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10 Of The Best Back Building Exercises

By David Saunders, Health Editor | UPDATED: 08:28, 08 July 2020

A strong back supports healthy posture and helps to offset acts of daily living — such as sitting in front of a computer — that can weaken the muscles and contribute to stiffness.

So what can you do about back pain and how can you strengthen those back muscles? Follow these rules to stay pain free.

1. Lat Pull-Downs

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The pulldown exercise is a strength training exercise designed to develop the latissimus dorsi muscle.

The lat pull down is an exercise used to build the muscles of the back. While the exercise will primarily target the lats, you will also notice a fair amount of bicep and middle back activation.

If you haven’t been doing Lat Pull-Downs then you may be shortchanging your back development by ignoring the isolated, muscle-building benefits the lat pull-down provides.

How to do it:

Kneel in front of the cable machine and face away.

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.

2. Kettlebell Swings

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Working your back’s posterior chain, kettlebell swings are also

effective for building a stronger core, which will help take weight away from your lower back.

The primary movement for the Kettlebell Swing reinforces a neutral spine, a position where the spine is in its correct anatomical position. By utilising the power of the hips throughout the range of motion of the hip hinge in place of the lower back, incorrect firing patterns in the recruitment of muscle from the posterior chain can be corrected.

Placing a kettlebell a couple of feet in front of you, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and bend your knees to lean 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.

3. Standing T-Bar Rows

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The T-bar row is a classic back exercise that will help you build bigger, stronger muscles, so if you want a thick, densely muscled back, you need to do those T-Bar rows.

The T-Bar Row is a bent over row variation which is particularly effective for developing the muscles of the middle back.

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.

4. Barbell Deadlift

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Place the barbell on the ground in front of you and add plates according to your strength and fitness level. If it is your first time performing the deadlift, start lighter. It is always easy to add weight later. You want to perfect your form before you test your physical limits.

The barbell deadlift is a full-body move — building stronger legs, back, shoulders and arms. Stick with the conventional deadlift on back day; other variations, like the popular sumo-style, increase the activity of muscle groups other than the back.

Stick with the conventional deadlift on back day; other variations, like the popular sumo-style, increase the activity of muscle groups other than the back.

You have two grip choices: a double overhand grip or a reverse grip, where one hand grips the bar overhand and the other underhand. The reverse grip will allow you to lift heavier. Always squeeze the bar as hard as you can, especially on heavier sets, before the bar leaves the floor.

Keeping your back straight and your head facing forward throughout, lift the bar using your legs and driving your hips forward. The deadlift should be a fast and powerful lift using your legs and glute strength. Drive upwards as explosively as possible.

Aim to maintain a strong spine from the beginning of the lift to the end. Do this by keeping your chest up to prevent your torso hunching forwards over the bar.

Your shoulders should remain slightly in front of your hands until the bar passes mid-thigh level, at which point you want to retract your shoulder blades for a strong and stable torso.

Pull your shoulders back at the top of the move, then carefully lower the bar to the ground.

5. Bent-Over Barbell Row

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While it’s primarily a back exercise when performed properly it also trains your arms, shoulders, and even legs to a slight degree.

Walk up to the bar and position your feet so they’re slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly out.

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.

6. Dumbbell Single Arm Row

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Rows should be your go-to when you’re looking to build a stronger back

Using dumbbells instead of a barbell prevents you from relying on one side of the body to do the bulk of the work, it can also highlight any strength imbalances that you need to work on. The one-arm row also has a greater range of motion than the bent-over row, because you can row the weight higher than when using a barbell.

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.

7. Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row

The chest-supported dumbbell also called the incline dumbbell row is a safe and effective way to build a stronger, bigger upper back and is an ideal row variation to hone form.

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.

8. Farmers’ Walk

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The Farmer’s Walk, long embraced by strongmen, is one of the best ways for athletes to enhance their strength, stamina and endurance. It involves walking for a set distance or time while carrying weight. The exercise is fairly simple, but performing it properly is the key to preventing injury and maximizing results.

The farmer’s walk builds muscle ridiculously fast, increases strength and performance in the big lifts and slashes body fat.

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.

9. Inverted Row

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The Inverted Row is a great exercise to help you develop what weightlifters commonly call “cobra lats” (lats that give your body a v-shape).

Research has also found that the inverted row doesn’t stress the lower back as much as the barbell bent-over row so if you’re already struggling with back pain perhaps start with the IR.

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.

10. Wide Grip Pull-Up

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Photo by Edgar Chaparro

When it comes to body-weight exercises, they don’t come much tougher than the wide-grip pullup.

Pull-ups are hardcore. This classic compound exercise works everything from your biceps and triceps to your obliques and traps. But, it’s important to note that your hand position not only affects the difficulty of your workout, it also affects your muscle development.

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.

Pause at the top of the motion before lowering yourself to the starting position.