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Build a Thicker and Wider Back With These 10 Exercises!

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

Every man wants to have a big and strong back. Many women do too. Having a thick and wide back is a great sign of strength, and is important to developing a well rounded physique.

However, it's often hard for people to determine which are the best exercises that they should be doing when it comes to back training. With so many different options out there, it can quickly become overwhelming.

That's why in this post, I'll be sharing with you the 10 best back exercises that you can use to build both a thicker, stronger and wider back as quickly as possible. Complete with exercise guides and a demonstration video. If that sounds good, keep reading!

Muscular and fit bodybuilder doing lat pulldowns as a back exercise to build strength and muscle

The 10 Best Back Exercises:


This shouldn't come as a surprise at all. The deadlift is the exercise that engages the most muscles in the body out of any lift ever created. It fires up the entire lower body, and also heavily engages the back to help you drive the weight up. If you were to pick just one exercise to do for the rest of your lift, this would probably be it for most people.

The deadlift heavily taxes the spinal erectors, which have to work very hard to hold an isometric extension contraction whilst resisting the weight and keeping your spine neutral. Alongside this, your lats, traps and mid back are all working extremely hard to help you drive the weight up and keep it stable. So it's a GREAT back exercise.

It's also the heaviest free weight exercise for most people, and is one of, if not the best indicator of human muscular strength.

Getting good at deadlifting heavy loads will undoubtedly cause huge gains in your overall back area. Here's how to do them:

  1. Start with the barbell on the floor in front of you (start with a light weight fi this is your first time).

  2. Bend your knees slightly and bend forwards by pushing your hips back. You should immediately feel tension in the hamstrings.

  3. Once you can't push your hips back any further, bend your knees as much as needed to get down the rest of the way to grab onto the barbell.

  4. Use a double overhand grip to start with (shoulder width grip).

  5. Pull the bar as close to you as possible.

  6. Take a deep breath in.

  7. Keeping your spine neutral, drive your feet into the ground and bring the bar up with you. You arms should remain straight the entire time.

  8. Push your hips forwards at the same time while you drive your feet.

  9. Once your knees are locked out and you're standing in an upright position, you've finished one rep.

  10. Guide the bar back down with your hands. So you can drop it and lose tension for the most part, but keep it in your hands.

  11. Reset and repeat.

Check out the awesome video below by Rogue Fitness to see a demonstration of this!

Bent Over Barbell Rows

Next up we've got the bent over barbell row. This is your classic upper body pulling movement, and is great for building both overall back strength and size. It'll also tax the spinal erectors to a pretty large degree as they work to resist the weight from dragging your torso downwards.

Plus, you'll get great growth in your biceps and forearms as well!

To do the bent over barbell row:

  1. Start with the barbell on the ground again.

  2. Take an approximately shoulder width and overhand grip.

  3. Keeping your spine neutral, deadlift the weight up and stay in the lockout position.

  4. Bend the knees slightly and push your hips back until your hamstrings feel a stretch.

  5. Keep the spine neutral and allow the weight to drop down.

  6. Drive the weight up into your sternum area, keeping your elbows flared at a 45 degree angle.

  7. Squeeze the shoulder blades hard for a second.

  8. Lower the weight with control.

  9. Repeat.

See the video below by STACK to see what this looks like!

Pendlay Rows

This is a less well known variation of the bent over barbell row, and involves you pulling the bar up form a dead stop, which requires more power and upper body strength as a result.

The Pendlay row is a a great alternative to the bent over barbell row if you're mainly looking to build strength and power in the upper body, perhaps if you're a powerlifting or a competitive athlete who needs to be generating large amounts of force all the time.

To do the Pendlay row:

  1. Start with the barbell on the ground.

  2. Assume your regular deadlift position by hinging at the hips and having a neutral spine.

  3. Push your hips up higher if you can and try to get your torso as close to parallel with the ground as possible.

  4. Drive the weight up forcefully by drawing your elbows back past your torso.

  5. Try not to cheat too much. A little spinal extension is fine, but try to keep it minimal.

  6. Bring the bar up to your sternum area and either lower it back down after hitting your chest, or hold it there for a second before doing so.

  7. Lower the weight with control all the way back down to resting on the ground.

  8. Repeat.

Check out CrossFitLeeds' video below to see what this should look like!

Pull Ups

Ah, the classic pull up. We wouldn't forget this exercise. Many regard it to be the king of bodyweight movements, and for good reason too! The ability to pull your own bodyweight up against gravity is a great feat of strength that drives great strength and muscle gains.

This is an especially good exercise to master fi you're a person that trains at home, or often training with limited equipment. The pull up really only requires a bar, or even just a place that you can comfortably grip onto. Once you've got that, you're all set to go!

If you've never done these before, you'll know exactly why they're one of the best back exercises when you do try them out.

To perform the pull up:

  1. Hang on a pull up bar with a double overhand grip, just outside of shoulder width.

  2. Draw the shoulder blades down and back. You should immediately feel tension in your back.

  3. Pull yourself up by thinking about drawing your elbows down and together, into the side of your hips.

  4. Pull yourself up until your chest reaches just below the bar.

  5. Try to not kick with your legs or generate any momentum to cheat.

  6. Lower yourself back down with control.

  7. Repeat.

Of course, there are many variations of the pull up that are each great for their own reasons. However, the pull up is going to be the one that's the most basic, and probably the best choice for most people looking to build strength and muscle specifically in the back.

To see a demonstration of the pull up, watch the video below by CrossFit®!

Lat Pulldown

Next up, we've got the lat pulldown. Similarly to the pull up, the lat pulldown is a vertical pulling exercise, which is great for hitting the overall back and biceps, with an emphasis on the lats. Having big lats is going to create that wide looking back and contribute heavily towards developing a strong looking back.

The lat pulldown is the machine counterpart to the pull up, and is a great option if your main and only goal is to build muscle in the back. Since you're lifting on a machine, you can lift heavier and isolate the back better, making it the better overall choice if you're solely looking to build muscle, and nothing else with that exercise.

To do the lat pulldown:

  1. Sit on the seat comfortably.

  2. Grab onto the bar with a grip just outside of shoulder width.

  3. Bring the shoulder blades down and back like you would during a pull up. You should feel tension in the back.

  4. Drive the bar down towards your chest by thinking about drawing the elbows down and together, into the side of your hips.

  5. Bring the bar down until it reaches your collarbone level.

  6. Lower the weight (allow the bar to travel back up) with full control.

  7. Try not to cheat by swinging the torso too much. A little bit of swinging is fine, and even preferred if you're a little more advanced.

  8. Repeat.

Check out the awesome video below by Sgt K Fitness to see what this looks like!

Single Arm Dumbbell Rows

Next up, we've got the single arm dumbbell row. This is a great alternative to the bent over barbell row, which allows you to work the muscles of the back and arms one side at a time, and generally under heavier loads as well.

This is also a great back exercise for those of you who have muscular imbalances, and want to minimize then without having to do too much extra work.

To perform the single arm dumbbell row:

  1. Grab a moderate to heavy dumbbell.

  2. Place one arm on a bench, place the same side knee on the bench, and place the other leg on the ground next to the bench for a 3-point stance.

  3. Keep the spine straight, and row the dumbbell up with the arm not in contact with the bench.

  4. Squeeze the muscles of the back hard and drive the elbows past the body.

  5. Lower the weight back down with control.

  6. Repeat for reps.

  7. Repeat for other side.

See the video below by Rugby Renegade Strength and Conditioning for a demonstration!

Straight Arm Pushdowns

There aren't many ways that you can really isolate the muscles of the back. However, the straight arm pushdown is one of them. This is great to do at the end of your back workouts as a finished, as they'll work the lats incredibly hard, and you will feel a burn on them like you never have before! These can only be done on a cable machine, or a lat pulldown machine.

If you would like to use free weight, you can do dumbbell pullovers instead.

How to do the straight arm pushdown:

  1. Set the cable high.

  2. Stand in front of the cable, about 1 meter from the pole/machine.

  3. Grab onto the bar with a shoulder width grip.

  4. Keep your body straight and abs tight.

  5. Keep your wrists steady in the same spot and elbows slightly bent. (We know, the name says straight arms. But they're meant to be bent.)

  6. Pull the bar down until it touches your upper thigh. Do this by drawing the arms back towards you in a somewhat circular motion.

  7. Hold this position and squeeze the muscles of the back hard.

  8. Lower the weight back down with control.

  9. Repeat.

Check out the video below by Scott Herman to see a great demonstration!

Barbell Shrugs

You can't build a strong looking back without having well developed traps. Barbell shrugs are one of the best exercises you can do for the traps, as they allow you to move lots of weight, and get great activation of them as well.

Plus, you'll work the forearms and build up your grip strength as well.

To perform the barbell shrug:

  1. Start with the barbell in your hands. (Double overhand grip, hands shoulder width apart.)

  2. Stand in a locked out position, such as at the end of a deadlift.

  3. Bring the weight up by quite literally shrugging your shoulders up towards your ears.

  4. Hold the squeeze on the traps for a second.

  5. Lower the weight back down with control.

  6. Repeat.

Check out the video below by StrengthLog to see what this looks like!

Inverted Rows

While pull ups are regarded the king of bodyweight exercises, the inverted row is not far behind. The inverted row is a great exercise that you can use yo build up foundational pulling strength with just your bodyweight, and can be used to great effect towards mastering the pull up, and eventually moving on to more advanced exercises.

To do the inverted row:

  1. Set a bar (smith machine or in a rack) to about waist height.

  2. Lie down under the bar and grab onto it with a shoulder width grip.

  3. Straighten your body and bring your feet back or forth, adjusting until you can pull yourself up and finish with the bar at your sternum.

  4. Pull yourself up, and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

  5. Hold for a second, before lowering yourself back down with control.

  6. Repeat.

Check out the video by Scott Herman to see what this looks like!

Chest Supported Rows

Lastly, we have the chest supported row. This is a great movement that you can utilize to build muscle in the back and arms, whilst keeping yourself honest about form and the weight that you're using. The chest supported row helps your keep yourself stable when you're lifting, and makes it easy for you to know how much you're swinging and cheating the weight.

We recommend doing this with a machine for the best muscle growth, but doing them with free weights on a bench is also a great option.

To do the machine chest supported row:

  1. Sit comfortably on the machine.

  2. Ensure that the support pad sits comfortably on your chest.

  3. Grab onto the handles/bar with a strong grip.

  4. Drive your elbows back behind your body, keeping your chest on the support pad.

  5. Squeeze the shoulder blades together.

  6. Lower the weight with control.

  7. Repeat.

See the video below by The Gym at Milford & Norton to see a demonstration of this!


As you'll see, there are heaps of great exercises that you can utilize to work towards your end goal of having that thick, wide and strong looking back.

Train your back through a combination of vertical and horizontal pulling, and make sure you train hard to really get the most out of your time spent in the gym!

Hopefully you've learnt something from this post, and have enjoyed reading through it! Remember to share it with your friends so that we can reach more people!

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