Upper Back Strengthening Exercises


These upper back strengthening exercises will help strengthen the muscles and help prevent back injury and minimize back pain.

The back muscles are critical for everyday tasks such as lifting, twisting and general movement.

There are various muscles in the upper back that you want to ensure you strengthen. The two larger upper back muscles are the Lattissimus Doris, or your Lats, and the Trapezious muscle.

When planning for your strength training exercises be sure to save enough time to also strengthen both the upper and lower back muscles.

Although it is primarily the lower back that is more prone to injuries you also want to strengthen the upper back for complete core training and stability.

List of Upper Back Strengthening Exercises

You can use the links below to go directly to a specific exercise.

If you want to view all of these workouts, just use the next/previous buttons located at the bottom of each page.

Anatomy Of the Upper Back Muscles

The upper back is comprised many different muscles. The major muscles include the Latissimus Dorsi, the Trapezius an the Rhombiods.

Latissimus Dorsi
This muscle, more commonly known simply as Lats, is the largest muscle in our backs. The main function of this muscle is to move our upper arms down and to the side. It also pulls your upper arms down and in front of your body--with help from your lower pecs--and rotates your upper arms inward.


There are 2 rhomboid muscles - the major and minor Rhomboid. The rhomboids connect your thoracic spine to your shoulder blades. The main function is to pull the shoulder blade, shoulders (as well as your shoulder and arm) back and inwards toward the midline of your body, toward your spine.

This diamond-shaped muscle lies on top of the rhomboids and part of the lats. There are upper and lower fibers to this muscle. The primary actions of this muscle  includes pulling the shoulder blades together (retracting the scapula), depressing the scapula and elevating the scapula. Because the trapezius runs in different directions, it is involved in all the above mentioned movements.

Other Back Muscles
Other muscles associated with the upper back are the Deltoids, Scapula, Infraspinatus Teres Major and Minor muscles.The Deltoids, Scapula and Infraspinatus are associated more with the shoulder exercises when talking about strengthening than they are with the upper back. The Teres Major and Minor support arm movement and rotation and are smaller upper back muscles.

Bent Over Row

This move focuses primarily on the upper back. The latissimus dorsi muscles, or your lats, are the main muscles targeted for this upper back strengthening exercise. Additional muscles that are engaged during this workout include the trapezius, the rhomboid muscles, biceps and Erector Spinae.

You can do this workout with a resistance band or dumbbell weights. If using a band, make sure it is not loose otherwise you have no additional resistance. To do this, stand with your feet about shoulder width apart to bring up any slack in the resistance band. The instructions below are for using dumbbell weights.


How to do the Bent Over Row

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart holding a dumbbell weight in each of your hands.
  2. Hold your arms straight down by your side, slightly more than shoulder width apart, with palms facing you.
  3. Lifting your arms and bending at the elbows, row upwards until your elbows are behind you making sure to keep your head up.
  4. Squeeze the muscles at the top of the row.
  5. Exhale as you row up and inhale as you come back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat this for several repititions and do 2 - 3 sets.

For this bent over row, you can row back with both hands at one time using a resistance band or dumbbell weights. You can also perform this doing just one side at a time by either standing or supporting yourself on a bench.

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Pullover Exercise

The main muscle target in this exercise is the pectoralis major, or the chest muscles. While the primary muscles target in this are not the back, they are the opposing muscles which help strengthen the back. Even though the primary muscle mover is not the back, this exercise uses most of the major back muscles for assistance.


How to do the Pullover Exercise

  1. Lie down on your back on the bench to where your feet are on the ground and your head is resting at the top of the bench.
  2. Place the dumbbell weight in both hands holding it at one end.
  3. Stretch your arms up above your head aiming the dumbbell weight towards the floor. Stretch back as far as you can.
  4. Lifting your arms up, bring them straight up in front until the arms are pointing straight at the ceiling.
  5. Repeat this for several repetitions doing 2 - 3 sets.

This workout is best done with dumbbell weights, but you can use resistance bands. To do this same workout with resistance bands, you can either lay down on the floor or kneel. You would then anchor the bands behind and above you to get the resistance you need for this upper back strengthening exercise.

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Reverse Fly

This upper back strengthening exercise targets the rear shoulders (deltoids). It will also work the muscles of the upper and middle back, particularly the rhomboids and traps.


How to do the Reverse Fly

  1. Stand with your feet apart (about hip width) and keep your knees soft (don't lock the knees).
  2. Hold dumbbells in each hand by your sides with arms straight down, palms facing each other, and elbows slightly bent.
  3. Bend at the waist until your torso is almost parallel to the floor.
  4. Keep your back flat and your torso still while raising your arms straight out to your sides until they’re in line with your body.
  5. Return to starting position. Repeat this for several repetitions.

Don't let momentum do the work. Instead move in a slow and deliberate motion on the way up and down. Keep back straight while doing this upper back strengthening exercise. Rounding the back will place too much stress on your lower back.

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Cobra Exercise

The movement in this upper back strengthening exercise contracts the upper back muscles as you bring your arms up. It is a slow and controlled movement to help strengthen the muscles. This is both an isotonic workout (movers) and an isometric workout (static). At the top of the movement in this exercise, you will hold for a few seconds. The hold is the isometric portion of this upper back workout.


How to do the Cobra Exercise

  1. Lay down on your stomach on an exercise mat. Extend your legs straight out behind you with your toes on the floor. Your lower body should be in a straight line.
  2. Place your arms out to the sides palms facing down.
  3. Keep your eyes and chin lowered and your glutes tight to hold the position.
  4. With a slow and controlled movement, lift your arms up and back behind your body. Turn your hands as you do this to where the backsides are facing each other.
  5. Reach back and down and hold this position for a few seconds.
  6. Bring your arms back to the starting position.

When doing this exercise, squeeze your shoulders back and down when reaching your arms behind you. You can also do this with an exercise ball. Place your torso on the ball with toes on the ground and chest off the ball.

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Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown will work primarily your latissimus dorsi, better known as the lats. These are the broadest muscles in your back. The biceps and muscles of the forearm act as helpers for this upper back strengthening exercise. The best way to do this exercise is at a gym with the proper equipment, however you can do this from home using resistance bands.


How to do the Lat Pulldown

  1. Anchor the band above you using a door or stationary object.
    If you don't have something to anchor the bands to, read the tips below to use dumbbell weights.
  2. Kneel on the ground. You can also keep one leg with the foot on the floor for better balance. Make sure you are far enough away from the anchor point to give you the proper resistance.
  3. Holding the ends of the bands in both hands, reach up towards the anchor point.
  4. Pull back with both hands bending the elbows. Pull back until your elbows are slightly behind you at your lower back.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for several repetitions.

If you are using dumbbell weights for this upper back strengthening exercise, simply stand with feet slightly apart. Reach out and up in front of you where your hands are above your head and slightly forward. Bring both arms down by your side until your elbows are slightly behind your middle back area.

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In addition to these upper back strengthening exercises, be sure to check out the lower back strengthening exercises to strengthen your entire back.

For a full list of all exercises and instructions on this site, visit the Exercise Instructions page.

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Check out the exercise series for working on your obliques. These are the side muscles of your abdominal and help us twist and turn our bodies.

Transverse Abdominals
This is yet another series of step by step exercises to strengthen and tone your stomach muscles. The transverse abdominal is one of the most under worked muscles in our bodies.

Lose Belly Fat
When you are done giving your stomach a complete workout, check out this article. To really lose belly fat you will need to put away the exercise mat and grab your running shoes.