Fitness | Total Shape

The Best Back Exercises for Men
5 Workouts to Build Thick, Wide, Lats

Spread Your Wings: Back Training Unravelled
Isaac Robertson
Written by Isaac Robertson

Over the course of this article we’re going to explain why you might not have seen the kind of back development you’ve been looking for so far, and provide you with some essential solutions to make the changes you need.

You’re certainly not alone in your pursuit of a finely carved set of “wings” - this is one of the most sought after aspects of any physique and it can be very tough to develop.

A great deal of back development relies on having a strong mind-body connection, as this is going to ensure that you use the appropriate body positioning to achieve maximum results when performing an exercise.

It’s understanding this positioning that typically holds so many people back in the pursuit of a well developed back - even after several years worth of training, some people still aren’t completely “in tune” with their lats and how to engage them.

Anatomy of the Back Muscles

Before we start, let’s review the muscles we need to develop.

The back is made up main muscles:

  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) - This is considered to be the “main” back muscle and it helps to create the wide appearance that’s become so vital to the aesthetic make up of any would be physique model.
  • Trapezius - There are actually ”middle” and “bottom” sections to the traps that you’ll need to target if you want to ensure your back is as fully developed as possible. This will help to add “depth” and create “thickness.”
latissimus dorsi
  • Teres Minor And Major - These muscles are sandwiched in between the lats and rear deltoids. They actually help to form the upper “half” of the “wings”, establishing the wing like shape which we all recognise as being so desirable.
  • Rear Deltoids - This area is important in adding depth and width to the back - remember that this muscle extends out and represents the furthest extremity of the back due to the distance from shoulder to shoulder being greater than the distance from lat to lat. When fully developed, it will greatly enhances your overall back width.

​You should be working out your back just as hard as your front, and dedicating just as much time and effort to the things you can't always see.

​Tony Gentilcore, Men's Health

12 Best Back Exercises

These exercises are literally some of the absolute best out there for creating the most incredibly developed back possible.

You’ll need to include them all as part of your back routine on a regular basis, or at the very least, ensure every back muscle area is targeted during your workout.

These exercises will effectively target the areas. Note that the upper traps will be integrated slightly but this area may be better focused on shoulder day.

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Middle and lower trapezius
  • Teres minor and major muscles
  • Rear delts

1. Deadlifts

Areas Covered: Upper, Middle And Lower Trapezius, Teres Major And Minor, Latissimus Dorsi, Glutes, Hamstrings

You may be thinking isn’t a deadlift a leg exercise? Well, kind of. It heavily involves the glutes and hamstrings as assistor muscles, though primarily it’s the back that serves as the driving force behind the movement as a whole. [2]

For any women reading, you may be worried about performing the deadlift being that many females (and males) regard it as being a waist “thickener” - don’t worry though as this is a myth and the exercise is truly essential for your development in a number of areas, not least the back.

deadlift

How-To: start with the bar at ground level and proceed to place the body in a seated position by bending the hips and knees to 90 degrees. Now place your hands on the bar just outside of shoulder width with a grip of your preference. Proceed to pull the bar up and away from the ground whilst keeping the back straight until the bar rests at hip level, then return it to the ground before repeating the movement.

You may also like our article: how to get thicker legs.

2. Wide Grip Chin-Ups

Areas Covered: Latissimus Dorsi, Rear Delts, Trapezius, Teres Minor And Major

A well-executed wide grip chin up will not only integrate the latissimus dorsi when performed effectively, it also targets all aspects of the traps and teres array.

How-To: Find a pull up bar and grab it with a double overhand grip just outside of shoulder width apart. Bend at the elbows whilst elevating the body and pulling the chin towards the bar.

Wide Grip Chin-Ups

Now, extend the arms and return to the starting position but without touching the floor and ensure a slight bend is kept in the elbows at all times.

3. T-Bar Row

Areas Covered: Middle And Lower Trapezius

How-To: To perform a T-bar row, grab the row handles with a double overhand grip just outside of hip width apart.

Proceed to lower the upper body until it reaches a 45-degree angle, and then with the arms outstretched, pull the bar into the stomach (just below the sternum) by bending the elbows to a 90 degree angle.

Extend the arms and return to the starting position before repeating the movement.

T-Bar Row

4. Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

Areas Covered: Rear Deltoids, Middle Trapezius, Teres Major

How-To: Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at hip height then proceed to lean the upper body forwards to a 45 degree angle.

Outstretch the arms in a double neutral (palms facing each other) grip, before raising the dumbbells backwards and away from the body until they are in line with the shoulders.

Keep your back straight throughout the movement - proceed to return the arms to the starting position and repeat the exercise.

Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

5. Dumbbell Pullover

Areas Covered: Latissimus Dorsi

How-To: lie flat on the back and elevate a dumbbell above the body - hold it in line with the head by stretching the arms out and grabbing the base of the top section of the dumbbell with a “diamond” shaped grip so that both palms are facing outwards towards the ceiling around the central handle.

Now proceed to stretch the arms backwards and away from the body whilst lowering the dumbbell until it is in line with the top of the head, then return to the starting position and repeat the movement.

Dumbbell Pullover

​A study has also been conducted by NCBI in which they discovered that the pectoralis major is also improved when doing pullovers. [1]

6. Seated High Row

Areas Covered: Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major And Minor

How-To: Sit on the high row machine and grab both handles with a double underhand grip.

Proceed to pull the handles towards the armpits whilst keeping the shoulder blades tightly pinched together.

 Return the arms to the starting position and repeat the movement.

Seated High Row

7. Seated Middle Row

Areas Covered: Teres Minor And Major, Latissimus Dorsi

How-To: Sit completely upright and grab both handles with a double overhand grip.

Proceed to bend at the elbows until they reach 90 degrees and bring the handles back towards the body until they rest just in front of the armpits.

Extend the arms and return to the starting position before repeating the movement.

Seated Middle Row

8. Underhand Barbell Row

Areas Covered: Teres Minor And Major, Latissimus Dorsi

How-To: To perform this exercise, grab a barbell with a double underhand grip just outside of your hip width. Proceed to bend the upper body forwards to a 45 degree angle whilst keeping the back straight and the legs totally still.

From here, stretch the bar out in front of the body, and proceed to bend the elbows whilst pulling the bar up to the stomach. From here, extend the arms and return to the starting position before repeating the movement.

Underhand Barbell Row

9. Seated Lat Bar Row

Areas Covered: Teres Minor And Major, Trapezius

How-To: first attach a lat bar (a bar featuring a singular neutral grip handle at each end meaning the palms face each other throughout the movement) to the seated row machine.

Proceed to sit and grab each lat bar handle with the arms fully outstretched, then bend the elbows whilst bringing the bar into the body just below the sternum until both elbows reach a 90 degree angle. Extend the arms and return to the starting position before repeating the movement.

Seated Lat Bar Row

10. V-Bar Seated Rows

Areas Covered: Middle And Lower Trapezius, Rear Deltoids, Teres Major And Minor

How-To: For this movement you will need to attach a “V” bar to the seated row machine. From there, start with the arms outstretched with both hands firmly gripping the handle, then proceed to bend the elbows and bring the bar into the body (just below the sternum.)

Extend the arms and return to the starting position before repeating the movement.

V-Bar Seated Rows

11. Reverse Pec Deck Flyes

Areas Covered: Rear Delts, Teres Major, Middle Trapezius

How-To: Sit on a pec deck facing inwards, and grab both handles whilst stretching the arms out in front of the body. Proceed to extend the arms and stretch them out by the side until they are in line with the shoulders (the body should be in a crucifix position.)

Return the arms to the starting position and repeat the movement.

Reverse Pec Deck Flyes

12. Face Pulls

Areas Covered: Rear Deltoids, Upper Trapezius, And Middle Trapezius

How-To: Start with a cable pulley set roughly two notches above the middle setting, and attach a cable rope handle.

Now grip the rope at each end with a double overhand grip and proceed to bend the elbows whilst pulling the middle of the rope towards the face until it rests roughly one inch short of making contact.

From here, return to the starting position and repeat the exercise. Ensure your shoulder blades are tightly pinched together throughout the movement.

Face Pulls

Pro Tip: Do drop sets for increased results. Read all about it here.

5 Best Back Workouts for Any Goal

Man showing his back muscle

These workouts are going to deliver the back results you’re looking for regardless of your current training goal.

Simply follow these back workout routines and remember to vary the rep and set counts being used at least every two weeks should you choose to perform the same routine a few weeks running.

You’ll also need to completely change the exercise order to keep your body guessing.

Workout #1. General Mass Building

All exercises to be performed for between 6-8 reps unless stated otherwise for a total of 3 sets each with a 120 second rest period in between sets.

Focus on performing a 3 second negative (on the way down), 1 second hold (at the bottom) and 3 second positive (on the way up) count for each movement.

The exercises are as follows:

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    Wide grip chin ups 3 x 6-8 reps
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    Deadlifts 3 x 6-8 reps
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    Seated mid row 3 x 6-8 reps
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    Seated V bar row 3 x 6-8 reps
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    Face pulls 3 x 6-8 reps
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    Dumbbell pullovers 3 x 6-8 reps
general mass building for back

Ensure you fully stretch the back at the end of your session to avoid blood pooling.

Workout #2. Back Isolation And Toning

​This routine is designed to help in the development of the general muscle tone in the back area and further develop the foundations created by exercises such as the deadlift and chin up.

All exercises to be performed for between 10-12 reps unless stated otherwise for a total of four sets each with a 60 second rest period in between sets.

Focus on performing a 3 second negative (on the way down), 1 second hold (at the bottom) and 3 second positive (on the way up) count for each movement.

The exercises are as follows:

  • Seated high row 4 x 10-12 reps
  • Dumbbell pullovers 4 x 10-12 reps
  • Underhand barbell row 4 x 10-12 reps
  • Seated lat bar row 4 x 10-12 reps
  • T-bar row 3 x 10-12 reps
  • Pec deck reverse flyes 3 x 10-12 reps

Ensure you fully stretch the back at the end of your session to avoid blood pooling.

Workout #3. Back Strength Development

This workout routine is going to send your level of back strength skyrocketing within a short time frame provided you perform all of the below exercises with perfect technique.

All exercises to be performed for between 3-5 reps unless stated otherwise for a total of five sets each with a 240 second rest period in between sets.

Focus on performing a 2 second negative (on the way down), 1 second hold (at the bottom) and 2 second positive (on the way up) count for each movement.

The exercises are as follows:

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    Deadlifts 5 x 3-5 reps
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    Weighted chin ups 5 x 3-5 reps
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    Underhand barbell rows 3 x 6-8 reps
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    Dumbbell pullovers 3 x 8-10 reps
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    Dumbbell reverse flyes 3 x 10-12 reps
deadlift demo

Ensure you fully stretch the back at the end of your session to avoid blood pooling.

Workout #4. Machine Based (General Development)

This routine is for those who struggle with their body positioning on some of the free weight movements and need the assistance of machines in order to avoid back pain and injury (especially in the lower back.)

All exercises to be performed for between 8-10 reps unless stated otherwise for a total of four sets each with a 90 second rest period in between sets.

Focus on performing a 3 second negative (on the way down), 1 second hold (at the bottom) and 3 second positive (on the way up) count for each movement.

The exercises are as follows:

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    Seated high row 4 x 10-12 reps
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    Seated mid row 4 x 10-12 reps
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    V bar cable rows 4 x 10-12 reps
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    Face pulls (seated if need be) 3 x 10-12 reps
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    Reverse pec deck flyes 3 x 10-12 reps

Ensure you fully stretch the legs at the end of your session to avoid blood pooling.

mid seated row

Workout #5. Endurance & Conditioning

​This back workout routine is for improving the endurance of the back and assisting with its overall conditioning - this in turn will also impact muscle tone.

All exercises to be performed for between 15-20 reps unless stated otherwise for a total of five sets each with a 30 second rest period in between sets.

Focus on performing a 2 second negative (on the way down), 1 second hold (at the bottom) and 2 second positive (on the way up) count for each movement.

The exercises are as follows:

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    Deadlifts 3 x 8-10 reps
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    Dumbbell pullovers 5 x 15-20 reps
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    Underhand barbell row 5 x 15-20 reps
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    T-bar row 5 x 15-20 reps
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    Face pulls 5 x 15-20 reps
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    Reverse dumbbell flyes 5 x 15-20 reps
Dumbbell pullovers

Ensure you fully stretch the back at the end of your session to avoid blood pooling.

These back routines will provide the blueprint you need to follow in order to create the most amazing back possible.

Follow these workouts, incorporate all of the exercises listed and above all else perform every single one of them in accordance with the tips listed at the beginning of this article.

3 Common Back Training Mistakes

newbie in the gym

Where most people struggle really isn’t with their exercise choice, it’s instead their positioning whilst performing said exercises. [3]


It’s not uncommon for a trainee to not fully “feel” their back engaging for quite some time during the initial months of their back training, and this can continue for several months (or even years afterwards.)


As a result, back day can become one of those “back burner” training days that neither excites nor inspires you to put your best into the session.


So... here are the 3 main mistakes we commonly see with beginners. 

1. Shoulder Position: Pinch The Blades!

You need to say the phrase “pinch the blades” to yourself at all times whilst performing a back exercise.

This simple but highly effective integration will make all the difference in the world in regards to effectively feeling your back muscles work.

It’s also important that we state something perhaps obvious - if you’re not feeling the area, you certainly aren’t integrating it to its fullest extent, as you should be.

Man is pinching the shoulder blades

Squeeze your shoulder blades together tightly when performing them - this will help to expose the lat muscles, thus indicating that you’re targeting them.

When you perform a back movement without making this one small change, your shoulders actually completely take over and almost entirely negate your back integration.

It’s these little details that make a world of difference.

2. Not Locking the Hips

Man showing his back muscles

In conjunction with your shoulder blade position, you’re also going to have to keep a keen eye on your hips too.

The muscles you target when training your back almost seamlessly flow into your glutes and hamstrings - this makes it all too easy to fire off your hips to get the weights up when things start to get a little difficult towards the last few reps of a set.

If you’re serious about building the best back possible, you’re going to have to keep your hips locked in position and ensure your shoulder blades are tightly pinched back at all times.

This is largely going to rely on dropping your weight volume down, and that’s a good thing - it means you’ll grow.

This is one of those instances where you’re going to need to swallow your pride a little and go back to the drawing board if you want to make the kind of progress you should have by now.

3. Lack of Variety

What If My Body Positioning Is Already Great, What Else Am I Missing?

One of the most common mistakes made with every muscle group is a lack of variety - not only with rep ranges and sets, but exercise choices too. [4]

No two sessions should ever look the same on paper if muscular growth is your primary goal.

​If you’re performing the same session plan two weeks in a row, ensure that you change the order of exercises and rep count being used.

Either that, or completely change the exercise choice.

man confused

It doesn’t matter how you play with these variables, but one element that is going to be crucial is that you cover every area of the back successfully throughout your session. Provided all areas are covered and you’ve adhered to the above variables; you’ve nailed a successful back session.

Other posts you may like:

BEST BACK EXERCISES: The Bottom Line

Whilst you won’t know absolutely everything there is to know about training the back just by reading this guide, you now have more than enough material to go out there and tackle your next back session on the right track.

What are your favourite back training exercises? Do you have any tips you’d like to share with the community?

If you feel that this article helped open your eyes in regards to some of the mistakes you were perhaps making with your own training, please share this information with as many people as possible on social media - you could play a huge part in their future back progression.

Go out there and enjoy your next back session.


References

1. Marchetti, P. H., & Uchida, M. C., Effects of the pullover exercise on the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi muscles as evaluated by EMG, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21975179

​2. Schlinger, Amy, What Muscles do Deadlifts Really Work Anyway? Retrieved from https://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/a25346774/what-muscles-do-deadlifts-work/

​3. Harper, Leila, How Bad Posture Can Make the Best Workout Fail, retrieved from https://www.active.com/fitness/articles/how-bad-posture-can-make-the-best-workout-fail

​4.​ Men's Journal, The 8 Worst Training Mistakes That Will Limit Your Back Gains, retrieved from https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/8-worst-training-mistakes-will-limit-your-back-gains/

About the author

Isaac Robertson

Isaac Robertson

I’m a personal fitness trainer and nutritionist living in sunny Indianapolis, IN. I’ve spent the last 8 years staying at the forefront of the health and fitness industry. In that time, I’ve helped hundreds of people shed the excess weight and get into shape, maintaining their healthy new lifestyle through proper training and eating habits. You can read more about me here​.

  • Looking for the some of the best back exercises for men and I stumbled upon this article. Will add these to my bodybuilding workout routine.

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