A strong and muscular upper back is the hallmark of a strong upper body. It consists of mainly two muscle groups — the rhomboids, trapezius and rear delts.
Strengthening the upper back can increase your compound lifts and help in preventing shoulder injuries. The upper back muscles play a huge role in keeping the spine neutral during deadlifts and squats. On the bench, it can provide a more stable base to press from.
Best Upper Back Exercises
Here's a look at six such exercises:
1) Bent-over Barbell Row
The bent-over barbell row is the king of upper back exercises. It builds a ton of muscle mass on the back, shoulders, biceps, and core. It also engages the hamstrings, lats, and lower back and is a perfect supplement to building your deadlift.
- Load your barbell, and stand in a deadlift stance. Brace your core. Deadlift your weight up first.
- Hinge at your hips slowly while keeping your feet at shoulder-width. Lean forward from your waist, bending your knees slightly. Keep your back straight throughout the movement.
- Adjust your grip. Squeeze your shoulders together, pulling the weight towards your sternum.
- Lower it back down, and try to control the eccentric.
- Start with lighter weights to learn the correct form.
2) Barbell shrug
Shrugs are the best way to overload the trap muscles and elicit muscle growth via the stretch reflex. They can be done in the power rack for the best results.
- Grab the barbell with a prone grip.
- Place the hands slightly wider than your shoulders. That will maximize the weight you can handle during this exercise.
- Use an exaggerated shrug motion to pull the bar straight upwards.
- Squeeze the traps at the top of the movement. Hold for 1-2 seconds for maximum muscle activation. Let the bar drop to the starting position. Repeat.
3) Face Pull
Face pulls have been made famous by fitness legend Jeff Cavaliere. It's an exercise that requires lighter weight and higher reps. It's highly effective in building the rear delts and traps.
- Attach a long rope to the cable machine such that the attachment is above your eye level.
- Grab both ends of the rope with either hand. The palms should be facing each other, and the thumbs should be firmly clasped around the rope.
- Pull the rope towards your mid-face. Rotate your forearms at the elbows, doing a row-like movement.
- Contract your upper back muscles for two seconds.
- Return to the starting position. Repeat.
4) Single-arm Dumbbell Row
It's ideal for working the lats, rhomboids, and traps. You can use a neutral or overhand grip to focus on different areas of the back.
- Choose a sturdy bench.
- On your non-working side, place your hands and knees on the bench, bending over at the hip.
- Pick up the dumbbell with a straight arm.
- Pull the dumbbell towards your mid-section , focusing on squeezing the scapulae.
- Think of pulling with your elbows, not your arms. Return to the starting stance. Repeat.
5) Seal Row
Seal rows take away any momentum, forcing the back muscles to exert maximum force.
- Place the barbell underneath a high bench. Lie face down on the bench.
- Grab the barbell placed below with an overhand grip.
- Pull the barbell straight up towards your chest. Squeeze the shoulder blades together, and stop when the elbows reach 90 degrees.
- Lower the bar under control, and repeat.
6) Meadows Row
This back builder is named after bodybuilder John Meadows. The meadows row uses a landmine station, which provides a different range of motion for the muscles in the upper back.
- Stand at right angles to the barbell attached to the landmine station.
- Grab the barbell with an overhand grip by hinging at the waist.
- Do not stay up too high or too low. Both will shift focus away from the target muscle.
- Rest the inactive arm on the opposite leg for support.
- Drive your elbow back and upwards while retracting the shoulders.
- Row the weight up to chest level, and lower the weight with control. Repeat.
The aforementioned exercises are ideal for building a muscular and strong upper back. Do them with adequate volume, and ensure proper recovery to optimize muscle gains.