The best exercises for building a stronger back

Get rid of back fat, improve your posture and build muscle with these back exercises.

Amanda Capritto
3 min read
woman doing pull-ups in a gym
Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

If you want to lose back fat, there's something you should know: There's no such thing as spot reduction. While it's definitely possible to lose back fat, a better goal is to strengthen your back or learn how to do a pull-up. (Trust, learning how to do a pull-up is so gratifying -- and it'll help tone your back. Win-win.)

Building a stronger back will help you lose back fat without focusing on the aesthetic aspect, and you'll enjoy the health benefits of building muscle and establishing an exercise routine. As a bonus, strengthening your back muscles may also improve your posture naturally. 

Read more: How to get rid of love handles

Best exercises to tone your back

The best back exercises are pulling movements, which means that your arms will always be moving toward your body. You can pull horizontally, such as with rowing movements, or you can pull vertically, such as with pull-ups. 

The following five exercises are some of the very best for strengthening and toning your back. You'll notice they all have one thing in common: They all involve your pulling muscles. 

Barbell bent-over row

The barbell bent-over row is a classic, simple, yet effective exercise to build muscle in your upper and mid-back. It aggressively targets your upper and mid-back, but also requires isometric contraction in your lower back. 

Try this: The effectiveness of this exercise depends entirely on the positioning of your hips, as random as that sounds. To get the most out of the bent-over row, practice your hip hinge. The hip hinge refers to the action of softening your knees and sending your hips backward. Try to create an upside-down "L" with your body. 

Wide-grip barbell row

This exercise uses the same exact setup as the bent-over row, except you'll widen your grip. Your grip should be wide enough that when you stand up, the barbell rests at your hip bones. By widening your grip on the bent-over row, you'll target your lats more significantly.

Try this: The wide-grip row is harder than the standard-grip row for most people. Start out with lighter weights and do a set of 10. Increase the weight if it feels easy and keep increasing until you find a weight that makes the last few reps feel extremely challenging. 

Pull-up (or modifications)

Some people love them; some people hate them. Pull-ups have a notorious reputation for being extremely challenging, even for intermediate to advanced exercisers. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to modify pull-ups so you can still achieve the same movement pattern and strengthen your back. If you practice consistently, you'll eventually be able to do a pull-up with no assistance, which is a major marker of back strength!

Try this: Modify pull-ups by doing jumping negatives (jump to get your chin above the bar and lower down slowly), using a band to offset the resistance of your bodyweight, or by reversing your grip so your palms face your head. 

Chest-supported row

Yet another row variation, the chest-supported dumbbell row takes all of the stress off of your lower back and hamstrings -- and places it all on your upper back. Most people find that they need to lower their weights for this movement because of the isolation element. 

Try this: Set up an incline bench so you can comfortably rest your torso on it. You might have to finagle it a bit to get comfy. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, start with your arms fully extended and squeeze your shoulder blades together to perform the row. 


No list of back exercises would be complete without the humble deadlift. A move that seems so simple on the surface -- pick it up, put it down -- the deadlift is actually rather complex and, if done improperly, dangerous. However, when performed correctly, the deadlift is superior for building muscle and strength in the lower and upper back, as well as glutes and hamstrings.

Try this: Practice the movement with an empty barbell. Send your hips back first, then bend your knees. Don't let your back hunch. When you stand up, focus on extending your hips and knees simultaneously. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.