If you take a look at previous Mr. Olympia’s, Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, and Phil Heath you will notice one common theme – incredibly built backs. Not  just in sheer size, but also thickness and detail displayed in their mid-backs. This truly sets them apart from the pack. Sure, there are other pro bodybuilders that can equal them in terms of massive back size and width, but not in that gnarly detail that makes their backs look like off road test tracks.

3 Reasons It’s Tough to Fully Develop the Mid-Back

1. We’re are not able to see our back while we train it. This can make it tough to forge that mind/muscle connection that can be so important in the quest to build truly carved muscle mass.

2. Many trainees are guilty of using very poor form while training their back. Instead of really trying to “feel” the stretch and squeeze of every rep, weights are jerked and pulled from point A to B by whatever means necessary. This can leave the back severely under-worked, under-detailed, and undersized.

3. It takes specific exercises, body positioning, and angles of pull to effectively target the mid-back area. Not every back exercise hits the middle/low trapezius and the rhomboids (which basically make up the “mid-back”) as effectively as it hits the lats. 

If none of the above applies to you, and you feel you are using good form, have total focus, and are choosing the right exercises, but still can’t get that mid-back up to par, then give the following 3 unique movements a try to build your mid-back.

The Moves

Behind Back Shrugs

Behind-the-Back Shrug

I learned this exercise by watching Lee Haney train during his Olympia years. I have seen a lot of guys do barbell shrugs behind their back, but never the way Haney did them. I personally feel that Haney’s consistent use of this movement was at least partially responsible for the great detail he showed in his rear, upper traps, and mid-back.

Stand in front of a loaded barbell and take a shoulder width grip. Lift the weight upward by performing a half shrug, half upright row, with the goal of getting the bar to about the height of your low back. To get the bar to this position you might have to slightly arch your back as you lift the weight, which will help you clear your rear end. Keep your lower back muscles tight to avoid injury, and make sure to get a good squeeze at the top. This exercise can be performed on a Smith machine as well.

Seated Cable Row with Rope

Use a rope attachment at a seated cable row station. Position yourself on the bench with your knees slightly bent and your torso vertical. Pull the rope toward the neck as you bring your elbows up, out to the sides and back. Make sure the upper arms remain parallel to the ground to effectively activate the mid-back musculature, while minimizing lat recruitment. Before initiating each rep, allow the mid-back to stretch by keeping the torso vertical, and simply releasing the shoulders forward. Squeeze the shoulder blades together tightly at the peak contraction point.

Bent Lateral Dumbbell Raise

This exercise is not only excellent for mid-back detail and development, but for beefing up the rear delts as well.

Bend over at the waist so that your torso is basically parallel to the ground. Make sure there is a slight bend in the knees to take some pressure off the low back. Pick up a pair of light dumbbells and allow them to hang down in front of you. With your arms almost completely straight, raise your arms out to the sides in a path that is perpendicular to your torso. At the peak of the movement your elbows should be at shoulder height, and you should aggressively squeeze your middle back. This is not an exercise where heavy weight should be used, or form will be compromised. This movement can be performed seated, standing, lying face down on an incline bench, and on certain chest flye machines.

The Workout

Behind Back Shrug…2 x 7-9

Rope Seated Cable Row…2 x 10-12

Bent Lateral DB Raise…2 x 13-15


Eric Broser is a lifetime Drug free Bodybuilder and has been involved in the health and fitness industry in just about every facet for over 24 years. he has penned over 200 articles on training/supplements/nutrition, and has authored four books on the subject of rapid and effective physique transformation. Eric is the pioneer of the world-renown POWER, REP RANGE, SHOCK training method and is one of the most sought after­ personal trainers/contest preparation coaches. Learn more about Eric here, or visit his facebook page.