zero to 100 and back again in a mere 45 minutes. And we wonder why we get injured. ‘Besides helping your posture, back workouts can help reduce pain and risk of injury, making you focus better and work more efficiently,’ West adds.

Back Exercises Boost Your Bigger Lifts

Back workouts will also encourage weaker muscles to grow, helping boost strength in other lifts you may not expect. A stronger bench press, anyone? Likewise, your shoulder joints will be more stable and considerably stronger. ‘Your back muscles and spine support your body, without them it would be very weak,’ says Zammit Tabona. ‘Having a strong back will therefore help support your body and have you functioning better and more efficiently.’ Sounds like a win-win-win to us.

Back Exercises Help Develop Your V-Shape Physique

Alongside a more pronounced chest and bigger arms, the want for a V-shape physique is one of the most regular occurrences in the Men’s Health inbox. Thankfully, spending more time on your rear will help you earn that coveted v-shape upper-body. ‘Having a balanced, well-rounded physique is what most of us aspire to have aesthetically, and training your back frequently will certainly help with this,’ says West.

Back Exercises Reduce Lower-Back Pain

By strengthening your spine, shoulders and core, the back exercises below will improve strength and begin to erase the strain of lower-back pain, which encroaches on the lives of thousands

of men every day. Partnered with effective stretching routines and dynamic movements, these moves could help to make lower-back pain a thing of the past.

How to Loosen Tight Backs

Considering four in five adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives, it’s understandable why so many of us want to strengthen it. But reducing the impact of back pain doesn’t just come in the form of muscle-building exercises. Simple stretches are able to reduce tension, tightness and discomfort as well as build conditioning and tissue elasticity.

Here’s three exercises to help target the muscles affecting the back you can use alongside our list of back workouts for men and best back moves:

Glute Bridge

1/ Glute Bridge

Why: The role of the glutes is to stabilise the pelvis and the hip. By strengthening them, they will provide adequate support to the torso and take some of the brunt of the effort during your lifts.

How: Lie flat on the floor with your legs bent. Drive through your heels to push your hips upwards as far as you can go. Ensure your hips and shoulders form a straight line. Squeeze your glutes and keep your abs drawn in. This will prevent you from overextending your back. Pause and return to the start.

2/ Knees to Chest

Why: A great exercise to stretch the lower back, increase flexibility and stabilise the pelvis.

How: Lie on your back with both legs extended. Draw both knees to your chest with your fingers interlaced around your shins. Hold this position for 30 seconds, and then release. Repeat this stretch 5 times on both legs.

 Child's Pose

3/ Child’s Pose

Why: An effective exercise that puts minimal strain on your back while also lengthening and stretching the muscles around the spine.

How: From a kneeling position, sit back on your heels with your knees together or slightly apart. Hinge at the hips to fold forward, extending your arms in front of you. Allow your body to feel heavy as you begin to completely relax. Breathe deeply into the stretch.

22 of the Best Back Moves for Building Muscle

  1. Kettlebell Swings
  2. Barbell Deadlift
  3. Barbell Bent-over Row
  4. Pull-up
  5. Dumbbell Single-arm Row
  6. Chest-supported Dumbbell Row
  7. Inverted Row
  8. Lat Pulldown
  9. Single-arm T-bar Rows
  10. Farmer’s Walk
  11. Renegade Row
  12. Superman
  13. TRX Low Row
  14. Med Ball Wood Chop
  15. Good Mornings
  16. Landmine T-bar Row
  17. Pendlay Row
  18. Chainsaw Row
  19. Scapula Shrugs
  20. Seated Row
  21. Gorilla Row
  22. Band Pull-aparts

1. Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell Swings

Why: KB swings aren’t just for CrossFit fans. Far from it. Working your back’s posterior chain, kettlebell swings are also devilishly effective for building a stronger core, which will help take weight away from your lower back. Start with a lighter weight, get used to form and progress slowly.

How: Place a kettlebell one foot in front of you. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and bend your knees to hinge at the hips forward and grab the handle with both hands. With your back flat, engage your lats to pull the weight between your legs (be careful with how deep you swing) then drive your hips forward and explosively pull the kettlebell up to shoulder height with your arms straight in front of you. Return to the start position and repeat without pauses.

2. Barbell Deadlift

Barbell Deadlift

Why: The true king of compound movements, the barbell deadlift is a full-body move — building stronger legs, back, shoulders and arms. Its place in your next back workout is well deserved — as you work through the full range of motion, your upper-back muscles (rhomboids, traps, rear delts and lats) are firing away helping to keep your torso straight, while preventing your back from rounding and causing injury.

How: Squat down and grasp a barbell with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart. Keep your chest up, pull your shoulders back and look straight ahead as you lift the bar. Focus on taking the weight back onto your heels and keep the bar as close as possible to your body at all times. Lift to thigh level, pause, then return under control to the start position.

3. Barbell Bent-Over Row

Barbell Bent-Over Row

Why: As you’re working with a barbell, you should be able to shift more weight during a barbell bent-over row. Helping your recruit more muscle — and, obviously, elicit further muscle growth — you’ll work your middle and lower traps, rhomboid major, rhomboid minor, upper traps, rear deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles. Keep your shoulder blades back to avoid slouching, which puts undue stress on your lower back.

How: Grab a barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. With your legs slightly bent, keep your back perfectly straight and bend your upper body forward until it’s almost perpendicular to the floor. From here row the weight upwards into the lower part of your chest. Pause. And return under control to the start position.

4. Pull-Up


Why: If you want a V-shape physique — you do, that’s why you’re here — then there’s no avoiding pull-ups. Targeting your lats directly, you’ll gain a wider frame and will appear slimmer. Plus, you’ll get major gym kudos once your chin goes above that bar.

How: Grab the handles of the pull-up station with your palms facing away from you and your arms fully extended. Your hands should be around shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, exhale and drive your elbows towards your hips to bring your chin above the bar. Lower under control back to the start position.

5. Dumbbell Single-Arm Row

Dumbbell Single-Arm Row

Why: Another great move for your lats, the dumbbell single arm row works both sides of your body and helps you focus (and fix) weaker spots by smashing through strength imbalances on either side. A handy tip: don’t let your shoulder drop at the bottom of the movement. Lock your torso to ensure your back lifts the weight, not your arm.

How: Head to a flat bench and place your right hand against it under your shoulder, keeping your arm straight. Rest your right knee on the bench and step your other leg out to the side. With your free hand grab a dumbbell off the floor and row it up to your side until your upper arm is parallel with the floor. Lower slowly back to the floor and repeat.

6. Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row

Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row

Why: An ideal move for those struggling to keep the chest strong and spine straight during other back-building bent-over moves, the chest-supported dumbbell row isolates your back muscles — helping move the dumbbells considerably more efficiently and safely.

How: Lie face down on the bench with your feet other side to keep you stable. Hang the dumbbells beneath you using a neutral grip. Keep your head up and bring your shoulder blades together as you row the weights towards your chest. Lower to the starting position under control.

7. Inverted Row

Inverted Row

Why: Suitable for those struggling with pull-ups and chin-ups, the inverted row is surprisingly difficult. Smoking your back and your arms, you can progress or regress the move by re-arranging where your feet.

How: Set up a bar in a rack at waist height. Grab it with a wider than shoulder-width overhand grip and hang underneath. Position yourself with heels out in front of you and arms fully extended. Your body should be straight from shoulders to ankles. Flex at the elbows to pull your chest up to the bar. Lower yourself back to the start position under control.

8. Lat Pulldowns

Lat Pulldowns

Why: Just like pull-ups, lat pull-downs — a firm bodybuilding favourite — will build your lats, while working at a slow tempo will maximise your muscle gain. Keep form strict and reap the rewards. A tip: always bring the bar in front of your head. The behind-the-neck version can damage your rotator cuff.

How: Kneel or sit on a bench in front of the cable machine. Grab the bar with your palms facing away from you, shoulder-width apart. Lean back slightly and push your chest out. Pull the bar down to your chest, then return slowly to the start position. Your torso should remain still throughout.

9. Single-Arm T-Bar Rows

Single-Arm T-Bar Rows

Why: You’ve probably seen the standard T-bar row being performed (often incorrectly) at the gym, but the single-arm T-bar row ensures that, as you’re using a lighter load, form is stricter and muscle imbalances are being ironed out.

How: Add weight to one end of a barbell. Bend forward until your torso is almost parallel to the floor and keep your knees slightly bent. Grab the bar with one arm just behind the plates. Pull the bar straight up with your elbow in until the plates touch your chest and squeeze your back muscles at the top of the move. Slowly lower to the starting position and repeat without letting the plates touch the floor.

10. Farmers’ Walk

 Farmers’ Walk

Why: Building a stronger back, bigger shoulders and insane grip strength, there’s very little the humbling farmers’ walk can’t do. Moreover, it blitzes belly fat and builds muscle far quicker than most functional moves.

How: Hold two kettlebells or dumbbells by your side. Keep your arms strong and walk short, quick steps as fast as possible. Turn around and walk back.

11. Renegade Row

Renegade Row

Why: A great way to target those traps and lats, with a little bit of bicep building thrown in for good measure.

How: Get into a press-up position with your hands on the handles of two dumbbells. Keeping your core tensed, row the right dumbbell up to your abs then return to the start position. Repeat with the left dumbbell to complete one rep.

12. Superman


Why: There aren’t too many back exercises that don’t require kit, but the Superman is definitely one of them. Done correctly, this will work your mid-back muscles, as well as your rotator cuff muscles.

How: Lie facedown on a mat with your arms extended in front of you and your legs extended behind you. Engaging your glutes and lower back, raise your arms, legs, and chest off the floor. Hold for a count, then slowly return to the starting position.

13. TRX Row


Why: You’ll be getting a lot of bang for your buck with this exercise. Rowing will help strengthen your spinal erectors and shoulder stabilisers, while the instability will help you hit your deep abdominal muscles.

How: Lie under the TRX and grab hold of the handles. Raise your body, drawing your shoulders back to focus the work on your lats for that V-shape.

14. Med Ball Wood Chop

Med Ball Wood Chop

Why: This is good for your back, but it’s also good for your abs and shoulders, which is why we like it so much.

Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold the medicine ball in both hands and keep your arms straight. Rotating at your waist, explosively lift the ball up above your shoulder to the left. Control it at the top and bring the ball back down to waist height on your right. Perform all your reps on one side, then swap.

15. Good Mornings

Good Mornings

Why: This exercise is often avoided because it’s considered too dangerous, but if done correctly it’s one of the best ways to build hamstring and lower-back strength.

How: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and brace your core. Hold the bar across your upper back with an overhand grip. Pull your shoulders back so that the bar’s resting comfortably on your upper back. Slowly bend at the hips to lower your torso towards the floor. Pause when you feel tension in your hamstrings, then reverse the movement.

16. Landmine T-bar Row

Landmine T-bar Row

Why: The landmine T-bar row is a fantastic way to add extra weight to your lifts without queuing for a machine. According to MH fitness editor Andrew Tracey, ‘The ’Landmine T-bar row is a remix of a gym staple that bodybuilders have used for decades to add slabs of lean muscle to their backs, targeting the mid-back and traps but also hitting those rear delts and lats.’

How: Rest the unloaded end of your bar on a plate or wedge it into a corner to create a sturdy ‘anchor’. Load plates onto the opposite end of the bar. Use a set of gymnastics rings, straps, a rope or even just a towel, passing it under the barbell, behind the plates to create a set of handles. Straddle the bar and hinge at the hips until your torso is near parallel to the ground. Grip your handles, take a deep breath and brace your core. Draw your elbows up and back, keeping them close to your body, rowing the weight up as far as possible before the plates make contact with your torso. Squeeze your shoulder blades and pause at the top of each rep, before slowly lowering the weight back to the ground under control.

17. Pendlay Row

Pendlay Row

Why: The Pendlay row is perhaps one of the more unknown variations of back exercises. In comparison to the bent-over barbell row, it is an explosive movement and should be completed with an emphasis on the upward portion of the rep to promote muscular power.

How: Begin by sending your hips behind your heels with a flat back. Start with the barbell on the floor with the bar directly over the inline of your foot. Your torso will be parallel to the floor or a little lower depending on your limb length. Lock your core and shoulders away from your ears, grab the bar a little wider than your shoulders and explosively pull the bar up so that your elbows bend behind you. You don’t need to resist the weight on the way down, let gravity do its job to preserve energy for the next powerful rep.

18. Chainsaw Row

Chainsaw Row

Why: Another move which focusses on pulling more weight in an explosive fashion. The chainsaw row is a single limb (unilateral) movement which allows you to focus on building more back power.

How: Begin in a long lunge position with the kettlebell or dumbbell in the opposite hand to the leg that is forward. You can support your torso by leaning one hand on your knee. Grip the weight and lock your core. Drive the weight upwards so that it almost meets your waist, the torso can twist slightly but try not to open up the body entirely so that you can focus on the targeted back muscles. Reverse the rep so the weight travels back to the floor, ready to repeat.

19. Scapula Shrugs

 Scapula Shrugs

Why: Scapula shrugs are a brilliant exercise to not only get you ready to nail your first pull-up, but also build your trap muscles (the muscles at the top of your back). With only a pull-up bar necessary, these can be completed at home or gym for massive trap muscles and improved pull-up technique.

How: Begin by gripping onto the pull-up bar, a little wider than shoulder width apart with an overhand grip. Either bend your knees so that your ankles cross behind you, or hold your entire body rigid and flex your feet. Let your shoulders shrug upwards to meet your ears so that you get a big stretch in your lats. Drive the shoulders down so that your scapula ‘slides’ down your back. Hold for a beat and slowly release the movement under control back to your starting position.

20. Seated Row

Seated Row

Why: The seated row is a great exercise for all levels regardless of gym experience. It teaches participants to work the correct back muscles during rows without having to worry about holding the hip hinge position (like bent over row variations).

How: Begin seated on a bench with the cable set at elbow height. Use the close grip attachment and plant the feet on the floor, core locked and chest proud. Pull your elbows close to your waist and squeeze the shoulders blades together while keeping them away from your ears – don’t shrug upwards. Hold for a beat and slowly release the rep under control back to your starting position.

21. Gorilla Row

Gorilla Row

Why: Perfect for home workouts and accelerating your heart rate in a hurry, the gorilla row works your arms alternately while incorporating some additional glute work.

How: Stand with your feet wider than your hips. Hinge at your hips, then row one weight to your waist, squeezing for a moment at the top. Lower it to the floor, row the other side and alternate.

22. Band Pull-aparts

 Band Pull-aparts

Why: Band pull-aparts strengthen the rhomboids, traps and rear delts, and they are one of the best exercises for keeping your shoulders healthy. Include them in your warm-ups to work all the supporting muscles around your shoulders to bulletproof your overhead presses.

How: Begin with a light band held in both hands in front of you with your arms straight with an overhand grip. Slowly pull the band apart so that it stretches across your chest while ensuring the arms stay straight and chest is lifted. Squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold for a count before you reverse the movement, ready to repeat.

How Can I Shape My Back Fast?

How Can I Shape My Back Fast?

If your goal is to add back muscle, make sure you integrate these key tips into your routine:

  • Progressive Overload: Progressive overload means that your reps, sets, weights and other variables change over time to increase workout volume and mechanical load on the muscles. Using the listed exercises, make sure your programme incrementally increases in difficulty, to enable muscle and strength gain.
  • Adequate Nutrition: To support your workouts, your nutrition must include enough calories and protein. If your goal is to gain muscle, a small calorie surplus can be included by eating a little more than you burn. If your goal is to reduce fat to improve muscle definition, a calorie deficit should be adhered to. Overall, make sure your nutrition is adjusted to your individual needs and goals.
  • Remain Patient and Be Consistent: The rate at which you can increase muscle mass will vary depending on many different factors. Remain consistent with the above variables and make sure that your programme is flexible enough to enable consistency over time, and you’ll see the results you want.