Back and Shoulder Exercises for Strength Conditioning

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We often take the strength of our back and shoulders for granted. Carrying, twisting, turning, lifting, and bending are greatly improved when we have strong and powerful back and shoulder muscles. Here's how to get them.

Check out 12 of the best.

Chinups, Pullups, and Reverse

Naturally, you get some arm muscle work with pull-ups, but the main muscle beneficiaries are the teres, rhomboids, and lats of the back. An underhand grip hits the biceps and brachialis arm muscles more, and the lats and teres of the back are more involved as well.

Lat Pulldowns, Reverse, and Variations

Pulldowns target the teres, and latissimus muscles for the most part, but the pulldown behind the head invokes the rhomboids better. Be careful when pulling behind the head that the cervical spine is not contacted.

Bent Over Rows

You get a lot of value for time and effort with this great exercise. Back, shoulder, and arm muscles are worked over. With a barbell, overhand grip hits the back mostly, while underhand grip gets the biceps and trapezius involved most. This is a most useful exercise. Don't leave it out, but remember to keep that back straight or a little arched (not curved).

T-Bar Rows

If your gym has a T-bar machine, don't neglect it. Similar in effect to bent over rows, T-bar exercises give your back, shoulders, and arms a great going over. You may notice a standing machine or one with a bench for abdominal support.

Seated Cable Rows

The machine allows you to pull against an adjustable weight as you slide along a frame. Keep those shoulder blades pressed together and it's a useful exercise for the back muscles and the posterior deltoid of the shoulder.

One-Arm Dumbbell Rows

Do this one kneeling or leaning on a bench with one knee and lifting a dumbbell in a rowing motion with the other arm. You get nice work on the back and some activity on arms and rear shoulder muscle.


The best compound exercise you can do, the deadlift hits more muscles than any other single exercise except for the Olympic lifts. The back gets a good working over, and, as you might expect, including the important lower back muscle the Quadratus lumborum.

Back Extensions

Find the back extension machine in the gym and use it regularly to strengthen the lower back and the butt and hamstrings. Back extensions are much overlooked and can be very useful, especially in strengthening that all-important posterior chain.

Barbell and Dumbbell Shrugs

Shrugs get the trapezius muscles at the top of the spine around the neck activated. You can do this with dumbbells hanging at the side - just shrug the muscles up and down -- or use a shrug machine for the purpose.

Seated Front Dumbbell Press

Put some work into all three shoulder deltoid muscles with the front overhead press. Sit on a bench and push dumbbells alternatively overhead.

Bent Over Lateral Raises, Dumbbell, or Pulley

Keep the back straight, but bend over and raise the dumbbells (or pulley weights) to the side like a bird opening its wings. Hits the deltoids and the back. You can also do lateral raises standing upright and involve the trapezius more. Either way, don't overdo the weight on this exercise or your shoulders might complain.

Dumbbell Front Raises

More isolation exercises for the shoulders. In the front raise, you lift dumbbells straight out in front, alternately. You get the front and middle deltoid and some chest muscles as well. Keep the weight light to moderate.