The Best Exercises
to Keep Your Back Muscles Strong!

It is important to keep your back muscles strong and well-conditioned in order to prevent lower back problems and to assist your weight-loss efforts as well. Since your back is made up of a group of muscles, it is important to select a range of back exercises in your back workout in order to target each of the individual muscles and also to maximise your results.

Since many people experience lower back problems at some stage during their life, it is important to include lower back exercises as well. These exercises will help to strengthen the lower back muscles that and support the lumbar vertebrae.

Gym Workouts

There are 4 back muscles or groups of backs muscles that we should target when we prepare a back workout.

The Back Muscles Are As Follows:

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)

Trapezius (Traps)

Erector Spinae Group


Each of the back muscles (or group of muscles) has a number of functions/ actions so it is important to select exercises that incorporate all the actions or functions of the muscles in order to maximise the number of muscle fibres being stimulated during the back workout. We will list the actions of each of the back muscles and will only include the actions that relate to exercises in a back workout.

For example, one of the actions of lats is to medially (internally) rotate the upper arm, but there is not conventional gym exercise that incorporates that movement so that action will not be included. We will also mention the location of the muscles as well.

Here are the actions and locations of the back muscles as well as the exercises that incorporate each movement:

The lats are located on the lower middle and side of the back. They are sometimes referred to as 'wings'. They originate from the lower parts of the spine, ribs and top of the hip bone and insert into the front part of the upper arm. The functions/ actions of lats include:

  • Adduction of the arm- pulls the arm towards the mid-line of the body. This movement is performed by wide-grip lat pulldowns.
  • Extension of the arm- pulls the arm backwards. This movement is performed by seated rows, barbell rows, dumbbell rows, pullovers and close-grip lat pulldowns.

  • Traps
    The traps are located around the upper back area. They originate from the base of the skull and the spinous processes of all cervical (neck) vertebrae and thoracic (rib cage) vertebrae. Then, the trapezius muscle inserts into the outer part of the clavicle and the spine of the scapula. When you consider the movements that the traps perform, it is easy to separate the muscle into 3 sections: upper, middle and lower. The functions/ actions of the traps include:
  • Elevates the scapula and clavicle (upper portion)- lifts the scapula and clavicle upwards. This movement is performed by shrugs and upright rows.
  • Retracts the scapula (middle portion)- pulls the scapula towards the spine. This movement is performed by seated rows, barbell rows, dumbbell rows and lat pulldowns.
  • Depresses the scapula (lower portion)- pulls the scapula downwards and inwards towards the spine. This movement is performed during the initial phase of lat pulldowns.

  • Erector Spinae
    The erector spinae group of muscles run up the entire middle of the back either directly on the spine or just next to it. Each muscle originates below it's insertion point which means that when it contracts it extends the spine. From an anatomical position (standing upright, arms by your side with palms forward) the erector spinae muscles (as it's name suggests) cause the spine to become erect. The lower part of the erector spinae group support the lower back. Therefore, lower back exercises are important to keep this group of muscles strong. The primary function of this group is to:
  • Extend of the spine- straighten the back. This movement is performed by seated rows, deadlifts, hyperextensions

  • Rhomboids
    The rhomboids are located underneath the trapezius muscle between the spine and the scapula. They originate from the spine and insert into the inside (medial) border of the scapula. The functions/ actions are to:
  • Retract the scapula- pulls the scapula towards the spine (mid-line) of the body. This movement is performed by seated rows, barbell rows, dumbbell rows and lat pulldowns.
  • Elevates the scapula- lifts the scapula upwards. This movement is performed by shrugs and upright rows.

  • When performing your back workout there are a number of important points to keep in mind. Firstly, make sure you learn how to perform each of the back exercises correctly before you perform the back workout.

    Here is a video that features images from the book, Strength Training Anatomy, 3rd Edition. It covers some of the back exercises and the back muscles that they work:

    If you would like to discover how to perform each of the exercises correctly, I recommend getting a copy of Strength Training Anatomy, 3rd Edition.

    It is also a good idea to structure the back workout in such a way so as to lessen the impact of your biceps and forearms, which are a 'weak link' in many back exercises.

    If you would like to find out more about how to structure your workouts correctly, read the article, How to Structure Your Workout Routines.

    If you don't have any shoulder problems then it is also worthwhile performing some 'pullovers' in your back workout. The pullover exercise is considered to be the 'upper body squat' because it works so many muscle groups in your upper body. Some people include it in their chest workouts as opposed to their back workouts but I recommend including them in your back workout simply because of the benefits they offer.

    Firstly, they work the lats because they incorporate the movement of extension of the upper arm. Pullovers also give the lats a great stretch, and stretching a muscle against resistance is a great way to break down muscle fibres and stimulate muscle growth. Also, pullovers work the lats without using the 'weak links', i.e. biceps and forearms.

    By having an understanding of how your back muscles function and by learning how to perform the back strengthening exercises correctly, you will be able to develop a back workout that will successfully help you strengthen your back as well as boost your metabolism so you can burn off body fat faster!


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