The Top 3 Back Exercises for Size and Strength

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Apr 19,2024|15 min| 2591

Build the ultimate cobra back with simple and effective exercises

When it comes to your training routine and really focusing on some of the most important muscles that you can build to have the best aesthetics, many times people think of the chest, the biceps, and the triceps. They want to have their shirts be so tight around the arms and chest, but neglect some of the most important muscle groups to build up, one of those being the back muscles. The back makes up for a lot of thickness and width to a person’s physique, giving the v-taper appearance and helping to fill out shirts. However, the back muscles are also a big part of daily functionality, making them crucial for any type of training whether you are training to be a bodybuilder or a strength athlete such as a powerlifter, or you just want to be healthy.

Now, there are a variety of different back exercises that you can do, but if you are looking to add on some serious size and strength, what are the best exercises? We are going to take a look at the top three simple and effective exercises to craft a thick and wide back.

The Anatomy of the Back Muscles

When people think of the back muscles, they think that it is all made of just the lats, and all they need are some lat pulldowns combined with some pull ups and that is all, but there is much more to the back muscles than just the lats. The back muscles consist of the following: 

Latissimus Dorsi (lats): These are the muscles which help you to extend and rotate your shoulder and arm. They also are the muscles that give you a wider upper body and contribute heavily to the v-taper appearance.

Levator Scapulae: These muscles help to raise your scapulas (shoulder blades).

Rhomboids: The rhomboids are two muscles (the rhomboid major and minor) that work together to pull the scapula inward toward the spine.

Trapezius (Traps): The traps are more crucial for your body than just looking massive. They actually help you to move your body, raise your arms and have good posture.

Posterior Deltoids: The posterior deltoids, also known as the rear delt, help to stabilize the shoulders, and aid in proper posture by working alongside the muscles in your back to prevent your shoulders from hunching forward.

Now, a lot of people will group in exercises for the rear delts and traps with their shoulder day, which is fine, but there are still back exercises that can help to add some mass and functionality to those areas, enhancing the overall appearance and functionality of your back. 

The Best Back Exercises for Size and Strength

With that being said, let’s take a look at the best back exercises for size and strength. The Boostcamp team has hand selected these exercises based on simplicity, muscles worked, and functionality

Deadlifts

First on the list of the best back exercises is an exercise that can arguably be done on leg day as well, and that is the deadlift. However, deadlifts have some massive benefits for the back, so we are putting it on the list of best back exercises. We prefer squats as our main compound lifts on leg day anyway. Deadlifts have been used by bodybuilders and strength athletes alike, and for good reason.

Benefits to Muscle Mass

The deadlift not only works the lats, but also the entire posterior chain including rhomboids, rear delts, and traps. Being that it hits all of those muscle groups effectively, the deadlift is a great exercise to really add some mass to your back, truly building that thickness. It also will help to build thickness in other areas of the body, such as the forearms.

Strength Benefits

As far as building strength, the deadlift is the king of exercises. It builds strength in the legs, back, and arms, which can all transfer over to other lifts. For example, if you have strong legs, you will be able to do more on exercises like the leg press or the hack squat. Strong arms can help with other exercises that require grip and pulling motions. 

Risks

The deadlift is on the list of best back exercises for size and strength for some good reasons, but it does come with its risks. For example, if you go too heavy or use improper form, you certainly risk injury. Some tools to keep in your gym bag like a set of weightlifting straps and a lifting belt can help with this exercise.

Barbell Rows

Next on the list of best back exercises are barbell rows, another exercise aimed at building thickness and strength in the back. There are plenty of benefits to the barbell row, which is why it has been a favorite of many bodybuilders throughout history. It also helps to add some strength, which makes it popular amongst powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters.

Benefits to Muscle Mass

The barbell row makes the list for best back exercises, because like the deadlift, it works several muscles in the back. The barbell row allows for a good stretch to the lats, and with a good mind-muscle connection, you can get a great squeeze and really get that blood pumping and break those muscles down. Aside from the lats, it also hits the erectos fairly well, as well as the scapular stabilizers. Being that it hits all of these muscles fairly well, the barbell row is a great back exercise for adding some serious thickness.

Strength Benefits

The barbell row is great for building strength in the back, and movements like the deadlift, squat, bench press, and even overhead lifts all require a strong back. Not to mention, a big part of Olympic weightlifting involves the back, making the bent-over barbell row an excellent accessory exercise for all strength athletes.

Risks

Like the deadlift, there are risks involving going too heavy and improper form with the barbell row. Once you get to a heavier amount of weight, using equipment like a lifting belt could be a good idea.

Pull-Ups

Last on the list of the best back exercises is an exercise that can be done just about everywhere, and that is pull-ups. Pull-ups are great for developing the width in the back, hitting the lats hard and providing a great v-taper and improving the overall aesthetics. They are also a great functional exercise that can be done with minimal equipment.

Benefits to Muscle Mass

Pull-ups provide muscle to the lats, the area that really makes you look wide. The lats help to provide the v-taper shaper that many bodybuilders desire. Aside from working your lats, pull-ups target and sculpt your shoulders (rear delts primarily), forearms, and chest (that is why people do pull ups as a warm up before benching). When pull-ups are properly performed, they also activate your abs, which makes them a great exercise for targeting many of the major muscles in the body, and adding some major muscle mass to those areas.

Strength Benefits

Pull-ups used in both strength and hypertrophy programs, as they truly help to strengthen the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, erector spinae in the thoracic region, levator scapulae, as well as the infraspinatus. 

Risks

Unlike the deadlift and barbell row, you are not putting that heavy of a load on your spine and midsection, so there is less of a risk. However, it is always good to maintain proper form and really focus on getting quality reps in.

Benefits of a Strong Back

Having a strong and muscular back is not just for looking good and moving heavy weight, but it actually helps with everyday functionality.  A strong back will help to hold you upright and support your body more efficiently no matter what you are doing. This means that you can move with less effort and use less energy to do so, making it much easier to get around during the day. Also, strong back muscles can help you breathe better, which can help you think more clearly, and give you more energy to get through your day.

Where to Find Workout Programs

When looking for a program to use while you are trying to incorporate the best back exercises into your workout schedule, you can surely get a basic workout program from the internet. However, there are plenty of amazing workout programs available on Boostcamp to accompany your workout routine and help you make progress with your goals, such as cutting or bulking or maingaining. A good program will keep you on track, making sure that you are making the most gains and maximizing your time in the gym. If you are looking to stay on track and continue with linear progression, then finding a good workout program is the key. 

Boostcamp offers over 50 FREE workout programs that help with strength, hypertrophy, or functional fitness, or both, from the push pull legs program all the way to upper lower, there are so many programs to choose from that can help fit your needs. However, with Boostcamp, you don’t have to just follow a pre-written program (although each program is written by a professional), you also can create your own program as well, and track your progress to make sure you are on the right track. That being said, when you are looking to incorporate some serious training to further your progress with training, then check out Boostcamp.

Best Back Exercises Wrap Up

Overall, the best back exercises do not have to be these science based, “optimal” exercises. When it comes to building size and strength in your back, simplicity can be more effective than science based. Heavy weight, quality reps, intensity. 

Check out the Boostcamp App for some great programs. Also, be sure to follow Boostcamp on Instagram and subscribe on YouTube!

Images courtesy of Instagram (@dorianyates)