Having impressive musculature in your back is the hallmark of those that really know how to train, but what’s even cooler is that having an upper-back means for health & performance.
Benefits Of Having Strong Back
- Decrease the risk of shoulder injury: The musculature of the upper-back helps restore natural posture and brings people out of internal rotation. Plus, the upper-back complex plays of a key role in keeping the most inherently mobile joint in the body – the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) remains centered which means the ball & socket will have more surface area contact.
- Performance: Having a strong back will translate to better pull-ups, a better bench press, and a better deadlift. The upper-back plays key roles in assisting with all three of these movements. The upper-back acts dynamically with the pull-up and more so isometrically with the bench press and deadlift.
- Aesthetics: Having a well-developed back is the hallmark of a great physique and athleticism for both males and females.
One caveat, we did NOT include variations like banded pull-aparts, facepull aparts, and pulldowns – we are assuming you’re likely already using these variations as either finishers or activations drills.
#7 Seated Cable Facepulls
Clearly, facepull variations are a staple to train external rotation and counteract everyday postures most find themselves in.
With the seated version and the cable being set lower you’ll an increased degree of external rotation needed to perform the movement.
As a result, loading capacity is lower and skill requisite is higher.
3 x 12-15
#6 Supported 1-Arm Dumbbell Rows
This is one that will likely be on any list when discussing back training. The one-arm supported DB row is an incredible tool for developing a strong, resilient back. It may seem simple to most but this exercise is still routinely butchered and can end up doing more harm than good.
Often times we see people rowing the DB straight up and down and an anterior translation (rolling forward) of the humerus, this is no bueno and will ultimately cause anterior shoulder pain.
Instead, begin the row by pulling the scapula back and down, packing the shoulder into a good position.
Think about driving your elbow back behind your body, pulling the bottom of the DB into the hip crease and contracting the lats hard. Return the DB to the starting position without losing tension in the lats.
3-4 sets of 10-12
#5 V-Handle Lat Pulldown
When writing this article, we wanted to add variations that did not require any special equipment to be more inclusive to our readers, however, we simply could not leave the Lat pulldown and specifically the V-handle pull down off of our list.
Where we do love almost all variations of the cable pull-down; the V-handle holds a special place in our hearts though.
The closer proximity of your grip combined with higher loading capabilities as opposed to a wide grip pull down proves to be a devastating combination and will leave you having to walk out of the gym sideways.
3-4 sets of 12-15
#4 Supported Elbow Out Landmine Row
This variation is one that can be done in any setting with just a barbell, even if you don’t have a landmine attachment. Simple wedge a barbell into a corner and get to work. Set yourself at about a 45-degree angle to the bar, grip the end of the bar a few inches down from the top.
As you row, your elbow should be flared out to the side at about a 45-degree angle to your torso. You will be surprised at how soul-crushing these can be.
3-4 sets of 10-12 per side
#3 Inverted Rows Variations
Feet elevated or not these will light your upper back on fire. Whether with a pronated or supinated grip you are bound to get an amazing pump from these bad boys.
This is one of our favorites for sculpting a ripped upper back and a great way to hammer the posterior delts in the process.
You will need to stay tight from the midline down to ensure you are getting the desired intent of the exercise.
Squeeze the shoulder blades back, drive the elbows behind you until your chest touches the bar/rings, and return to the starting position under control.
Stop humping the air while you do inverted rows.
3-5 sets of 12-15
#2 Chest Supported Row Variations
As you can see, there are a number of great variations to train the musculature of the back. However, most variations have some aspect that can allow for cheating reps with unwanted momentum or just simply breaking down in form.
In comes the chest supported variations; these variations are one of, if not the best way to isolate the upper back and lats. Not to mention they are much harder to do wrong.
Initially, you will most likely have to reduce the load you would typically use for a non-supported row but you will quickly see that it won’t as much weight for these.
4-5 sets of 10-15
#1 Neutral Grip Pull-ups w. chains
This is an incredible variation that allows people to work with accommodating resistance adding the most amount of resistance at the top of the pull-up.
Of course, the neutral grip pull-up can be performed with straight weight or band tension, the chains provide a new level of novelty which the upper-back thrives on.
Give this a try:
Rep of 10-8-6-4-2+
*Add one chain each and go for a max AMRAP on the last set.
Many make the mistake of prioritizing vertical pull variations over horizontal but this is a mistake – take the take to develop your back and all of your performance metrics not mention your posture will be rewarded!