The back, being the most superficial muscle of the upper body, is easier to target. However, to build muscle strength and mass, you’ll have to do the best back workouts in the gym. That’s why I’ve picked the best compound and isolation exercises that can help you build stronger, wider, and bigger back gradually.
If you work out in the gym and want to develop back muscles, then this article can be helpful for you.
I’ll share the list of back workouts with how-to instructions and a workout routine for increasing mass and strength. If you like, you can save this article PDF that I’ve shared at the bottom.
Note: These back workouts are specially for men.
The Back Anatomy For Bodybuilding
To build a strong back, you need to target all muscles of your back, such as;
- Trapezius ( Upper, middle, and lower traps)
- The Rhomboids major and minor (which are structured beneath the trapezius muscle)
- Latissimus dorsi or Lats (Superior, middle and inferior)
- Infraspinatus (this is one of the rotator cuff muscles)
- And the last but important one is the erector spinae or the lower back.
I’ve created a list of the best back exercises that work on each muscle and promote mass gain.
How Do You Train Your Back for Mass and Make Bigger?
Once you select the best exercises for your back, you’ll need to perform them in the correct form.
Doing exercises with the proper form and technique yields better results and promotes strength and hypertrophy.
What Are the Best Back Workouts for Strength and mass?
You’ll have to do compound and isolation workouts to build a bigger and broader back.
Compound lifts help you target the entire back muscles at once, such as the lats, traps, lower back, erector spinae, and rotator cuff.
Deadlifts, pull-ups, barbell bent-over rows, IYT raises, inverted rows, and barbell T rowing are some of the best compound lift workouts that will help you build mass and strength.
After the compound exercises, you’ll need to do isolation workouts that help you target your specific back muscles at a time.
Lat pulldown, seated rowing, TRX row, chin-ups, reverse fly, pullover, and face pull are some of the best isolation back workouts you can do at the gym to build muscle mass.
Three Tips to d0 back Workouts with proper Form and Technique
Use “Thumbless Grip.” It means to keep your thumbs over the bar or dumbbells instead of underneath.
Keeping the thumbs over the bar elicits higher muscle activation and engages working muscles effectively.
Whether you pull down or pullups, try using a thumbless grip because it works well during the back workouts.
2. Use “Elbows” instead of “Hands” at the time of rowing
Use your elbows instead of your hands at the rowing or pulling. Because using elbows activates more back muscles and reduce wrist involvement.
Doing this not only activates muscles intensely but also helps you do more reps and sets.
3. Keep your shoulders down and away from the head
Keeping the shoulder down and away from the neck puts less stress on the traps, helps you perform back exercises with ease, and enables you to do more repetitions and build wider lats.
Okay, let’s quickly find out the best exercises that boost strength, maximize muscle growth and help you build a bigger and broader back.
Best Compound Workouts That Increase Back Muscle Mass
I’ll share as many as seventeen back workouts that you can do to build up strength and mass at the gym.
The first seven exercises will be compound movements, and the rest will be isolation workouts.
Combining them on different back workout days will help you develop a superior back over a while.
Here are seven compound workouts for building a stronger and wider back.
- Barbell Bent Over Row
- Dumbbell IYT Raises
- Inverted Row
- Barbell T Rowing
- Dumbbell Pullover
Below is the step-by-step guide on how to do each back workout.
The pullup is one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do to build a stronger and wider back.
It stimulates several muscles at once, such as; lats, rhomboids, lower traps, deltoids, and arms.
It is one of my favorite back exercises I do to increase strength and mass.
Here we’ll see how to do the pull-ups correctly:
- Start with standing under the center of a pull-up bar.
- Reach onto a pull-up bar and grip with your hands 1.5x wider than shoulder-width, palms facing down and away.
- Keep your arms extended and your knees slightly bent. That’s the starting position.
- Brace your core and pull your body up until your chin is just above the bar and then slowly lower your body in a controlled way while ensuring you feel muscle activation as pull.
- Pause for a moment and then return to the beginning. That’s one complete rep.
You can do as many as you can because the number of repetitions depends on one’s strength and power.
Important points you need to keep in mind while doing pull-ups:
- You can keep your ankles cross to each other instead of keeping your feet behind.
- Keep your chest up when you reach above because this allows more muscle activation.
- Do not flare your elbows out because it may reduce the effectiveness of pull-ups.
Can You Do Chinups, if Pullup is Difficult?
Yes, you can!
But, first of all, take a look at some essential points which help you understand the difference between these two.
Pullups vs. Chin-ups
As you can see in the image that chin-ups activate more muscles than pullups.
If we talk about back muscles, both exercises work on the lats and other back muscles.
However, chin-ups require more strength from the biceps than pullups, making chin-ups one of the best biceps exercises. On the other hand, pullups focus more on the lats.
So if you want to build a bigger and wider back, a pull-up is a superior workout.
Although, if you want to focus more on the upper back instead of the whole, then chin-ups would be a better exercise.
You’ll see how to do chin-up later in this article.
The deadlift is one of the best back workouts you can do at the gym to beef up your muscle strength and mass.
It is a compound workout that helps you build various muscles simultaneously, such as legs, lats, core, and arms.
From increasing strength, muscles to improving cardiovascular health, the deadlift has myriads of health benefits.
Tips: Wear a gym belt for the protection of your back before lifting the weight.
How to do the deadlift
- Place a bar on the floor in front of you and put appropriate weight into it.
- Stand upright (in a shoulder-width stance) close to the bar so your shin is close to it.
- Push your hips backward, bend your knees; and grab the bar firmly with an alternate grip, maintain a flat back.
- Brace your core, inhale deeply and lift the bar with your full strength until your hips are fully extended.
- Hold for a couple of seconds and then lower the weights slowly on the floor.
- Push your heels into the floor to generate strength so you can lift the bar effectively.
- Raise your shoulder blades together as you lift the weight from the ground.
- Your hips will come forward when you fully extend your knees (in the final steps).
- Keep your back as flat as possible during the entire movement.
- Do not rush! Perform each rep slowly with engaging your lats so you can get the best out of each repetition.
If you work out at home with dumbbells, you can do various dumbbell deadlifts.
3. Bent Over Row
The bent-over row is the compound workout that works on numerous muscles simultaneously, such as the deltoids, arms, and especially the back.
It is one of those exercises which strengthen the entire back muscles, such as the middle trapezius, lats, the erector spine, rhomboids major & minor, and the Infraspinatus.
The bent-over row is one of the best back workouts in a group of eight exercises, including pullup, lat pulldown, inverted row, and IYT raises – showed in a study published by the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Whether you’re a beginner or intermediate, you can incorporate a barbell bent-over-row workout to build the strength and mass of your back muscles.
How to do Barbell Bent-Over Row
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a bar with your hands with an overhand grip. Palms facing down.
- Slightly bend your knees, lean forward while maintaining a flat back and keep your core tight. That’s the starting position.
- Now raise the bar toward your stomach until you feel the full contraction in the back muscles. During the row, make sure your chest up and elbows go out to the sides.
- Hold for a second at the top then slowly lower to the starting position. That’s one rep!
- The suggested repetitions for this exercise are at least 6-10 each set.
- Keep your chest up and remain bent during the whole movement.
4. I Y T Raises
An unfamiliar but effective all-around upper body workout that activates several muscles at once, especially the back, is IYT raises.
The I-Y-T raises allow you to target more muscles in the least time.
Doing 15 to 20 reps will give you the same advantages as inverted rows of 20 to 30 reps.
The IYT raises a complete back workout that you can include to beef up strength and mass in your back workout day routine.
Here we take a look at the steps to do the Incline Dumbbell I-Y-T Raises:
- Lie on your stomach on a 30-degree incline bench with holding a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral or overhand grip.
- Keep your chest at the corner of a bench with your arms extended underneath.
- Now to form the letter “I” raise the dumbbells forward in front of you until they are parallel to the floor. Hold for a second and then slowly lowered them back to starting position.
- To form the letter “Y” raise the dumbbells upward at a 45-degree angle so that your body forms a “Y” shape. Hold for a moment and then slowly return to the initial position. Make sure you squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top.
- Now to form the letter “T” raise the dumbbells out to sides until they are parallel to the ground. make sure your body looks in the “T” shape at the top. Hold for a second and then slowly return to the beginning position. That’s one complete rep!
- Do the desired number of repetitions.
5. Inverted Row
In your journey of building a bigger back, the inverted row exercise will be one of the best compound workouts.
Barbell bent-over row and the one-arm cable row exercises provide the greatest contractions in the upper back and the lats – demonstrated in a meta-analysis published by the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research.
- Middle trapezius
- Lower trapezius
- Latissimus dorsi
- Posterior deltoids
How to do the Inverted Rows:
The best and the safest way to do the inverted row is using the smith machine.
Here are the steps:
- Set up the bar in the smith machine and lay down on your back just underneath. Now reach onto the bar to grab with your hands with an overhand grip. Make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart.
- Now brace your core and pull your torso toward the bar until your chest reaches the bar. And then slowly lower your body in a controlled way while ensuring you feel muscle activation as pull and return to the beginning.
- That will be one complete rep. You can do as many as you can.
Important points you need to keep in mind while doing Inverted Rows:
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top.
- Avoid rounding your back during the movement.
- Keep your body straight from head to the heels.
- Inhale before pulling the bar and exhale before returning to the starting.
Doing an inverted row will help you improve your pulling strength and allows you to do more pullups. If you’re not good at doing pull-ups, do more inverted rows.
Other Inverted Row Variations:
- Modified Inverted Row
- Single-arm Inverted Row
- Suspended Inverted Row
6. Barbell T Rowing
The barbell T rowing is one of the important back workouts that enable you to lift heavy weights and help you build a bigger and broader back.
If you want to increase mass, include it in your back day gym workout routine.
- Get an empty barbell and place one end against the wall.
- Put appropriate weight into another end of the bar.
- Stand over it in the shoulder width stance so the bar is in between your feet.
- Put the handle under the bar where you have inserted weight plates (for lifting the weights).
- Hinge at your hips and bend your torso forward so the weights are underneath your chest.
- Grab the handle firmly with a neutral grip and keep your arms straight. This was the set up.
- Pulling the weights up, bring your elbows behind until your back muscles fully engaged.
- Hold for a couple of seconds and then lower the weights on the floor in a controlled fashion.
- This is your one after that, doter that, does! Do three to four sets of six to ten reps each with 2 to 3 minutes rest between sets.
7. Dumbbell Lat Pullover
The pullover is one of the best dumbbell compound workouts that work on multiple muscles at once, especially the chest and lats.
Whether you’re a beginner or intermediate, you can incorporate it into your back workout routine.
How to do dumbbell pullover
- Grab the head of a dumbbell with your hands.
- Lie on your back on a flat bench and place your feet firmly on the ground.
- Keep your arms behind your head with a slight bend in your elbows. Your palms should be facing upward.
- Brace your abdominal muscles and pull the weight over you until you feel the full contraction.
- Hold for a couple of seconds, and then slowly return your arms behind your head.
The Best Isolation Exercises For Stronger and Wider Back
- Lat Pulldown
- Seated Cable Row
- Single Arm Dumbbell Rowing
- V Grip Lat Pulldown
- TRX row
- Standing Lat Pulldown
- Kettlebell Bent Over Row
- Reverse Fly
8. Lat Pulldown
The lat pulldown is a great workout that you can do at the gym to strengthen back muscles.
It works on numerous back muscles, especially the lats.
According to an article published in Ptonthenet, actions that muscles perform during the exercises listed below:
At the time of pulling the bar down or Concentric Phase
- Shoulder adduction
- Shoulder horizontal abduction
- Elbow flexion
- Scapulae downward rotation
- Scapulae retraction
At the time of releasing the bar upward or Eccentric Phase
- Shoulder abduction
- Shoulder horizontal adduction
- Elbow extension
- Scapulae upward rotation
- Scapulae protraction
Targeted Muscles in the lat pulldown exercise:
- Lats (The largest back muscles)
- Teres Major
- Posterior Deltoid
- Rotator cuff
Here’s how you can do the front lat pull down properly
- Start with sitting on the table just below the center of a pull-down bar and keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Now grab the pull-down bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. That’s the starting position.
- Now brace your core and slightly lift the torso back so that when you pull the bar down it comes toward the chest.
- Keep your spine in a neutral position and pull the bar toward your chest until you feel the full contraction in the lats and scapulae retractors.
- Then slowly return the bar to the beginning by extending your elbows. That’s one complete repetition. For better result do 30-40 reps into three different sets with maximum weights possible.
Important points you need to keep in mind while doing Lat pull-down:
- Avoid rounding your back during the movement.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the time of pulling.
- Inhale before pulling the bar and exhale before returning to the starting.
- Hold at the bottom of the lift and do it in a controlled way.
Other Benefits of Lat Pull-down Exercise
Besides strengthening and building the back muscles,
- Lat pulldown also increases pulling strength;
- Fix and improve bad posture caused by sitting long hours on the chair;
- Strengthen the shoulders by activating rotator cuff muscles and posterior deltoids;
- Improve muscle coordination and reduce the risk of injuries.
Different Variations of the lat pulldown
- Behind-The-Neck Lat Pull-Down
- V-Bar or D-Handles Pull-Down
- Reverse Close-Grip Lat Pull-Down
- Single-Arm Lat Pull-Down
Front Vs. Rear Pull-Downs
Like pullups, chin-ups, one more query is typical for the back workout: the difference between front pulldown and rear pulldown; which one is a more effective workout for back mass development?
I will not explain in detail, but I’ll mention some crucial points that help you understand the difference between behind-the-neck pulldown and front pulldown.
- According to several studies published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; lat pulldown exercise with a wide grip where the bar comes in front of your neck produced greater muscle activity in the lats than wide-grip lat pulldown where the bar comes behind the neck.
- Behind the neck, pulldown put more stress on the rotator cuff that sometimes becomes harder to stabilize the shoulder joints which cause injuries or soreness.
While one study suggests that doing front pulldown create less stress on the shoulder joints that reduce the risk of injuries. So for the safety reason, again front pulldown wins the race.
9. Seated Cable Row
The seated cable row is one of the basic workouts for the back, especially the traps muscles. It plays a significant role in V-tapper back development.
Other than the back, it also works on the shoulders and the arms. Not only this, but it also improves bone density which decreases the chances of getting injured.
How to do a Seated Cable Rowing
- Set the desired weight on the weight stack and attach the D-handle to the seated row machine.
- Now sit on a bench or on the mat and extend your arms to grab the D-handles with a neutral grip, palms facing each other.
- Keep your back straight, chest up and legs slightly bent, or keep your feet on the pad if available.
- Now pull the handles toward your stomach until they are close to your body. Hold for a second and then slowly return to the starting point. That’s one rep! Suggested three sets of 8-12 reps each.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the time of rowing.
- And make sure you feel a full contraction in the muscles of the back.
10. Single-arm DB Rowing
- Grab a dumbbell in your right hand with a neutral grip.
- Place your left knee on one end of a flat bench and right foot firmly on the floor.
- Put your left hand on the bench with your arms are straight underneath your shoulder.
- Let your right arm hang straight below your shoulder and brace your abdominal muscles. That’s the start.
- Pull the weight against the floor until you feel the contraction in your back muscles.
- Pause for a couple of seconds and then return the weight to the start. This is your one repetition.
11. V Handle Lat Pulldown
Doing lat pull down with a V handle yields better results than behind-the-neck pulldown, So the inclusion can help develop a bigger back.
How to do V grip Lat pulldown
- Anchor the attachment handle in the lat pulldown machine and sit underneath it.
- Grab the handle firmly with a neutral grip.
- Slightly lean backward and full the handle down toward your chest until your back muscles are fully engaged.
- Hold for a couple of seconds and return to the starting point. That’s one rep!
Do three to four sets of six to ten reps each with 2 to 3 minutes rest between sets.
12. Face Pull
The face targets the upper back muscles and helps you develop a well-shaped back.
Other than the back, it works on the rear deltoid.
If you train at the gym, do incorporate face pull either on shoulder day or the back day.
How to do face pulls
- Set the rope at an appropriate height for the cable machine and firmly grab it with your hands.
- Walk against the cable machine until you stand in an appropriate position, where your arms can extend fully in front of you.
- Stand in the shoulder-width stance and slightly lean backward but keep your back straight. This is your starting position.
- Pull the rope towards your face so the muscles of upper back can engage.
- Hold for a couple of seconds and then extend your arms fully in front of you. That’s one repetition.
13. TRX row
In terms of muscle activation, TRX row wouldn’t be a good option among these exercises. But it works on the major muscles of the back, such as the upper and middle traps, latissimus dorsi, and the rhomboid.
It also provides other benefits which are essential for overall fitness, including body balance and stability. Not only this, but TRX rows also target those muscles skipped in other back exercises, making it a crucial back workout for mass gain.
How to do the TRX Rows:
- Stand with your feet, holding a TRX handles in each hand with a neutral grip, palms facing others. Keep the hip-width distance between your feet.
- Take one step forward with your right foot while keeping the other in the same position and both feet facing forward.
- Pull your shoulder blades down and back so that you can lean backward.
- Keep your body straight in line and your body weight shifted over the back of your legs when you straighten the elbows. Your elbows should be at chest height.
- Now brace your core and bend the elbows at your sides and pull your chest toward your hands.
- Hold for a sec then extend your arms to lower your body back to the beginning. That’s one rep!
- Suggested; three sets of 8-12 reps each.
A chin-up is one of the best bodyweight workouts that strengthen your biceps and back at once.
Chin-up is comparatively easier than the pullup. So if you’re a beginner, you can also incorporate it into your back-building exercises in the gym.
How to do a chin-up
- Grab the bar with an underhand grip and hang onto it with your hands are shoulder to hip-width apart.
- Brace your core, bend your knees and pull yourself upward until your chin is close to the bar.
- Hold for a moment at the top (you’ll feel the contraction in your back muscles), and then lower your body until your arms are straight.
- Repeat as many times as you like.
15. Standing Rope Pulldown Back Workout At the Gym
Standing pull down is a good option if you want to try some lat pulldown variation that actually works.
The standing rope/bar pulldown helps you build up back mass and develop a wider back.
How to do standing pulldown with a rope
- Set the rope at a highest point of the cable machine and firmly grab it with your hands.
- Stand in the staggered or normal shoulder-width stance.
- Keeping your back straight and core tight, pull the rope towards you. Your chest will be up and forward when you pull the rope.
- To feel the contraction in your back, pause for a couple of seconds and then return your arms to the stating position. This is your one repetition.
16. Kettlebell Bent-over Row (One of the Best KB Back Exercises for Mass Gain)
If you’re someone who works out with kettlebells at home, you can incorporate a bent-over row in your workout regime to build a stronger back.
Ho to do bent-over row with kettlebells
- Grab a pair of kettlebells with a neutral grip and stand in slightly wider than shoulder-width stance.
- Hinge at your hips and lean your torso forward until your chest is parallel to the ground.
- Let your arms hang straight below your chest with palms facing each other.
- Keeping your back straight and core tight, pull the weights towards you until your lat muscle is engaged.
- Hold for a couple of seconds at the top and then lower your arms to the start. This is your one repetition.
17. Reverse Fly
If you want to strengthen your upper back and rear deltoid together, you can do the reverse fly.
You can do reverse fly with cables, resistance bands, machines as well as dumbbells.
Do whichever suits you the most.
How to do DB reverse fly
- Grab one dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip and lie on a flat bench on your stomach so your face facing downward.
- Keep your arms straight underneath your shoulder and feet on the floor. That’s the start.
- Raise your arms out to the sides as high as you can so you can feel the higher activation in your back muscles.
- Hold for a couple of seconds at the top, and then lower your arms to the start. This is your one repetition.
The Best Back Workout Routine For Strength and Mass
If you want to develop your back muscles, I suggest you do back exercises twice a week.
Doing back workouts two times a week will help you increase strength and mass over time.
Here is the back workout routine you can do at the gym to build a superior back
Week 1 – Day 1
- Pullup – As many reps as possible x 3 sets
- Deadlift – 6, 4, 2, 1 reps
- Inverted Row – As many reps as possible x 3 sets
- Standard Lat Pulldown – 12, 10, 8, 6
- Seated Rowing – 12, 10, 8, 6
- Single-arm DB Rowing – 10, 8, 6
- Facepull – 10, 8, 6
Week 1 – Day 2
- Pull-Ups – As many reps as possible x 3 sets
- Standing Pulldown – 12, 10, 8
- V Handle Pulldown – 10, 8, 6
- Barbell Bent Over Row – 12, 10, 8
- Seated Rowing – 12, 10, 8
- Dumbbell IYT Raises – 10, 8, 6
- Barbell T Rowing – 12, 10, 8, 6
- Dumbbell Pullover – 10, 8, 6
You can change or replace an exercise from this routine, depending on your fitness level.
Related: 6-Day Gym Workout Schedule With PDF
Back Exercises PDF
Download the best back exercises PDF that includes 17 Workouts plus a workout Routine that can help help you boost strength, beef up muscles, and build a wider and bigger back.