Exercises to Work Out All of Your Back Muscles

Regardless of whether you are an aspiring body builder or a newbie to the weight lifting scene, you should focus on all of your back muscles during your training sessions. This not only creates a symmetrical, well-built back, but will also help you perform daily tasks with more efficiency. Use free weights, machines and body weight to do your exercises.


Back rows work your muscles several different ways. To do barbell rows, hold a barbell in front of your legs with your back almost parallel to the floor. In a controlled motion, pull the bar straight up to your stomach, slowly lower it back down and repeat. Perform this exercise the exact same way with dumbbells.

Machine rows are performed from a seated position with your feet braced against a steel platform, arms fully extended in front of you and hands holding an angled, narrow grip handle. While leaning back slightly, pull the bar to your chest, extend it back out and repeat.

With all of these rowing exercises, keep your arms tight against your sides when pulling, squeeze your shoulder blades together at the middle point of the movement and hold for a full second. The main muscles worked are the latissimus dorsi which run from the center, lower part of the back up toward the shoulders in a “V” shape and the rhomboids major and minor which are found between the shoulder blades.


Pulldowns work the upper lats and rhomboids and they are done on a lat pulldown machine. Wide-grip, close-grip and straight-arm pulldowns are all variations. To do wide-grip pulldowns, attach a straight bar to the pulley sit on the seat and adjust the padded support so that it is on top of your thighs. After reaching up and grabbing the bar with an overhand, wider-than-shoulder-width grip, pull straight down to your chest, raise the bar back up and repeat. Perform close-grip pulldowns the same way, except use an angled, narrow-grip handle. With both exercises, remember to squeeze your shoulder blades together when you pull down.

Straight-arm pulldowns target the upper lats and serratus muscles, which look like fingers wrapped around the upper ribcage. To do these, attach a straight, revolving bar to a cable machine, hold it with an overhand grip and push it straight down to your thighs. Slowly raise it back up until your arms are higher than parallel to the floor, and repeat.


Two forms of deadlifts work the erector spinae muscles. These are also known as spinal erectors and they run down the vertebral column and into the lower back.

Regular deadlifts work the legs, in addition to the lower back muscles, and they can be done with a barbell or dumbbells. To do these, lift a weighted barbell off the ground, hold it against your thighs for a full second, lower it back down and repeat. Perform the exercise the same way with dumbbells.

Straight leg, or stiff leg, deadlifts can also be done with a barbell or dumbbells. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart while holding the bar or dumbbells in front of your thighs. Slowly bend forward and stand back up in a slow and steady motion. When lowering, stop when you feel a strong contraction in your lower back.

Body Weight

Body weight exercises, such as pull-ups, back extensions and bridges, work the lats, rhomboids and erector spinae. To do pull-ups, grasp a pull-up bar with a shoulder-width or wider grip, pull yourself up as high as possible, lower yourself down and repeat.

Back extensions and bridges both work the lower erector spinae and they can be done with an exercise ball. To do back extensions, lie face-down on the ball with your hips near the top, hands on the sides of your head and feet touching a wall for support. Lower and lift your torso by bending at the hips and contracting your back muscles.

To do bridges, lie face-up on the ball with your knees bent 90 degrees and feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. Slowly lower and lift your hips by contracting your lower back muscles.

About this Author

Kevin Rail has worked in the fitness industry since 2001 and has been writing since 2004. He has professional experience as a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, motivational engineer and freelance fitness writer. He currently writes a monthly column for Ron Jones High-Performance Health. Rail has a bachelor’s degree in sports management: fitness and wellness from California University of Pennsylvania.