Back Exercises

The Best Exercises for a Complete Back Workout

The back is comprised of four distinct muscle groups. Here's how to zero in on each one.



Edgar Artiga

The back isn't only one of the body's biggest and strongest body parts, it's also the most complicated in terms of being a series of interconnected muscle groups. For the purposes of this feature, we're dividing the back into its four main regions:

  1. Upper and outer lats 
  2. Lower lats
  3. Middle back
  4. Lower back

Each area requires specific stimulation via the exercises and angles of attack used, and we'll show you the two best exercises for each.

With this menu you can customize your own workout by choosing one exercise from each category to create a total program. Or if one region is lagging, you can pick additional movements that hit that area only. Either way, fully understanding which back exercises hit which portions of your back will allow you to build shape (in particular the V-taper), thickness, and width.

Note: Many of the exercises we include here do not isolate, but rather emphasize, certain areas of the back musculature.

Area 1: Upper/Outer Lats

Use moves in which you utilize a wide grip, typically outside your shoulders, which develop the area that makes up your V-taper. You'll usually pull from an angle above your head or perpendicular to your body.

Best exercises: Pullup (wide grip), Bentover Barbell Row (wide grip)

Pullup (wide grip)

  • Grasp the bar with an overhand grip. Fully extend your arms and relax your shoulders to stretch your lats in the bottom position.
  • As you pull up, visualize keeping your elbows out to your sides and pulling them down to raise yourself while contracting your lats.
  • Pull yourself up as high as possible to fully stimulate your lats.
  • If you can't make it all the way up, consider enlisting the help of a spotter or use an assisted pullup machine.

Target tip: To really stress the upper/outer lats and teres major in the bottom position, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you hang with your arms fully extended.

Bentover Barbell Row (wide grip)

  • Don't stand on a flat bench or platform to increase your range of motion; you're more likely to round your low back at the bottom. If you do need greater range of motion, use smaller plates to allow you to clear the floor rather than trying to balance yourself on a flat bench.
  • Using a wider-than-shoulder-width grip allows you to keep your elbows out to your sides and pull them back as high as possible for a full contraction.
  • Keep your knees bent and remain in the bent-over position throughout. It's easy to rise from this position when using heavy weights, but that recruits other muscle groups to assist in the move.

Target tip: To target those outer lats and teres major, pull the bar high toward your upper abs.