People often ask me what my favorite body part is to train, and while sometimes it’s hard to decide, I’d say that my favorite upper body part to train is my back.
My favorite lower body part to train is definitely glutes, which I guess make sense because when we have strong glutes, we have stronger backs and decrease the chance for low back injuries. So maybe my real answer to the question should be that I love training my entire posterior chain! 😉
I think that many of us neglect training our posterior chain, because we actually can’t see the muscles that make up our posterior chain when we look at ourselves in the mirror.
There’s nothing wrong with focusing on our abs, chest, arms, and shoulders (you know, the mirror muscles!), but when we focus solely on the anterior body parts, it can lead to imbalances and injuries.
In fact, my rotator cuff issues back in the day were largely in part to overuse from repetitive movements in group exercise glasses that had me only pressing weights overhead or punching them around with high volume.
What was missing from my routine then was an emphasis on pulling exercises to build my back. I was neglecting muscle groups like my lats, rhomboids, and lower traps!
To me, a strong back equals a lot of things. A strong back builds better posture, which improves the quality of how we move both in everyday life and during exercise. A strong back allows for protection of the spine. Having a strong back directly correlates to how our bodies handle stress, and I don’t know about you, but there’s something about a woman with a strong back that just screams confidence, isn’t there?
Finally, a strong back can be about aesthetics too! There’s nothing wrong with being proud of our physiques and how we look. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m proud of how my strong back looks in a dress or a tank!
If you’ve been neglecting the back of your body during training, here are five of my favorite exercises that will help you build your back in no time.
Five Exercises For A Badass Back
Chin-ups / Pull-ups
Hands down, chin-ups and pull-ups win in my book for the exercise that will get your back STRONG. Both are an excellent way to see what your body is really capable of, and being able to pull your own bodyweight over the bar is incredibly empowering. Not only do chin-ups and pull-ups work your back, but they also work your arms, core, glutes, and more, making them an incredibly effective total body exercise that gets you a lot of bang for your buck.
If you cannot perform an unassisted chin-up or pull-up, it’s okay! Don’t just write them off. There are plenty of variations you can incorporate into your training routine, such as straight and flexed arm hangs, band or partner assisted, kneeling chin-ups, and more. There are also plenty of accessory exercises that can help you build your chinning strength.
I like to incorporate both barbell and dumbbell (or kettlebell) row work into my routine to ensure I include enough horizontal pulling variations along with the vertical movements like chin-ups and pulldowns.
To keep my workouts varied, I tend to mix up whether I train rows bilaterally or unilaterally. Bilaterally means that you are working both sides of the body at the same time, like you can see me doing in the picture above with my barbell. Rowing two dumbbells or two kettlebells at the same time is another example of working bilaterally.
On the flip side, unilaterally means that you are working one side of the body at a time. With rows, this could look like rowing a dumbbell with the right arm first, and then the left, or alternating between the two. Single arm rows maaaaay be my fave because they provide a little core training as well, since you have to resist rotation when performing the exercise. Other row variations can be done with a landmine, cable machine, or bands.
Similar to chin-ups, inverted rows are another great option for manipulating your own bodyweight and challenging the core at the same time. They can be performed with suspension straps like the TRX, with rings, in the Smith machine, or from underneath a barbell in a squat rack.
As a trainer, inverted rows are one of the most commonly programmed exercises I use for my clients because of just how darn scalable they are! You can control the difficulty of the exercise with your foot placement: the further out you walk your feet, the harder the exercise is, and conversely, the further in/up you walk your feet, the easier the exercise is. For someone who may not be able to perform a full rep yet, simply holding themselves in the row position is an excellent option.
Once you get more advanced with inverted rows, you can certainly play around with tempo variations or even perform them with weighted vests or chains!
Band Pull Aparts
I incorporate band pull aparts into almost every single warmup I do and for every single one of my clients too. I love this move because so many of us sit all day long with rounded shoulders and hunched backs. Performing band pull aparts helps to counteract that and teaches you scapular retraction, which is really just a fancy phrase for pulling your shoulders down and back.
Finally, this last one may surprise you, but I couldn’t exclude deadlifts, or really any hinge/hip extension variations, from this roundup! Not only do exercises like deadlifts and good mornings target the glutes and hamstrings, they also strengthen your back like WOAH.
You’ve probably heard someone at some point in your life say that deadlifts are bad for your back, but this myth couldn’t be further from the truth. Deadlifts are only bad for your back if you perform them incorrectly without a neutral spine, without pushing the hips back, and without maintaining tension throughout the movement. If you are locking out those arms properly, you’ll feel it in your upper back for SURE. Many of my clients are surprised when their upper backs feel sore after a solid deadlift workout!
And there you have it: five of my favorite exercises for a stronger back. This is definitely not an exhaustive list by any means! Other back exercises that I incorporate include lateral pulldowns, face pulls, Ys and Ts, rear fly variations, and more.
For a well-rounded training program, make sure to incorporate both vertical pulling exercises (ie your chin-ups, pull-ups, pulldowns, etc.) and horizontal pulling exercises (ie your row variations). You also want to make sure to incorporate the bigger, more bang for your buck stuff AND the smaller accessory work. Both are important!
Readers, let’s chat! What’s your favorite body part to train? Do you enjoy training your posterior chain muscles or do you tend to neglect them? What is your favorite back exercise?
Interested in learning even more about building a strong back?
Then I encourage you to sign up for my FREE 5-Day Chinup Challenge!
In the challenge, I will be sharing the EXACT strategies that I use with my personal training clients to help them achieve their first unassisted chin-ups and build their chin-up strength. You’ll understand how to use different chin-up progressions in your routine, you’ll know when to do different types of accessory work, and you’ll learn some of the most common chin-up mistakes people make.
You’ll also receive five days of FREE fitness coaching from me for any questions you might have about your personal chin-up journey, form, etc.