5 Best Back Exercises For A Well Defined Stronger Back

Strengthening your back can lead to more functional strength, which creates better mobility and movement throughout normal everyday movement patterns. Functional strength can help alleviate low back pain, improve posture and help prevent injuries. Not only that, but a muscular and well-defined back is also the foundation to a dominant physique and building the coveted V-Taper. We’re going to cover the 5 best back exercises for definition. Proven through clinical research, these strong back exercises should be included in your back-day training split, to help build more muscle, strength, and a well-defined physique.

What Back Muscles Will You Be Working

The muscles in your back can be divided into three groups; superficial, intermediate, and deep muscles also known as intrinsic muscles. 


The trapezius, or "traps" are a long, triangular shaped superficial muscle, which creates a trapezius shape on the upper back. The proximal region connects from the skull, with its most distal portion from the cervical to lower thoracic spine. 

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi originates from the lower part of the back, where it covers a wide area, and accentuates to form the desired V-shape. The lats have a broad origin – arising from the thoracic spine between T6-T12, thoracolumbar fascia, iliac crest, and the inferior three ribs. Back exercises such as the lat pull down, seated rows and bent over row, will target the latissimus dorse and middle back or rhomboids. 

Levator Scapulae

The levator scapulae is a small strap-like muscle. It begins in the neck, and descends to attach to the scapula.


Rhomboids are split into two muscles, the rhomboid major and mind. The rhomboid minor is situated superiorly to the major. The major starts from the spinous processes of T2-T5 vertebrae, while the minor originates at the bottom of the cervical spine at C7.  

5 Best Back Exercises And Workout

Back day is my favorite workout day. You can almost feel the gains when you’re pulling heavy weight and contracting your muscles. These back exercises, will be performed with a 2-2-1 tempo, meaning that you’ll perform each rep consistently, with slow concentric movement and a slight hold on each rep. Building more muscle mass, tone, and burning body fat, is focused on workout volume, therefore reps will range between 16-10 reps and four sets per movement. Modify and adjust weights to be consistent with rep counts, with a linear progression, increasing weight overtime. If you can’t hit the recommend reps, lower the weight. If it’s too easy, raise the weight. It’s that simple. Rest intervals between sets is 30 seconds.

1. T-Bar Row

The T-Bar Row is an isolated movement strength movement. Although despite being an isolated movement, it does activate several muscle groups, such as the latissimus dorsi or lats, rear delts, and smaller secondary muscles such as the biceps and stabilizing muscles; hamstrings, glutes and abdominals. 

T-Bar Row Variations

  • Seated Cable Row
  • Single-Arm Row
  • Dumbbell Single Arm Row
  • Wide Grip Cable Row
  • Bent Over Row

2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

The single dumbbell row is a unilateral isotonic exercise, meaning only one side of the body is used in order to product muscle contraction. Traditionally, the single arm cable row is performed kneeling with one knee on a bench, however you can also bend with one arm resting on your knee while you row as well. The single-arm dumbbell row performed on a bench row will provide more stabilization to lift heavier loads by providing optimal core and spinal stabilization. The main targeted muscle group during a single arm dumbbell row is the latissimus dorsi (Lats).

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row Variations

  • Bent Over Dumbbell Row
  • Close Grip Bent Over Row
  • Single-Arm Cable Row
  • Wide Grip Bent Over Row

3. Alternating Bent Over Row

Research investigating muscle activation amongst specific back row variations, shows that the bent over row, elicits more muscle activation from the upper to lower back, resulting in better performance and strength, than similar back exercises [R]. Although this exercise provides more muscle activation, it is not recommended to those that have previous back injuries, as it does induce larger spinal load, than other variations such as the inverted row and seated cable row.

What's great about the alternating bent over row, is that it stimulates and contracts your upper and mid lats, while also increasing intensity and tempo, burning more calories, in each set. 

Bent Over Row Variations

  • Bent Over Dumbbell Row
  • Close Grip Bent Over Row
  • Supinated Grip Bent Over Row
  • Single-Arm Cable Row
  • Wide Grip Bent Over Row
  • Bent Over Cable Row

4. Face Pull

Face Pulls are an effective and fun accessory back and shoulder movement, designed to target the upper lats and posterior deltoids, by using the rope attachment on the cable, rings, or TRX for a full retraction of the scapula. Adding in face pulls to your back day strength training split is a great way to build more muscle and strength through an isolated movement.

Face Pull Variations

  • Banded Face Pulls
  • Ring Face Pulls
  • TRX Face Pulls

5. Pull Up

The pull-up could be the best back exercise eliciting full muscle contraction and optimal muscle growth. Each variation of pull up, either wide, narrow, or neutral grip, has its own distinct advantages in muscle development and range of motion. Pull ups, are a key back movement to include in your back day training split, to achieve better back strength and definition. EMG research shows that the concentric phase, or lifting phase of the pull up, results in significantly greater muscle activation of the lats, middle traps, and secondary muscle groups such as the pecs, forearms, and biceps [R].

Pull Up Variations

  • Wide Grip Pull Up
  • Close Grip Pull Up
  • Supinated Grip Pull Up
  • Kipping Pull Up
  • Butterfly Pull Up

Best Back Exercises: Takeaway

If the goal is to build a bigger, stronger, and well defined back, including these five back exercises in your back workout training split, is going to get you to your goals in no time. These back exercises can be swapped for other variations, grips, and different set/rep counts, in order to achieve the desired outcomes and results. If you're unsure of where to start, consider hiring an online or in-person personal trainer or coach. Form is a critical component for injury prevention, and muscle development and growth. Leaning how to perform these exercise movements the right way from the start, will produce better results and improve posture and reduce risk of injuries. Incorporate these lower back compound exercises into your routine to get additional strong back exercises.  

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