A man deadlifting

Getting Yoked: The Best Back Exercises For Strength & Size

by Jeremy Campbell - Last Updated June 14, 2019

If you’re looking to get yoked, you’ve come to the right place!

To set you on the path to building a stronger and more imposing back, I’ve compiled together the best back building exercises to put on some serious mass.

Back exercises have always been my favorite. Who doesn’t love a good back pump!? Waking up the next morning with that feeling that tells me I got a good back workout in always brings a smile to my face.

Building the coveted V-taper is all about putting in lots of volume, and choosing the right movements. The exercises you choose to add to your back workouts should work the following back muscles if you’re looking to build up your back:

  • Lats
  • Traps
  • Delts
  • Obliques

As much as we’d like to be able to squeeze in every back movement under the sun, there’s only so much time in a day to lift. To get the most out of your back workouts, consider adding some of these exercises to your workouts:

Best Back Exercises For Strength and Hypertrophy
A women with defined back muscles

The Snatch-Grip Rack Pull

This here is my personal favorite back exercise and deadlift variation. It is the one I feel has given me the best results. What I love about these is that you can load them super heavy and really work your back to an extreme degree!

Using a wide, or snatch-grip, with these allows you to put more of the focus on your lats, traps, and rear delts, than with a traditional deadlift. Where the deadlift is a great all-around posterior chain builder, these take most of the leg work out of the equation. This allows you to really slam the back hard with weight!

The great thing about rack pulls is that you modulate the height of the lift by adjusting the rack pins. I recommend starting at mid-shin height with a weight you can deadlift comfortably and really focus on doing most of the work with your back. As you progress in sets, you can raise the pins up higher in order to get more volume in.

With these, I definitely recommend using lifting straps. There’s no reason to let your grip strength get in the way of a great back workout!

How to Do Snatch-Grip Rack Pull

  1. Set the pins of a power rack at about mid-shin level. Rest a barbell on the pins and load it with the appropriate weight.
  2. Stand in front of the bar in a standard deadlifting position. Position your feet below your shoulders, with your hands at about shoulder width distance apart. Grab hold of the bar and then lower your hips down while maintaining a straight and braced lower back.
  3. While keeping your head forward, push through your hips and knees and pull the weight up until you are standing up straight at lockout.
  4. Carefully lower the weight back down onto the pins.
  5. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Barbell Deadlift

If you’ve spent any amount of time lifting, you’re probably already familiar with the deadlift. Deadlifts are the best lift for building a strong posterior chain.

When doing these, you have to make sure you have your form nailed down to avoid hurting yourself. Once you have the form down pat, though, this exercise is incredibly simple. Before long, you’ll be amazed at the weights you’re able to lift with this movement!

There are many deadlift variations for you to try, though the conventional and sumo deadlifts are the most popular. Deciding on which variation to go with is personal preference really. I personally pull sumo as it’s what allows me to really focus on my back.

How to Do Barbell Deadlifts

  1. Stand over a loaded barbell. Looking down, the bar should be at about midfoot, and your feet should be around hip-width distance apart.
  2. Bend down at the hips, with your back kept straight. Grab hold of the bar with your hands shoulder-width distance apart.
  3. Set your grip, pull the slack out of the bar, and then lower your hips down while bending your knees, until the bar is in contact with your shins.
  4. Keep your head looking forward, your chest up, and your back arched. Drive through your heels and pull the weight up.
  5. Once the bar has passed knee level, pull the bar back while pushing forward with your hips until you are standing tall.
  6. Keeping your back arched, bend with your hips first and lower the bar towards the floor. Once the bar has reached knee level you can bend your knees to bring it to the bottom.

Bent-Over Barbell Row

After the deadlift and its many variations, the Barbell Row is probably the best pulling movement you can do to grow a massive back. The reason being is that you can work up to lifting some huge weights after a while!

Like the deadlift, you’ll want to make sure you pay close attention to your form while doing these to get the most bang for your buck. I recommend starting with a weight much lighter than you think you can lift with these, and focus on using proper form with each rep. If you let your ego get the best of you, you’ll likely find that you start adding in a lot of body, and end up lifting the weight more with your hips than with your back.

As with rack-pulls, I find it helpful to use lifting straps while going heavy on these, to take my forearm strength out of the equation. I find my grip gives out way before my back does. Straps have allowed me to keep adding weight to my row, which means I can put in a lot more volume!

How to Do Barbell Rows

  1. Holding a barbell in your hands, lower your torso down by bending at the hips, with a slight bend in your knees. Be sure to keep your back straight.
  2. Pull the barbell up with your elbows, being sure to keep your arms up against of your body and your torso stationary.
  3. Slowly and under control, lower the barbell back down to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the above for your chosen amount of reps.

Wide-Grip Pull-Ups

No truly great back workout program would be complete without some sort of pull-up included. My personal favorite variation of the bunch is the wide-grip pull-up. I’ve found these to be the best overhead pulling exercise for me to put on some serious mass.

When doing pull-ups with a wide grip, you really place an emphasis on the upper portion of your lats. This is what you want if you are seeking back hypertrophy.

I always recommend, as long as your strength allows it, to add weight to pull-ups in order to take advantage of progressive overload. Being able to pile on the weight week after week is one of the quickest ways to see growth with any muscle group.

If you aren’t quite there yet with pull-ups, you can always use an assisted pull-up machine, or try band-assisted pull-ups first. After a while, you’ll work your way up to bodyweight pull-ups.

It’s always important to keep form in mind when doing any lift, and pull-ups are no exception. Be sure to keep your lower body still while doing these. Kipping or rocking is a great way to eke out a few extra reps. It’s better though, in the long run, to focus on maintaining perfect form with each rep throughout the entire range of motion.

How to Do Wide-Grip Pull-Ups

  1. Reach overhead and grab ahold of a pull-up bar with a wide grip.
  2. Using your lats, pull yourself up, bending your arms at the elbows as you rise up. Try to avoid swinging or “kipping” yourself up and stop once your chin has made it over the bar.
  3. Pause for a second or two at the top, and then slowly lower yourself back down in a controlled manner
  4. Repeat the above for your chosen amount of reps.

Standing T-Bar Row

Next up on the lift of best back building exercises is the standing T-bar row. Rows, in general, are some of my favorite exercises, and I try to throw in a couple of sets at the end of every workout.

For the days when I’m looking to go heavy on the rows, the T-Bar row is one of my favorites. You can lift some startling weight with these, and I find maintaining perfect form with these to be a little easier than with standard barbell rows.

A little cheating is bound to happen after a set or two of these, and that’s fine really, but try to maintain a flat back and perfect form for as long as you can. This ensures you place most of the load on your back muscles.

With these, you’ll want to keep a slight bend in your knees, but make sure you don’t end up squatting the weight instead of rowing it! Focus on pulling back with the elbows, not your hands, to ensure you’re lifting the weight with your back.

You can usually choose between a close or wide grip when doing these. As always with, back exercises, I recommend opting for the wide-grip option if back hypertrophy is the goal.

How to Do Standing T-Bar Rows

  1. Place a barbell up against a corner, or into a landmine in order to secure it. Add the desired amount of weight.
  2. Standing over the bar, reach down and grab hold of the bar directly below the weights. While keeping your back straight rise up with your legs and hips until you are standing.
  3. Keep your back and chest held high and stand with a wide stance.
  4. Pull the weight with your elbows, back and into your upper abdomen, by retracting your shoulders.
  5. Pause for a second or two at the top, and then slowly lower the bar back down in a controlled manner.

Wide-Grip Seated Cable Row

If you find yourself cheating a lot with standing row variations, consider giving the seated cable row a try, specifically, the wide-grip variation! It’s still possible to cheat with these, but I find it much easier to maintain a straight back with these and focus on isolating the back muscles.

These are great when added towards the end of a back workout when your form usually begins to give out. I like to do these right at the end of my workouts personally, and go fairly light, with the reps running in the range of between 12 and 20.

To change things up, consider trying a reverse, or thumbless grip, to further remove the arms from the equation. If you weren’t feeling your back working before, you’re bound to now!

How to Do Wide-Grip Seated Cable Rows

  1. Sit down in front of a cable machine with a bar attached to the low pulley.
  2. Place your feet on the foot brace or crossbar, ensuring there is a slight bend in your knees.
  3. Keeping your back straight, bend at the hips to reach for and grab hold of the bar.
  4. With your arms extended out in front of you, bend your torso back at the hips until it is at a 90-degree angle with your legs.
  5. While keeping your upper body stationary at all times pull the bar back towards your lower chest, with your elbows up against your sides. Be sure to squeeze your back muscles as hard as you can while completing and holding the movement.
  6. Slowly, and in a controlled manner, reverse the movement back to the starting position.
  7. Repeat the above for your chosen amount of reps.he starting position.
  8. Repeat the above for your chosen amount of reps.

Lat Pull-Downs

If pull-ups are too difficult for you, or you’ve already put in some solid back work and your back is fatigued, consider giving these a try.

There aren’t that many options available for overhead pulling movements, and if you can’t do pull-ups, you may be neglecting this category entirely. Huge mistake!

What’s great about lat pull-downs is that you can vary your grip in so many different ways, to really target and isolate the different muscles of your back. I usually like to start out with a wide grip, and then move my grip in with each set in order to work the full range of my back muscles.

Similar to some of the other exercises I mentioned previously, I like to do these with a thumbless grip in order to minimize any bicep involvement. Doing lat pull-downs in this manner allows me to really feel my back working.

How to Do Lat Pull-Downs

  1. Attach a v-bar or standard bar to the high pulley of a lat pull-down machine. Adjust the knee pads so that you are held down securely.
  2. Grab hold of the v-bar or bar.
  3. Keeping your arms extended out in front of you while holding the bar, bend your torso back to around 30 degrees at the hips, creating a slight curve in your lower back and maintaining an upright chest.
  4. Pull the bar down until it reaches your upper chest. Squeeze your back muscles once the bar has reached your chest.
  5. Pause for a second or two at the bottom, and then slowly raise the bar back up in a controlled manner until your arms are fully extended and you feel a stretch in your back.
  6. Repeat the above for your chosen amount of reps.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

You really can’t go wrong with rows. Countless variations are available and each has its benefits. The single-arm dumbbell row is an amazing unilateral back exercise that allows you to isolate the back and work on any imbalances you may have.

Dumbbell rows are great since there’s no bar to get in the way of utilizing the full range of motion. Make sure when doing these that you bring the weight up as far as you can, to get the most out of them!

With the support of a bench, the form is much easier to lock in, than with barbell variations, and you don’t have to worry so much about your lower back giving out.

How to Do Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lower your torso down by bending at the hips, with a slight bend in your knees. Be sure to keep your back straight.
  2. Pull the dumbbell up with your elbow, being sure to keep your arm up against of your body and your torso stationary.
  3. Slowly and under control, lower the dumbbell back down to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the above for your chosen amount of reps.
  5. Switch arms and start again.

Decline Dumbbell Pullovers

While most of the other back building exercises mentioned on this list are compound movements that work many muscles at once, the decline dumbbell pullover is more of an isolation movement.

Depending on how you do these, they could either be a chest or a lat exercise so make sure you’ve got your form dialled in, in order to work the correct muscles.

These can be done on a flat bench as well, but if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck then I recommend doing these at a decline. Doing these from a decline position allow you to work your lats through a longer range of motion. Working through the full range of motion equates to better gains!

I recommend doing these in higher rep ranges, such as 8 to 12 or 15 to 20, to get the most of them.

How to Do Decline Dumbbell Pullovers

  1. Place a dumbbell at the base of the declined portion of a declined bench.
  2. Lay down on a decline bench, ensuring your legs are secured.
  3. Reaching back behind your head with your palms facing out, grab ahold of the dumbbell and slowly lift it up until it is perpendicular to the floor.
  4. With your arms extended, lower the weight back down towards the floor, stopping when your arms are parallel with the floor.
  5. Lift the weight back up until it is again perpendicular to the floor. That is 1 rep.
  6. Repeat the above for your chosen amount of reps.
  7. Once complete, carefully lower the weight back down to the floor before letting go of it.

Renegade Row

If you’re looking for versatility over pure mass building potential, consider adding renegade rows to your back routine. These are not only a great exercise to work your back, but also work your core to a great degree. If the v-taper is your goal, you shouldn’t go without this exercise in your routine!

With renegade rows, you’ll want to keep the weight on the lighter side. Keep your core tight and your back straight throughout the movement in order to strengthen your core, while getting a solid back workout in!

How to Do Renegade Rows

  1. Position two dumbells, or kettlebells, on the floor at about shoulder width distance apart.
  2. Position yourself on your hands and toes as if you were going to do a pushup.
  3. Grab ahold of the handles of the weights to support your upper body.
  4. Row one of the weights up, while pushing down on the other. Be sure to retract your shoulder blade on the side you use to row the weight.
  5. Slowly and under control, lower the dumbbell back down to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired amount of reps, alternating hands each time.

Single Arm Bench Supported Row

I already mentioned these in passing, but they really deserve to be highlighted. These are basically the same movement as single arm dumbbell rows but with the additional support of a bench. This takes your core out of the equation to some extent, allowing you to focus on lifting with just your upper back.

I personally prefer doing these towards the end of my back workouts with lighter weight, to get in every last little bit of volume I can.

How to Do Single Arm Bench Supported Rows

  1. Position a dumbbell to each side of a flat bench.
  2. Place your left leg on the top of the bench, bending your upper body forward from the waist until you are in line with the floor. Place your left hand on the bench in order to support your upper body.
  3. Using your right hand, pick the dumbbell off the floor and hold it, with your palm facing your torso and your back straight.
  4. Pull the weight up with your elbow, being sure to keep your arm up against of your body and your torso stationary.
  5. Slowly and under control, lower the weight back down to the starting position.
  6. Repeat the above for your chosen amount of reps.
  7. Switch to the opposite side and start again.

Tip: When doing these, try and focus on really squeezing your lats at the top. Try to minimize the muscle involvement of the arms as much as you can while doing this movement. Your upper body should not be moving at all while doing these. A great cue for doing any row is to pull the weight up with your elbows, not your hands.

Kroc Row

These are a variation of the dumbbell row that really benefit from going heavy! Unlike with other row variations, cheating is encouraged with these, if it means squeezing out a few extra heavy reps!

With Kroc rows I like to go as heavy as I can, and for as many reps as possible. I’ll usually make use of lifting straps as well, so I’m only limited by the strength of my back.

These really have been a game changer for me. Where before I would be hyper-focused on maintaining perfect form with each rep of rows, doing these with a bit of body-English has seen my rowing strength skyrocket!

For me, these seem to work the top portion of the row the most, which I often find to be the weakest link for me. When going back and doing more strict row variations, I found I was able to maintain perfect form at much higher weights!

How to Do Kroc Rows

  1. Holding a dumbbell in one hand, lean forward slightly, with a slight bend in your knees.
  2. Pull the dumbbell up with your elbow, being sure to keep your arm up against of your body.
  3. Slowly and under control, lower the dumbbell back down to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the above for your chosen amount of reps.
  5. Switch arms and start again

Chest Supported Row

If you have problems with lower back pain and have been avoiding doing back work in fear that you were going to make things worse, consider giving these a try. By lying on a bench, you don’t have to worry about supporting your upper body at all, and can focus on just lifting the weight with your lats and middle back.

How to Do Chest Supported Rows

  1. Place a dumbbell to each side of an incline bench.
  2. Sit on the bench and then lean into the inclined portion.
  3. Reach down and pick the dumbbells off the floor and hold them, with your palms facing your torso and your back straight.
  4. Pull the weights up with your elbow, being sure to keep your arm up against of your body.
  5. Slowly and under control, lower the weight back down to the starting position.
  6. Repeat the above for your chosen amount of reps.

Kettlebell Swing

Last, on our list, today of best back exercises are kettlebell swings. At first glance, you might not think these would make for a good back workout, but give them a try and you’ll soon see why they made the ranks!

Kettlebell swings are an excellent exercise that works your entire posterior chain. They’re a great way to train and ingrain the hip hinge movement pattern, which will have a direct carryover to your deadlift form!

These are not only for building strength and working on form, but they’re also an excellent conditioning exercise. Instead of doing traditional LISS cardio such as spinning or jogging after your workouts, consider adding these to a HIIT or EMOM conditioning workout to really get the blood pumping!

How to Do Kettlebell Swings

  1. Place a kettlebell between your feet.
  2. Starting with your butt, push back, and then bend your knees slightly to get down to the starting position.
  3. Looking straight ahead, and ensuring your back is flat, swing the kettlebell forward between your legs.
  4. Reverse the swinging motion at the top, driving down with your hips. Allow the kettlebell to swing back between your legs before starting the movement again.

Wrapping Up

Well, there you have it. If you were looking for some of the best back exercises for strength and hypertrophy, you’ve now got plenty to work with!

A massive back is a sure sign of strength. Once you begin adding some of these great back builders to your lifting routine, you’ll be on track to acquiring one.

Having a strong back is not only a sign of strength and a testament to the work you’ve put in in the gym. A strong back will also help you avoid injury, and provides functional strength you can use throughout your day!

You can also check out another back workout here on HomeGymr.

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