Top 3 Back Exercises For A Stronger Back: Build Size And Strength

Top 3 Back Exercises For A Stronger Back: Build Size And Strength

Feb 04, 2024

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The Top Three Back Exercises for Size and Strength

Want to build a strong, muscular back that looks powerful? The back is an often neglected muscle group. But having a strong back will give your physique a wide and impressive V-shape. It will also improve posture and prevent back pain.

In this article, I will show you the top 3 back exercises for size and strength. These exercises will hit every major muscle in your back - lower, middle and upper. By masterfully combining these movements, you can build a back that looks incredible in the mirror and performs well in the gym.

Why Does Your Back Need Strengthening Exercises?

You can’t see your back in the mirror, so it’s often not a priority in training programs. But just because you can’t see your back doesn’t mean it’s not an important muscle group!

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Here are some key reasons you need to incorporate dedicated back training:

  • Prevent Injury and Back Pain: Having a strong back provides stability and can alleviate and prevent chronic back soreness or strains.
  • Improve Posture: Good back strength keeps you standing straight and tall. This makes you look more confident.
  • Enhance Athletic Performance: A strong back aids many sports movements from running to throwing to grappling.
  • Muscular Balance: Your back offsets chest muscles. If you only train chest, you risk muscle imbalances and poor posture over time.

Let’s now get into the top 3 exercises that will transform your back development...

#1 Deadlifts

Deadlifts are arguably the best back exercise period. They hit your entire posterior chain in one movement - lower back, glutes, hamstrings and more.

Here’s how to perform deadlifts with proper form:

  • Stand behind the loaded barbell with feet hip width apart. Hinge at the hips to grip bar just outside legs.
  • Keep back flat and engaged, chest up and shoulders pulled down and back.
  • Initiate the move by driving your heels into the floor, straightening your hips and knees until standing upright. Squeeze glutes at top.
  • Slowly lower bar back to floor with control, keeping lats tight.
  • Build overall mass and strength by doing 3-4 sets of 3-6 reps.

Be sure to keep your core very rigid and avoid rounding your back during this exercise.

#2 Pull Ups

Pull ups are the ultimate upper body back exercise. They target the lats, rear delts and other smaller support muscles along the spine.

Grip the pull up bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Keep body straight and abs braced to protect lower back. Pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar. Squeeze your lats and back at the top position.

Lower yourself back down slowly with control. Aim for 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps. Too hard? Use an assisted pull up machine to offset some of your bodyweight.

*Lat Pulldowns work just as good if you can't quite do a pull up

#3 Barbell Bent Over Row

Bent over rows are exceptional for building a strong middle back and upper back. They target the rhomboids, rear delts and trapezius muscles extremely well.

  • Hold barbell with a shoulder width, overhand grip.
  • Hinge at hips, back flat and engage core. Let barbell hang directly below shoulders with arms straight.
  • Initiate row by driving elbows back, pulling barbell straight into lower chest.
  • Slowly lower back to arms extended position with control.
  • Build strength with 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps. Increase weight gradually each session.

Maintain excellent brace and body positioning throughout - don’t round back or excessively arch.

Bonus: Iso-Holds for Back Pain Relief

Got back pain? Try this simple 2 part exercise prescribed by back pain expert Dr. Stuart McGill:

  1. Lay on ground, legs bent with feet flat. Cross arms with hands on opposite shoulders.
  2. Curl up just enough to create a small space between your lower back and the floor.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds breathing deeply, then lower back down.
  4. Repeat for a series of 8-10 reps, ensuring your back feels relief.

*Can be done on a decline bench or GHD

This movement relieves pressure and strains on the lumbar spine to alleviate pain.


A muscular, strong back improves performance, posture and appearance. It also helps mitigate back injury or discomfort.

Implement deadlifts, bent over rows and pull ups into your program to build a complete back. Aim for 3 workouts per week hitting 6-15 quality reps on most sets.

Pay attention to form, safety and controlled motion. Gradually increase weight used over time.

With dedication your back will transform out of sight!

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FAQ Section

What exercises target the lat muscles effectively?

Lat pulldowns are a cornerstone for building a wide back, particularly focusing on the lat muscles. For a more effective back workout, incorporating a wide grip can significantly enhance lat activation.

This adjustment shifts the emphasis towards the outer lats, contributing to that sought-after strong V-shape back.

How can I improve my upper back strength and size?

To foster both size and strength in the upper back, integrating exercises like single arm dumbbell rows and pull-ups proves indispensable. These back exercises engage major muscles, including the erector spinae and scapula, to build muscle mass efficiently.

Emphasizing the lower traps and shoulder blades during these movements can yield a stronger back and a more pronounced muscle definition.

What's the significance of the McGill Big 3 in back training?

The McGill Big 3, formulated by back pain expert Dr. Stuart McGill, is pivotal for enhancing core stability and mitigating low back pain.

These exercises fortify the lower portion of the back, creating a stable foundation that supports a strong back. Implementing these into your routine can lead to a significant reduction in discomfort and a notable improvement in back development.

Can wide grip exercises enhance back workouts?

Yes, wide grip variations, such as wide grip pull-ups and lat pulldowns, are instrumental in developing a broader back. This approach targets the lats more intensely, aiding in achieving a strong V-shape back.

The wide grip also engages the lower traps and helps in pulling the shoulder blades down and back, essential for a healthy scapula movement and overall back muscles strength.

What are the benefits of incorporating single arm exercises into my back routine?

Single arm exercises, like the single arm dumbbell row, allow for unilateral training that can address muscle imbalances and enhance muscle coordination.

Focusing on one side of the back at a time ensures that both sides of your body are equally strong and developed.

These exercises also improve muscle mass and ensure the effective back development by isolating and targeting the lat muscles and lower portion of the back.

How does building a stronger back contribute to overall fitness?

A stronger back not only improves posture and appearance but also lays a solid foundation for athletic performance.

It supports a wide range of movements, from lifting to running, by providing stability and power. Strengthening the back muscles, particularly through effective back exercises, can alleviate and prevent low back pain, contributing to a healthier, more active lifestyle.

What role do starting positions play in maximizing back workouts?

The starting position of any back exercise is crucial for targeting the right muscles and preventing injury.

For instance, maintaining a slight curvature on your lower back and sticking your chest out can enhance the engagement of the back muscles during a lat pulldown or barbell row.

Adjusting your torso back around 30 degrees while pulling the weight towards your torso optimizes muscle activation and contributes to a more effective back workout.

How do back exercises prevent low back pain?

Exercises that focus on the back, especially those included in the McGill Big 3, strengthen the lower back and improve the curvature of your lower back.

This not only aids in developing a strong back but also plays a significant role in mitigating low back pain by enhancing the stability and flexibility of the lower portion of the back. Regular back workouts ensure that the erector spinae and lower traps are strong, reducing the risk of injury and chronic pain.

Implement these strategies in your back workout routine to ensure comprehensive back development, targeting both size and strength for a healthier, more powerful back.

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My Personal Experience with Back Workouts

The Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown has been a game-changer in my journey towards achieving a strong V-shape back. I learned early on that palms facing away and hands spaced out at a distance slightly wider than shoulder-width allowed me to engage my back muscles more effectively.

The key to seeing results was focusing on the negative parts of the movement, ensuring my arms extended in front with control and my back arched in a neutral position. This technique added mass to my back and sculpted my physique with a wide and powerful look.

Building Size and Strength

Building size and strength in the back isn't just about lifting heavy; it's about the right movements that target the major muscles. I discovered that keeping my leg back slightly and bringing my torso back around to maintain a stable posture significantly improved my lift efficiency.

This approach, especially during exercises like deadlifts, not only helped me gain size but also ensured my back was strong and resilient, proving that a strong back will help stabilize your entire body during both workouts and daily activities.

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Top 3 Exercises

The trio of three exercises that transformed my back includes lat pulldowns, deadlifts, and bent-over rows. Each targets different back muscles, from the lats to the lower back, ensuring a comprehensive workout.

Deadlifts, with arms close and back until lockout, taught me the importance of a strong foundation. Bent-over rows, where hands need to be spaced just right and the left arm supports on the knee, showed me how to add v shape and mass to my back.

These exercises proved that back exercises that will hit every part of the back are essential for balanced development.

Focus on Major Muscles

Focusing on the major muscles of the back has been crucial for developing both strength and aesthetics.

The reason I've selected cables instead of free weights for some exercises is their ability to maintain tension throughout the movement, helping to engage even the smallest muscles for a strong back.

This method ensures that looking at my back in the mirror doesn’t just reflect strength but also a physique a wide and powerful look, something I've aimed for since the beginning.

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Want a Stronger Back?

Want a stronger back? I found that consistency, proper form, and patience were my best allies. Starting with palms facing the correct direction during pull-ups or keeping my arms extended in front during lat pulldowns made a significant difference.

Remember, a strong back isn't just about lifting heavy; it's about engaging and developing all back muscles for a balanced and powerful upper body. And yes, a strong back will help not just in looking good but in feeling powerful and capable in every aspect of life.

Incorporating these insights into your routine can lead to remarkable improvements not just in your back's size and strength, but in your overall fitness journey.

Remember, every rep counts, and every set brings you closer to that strong V-shape back you've always wanted.

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  1. “Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review” published in PLOS ONE. This systematic review analyzes the literature concerning studies which have investigated muscle activation when performing the Deadlift exercise and its variants.
  2. “The Deadlift and Its Application to Overall Performance” by Matthew R. Wenning, MS. This article provides a few key tips on how to perform the deadlift more efficiently and safely.

Bent-Over Row:

  1. “How to Do the Bent Over Row: Muscles Worked and Variations” by Healthline. This article explains the proper form to decrease the risk of injury and the benefits of bent-over rows — like better posture and trunk stability.
  2. “How to Do a Bent-Over Dumbbell Row: Techniques, Benefits, Variations” by Verywell Fit. This article targets upper and middle back muscles, including the trapezius, infraspinatus, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, teres major, and teres minor.


  1. “How to Perfect Pullups, Their Benefits, & More” by Healthline. This article explains why pull-ups are a challenging upper body exercise and the muscles it works.
  2. “Effect of Different Types or Warm Up on Pull Ups” by ResearchGate. This study analyzes the effect of the four types of warming up methods on the pull-ups performance.

For More Training Advice + Diet and Lifestyle visit us RIPL Fitness

PS: Make sure you check out the rest of our Back Training Guides:

10 Best Kettlebell Back Exercises & Back Workout

5 Best Calisthenics Back Exercises + Calisthenics Back Workout

5 Best Lower Back Exercises + Best Back Exercises Machines

Top 10 TRX Exercises To Build A Stronger Back

10 Best Resistance Band Back Exercises + Back Workout

11 Best Landmine Exercises For Back & Upper Body

15 Best Smith Machine Back Exercises

10 Best Cable Back Workout Exercises