10 Best Middle Back Exercises (For Strength & Mass Routines)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: July 18, 2024
FACT CHECKED by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
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As a professional coach, I always encourage my clients to perform exercises that target the middle back, as it gives all the other back muscles a boost in size and strength.

It is critical to learn about the best middle back exercises and how to perform them before heading to the gym.

In this article, I cover the anatomy of the middle back, why your mid back is weak, the best exercises you can do, and the benefits of training the middle back muscles.

Keep on reading.

Quick Summary

  • The 10 best middle back exercises recommended include Seated Chest Supported Row, TRX Inverted Row, Seated Cable Row, Bent-Over Barbell Row, Pull-Ups, Band Pull-Aparts, Seal Row, Face Pulls, Pendlay Row, and Meadows Row.
  • These exercises focus on strengthening the middle back muscles, crucial for maintaining proper posture and shoulder function.
  • According to the Frontiers in Nutrition, a protein intake of 1.6g to 2.2g per kilogram of body mass is recommended for optimal muscle growth​​.
  • In my opinion, a balanced approach combining these exercises with adequate protein intake is key for effectively building and maintaining middle back strength.

Best Middle Back Exercises

A person performing middle back exercises

1. Seated Chest Supported Row

You can do the chest-supported row on a chest-supported row trainer or a cable machine with an incline bench (sit facing the back support).

Regardless of your variant, the idea is that your chest remains fixed to the pads as you pull.

Limiting support and momentum allows you to concentrate on the mid-back muscles for increased growth and strength.

In my experience, the chest-supported row really isolates the mid-back, especially when I use the cable machine with an incline bench.

How to perform:

  • Sit on the equipment with the bench and pad set so the chest is against the pad and the arms are extended while holding the handles. Keep in mind that you can utilize a myriad of grips (and attachments if using the cable machine).
  • Ensure your feet are safe.
  • Keep your shoulders down and your chest high throughout the exercise.
  • Push the shoulder blades together and extend your elbows as far as possible.
  • Slowly straighten your arms and repeat for the required number of repetitions.

2. TRX Inverted Row

While the barbell inverted row fixes your grip into underhand or overhand, the TRX row is a superior alternative, especially for those with elbow concerns.

It offers varied grips - underhand, overhand, or neutral - allowing angle adjustments for targeted mid-back exercise.

The TRX's inherent instability demands more effort from muscle groups to stabilize your position, enhancing the workout's effectiveness.

How to perform:

  • Hold the TRX handles in a neutral, under, or over grip and hang down exactly underneath them.
  • Form a straight line by squeezing your glutes and engaging your upper back.
  • Bring your body up towards the handles just under your chest and take a moment to breathe.
  • Lower yourself back down slowly until your hands are straight.
  • Return to your starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

3. Seated Cable Row

A person doing a Seated Cable Row

From my coaching experience, the seated cable row has proven effective for clients at all fitness levels.

It has a basic yet efficient cable machine that gives the lifter continual resistance.

The center of resistance on the machine is also positioned to row toward the abdomen, making it ideal for hitting the middle back.

How to perform: 

  • Sit on the sitting row machine and hold the handle.
  • Put your legs on the station and lean back on the bench until the feet are nearly straight.
  • Sit tall and firm, with your chest out.
  • Pull your shoulder blades backward and the handle towards your waist to start.
  • Pull until the elbows are 90 degrees bent.
  • Gently return the cable to its starting position.
  • Repeat for reps.

Read more: Machine High Row Alternative

4. Bent-over Barbell Row

The bent-over barbell row is contentious, with some instructors advising against it.

When done correctly and with moderate weight, it is a wonderful middle-back exercise that most individuals can perform safely.

How to perform:

  • Grasp and hold a barbell using an overhand, wider-than-shoulder-width grip. Draw your shoulders back and down, tighten your core, and gently bend your knees.
  • Lean forward from the hips, almost level with the ground. Let your arms hang straight from the shoulders.
  • Bend your hands and row the barbell up and into your chest without engaging your legs or back. Keep your elbows aligned with your shoulders and your shoulders back.
  • Stretch your arms back to the starting position and repeat.

5. Pull-ups

A woman doing a pull up

The pull-up is regarded as one of the greatest all-around back builders accessible in the gym.

This exercise has long been utilized to build a robust middle back, core, and body.

Pull-ups have always been my go-to for an all-around back workout, significantly enhancing middle back strength.

How to perform: 

  • Position yourself directly beneath a chin-up bar.
  • Reach up and hold the bar with an overhand grip broader than shoulder-width apart.
  • Begin by moving your shoulder blades forth and back.
  • Lift your body to the chin-up bar until it touches your collarbone.
  • After you reach the top, slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

6. Band Pull-Aparts

The band pull-apart is the most convenient home workout plan for your middle back.

This is a fantastic posture workout; anyone who lifts weights should do it a few times weekly.

Perform this motion between repetitions of bench presses or while warming up your upper body. You can perform sets of pull-aparts to break up extended periods of sitting.

How to perform: 

  • Take an overhand, shoulder-width hold on your resistance band. Lift your hands in front of you so that your hands are about shoulder level. Lift your shoulders back and down.
  • Spread your arms wide and stretch the resistance band across your chest.
  • Return to your starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  • By adjusting the angle of your hands and extending the band diagonally over your chest, you may train your rhomboids from various angles.

7. Seal Row

A person doing seal row

The seal row is an outstanding middle-back builder.

The exercise demands you to lie facing down and lift the barbell actively off the floor, which is an excellent posture for targeting the middle back.

In my training sessions, the seal row has always been effective for targeting the middle back directly.

How to perform:

  • Put up a flat seat or bench with a base beneath each stand.
  • Put a barbell exactly beneath the bench.
  • Lay face down on the seat or bench, with your face on the bench's head.
  • Take an overhand grip on the barbell somewhat broader than shoulder-width apart.
  • Begin by pulling the barbell up toward your torso by retracting your shoulder blades.
  • Row until the elbows are 90 degrees bent.
  • Return the bar to its starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

8. Face Pulls

The face pull is a fantastic mid-back workout.

It is also excellent for the posterior deltoids.

How to perform:

  • Connect a rope hook to a cable pulley set to around chest height.
  • Stand with your legs hip-width apart and use a neutral grip to hold both sides of the handle. If required, position one foot in front of another for balance.
  • Bend your arms and draw the rope toward your face, engaging your rear deltoids as you pull the handle ends apart, keeping the elbows level with your shoulders.
  • Straighten the hands and repeat for the required number of reps.

9. Pendlay Row

A woman doing a Pendlay Row

This barbell workout, also called dead-stop rows, is popular among Olympic weightlifters, who utilize it to correct any middle and upper back weakness.

Because of the dead stop between repetitions, you should be able to do this exercise comfortably with medium to heavy weights.

Having integrated Pendlay rows into routines, I've noticed significant improvements in mid and upper back strength.

How to perform: 

  • Begin by placing your bar on the ground. Stand with your legs hip-width apart and your toes underneath the bar.
  • Knees slightly bent, flex your hips forward, and bend over until the upper body is level with the floor.
  • Grasp the bar with an overhand grip that is slightly broader than shoulder-width.
  • Tuck the chin in and stretch your neck; do not allow the lower back to curve or elevate your head to glance forward.
  • Brace your abs, drag your shoulders back and down, and pull the weight into your belly.
  • Tuck your upper arms nearer to your sides. Throughout, the upper body should be stationary.
  • Drop the barbell to the floor, reset your core, and repeat.

10. Meadows Row

The Meadows row is the more complex form of the single-arm row.

This version enables you to go heavy and hard to improve side imbalances and increase muscle in your mid-back, forearms, and biceps.

The Meadows row targets the difficult-to-reach lower traps, resulting in equal back development.

How to perform: 

  • Stand staggered with the front leg side on to the weight and raise the hip nearest to the barbell.
  • Bend forward and use an overhand grip to hold the end of the barbell.
  • Place your non-working hand on your front leg.
  • Pull with your elbow behind you as you retract your shoulder blade.
  • Pull your elbow towards the back hip until it is aligned with your body.
  • Lower your back slowly until your hand is straight.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Middle Back Anatomy and Function

Graphic of middle back anatomy

The muscles between the shoulder blades are referred to as the middle back. These are your rhomboid (major and minor muscles) and your middle and lower traps.

They are engaged in shoulder and scapula mobility, and their flexibility and strength will keep your upper back and shoulders healthy.

During my coaching career, I've emphasized to my clients the importance of understanding the middle back's anatomy.

These muscles are:

1. Trapezius

This is the substantial kite-shaped muscle in your upper back, often called the trap. It extends from the bottom of your head to the center of your spine to your shoulders, based on the study published in PubMed [1].

The trapezius muscle comprises three fibers: lower, middle, and upper. Each pair of fibers has a particular function.

The upper traps pull the shoulders higher in a movement known as shoulder girdle elevation. In comparison, the lower traps pull the shoulders downward, known as shoulder girdle depression [2].

The mid-traps, on the other hand, function with the rhomboids. In collaboration with them, the mid-traps draw the shoulder together and back in a movement known as shoulder girdle retraction [3].

Also Read: Middle Trap Exercises: Work Your Trapezius

2. Rhomboids

A person showing his rhomboid

The rhomboids, consisting of major and minor types on both sides, connect the scapula to the thoracic spine.

Although not large, these muscles are crucial for upper back structure and function, ensuring the shoulder blades stay flat against the ribs, according to the National Library of Medicine [4].

3. Posterior Deltoids

Though not part of the middle back, the posterior deltoids are often engaged in exercises targeting the rhomboids and mid-traps.

Most mid-back routines involve movements that work the rear delts through external rotation and shoulder extension.

Therefore, a comprehensive middle back workout inadvertently benefits the posterior deltoids, which is advantageous given their role in a balanced upper back strength.

Why Your Middle Back Is Weak

A person with a weak back

I've observed many clients initially overlook their mid-back, focusing instead on more visible muscles., a phenomenon that leads to underdevelopment and muscle imbalances. Understanding common training errors, such as the lack of a mind-muscle connection or improper form, is crucial for effective mid-back development.

Apart from a lack of exercise, the most prominent reasons individuals have a feeble middle back, or one that is not performing to its full potential, are:

  • Inadequate exercise variety: You won't have a muscular back if you aren't doing rows.
    It is evident, yet that is not what we imply by this point. You must vary your training variables and do numerous horizontal pulls, often rows. Switch up your grip (neutral, underhand, overhand) and body orientation (sitting, bent over, upside-down, chest supported), and integrate some unilateral workouts to correct muscular imbalances.
  • Bad form: You should stop pulling with your arms alone and begin leading pulling workouts with scapula retraction. Let the shoulder blades do the work!
  • A weak mind-muscle connection: It's nearly hard to build a muscle you can't feel operating. This is referred to as your mind-muscle link. Some people "lose contact" with their muscles, unable to feel or control them adequately. Hence, even if you perform the right workouts, they may not generate the desired outcomes. A strong mind-muscle link lets you control the muscles at a whim, making every activity far more effective.
  • Prolonged sitting: Long periods of sitting, particularly hunching over a computer or screen, can strain and weaken the middle back.

"When you slouch, your back muscles and ligaments must work harder to balance you. Overworking these muscles might result in discomfort and a weak mid-back."

- Gregory Minnis, Doctor of Physical Therapy

Benefits of Training the Middle Back

A person with strong middle back muscles

When the mid-back musculature is developed, it looks fantastic and results in great-looking shoulder blades and back.

Apart from the aesthetic advantages, there are several important reasons to train the middle back.

1. Greater Strength

Exercising your mid-back is an excellent approach to improving your total strength inside and outside the gym.

I've seen firsthand how strengthening the mid-back can dramatically improve overall strength in my clients.

The region of the middle back is critical for keeping a neutral spine during numerous gym exercises, such as rows, deadlifts, and squats.

Keeping a neutral spine is essential because spine movement under load raises the likelihood of disc-related injuries.

We boost our capacity to isometrically tighten and hold the posture for the length of the lift by strengthening the middle back.

This builds a solid foundation, increasing our ability to lift.

2. Improved Shoulder Health

Working out or stretching out the mid back might benefit shoulder health.

Several middle-back muscle groups, such as the lower traps and rhomboids, play a significant role in shoulder position.

Middle back workouts include motions like shoulder blade retraction and downward rotation.

3. Excellent Posture

A person with excellent posture

The middle back is crucial for maintaining proper posture, involving muscles that facilitate spine movements like extension, rotation, and lateral flexion.

Poor posture often results in a tightened middle back, limiting motion range and potentially leading to issues like disc damage, neck pain, compromised shoulder function, and even breathing difficulties.

Enhancing the middle back has consistently improved posture in many of my clients.

"As we develop the middle back, we exercise muscles like the rhomboids, erector spinae, and lower traps, all of which help with function and posture."

- Ben Dillion, Bachelor of Health Science

4. Reduce Neck Pain

We can lessen neck discomfort by training the middle back.

Poor posture is frequently the cause of neck discomfort in people.

The problem is that in the lack of assistance from the middle back, the occipital and upper trap muscles must strain to maintain posture.

We keep the head from moving forward by engaging the muscle groups of the mid-back and maintaining proper posture.

The stress is distributed across the spine, decreasing tension on the pecs and upper trapezius.

Tips for Training Your Middle Back Effectively

A person showing his back muscles

Diversifying your middle back exercises is key to comprehensive muscle development. Different exercises target various sub-sections of the mid-back, helping to avoid imbalances and enhance overall strength, making it essential to incorporate a range of movements into your routine.

Also, remember these recommendations when you perform more workouts to strengthen your middle back.

1. Concentrate on Contraction

As we lift, it is easy to become preoccupied with lifting the weight instead of how the muscle functions.

Concentrating on muscular contraction strengthens the poor mind-muscle connection, narrowing in on our specific muscles and boosting their activation.

This enhances our outcomes and our capacity to employ them for further lifts.

Focusing on muscle contraction during lifts has been a game-changer in my coaching sessions.

2. Increase Your Protein Intake

Developing a strong back demands not only a surplus in calories but also a suitable protein consumption.

A protein intake of 1.6g to 2.2g for every kilogram of body mass is advised for muscle growth, according to the Frontiers in Nutrition [5].

This may be accomplished by eating protein-rich foods and taking protein supplements.

3. Sufficient Calories

A bowl of Sufficient Calories

As we begin a workout program to enhance muscle growth and strength, we must provide our bodies with adequate fuel.

Men should consume 2,500 calories daily, while women should consume 2,000 [6].

A calorie excess of 15% is recommended by science for muscle building. These statistics are modified to be 2,300 for women and 2,875 for men.

In my experience as a coach, ensuring a calorie surplus has been key for my clients looking to build strength in their middle back.

4. Retract Shoulder Blades

We should always retract the shoulder blades while targeting the back.

This is how the upper and mid back muscle groups are contracted.

This guarantees that we hit the target muscles with each repetition.

FAQs

How Do You Strengthen Your Mid-back Muscles?

You strengthen your mid-back muscles by performing workouts such as seated cable rows, one-arm dumbbell rows, and bodyweight rows that hit the mid-back muscles.

How Do You Build Middle Back Thickness?

You build middle back thickness through compound exercises such as deadlifts, pull-ups, and bent-over rows that make a thicker and stronger back.

What Muscles Support the Mid Back?

The muscles that support the middle back are the middle and lower trapezius, and rhomboids.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30085536/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5383413/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23916077/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534856/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6710320/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499909/
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About The Author

Senior Coach
Connor Sellers holds a degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from Rutgers University He is an author and personal trainer with the mission to inspire people to relentlessly pursue their fitness and lifestyle goals. He mantra is that staying fit has an overall positive effect on one’s body, mind, and spirit.
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James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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