11 Best Isolation Exercises for Back

Compound exercises are great for muscle growth but when it comes to overall muscle development, isolation exercises are equally important.1Gentil, Paulo et al. “Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy.” Asian journal of sports medicine vol. 6,2 (2015): e24057. doi:10.5812/asjsm.24057

Isolation exercises target a specific muscle at a time and helps add strength and definition. You can do isolation exercises for each muscle group, including your back, chest, arms, and legs.

In this article, I’ve shared some of the best isolation back exercises for achieving better strength, size, and muscle definition.

These exercise are suitable for all fitness enthusiats who want to focus on developing back muscles specifically.

11 Best Isolation Exercises for Back Development

1. Front Lat Pulldown

Front Lat Pulldown, an isolation back exercise.
Exercise LevelEquipment NeededMuscles Worked
BeginnerPulldown MachineLatissimus Dorsi

The front Lat pulldown is one of the fundamental exercises for developing a stronger and broader back. It primarily works on the latissimus dorsi and adds definition to your back muscles.

Steps to do it:

  1. Sit on the bench under the bar with your feet flat on the ground and your knees under the pad.
  2. Grab the bar firmly with an overhand grip. Your hands will be wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Brace your abdominal muscles and pull the bar toward your chest until you feel a good contraction in your lats.
  4. After a brief pause, extend your arms and repeat.

Suggested reps and sets: 12-15 x 3

Exercise tips:

  • Focus on pulling your elbows down.
  • Keep your wrists neutral, do not flex them.
  • Breathe in before pulling the bar and out after you extend your arms.

2. Behind the Neck Pulldown

Behind the Neck Pulldown, an Isolation exercise for back muscles.
Exercise LevelEquipment NeededMuscles Worked
IntermediatePulldown MachineLatissimus Dorsi

The behind-the-neck pulldown is another way to hit your lats from a different angle. It also engages posterior delts and biceps and builds up a strong back.

However, it’s best to use a lighter weight than a front pulldown for safe and effective training.

Steps to do it:

  1. Sit on the bench under the bar with your feet flat on the ground and your face facing away from the machine.
  2. Grab the ends of the bar firmly with an overhand grip and maintain a neutral spine position.
  3. Brace your abdominal muscles and pull the bar behind your neck until you feel a good contraction in your back muscles.
  4. Pause for a moment and return to the start.

Suggested reps and sets: 12-15 x 3

Exercise tips:

  • Perform with lighter weights than front lat pulldown.
  • Do each rep in a slow and controlled manner.

3. Single-arm Lat Pulldown

Exercise LevelEquipment NeededMuscles Worked
BeginnerCable Pulley MachineLatissimus Dorsi

The single arm lat pulldown is a unilateral exercise that allows you to train the right and left sides of your back individually.

For example, if you feel that one side of your lats is less developed than the other, then you perform this exercise to even out muscle imbalance.

Steps to do it:

  1. Set the cable to an appropriate height and grab the D handle firmly in your right hand with a neutral grip.
  2. Place your right knee on the mat and your left foot flat on the floor in front of you.
  3. Keep your core tight and your torso upright. That’s the start.
  4. Driving your elbows in, pull the weight down until the handle reaches in front of your delt.
  5. Pause for a moment and return to the start. This is your one rep.

Suggested reps and sets: 8-12 x 3 on each side

Exercise Tips: You can also perform this exercise on a 90-degree incline bench. To do that, sit on the bench with your chest resting on it and pull the weight with either of your hands and repeat on the opposite side.

4. V Grip Lat Pulldown

V Grip Pulldown, an isolation workout for latissimus dorsi.
Exercise LevelEquipment NeededMuscles Worked
BeginnerCable Pulley/Pulldown MachineLats and Traps

The v-grip lat pulldown is one of the best isolation exercises to smoke your back gains. The V-grip allows you to get better contraction and helps bolster traps and lats simultaneously and achieve a wider and sculpted back.

Steps to do it:

  1. Anchor the V-handle and sit down on the machine under the bar.
  2. Place your knees under the supporting pad and your feet flat on the ground.
  3. Grab the V handle firmly with a neutral grip, with your palms facing each other.
  4. Lean your torso slightly back as you pull the bar toward your chest.
  5. Pause for a moment at the bottom and return to the beginning.

Suggested reps and sets: 10-12 x 3

Exercise Tips: Perform each rep in a controlled fashion so you can feel the contraction in your working muscles.

5. Rope Lat Pulldown

Rope Lat Pulldown, one of the isolation back exercises.
Exercise LevelEquipment NeededMuscles Worked
IntermediatePulley Machine and RopeBack

The rope pulldown is another variation of the lat pulldown exercise. It strengthens multiple muscles from the upper to the lower back and helps develop a solid upper body.

Steps to do it:

  1. Attach the rope to the higher section of the cable pulley.
  2. Grab the ends of the rope and sit on your knees.
  3. Lean your torso slightly back, brace your core, and pull the bar toward your chest.
  4. Feeling the contraction in your back muscles, hold for a couple of seconds and then extend your arms.

Suggested reps and sets: 10-12 x 3

Tips: You can also perform this exercise in a standing position.

6. Seated Cable Rowing

Seated Cable Rowing is one of the isolation exercises for back development.
Exercise LevelEquipment NeededMuscles Worked
BeginnerPulldown MachineTraps, Lats, and Infraspinatus

Seated cable row is an excellent isolation workout that works on entire back muscles, particularly the middle traps and lats, and helps build a sizeable back. And the best thing is it is suitable for all fitness enthusiats.

Steps to do it:

  • Attach the rowing handle to the machine and grab it firmly with a neutral grip.
  • Slightly move your torso back so your hands can extend fully.
  • Brace your core and maintain a neutral spine position.
  • Driving your elbows back, pull the handle toward your stomach until your back muscles are fully engaged.
  • Contracting your back muscles, pause for a moment and return to the start.

Suggested reps and sets: 10-15 x 3

Exercise Tips:

  • Try not to lean more than 10 degrees from the vertical to limit hip flexors and lower-back involvement because it can reduce muscle activation.26 Cable Row Blunders – Bodybuilding.com
  • Use the full range of motion to stimulate the muscles effectively.
  • Keep your core engaged throughout the movement.

7. One-arm Dumbbell Row

One-arm Dumbbell Row
Exercise LevelEquipment NeededMuscles Worked
BeginnerDumbbell & Bench (Optional)Back and Shoulder

The one-arm dumbbell rows are a great exercise for developing back muscles. They strengthen the upper back, lats, and rhomboids, as well as activate core and shoulder muscles.

It is popular among bodybuilders because it helps build thick and whittled back.

So, if you’re looking for isolation dumbbell exercises for the back, the one-arm row can be a great addition.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab a dumbbell in your right hand and stand in the split stance.
  2. Lean forward and place your opposite hand on the elevated object for support.
  3. Brace your abdominal muscles and maintain a neutral spine position.
  4. Driving your elbow, pull the dumbbell at your side until you feel the contraction in your back.
  5. Lower the dumbbell to the start and repeat.

Suggested reps and sets: 8-12 x 3 on each side

Exercise Tips:

  • Performing a dumbbell row with a deep stretch is essential for the highest muscle activation. You can do that by lowering the dumbbell at the bottom and coming all the way up to the top for every single rep.
  • Keep your abs tight and back flat, and perform each rep in a controlled fashion without moving or rotating your torso.

8. Bent-over Barbell Rowing

Barbell Bent Over Row
Exercise LevelEquipment NeededMuscles Worked
IntermediateBarbell and PlatesLats, Traps, Infraspinatus, and Lower Back

The bent-over barbell row is one of the best exercises to stimulate back muscles and promote muscle growth.

A study shows that the standing bent-over row elicited large muscle activation symmetrically from the upper to lower back.3Fenwick CM, Brown SH, McGill SM. Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffnessJ Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(2):350-358. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181942019

So, it can be an excellent exercise to integrate into your workout regime if you want to build a bigger back.

Steps to do it:

  • Holding a loaded barbell, stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lean your torso forward by bending your hips and knees.
  • Keep your back flat and core tight, and extend your arms below your shoulders. That’s the start.
  • Pull the bar toward your lower abs until you feel a good contraction in your back.
  • Wait for a moment before lowering to the start.

Suggested reps and sets: 8-12 x 3

Exercise Tips:

  • Drive your elbows in as you pull the bar. Do not make it a curl exercise.
  • Keep your core tight and back flat throughout the movement.
  • Do not lift your torso up during the pull.

9. Neutral Grip Dumbbell Rowing

Exercise LevelEquipment NeededMuscles Worked
IntermediateDumbbellsBack

The neutral grip bent-over dumbbell row is another way to hit your back muscles effectively. It targets your lats and traps from a different angle and improves the definition of your back.

Steps to do it:

  • Holding a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip, stand upright in the shoulder-width stance.
  • Bent forward and extend your arms below your torso. Brace your abdominal muscles and maintain a neutral spine.
  • Pull the dumbbells at your sides, feeling the contraction in your back muscles.
  • Lower the dumbbells and repeat.

Suggested reps and sets: 10-12 x 3

Exercise Tips: Choose the right pair of dumbbells. You won’t feel the highest muscle contraction when you lift heavy dumbbells than your strength.

10. Straight Arm Lat Pullover

Exercise LevelEquipment NeededMuscles Worked
IntermediatePulley MachineLatissimus Dorsi

The straight-arm standing pullover is an excellent isolation exercise for hitting lats. It is one of the popular back exercises you see on Instagram and YouTube.

Many online fitness influencers perform this exercise to strengthen and widen back muscles.

You can also give it a try and see if it works for you.

Steps to do it:

  1. Attach the rope to the pulley machine and set the attachment to an appropriate height.
  2. Grab the rope firmly and take a couple of steps back.
  3. Bending your hips, slightly lean your torso forward.
  4. Maintain a neutral spine and tight core.
  5. Contracting your lats, pull the bar until your hands reach beside your hips.

Suggested reps and sets: 10-12 x 3

Exercise Tips:

  • Keep your arms straight throughout the movement.
  • Focus on your lats contraction during the pull.

11. Dual Cable Lat Pulldown

Exercise LevelEquipment NeededMuscles Worked
IntermediatePulley MachineLats and Back

If you want to focus on your lats specifically, you can do the lat pulldown on the cable pulley machine. It hits your back muscles in a different way compared to the other exercises and helps build defined back.

I keep this exercise always in my list and perform it at least once in two weeks. It is not a popular exercise and that’s why there is lack of evidence on how much muscles it activate but I feel good activation thougrout my back muscles, particularly lats.

So, if you’re looking a good isolation back exercise, you can incorporate it into your workout regime.

Steps to do it:

  1. Attach the D handles to the pulley machine and set it at the top.
  2. Grab the handles firmly and sit on your knees. Make sure you’re sitting between the machines.
  3. Keep your arms extended, core tight, and back straight. That’s the start.
  4. Pull the handles towards you until your back muscles are fully engaged.

Suggested reps and sets: 12-15 x 3

Exercise Tips:

  • Keep your torso upright and focus on engaging your lats during the pull.
  • You can also perform this exercise using one arm at a time.

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Murshid Akram
I'm a certified personal trainer, fitness blogger, and nature lover. I always learn more about exercise science and human anatomy so that I can provide the best information possible. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.