Upper Back Exercises

We’re here to make a case for the importance of the upper back for lifting, daily living, and posture purposes. The upper back is the culmination of multiple muscles and for this guide we’re going to include the: teres major, teres minor, infraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis, rhomboids, and the upper portion of the traps.

Three Pros to a Strong Upper Back: Supports a healthy posture, assists in compound and isolation lifts, and looks great with developed muscles. 

The upper back can create a strong base to bench and overhead press from, support overhead pressing lockout, keep the barbell tight to the body when deadlifting, snatching, and clean and jerking, in addition to creating the body’s natural shelf to rest the barbell on when squatting. Needless to say, this area on the body composed of multiple muscles is much more important than we often give credit.

No matter your lifting goal, the upper back should receive ample strength and hypertrophy training to ensure a balanced body. Below, we’ve included our four favorite upper back exercises.

Upper Back Exercises

1. Inverted Row

The inverted row is coming in at number one on our favorite upper back exercise list. We love the inverted row for training the upper back for a three reasons. Firstly, it’s an exercise that can be performed with benefit at any level of fitness. Since it’s a bodyweight movement that can be modified with knee flexion, it’s a great exercise to ease newer trainees into back and upper back specific training, but also experienced trainees with the addition of weight on the anterior torso.

Secondly, the inverted row can be performed in nearly any gym, or location where one can pull themselves up from a horizontal plane. This makes the inverted row an awesome movement for those traveling and with limited equipment. Thirdly, the inverted row can be performed for strength and hypertrophy, which makes it good accessory and burnout movement.

Clean up your form and build a bigger upper back with our inverted row guide!

inverted rows
Image: @tfwhelsinki Instagram page.

2. Pull-Up

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, the pull-up should be a staple in every lifter’s workout program. The pull-up is awesome because it targets a majority of the upper back muscles, and that’s especially true towards the top of the movement. As we complete the pull-up, the upper back muscles must work extremely hard to stabilize and support the body at the very top of the movement, as they’re pushing and contracting to their peak ranges of motion.

The pull-up can be useful at any level of fitness and can be modified to be made easier and harder. In addition to being easily modified, it’s also a great movement to train upper back strength, hypertrophy, and power.

Learn why the pull-up is beneficial for every type of athlete with our beginner pull-up guide.

3. Banded Face Pull

The banded face pull is probably the least intense exercise in our favorite upper back exercise list, yet it’s one of the most useful. Why? Well, for starters, the banded face pull is an awesome tool in workout for three major reasons. One, it’s great to use as a warm-up for both pressing and pulling days. Two, it can be loaded with light weight for hypertrophy, or heavy weight for strength purposes. Three, it’s a useful exercise to perform burnout reps with at the end of the workout for additional for upper back volume.

All of these reasons make the face pull a great movement to use at any level of fitness when the goal is specifically isolating, warming-up, training, and targeting the upper back muscles.

Learn about the benefits and how dynamic this exercise can be with our face pull guide!

bent over row
Image: @simeonpanda Instagram page.

4. Bent Over Rows

The bent over row is the most physically demanding lift that makes our favorite upper back exercise list. This movement can be performed with a multitude of benefits and creating a strong upper back is just one of the perks of doing bent over rows. Since this exercise can be performed with dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells, it’s a great option for any level of fitness. Also, you can add tempo and pause to the bent over row to increase the workload for the upper back specifically.

Outside of strengthening the upper back, this movement can also have carryover to the competition lifts by improving glute, hamstring, lower back strength, and much more.

Besides strengthening the upper back, what else can the bent over row do? Check out our bent over row guide!

Other Highest-Rated Upper Back Exercises

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