December 10th, 2018
Faith Leatherman

The 5 Best Exercises To Build A Strong, Lean Back

For more fitness information and inspiration follow Faith on instagram – @faithlfit

Our backs are extremely complex and are composed of many different muscles, so many in fact that they are separated into three different groups. These groups are:

  1. The superficial layer
  2. The intermediate layer
  3. The deep layer

Even though we have all these muscles in our backs, often times, especially for women, we tend to forget to include them in our workouts.

The spotlight is often on having tight abs, a lifted butt, or toned arms… however having a strong, defined back is sexy too!

One of the many reasons building that back is important is that having wider lats (latissimi dorsi), mid area of back located directly under your shoulder blades, can make your waist appear smaller and give off a curvier look.

So, here are my favorite back exercises, what each of them works, and how to perform them!

Warm-up or Burn Out: Pull Ups

pull ups
Pull-ups are an overall great body weight exercise, but using a wider grip will help to engage your lats!

To begin, you grab the bar with an overhand, wide grip. Then, without kicking your legs or moving the rest of your lower body, you pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.

These are very difficult, especially for beginners, so using an assisted pull up machine can be helpful in learning the motion and gaining the necessary strength.

Exercise 1: Traditional Deadlifts

Deadlifts are a very versatile exercise and can be used to work numerous different muscles, across multiple parts of the body. They are an exercise were like squats, your entire body is engaged and working.

Deadlifts are often associated with legs, but are awesome for strengthening your whole back as well.

When using deadlifts to work your back, you want to position yourself bending at your hips over the bar. Your knees will be slightly bent and your hands will grip the bar about shoulder width apart.(your grip may differ).

You want to make sure your core is tight and back straight, because if you arch your back and attempt to muscle up too much weight, you can severely injure yourself.

Then, keeping the bar close to your body all the way up, you pull up from your hips until you are standing straight with your shoulders back.

Exercise 2: Lat Pulldowns

lat pull down
Lat pulldowns work not only our lats, but also the middle and lower trapezius (which forms a V, triangle shape from our neck down to our middle back).

To do a lat pulldown you grip the bar and slowly pull it down to your chest, while leaning back slightly. There are many different grips you can use for this exercise, but the wide grip pulldown (pictured) is the most basic.

You could also try an underhand grip, parallel grip, or a narrow grip to name a few.

Exercise 3: Rows (T-bar/Landmine, Seated)

landmine rows
Like lat pulldowns, rows can be performed multiple different ways. Rows mainly work your middle back (middle and lower trapezius) but also engage your rhomboids and lats as well.

The T-bar, or landmine row is one of my personal favorites (pictured above). For this you can either use the T-bar or landmine unit, or if your gym doesn’t have one, like mine, you can set up your own.

Above you can see that I used a standard bar, a plate weight, and a V bar. You grip the V bar and begin with a straight back and bent knees.

Remain in this position and you pull up from your back. You want to make sure you don’t lift up from your knees or arch your back to avoid injury.

Also, you want to imagine that you are pinching your shoulder blades together and pulling up from your back, rather than utilizing your biceps.

Another form of rows is the seated row. (pictured below) This can be performed with different grips as well, such as, a V bar grip, underhand, or overhand.
seated rows

In the image, I am using an underhand grip. For this you want to sit on with your knees slightly bent and your back leaning back.

Next, you need to pull back, once again pinching your shoulder blades to engage your back, until the bar reaches your chest. A few other types of rows are bent over barbell rows, seated one arm rows, or bent over one armed dumbbell rows.

Exercise 4: Straight Arm Pulldown

straight arm pull down
Straight arm pulldowns are great for working your lats, rhomboids, and teres major muscles(located between your shoulder and elbow on your back). These also engage your triceps and posterior deltoids.

To perform these you need to start by gripping a straight bar, standing with your feet shoulder width apart. Then you pull straight down towards your pelvis, bringing your shoulders back to pinch the blades together. You don’t want to confuse these with tricep extensions because your elbows should not bend in this exercise.

Exercise 5: Face Pulls

face pulls
Face pulls are my favorite exercise to burn out a good back day with. These work your rhomboids and posterior deltoids(rear shoulder), so they can also be used on days you work on shoulders!

To complete a face pull you begin by holding the ends of the ropes on the outside. Next you pull back, separating the ropes towards either side of your face.

With these, like many other exercises we discussed, you want to pinch your shoulder blades together as if you were trying to hold a pencil in between them to really hit that middle back.

Building a strong, lean back

faith leatherman back
Hopefully you now have some awesome, new exercises to try out the next time you go to the gym! Working out your back is incredibly important, and not something you want to skip out on.

Having a strong back is not only beneficial for aesthetic reasons, but is also vital to help correct your posture and can make everyday tasks easier.

Working on and loving your whole body is essential. Don’t get caught up in fads or trends that tell you, you cant be strong or powerful. Having a flat tummy and perky butt is nice, but they aren’t the only parts you need to focus on. Now go and build that back!

Faith Leatherman

Faith is a 20-year-old, college student, from Chicago. She is currently in the process of obtaining her certifications in personal training and nutrition. She is finishing her degree in creative writing and is incredibly passionate about health and fitness. She hopes to inspire and help others through fitness and push people to be the happiest, healthiest versions of themselves! Follow Faith on Instagram (@faithlfit)

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