How to Develop Effective Back Workouts

A toned woman standing on the beach, seen from the back.
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Your back is a powerhouse that helps you perform many movements, protects your spine, and contributes to your posture. When back muscles are weak, it can lead to pain and stiffness. Choosing the proper back workouts and incorporating them into your exercise routine can help you build a stronger, fitter back. 

Understand Back Anatomy

If you don't know how the back is formed, you'll have a harder time designing workouts that bring out its potential. Your back is made up of three major muscle groups.

  • Latissimus dorsi is located on each side of your back and helps you extend, rotate, and pull your arms toward your body.
  • Erector spinae is made up of three muscles that run the length of your back from your neck to your fanny. The erector spinae is involved in flexion and extension of the upper body, as well as rotation.
  • Rhomboids (major and minor), also muscles known as your "posture" muscles, are located between the shoulder blades and aid in rotation, elevation, and retraction of the shoulder blades.

Benefits of Working Out Your Back

Your back muscles are involved in just about every activity you do each day, so they must be strong enough to handle all that work. Strength training your back muscles will add muscle mass to your upper body, which can help make your waist look smaller. Like your chest, your back is made up of big muscles that can handle heavyweight and, therefore, help you burn more calories.

Strengthening your back is essential for reducing the risks of pain and injury. The back muscles can become fatigued, and that's when poor posture and improper form can result in injuries. It's vital to increase muscular endurance and strength to prevent this.

If your back muscles are weak, your body will rely on the tendons and ligaments that connect bones for support and stability. This can lead to soreness and dysfunction. Having a stronger back can also improve your performance overall in your daily functioning, workouts, or sports.

The Best Back Workouts

Just as sets and rep ranges are determined by your goals, so are your exercise choices. Choose a mixture of different exercises to target your back from a variety of directions and make sure you vary your routine every 4-6 weeks to avoid plateaus.

Back exercises are divided into compound, multi-jointed movements, and isolation movements. The compound exercises activate all heads of a muscle emphasizing a particular head depending on the type of movement.


Compound, multi-jointed movements are those that work several muscle groups at once to perform the exercise. They are the basis of any properly designed strength training program as they most closely mimic the movement patterns necessary for everyday functioning. Since the back contains so many muscles that work together, most back exercises are compound movements. Compound exercises for your back include:

Isolation Movements

Isolation exercises will provide the least amount of stimulus to the back muscles. However, they should not be shunned as these types of exercises can help target areas that are not growing equally to the rest of the back muscles. They help bring balance when muscles are lagging. And, remember, as important as working out your back is, don't neglect your other muscle groups. Here are some isolation movements for the back:

Pullup and lat pulldowns exercises will help build width of your back, while rowing motions, like in the seated row, dumbbell row, and rear delt row, will build thickness of the midback.

How Much Should You Train?

Like all muscles in your body, you can perform back exercises up to three non-consecutive days a week. If you're lifting heavy weights — enough that you can only complete six to eight repetitions — you'll need two or more days of rest before you perform the exercise again. For this reason, you might only work your back once or twice a week.

If your goal is to gain endurance and strength, stick with one to three sets of 12-16 repetitions lifting a weight that fatigues your muscle in that rep range.

You will want to make sure that you take at least one day of rest before you perform the same exercises again. Doing more and not allowing your body to heal after workouts can lead to overtraining, which will eventually negate any training gains you make.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Workouts Can I Do if I Have Lower Back Pain?

If you have persistent lower back pain, you should speak to your doctor before performing any workouts. Avoid exercises that cause pain or strain on your back.

What Are Some Back Workouts That Use Pushing?

Back exercises that use pushing include pushups, sled pushes, and tire flips.

What Workouts Should You Avoid if You Pulled a Back Muscle?

Avoid all exercise until you have been cleared by a medical professional.

A Word From Verywell

Effective back workouts can help improve strength, fitness, and stability. While a strong back can decrease your risk of back pain, if you have back problems, you should use caution and talk to your doctor before beginning any new workout program. Avoid injury by stopping if it hurts and not overexerting yourself. Be sure you have the correct form while performing any exercise, relying on a personal trainer to guide you, if necessary.

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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Why a Strong Core Can Help Reduce Low Back Pain. May 29, 2020.