Top 8 Best Back Exercises for Building Muscle

Our top 8 back exercises to include in your back workouts to build the muscle and strength you want.
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When you crack your exercise toolkit open each week on back day, you’ve got a seemingly endless array of movements available. Knowing which tools are best suited for building a wide, thick back will help you get the job done faster, which is why we’ve assembled our list of top 10 mass-building back exercises.

While head-to-head exercise comparison research is a bit limited in this area, we selected the following 10 exercises based on factors such as available literature, how difficult each movement is, how much muscle each stimulates, and how unique each exercise is compared to others. This list will also help you figure out where to place each exercise in your workout.

If you get bowled over by the sheer number of rows you can do on back day, or even draw a total blank when thinking of new exercises to try, consider this list your new back blueprint.

But don’t forget that picking great movements is only one part of building a huge back. Your overall program matters just as much! To see these moves put into action, check out the Bodybuilding.com BodyFit Muscle-Building Workout Plans, where there are killer back workouts from Kris Gethin, Jim Stoppani, and dozens of other elite lifters and coaches.

1. Barbell Deadlift
Why it’s on the list: This is technically more than a back exercise—it hits the entire posterior chain from your calves to your upper traps—but it’s the absolute best for overall backside development. Technique is uber-important with the deadlift, but once you nail it, you can progress to lifting monster weights that will recruit maximum muscle, release muscle-building hormones, and help you get big.

2. Bent-Over Barbell Row
Why it’s on the list: This is probably the second-best back movement in terms of sheer weight you can lift. EMG research has suggested that hitting bent-over barbell rows will work the larger muscle groups of the upper and lower back equally, making this a great overall back builder.[2] Like the deadlift, this is another technical move that requires excellent form but rewards you with a ton of muscle.

3. Wide-Grip Pull-Up
Why it’s on the list: It’s always a good idea to have an overhead pulling movement in your back routine, and the pull-up is one of the best. Wide-grip pull-ups are excellent for putting emphasis on the upper lats. A closer grip may allow for a longer range of motion, but it may be possible to load the wide-grip pull-up to a greater degree because of an optimized starting joint position. The biggest challenge here for most trainers is training to failure in the right rep range for growth, which is 8-12.

4. Standing T-Bar Row
Why it’s on the list: We selected the T-bar row over a chest-supported version because you can pile on much more weight here, even though that typically translates into a bit of cheating through the knees and hips. For some, maintaining a flat back can be challenging, in which case the supported version is a better choice.

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