The only gym back exercises you need to build bigger back muscles

Which back exercises build the most muscle?

If you want to shape up and change your physique, you simply must train your back in the gym. When you think about it, your back is a huge part of your body. So why wouldn’t you give it as much attention as your chest, legs, arms or shoulders?

Your back is made up of lots of different muscle groups, and you need to train them all if you want to build muscle and shape up your back. Let’s look at the 15 best back exercises to hit every muscle group in your back – including the number one muscle-building back exercise of all!

Commonly Asked Questions On Muscle-Building Back Exercises

Which back muscles are we trying to build?

Before we talk about the best back exercises or how often to train your back muscles in the gym, we need to understand the anatomy of the back. Having a good understanding of the different back muscles will help you structure the best back training workouts to develop a strong and solid back.

What are the muscles of the back?

Your back is made up of lots of different muscle groups, but the main back muscles you should work in the gym are the latissimus dorsi (lats), rhomboids, trapezius (traps), erector spinae, and rear deltoids.

The lats are the big wing-shaped muscles that give your back that nice V-taper shape. The best exercises for the lats are vertical pulling exercises like pull ups and lat pull downs.

The traps run from your neck, across your upper back, and in a diamond shape down your spine, but the largest part of your traps are the upper traps. Target your traps with shrugging movements like weighted carries.

Your rhomboids run from your spine to shoulder blades and help build a thick, dense shape to your upper back. You need to do horizontal rowing exercises for the rhomboids.

Your erector spinae are the thick muscles either side of your spine which are important for back density. Target these with hyperextensions and weighted flexion like deadlifts.

How to plan your back workout at the gym

The best way to plan your back workouts is to think about all of those major muscles, and understand the way they work. Your back workouts need to include vertical pulls, horizontal rows, shrugging movements or weighted carries, and hyperextension movements.

How should you structure your back workout? You can either train the back muscles by themselves in dedicated back sessions, or train back with another body part. If you’re wondering what you should train together with back, we would advise the classic back and biceps routine, or a pull workout which would cover all your pulling and rowing movements.

How often should I train back in the gym?

If you’re serious about building size, shape and muscle density in your back you need to hit those back muscles at least three times a week. This might sound a lot, but remember you can combine back exercises with other body parts, or you can do full body workouts.

Can you train your back three times a week? Definitely! Muscles need to be stimulated at least every 72 hours if you want them to grow. The back muscles are big and strong and will recover from this kind of training frequency.

What gym machines help shape your back

You don’t have to limit yourself to barbell exercises like bent over rows and deadlifts, or dumbbell movements like single arm rows and reverse flys to build a solid back. There are lots of gym machines that help shape the back muscles.

Find a gym near you that has a good selection like a seated row, plate loaded lat pull down, rear delt machine, and a cable station with plenty of attachments.

Best gym back exercises for the lats

Build width and density in your back with exercises that target the big latissimus dorsi (lat) muscles.

Lat pull down

This classic lat exercise is a perfect example of a vertical pull, where you reach up to stretch the lats and then pull back and down putting load onto the lat muscles.

Pull ups

Pull ups are very similar to a lat pull down, but use your own body weight to add even more stimulus. Get good at pull ups by learning to retract your scapula (shoulder blades) to initiate the pull before bending your arms.

Banded pull down

Pulling a resistance band to your hips with straight arms is a good choice of lighter lat exercises to warm up or as a high-rep finisher for back day or upper body pull day.

Best upper back exercises at the gym

These back exercises build enough muscle to shape and define your upper back muscles, including the rhomboids, traps, teres and rear delts.

Seated row

Use a pin-loaded or plate-loaded seated row machine to perform horizontal pulls, bringing your elbows close into your body to work your mid and upper back.

Barbell bent over row

The classic barbell bent over row can be done with overhand or underhand (supinated or pronated) grip to work slightly different angles of the big upper back muscles.

Single arm dumbbell row

Doing bent over rows with one dumbbell allows you to focus the work on one side of your back and perform tempo work for higher volume.

Face pulls

Face pulls with a resistance band, or a rope attachment on the cable machine, are a great way to work the smaller muscles of the rear delts for shapely shoulders.

Reverse fly

Use the pec dec machine, or lie facedown on a bench with dumbbells, to do reverse fly movements to target the small muscles of the teres and rear delts.

Good mornings

Barbell good mornings may feel like a hamstring exercise but they will work the erector spinae to give you a dense look (and a better posture).

Farmers carries

Any kind of loaded carry like Farmers carry, Farmers walk, or sandbag work will tax the upper back muscles and build functional strength and size.

Barbell shrugs

Classic barbell or dumbbell shrugs will work the upper traps to build undeniable back size and shape.


Bodyweight hyperextensions are an important art of a rounded back gym workout and will help you build a strong core.

Top 3 back exercises at the gym

So what are the top three back exercises – including the number one back exercise for overall strength, size, and mass?

Lat pull downs

Your back routine must include a vertical pull, and lat pull downs are easier to control ad load than pull ups.

Seated rows

We think plate-loaded seated rows are the best way to get heavy horizontal pulls into your back routine. If you can find a gym with a seal row set up, use that instead!


Are deadlifts for back or legs? The so-called King of Exercises is amazing for your entire posterior chain, including the hamstrings, glutes, and back. Make sure your back workout includes some kind of deadlift variation to fire up every back muscle from top to bottom.

Things to consider when doing back exercises at the gym

  • Warm up properly to prepare for lifting appropriately heavy weights
  • Think about horizontal rows, vertical pulls, and hyperextension movements
  • Mix it up with barbell, dumbbell, and machine exercises
  • Consider doing full body workouts or upper/lower splits so you can train back regularly

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