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How to Build Back Muscle

back muscles

The Back Muscles

First, let's list the muscles of the back.

  • Trapezius
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres Major
  • Teres Minor
  • Rhomboids (not shown) - but located below the infraspinatus and used in pulling actions.
  • Spinal Erectors - lower back muscles responsible for keeping the spine erect.

Back Muscles are Often Neglected

The back muscles are part of your core muscle group and are responsible for your overall strength and well-being. Despite this, the muscles of the back are often neglected by bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. Perhaps it is because people can't readily see their back and so it is forgotten. Or maybe the back muscles are often neglected because the exercises needed to strengthen them aren't as easy or as apparent as those needed for strengthening the arms and chest. In addition, most back exercises require some sort of equipment to perform them and maybe this is what deters people from working out their back muscles.

There are many benefits to working out your back muscles. One of these is an increase in overall strength since your core is strengthened. The other is a benefit to your appearance. Strong back muscles improve posture and give you an overall more youthful and althletic appearance. Strengthening the back muscles also improves bone density, which is important for both woman and men. And, most importantly, you are less likely to injure a strong back than a weak one.

Back Exercises

T Bar Row

The You Tube video below shows someone performing t-bar rows and he also makes a good case for why it is important to work out your back muscles in addition to your arms and chest.

The t-bar row is an effective back muscle builder. You can find a t-bar station at most gyms, but this exercise can also be performed at home using a barbel with a weight on one end. Be sure to stabilize the other end of the barbel (the end without the weight) against a wall or some other stable surface. However, with this method you won't be able to use a wide grip as he does in the video above.

Chin Ups / Pull Ups

soldier performing pull ups on bar

Most bodybuilders will agree that chin ups or pull ups are the best back exercise. While this is true, the problem is that a lot of people are too weak to do pull ups or they don't have a pull up bar. Most gyms will have a pull up station and it probably won't be crowded either because pull ups are hard!

You can buy over the door pull up bars for about 20 dollars, but I've never felt entirely safe using these. Many people use them with no problems but I've just never felt they were sturdy enough.

Sometimes you can find alternative places to perform pull ups, such as on monkey bars or even a sturdy swing set pole, or even a really sturdy tree branch.

Inverted Rows

There is another back exercise available for those of you who can't do pull ups. It is the inverted row, sometimes called inverted pull ups. This is a body weight only exercise in which you lay on the floor and pull yourself up on a bar. See you this is performed in the video below:

I really like this exercise because it works out the back and arm muscles, but isn't impossible to do, like regular pull ups are for many people. When performing this exercise be sure that the bar is near your chest after you've pulled yourself up. If you don't belong to the gym and work out from home you can buy an inverted row bar at for home use:

You can buy one of these from Amazon here:

And yes, I do receive a commission if you buy one of these through this link, but I have used this and feel it is a worthwhile product.

I bought one of these in 2013. I am still using this 5 years later. It is very easy to assemble and use. However, don't expect the exercise to be really easy to perform at first. I could only do 6 inverted pull ups per set before my muscles gave out when I first started. There is a weight limit of 300 pounds.

Lat Pulldowns

woman about to perform lat pulldowns at gym

Lat Pulldowns are my favorite back exercise. They aren't as effective in building up the lats and upper back as pull ups, but they are much easier and, unlike pull ups, almost everyone can do them. You'll need to go to a gym for this one, unless you have a lat pulldown machine at home.

The photo on the right shows a woman at a lat pulldown machine. To perform this exercise you would grip the bar as she is doing, and then slowly pull the bar down either toward your chest or behind you head. Many people ask whether it is best to pull the lat bar to your chest or behind your head. I believe pulling the bar to your chest is safest and best because there have been reports of injuries in people who pull the lat bar down behind their head. Also, you wouldn't see someone doing pull ups behind their head and so my opinion is that pulling the lat bar to your chest is best since the lat pulldown targets the same muscle group as pull ups.

Back Exercises You Can Do From Home

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a gym or a pull up bar. Luckily, there are many good back exercises you can do from home using just a couple of dumbbells, or a barbel with weights. The video below will show you some back exercises you can do from home using just a couple of dumbells and a bench. In addition to the exercises in the video below, you can also do t bar rows from home if you have a barbel and weights.

If you have a pull up bar you can do those from home. Also, inverted rows can be done at home with the inverted row bar (from the work horse video) as described earlier in this article.