How to Build Back Muscle

Whatever shape you are trying to achieve in your body; an hourglass shape or broad shoulders, training the back is a major part of creating that shape. The back is a large area on the body with lots of muscles, so building this area of the body is important for spine mobility and overall health.

Back Anatomy

The muscle of the back include the trapezius (upper/middle back), rear deltoids (upper arm/upper back), rhomboids (upper back), the lats, rotator cuff muscles, and the spinal extensors. The spine is responsible for flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral flexion. Each vertebrae of your spine articulates with each other, corresponding ribs, and the upper ribs articulate with the scapula.

Back Workouts For Muscle Growth

Here’s a list of movements that build the back the most.


Even if you can’t do a full pull-up, training on the movements to get you there will produce some serious back gains. Pull-ups are performed with a pronated grip, with your palms facing away from you. They build muscle in your entire back, and help with building a wider back. Make sure you’re retracting and depressing your scapula prior to each pull-up rep. So, think about pinching your shoulder blades back and down. This is going to make the movement much harder, but you’re going to get the most out of your reps this way. If you want to learn movements that will get you to your first pull up, check out Episode 4 of the Stronger Than Your Boyfriend Podcast: Nailing Your First Pull-Up.


Chin-ups are performed with a supinated grip with your palms facing you. Just like pull-ups, you want to make sure you’re retracting and depressing your scapula prior to each chin-up rep. Becoming stronger at chin-ups will put a significant amount of muscle mass on your back. You’ll find you’ll likely feel stronger and be able to do more chin-ups than pull-ups. That’s because you can use your biceps to power the movement.

Row Variations

Rowing is a horizontal pulling movement. The best rowing variation is the single arm dumbbell row because it isolates the lats even though it’s more of a compound rowing movement. If your grip is giving out with this movement, try some straps. Or – try a basic barbell row: grab the barbell, hinge the hips in a bent over position, and pull the bar towards the sternum / belly button area – depending on your biomechanics. You can try phasing in and out of a supinated grip and pronated grip, which will focus on different muscles. You’ll be able to load the supinated grip row a tad more because you’ll have help from the biceps.

Other rows that are great to work with are a Meadows row, seal row, a chest supported DB row, a Pendlay row, inverted rows, and a T-bar row. Bodyweight rowing movements like ring rows help build strength with pull-ups too. If you want to try an inverted row, try doing it with a SMITH machine. You can also use a regular rack and bar to complete this movement.

Rear Delt Work

The upper back/traps/general scapula area all play into a well rounded, nice and muscular looking back, which requires rear delt/rhomboid work. Movements to isolate and target this area are delt flyes with dumbbells, cable face-pulls, and trap 3 raises. for trap 3 raises, set up your bench at an incline and grab some very light dumbbells or plates (you can even just work with your bodyweight) and lift your arms to a stacked overhead “I” shape position – driving the biceps by the ears. Prior to each rep, think about pinching the shoulder blades back and down to reinforce a scapular retraction and depression. Just that small tweak in the exercise will help the back get strong. Shrugs and carries are also great exercises to work the traps.

Kneeling Reachbacks

Thoracic mobility work is a great back builder as well. You can use some thoracic mobility movements as primers prior to training your back and/or add them in towards the end of the workout. Training your Thoracic mobility will allow you to train with a bigger range of motion, which will result in greater strength and muscle gains. Try kneeling reachbacks. Start in a half kneeling position, point your thumbs up towards the ceiling, and reach back to the wall behind you. Try to contract your upper back as hard as you can. Arching scapula pull-ups are a great movement to work with as well. Arching scapula pull-ups are a progression of regular scapula pull-ups that allow for a bigger range of motion by arching your upper back and bringing the chest up towards the bar as you pinch the shoulder blades back and down. This movement is great for strength and mobility and to add in as you work towards building strength for your pull-ups and chin-ups.

How To Structure A Back Workout

Movements like pull-ups and barbell row variations can lend themselves fairly well to the lower rep range/higher loading phases. But movements like lat pulldowns and other accessory type movements lend themselves to a slightly higher rep range so you can maintain form throughout. This is a common theme for movements in general – compound movements can be trained (and should) in all rep ranges, but isolation movements will work better for higher rep ranges.

When structuring your workouts to target a particular area, prioritizing a certain muscle group doesn’t mean you aren’t going to train other muscle groups, however, taking some volume away from the other muscle groups so you can focus on adding more for the back for example, is a smart and healthy way to build muscle.

Here’s an example of how you could structure your back exercises (this is in addition to your other movements for the day):

Day 1:

Pull-ups or Pull-up Eccentrics

Single Arm Dumbbell Row

Bent Over Flyes

Day 2:

Barbell Rows

Weighted Pullovers

Band Lat Pull Downs

Day 3:

Pendlay Rows

Meadows Rows

Seated Cable Rows

** You can keep this program with these exercises for 3-4 weeks in a specific rep range, then phase into the next set of rep ranges with the same exercises, and so on. Remember these are in addition to your other training movements, but you’ll need to take volume from somewhere to prioritize three pulling movements a day.

Recovery days: Light thoracic mobility work to help stimulate the muscles: kneeling reachbacks, T-spine openers on the foam roller, light band face pulls, and band lat pulldowns are a few of our favorites. Remember to keep the intensity VERY MINIMAL.

Final Thoughts On How To Build Back Muscle

Even if you aren’t focusing on building your back, you should be incorporating pulling movements into your routine. Try to incorporate a pulling movement into every single training session. Building your back properly can give you some incredible results. Especially for your overall spine health and posture.

You can checkout our Youtube channel for tutorials on all the movements we mentioned in this blog and check out our library of over 750 videos of movement tutorials, Q&A’s, fitness programing and so much more.

Want to learn more about how to strengthen your back? Check out episode 102 of the Stronger Than Your Boyfriend Podcast: How to Build Series: Back

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