The Top 5 Exercises For Increasing Back Mass

Alex Stewart
Written By: Alex Stewart
December 29th, 2010
Updated: October 27th, 2021
Categories: Articles Training
644.4K Reads
Bodybuilder doing wide grip pull up in dark gym
Blast and bomb your back into growth with these 5 exercises: bent over rows, pull ups, barbell shrugs, dumbbell rows and deadlifts.

If you are one of those people who only like to work out your “Show Muscles” (chest, arms, abs and some shoulders) then move on, but if you are looking to have a thick, dense and well balanced upper body then stick around. I am going to discuss how to turn your Baby Back into Wide Thick Wings of Muscle.

The torso is the focal core of the body. Not only does it house the most vital organs of our body but it also provides the bulk of the support and strength we need to function through the day, no matter how small the movement. If you continue to work your back, you can guarantee that you’ll have balanced and strong muscles to support you. With stronger back muscles with these top 5 exercises you’ll be able to:

  • Handle heavier weights from a deadlift at floor level.
  • Increase the rate and amount of calorie burn through standard lifting and exercise.
  • Easily move your body through motions that require you to lift and move your own weight.
  • Provide strength and balance to your spine, protecting your body from injury when moving and lifting.

Back Anatomy

Knowing the muscles you’re about to work on can be extremely beneficial. Next to the legs, the back contains the highest concentration of muscles in the body and for good reason. The back supports the function and movement of all of your limbs and has a wide range of jobs that it needs to perform on a routine basis.

Lower Back (Lower Trapezius)

  • Function: Depression of the scapula.
  • Location: From the scapula all the way down to the top of the buttocks – or basically the lower portion of the back around the spine.

Middle Back (Rhomboids)

  • Function: Retracts the scapula, downward rotation of the scapula.
  • Location: Connected to both the scapula and the spinal column in the middle of the back.

Lats (Latissimus Dorsi)

  • Function: Extension, adduction, medial rotation.
  • Location: Inserts in the lower 6 thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. Also inserts in the middle side of the arm pit area (humerous).

Traps (Trapezius)

  • Function: Elevation of the scapula, adduction of the scapula, depression of the scapula.
  • Location: Insets at the top of the neck travels all the way down the spine and inserts just about the buttocks.

The Top 5 Exercises for Increasing Back Muscles

Most exercises, such as those previously listed in past articles, will combine some measure of work on the back muscles. Few exercises target only the back muscles, so its important to keep in mind that when you develop your workout to engage your back muscles you’ll also be working muscles within the extremities that may already be strained during previous exercises. Plan your workout accordingly.

1. Bent Over Rows

I’ve targeted this exercise before for other muscle groups but it needs to be noted that it is likely the most appropriate workout for pushing the mass of the upper body. Each of the primary muscle groups of the back will be utilized in the bent over row provided you utilize proper form with a weighted barbell.

To start, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees slightly and keep your head up. Bend so that you are almost but not quite parallel to the floor. Let the weight hand straight down directly below your chest. Your palms should be facing toward you as you lift the weight. Use your back muscles to draw the weight up to touch your chest while keeping your elbows tucked in close to your body. Lower the weight under control and repeat.

2. Pull ups and Chin Ups

This may seem like an exercise that’s more appropriate for the arms but a great deal of work is placed on the upper back to lift the weight of the body and lower it under control. This exercise is a true measure of strength and a hefty challenge simply because you’re lifting your full body weight. An alternative for beginner would be to use a assisted pull-up machine which uses weight to counter act your own bodyweight.

Use this machine until you can perform regular pull-up/chin-ups in proper form

Because of the position of the grip, pull ups can often be a little more difficult than chin ups. Either way, start with a bar and jump up to reach the bar. Go palms down (away from you) for pull ups and palms up (facing you) for chin ups. Keep your hands at shoulder width approximately for pull ups and just to the outside of the width of the jawline for chin ups.

3. Barbell Shrugs

This is a very focused workout that targets only the traps. You’re providing no additional workout to any other muscle group in the upper back, so keep that in mind as you rotate your exercises. Depending on the scale of your workout, you can usually dish on a lot of weight when working your traps – just keep your workout appropriately balanced.

To set this exercise up, use a weighted barbell and set it up at thigh height from an adjustable rack. Let the weight hang at your thighs with arms fully extended. Keep your back straight, chin up and try to shrug your shoulders as high as you can. Raise the weight as you do so, pausing for a few seconds at the height of the shrug. Lower the weight under control and repeat. Alternately, you can also use dumbbells to perform shrugs but you won’t get anywhere near the same weight on individual barbells.

4. Single Arm Dumbbell Row

This exercise provides a much fuller contraction over a greater range of motion as compared to barbell rows. This is also an ideal way to isolate and focus on each side of your back, resting one as your motor through working the other.

Use a bench to kneel, supporting yourself with your free hand on the bench. Move so that your torso is parallel to the floor. Let the dumbbell hang with your arm extended. Draw the weight to touch your chest, palms facing your body while keeping your elbows tucked firmly in. Release the weight and extend your arm under control. Your body angle, grip and weight will change the degree and difficulty of this top back exercise.

5. Barbell Deadlifts

The deadlift is a widely popular exercise and for good reason. It’s a part of every serious weight training program because it requires the majority of the body – including the muscles of the back – to work in conjunction for the perfect lift workout. The only other exercise that’s more effective at building solid muscle and burning calories is the power squat.

It’s important to note that while this exercise targets the back muscles for stability, you are not lifting with your back. To perform the deadlift, stand with feet shoulder width apart. Bend your knees and reach down to grab the bar. With heavy lifting, keep your hands opposite with one facing in and the other facing out. When you lift, lift the weight with your legs, focusing the push in your glutes, hips and the rest of the leg muscle groups. Keep your back straight and stand up straight, keeping your arms fully extended down with the weight close to the body.  When you rise fully, hold the weight and lower it again under control.

Beginner Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Assisted Pull Ups 2 10
Assisted Chin Ups 2 10
Barbell Deadlifts 2 8
Bent Over Rows 2 12

Intermediate Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Assisted Pull Ups 2 12
Barbell Deadlifts 3 6
Assisted Chin Ups 2 12
Single Arm Dumbbell Rows 2 8-10
Barbell Shrugs 2 10

Advanced Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Deadlifts 4 5
Pull Ups 2 Failure
Bent Over Rows 3 8
Chin Ups 2 Failure
Single Arm Dumbbell Rows 3 10
Barbell Shrugs 3 8

You’ll see the best results by adding the top exercises to build your back to your usual workout routine. When working on increasing muscle mass in back, remember that it’s important to take in the proper amount of nutrients and protein to sustain your exercises.

As always if you have any question regarding this article or fitness in general please don’t hesitate to sending me your questions:

Alex Stewart is the Sales Manager for Betancourt Nutrition Supplements. For more information on Betancourt Nutrition supplements, click here.

Posted on: Sun, 09/17/2017 - 08:57

Is the number of sets too little? Without the lower back workout, I usually go up to 15, is it too much?

Posted on: Mon, 02/02/2015 - 21:32

Am I the only one that is concerned that the dead lift is the last out of 5 lifts when it comes to building upper body mass. I'm not sure whether I should take this article seriously....would greatly appreciate some input from the author as to why he/she believes the dead lift is the worst out of the 5 ( I would argue it's the best). Thanks

Posted on: Tue, 03/04/2014 - 09:39

thnk u.for ur wrkout ides..................The bar pull is quiet diffclt for me........becoz my weght is abt 62 kg..i cant pull up body wght upwards...instd of bar pull....can u gve any altrnate wrkouts.............Does thse exrcse hlps to build back th

Posted on: Thu, 10/24/2013 - 20:22

I am over 60 and still want to bulk up. But you know even with all the grams of protein they tell you to eat with the carbs; I can not visualize how an older guy would develop that much muscle; but really get a bit fat and put on weight. Is there a different diet for the over 60 bunch when they want to bulk.

Posted on: Thu, 05/09/2013 - 19:52

im 50 yrs old and in very good health how many times should i take protien on my workout days im using a whey protien and i take about thirty grams per seving

Posted on: Tue, 03/12/2013 - 08:16

Hi Steve Can I work my back or chest twice a week? Like Monday and Friday ? Saturday and Snunday i always rest.

Posted on: Wed, 01/16/2013 - 11:38

i want to built back please tell me exercise so it can help to grow my back faster

Posted on: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 15:40

Seriously? You're asking that on the very same article that's giving you the best exercises for back? hehe

Posted on: Wed, 12/12/2012 - 07:28

are seated rows a good alternative to bent over rows im tall and i feel alot of it in my lwer back

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 12/12/2012 - 17:12

Seated Rows are great! - BUT, they don't hit your back as thoroughly as the bent over row.

pranav singh
Posted on: Thu, 01/30/2014 - 12:27

Right but you can get more range of motion with seated rows. Bent over rows is overall a much superior exercise as it recruits lower back, thighs and glutes.

Posted on: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 15:37

Your lower back is working to keep you from tipping forward. In my opinion, bent over rows will work more of the back than seated rows.

Posted on: Thu, 11/29/2012 - 02:17

Hi Steve,

Does these exercises helps to build back thickness?

Posted on: Fri, 07/13/2012 - 17:47

I have lower back problems and trying to lift to better my lower back. I am doing the barbell rows and t-bar rows along with shrugs and standing bent over extensions with added weight plate only 5lbs.. I wear a belt and have no adverse effects so far but am wanting to go heavier to build mass with out hurting my lower back. I have a narrowing at the base of my spine and a disc injury any suggestions?

Posted on: Tue, 05/15/2012 - 08:22

what excercise is best for chest, bumb bells or bar. ty

Posted on: Tue, 04/30/2013 - 15:35

A combination of both barbell and dumbell exercises will be ideal.

Posted on: Wed, 03/28/2012 - 11:28

These 'top 5' pages have great info on them. Thanks!!

Posted on: Wed, 02/15/2012 - 12:04

just started bodybuilding and want to grow more muscle but im a bit confused, how many exercises, sets and reps do i do for each muscle group to help grow as soon as possible?

Posted on: Fri, 11/11/2011 - 13:42

hello i wonder if you could help me out with chest workouts.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 14:38

Hi Christian,

Check out our chest workout section: